As I mentioned Peter Laughner
in my last journal entry, I thought I'd write a post about him for anyone who isn't familiar with his solo output. His story is pretty tragic, really. Most of us will know of him through his involvement with Rocket From The Tombs
, the proto-Ubu band from which Pere Ubu
and Dead Boys
sprang from. He was on the first couple of Pere Ubu singles - you can read his liner notes to 30 Seconds Over Tokyo
/Heart Of Darkness
on this brill site
- but sadly he and the band parted ways before the first full-length release. David Thomas, of course, always refuses to talk about him, but it's well known that Laughner had serious drink and drug problems. In fact, his problems were so serious that Lester Bangs
eventually told his old mate to keep away from him, as he believed he was committing a slow suicide. Laughner was also reportedly getting something of a fascination for hand-guns...
These issues forced his departure from Pere Ubu although one of his greatest songs, Life Stinks
, made it onto The Modern Dance
.Peter Laughner wrote:
I like The Kinks
I need a drink
Ah, unless you know the song in question then lyrics never quite work when they're disassociated from it, do they? It's a great song, though, particularly Laughner's version on the posthumous compilation Take the Guitar Player for a Ride
, where he sounds spookily close to Captain Beefheart
. It's an angular howl of anguish from a literate and talented young song-writer. I'm big on songs with confessional and deeply personal lyrics, there's something deeply wonderful about a singer/songwriter whispering all their frailties almost directly into your ear, it's one of the things which makes music the most direct and powerful art form. Another Laughner song in this vein will doubtless be known to pretty much anyone who reads this post, I'd wager. The song in question being Ain't It Fun
, which was covered on Guns N' Roses
' covers record "The Spaghetti Incident?
"...it was also released as a b-side by Dead Boys, who naughtiily claimed a song-writing credit for it. As far as I'm aware (and I may well be wrong here), that song is all Laughner...and Dead Boys set a precedent for this kind of dishonest wankery with their cover of Sonic Reducer
, another (thoroughly excellent) song from the RFTT days. David Thomas was reportedly furious about this, he told them they could take whatever they wanted as long as they didn't pile on the song-writing credits for that one track.
Back to Ain't It Fun, though... One of the things I can never quite work out is whether it's a condemnation of hedonism (and the associated chemically-altered behavioural traits, or a celebration of it. It's tempting to project your own values on a song like this, but to be honest, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
I mean, look, you have to bear in mind why
Laughner was so permanently wasted. Much like his good pal Lester Bangs
- who he openly cited as being a mentor and major inspiration for his rock writing - he was an absolutely massive
fan of Velvet Underground
and Lou Reed
. He loved Reed to the point that he wanted to be
him, but had to settle with being as much like him as he possibly could. To this end, he dressed like Reed, and even developed the same drug habits - he makes speed references in his rock criticism, and even wrote a song called Amphetamine. It's clearly his attempt at matching Heroin
...it certainly strongly brings VU to mind, particularly the vocal melody.
Another thing to consider is that one of the last things he ever recorded was a cover of See No Evil
...on this home recording he kicks off by remarking that 'this one, you've gotta get the words':Tom Verlaine wrote:
I understand all
they seem so perfect
I see... I see no.... evil.
So, I do tend to believe that Laughner approached Ain't It Fun from two opposing directions. It's not just
a bitter condemnation of substance abuse, it also glorifies and revels in it. This dichotomy makes it a far more potent and interesting song. It also gives us a valuable insight into why Laughner didn't live long enough to fully realise his huge song-writing talent. Fucksakes, he was only 24 when he died, he didn't even make it to that bullshit cliche age of 27.
I feel that I want to wrap this up now, although there's an awful lot more that could be said. I'd like to point out how well-read he was..how he penned songs about Baudelaire and Sylvia Plath
. About how he auditioned for Television when Richard Lloyd
quit the band for three days, and how that oddly connects with Lloyd taking Laughner's place in the recently reformed Rocket From The Tombs. As I say though, time to wrap this up for now.Recommended Listening:
If you've not heard of Laughner before and are interested in checking him out, then here's where to start:
* The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs
: Rough recording of an important and under-appreciated band. It took RFTT almost 30 years to cut a proper full-length record, and if you're interested in that then you need to purchase Rocket Redux
* Creem Offices 1976
: As this short list is intended as a 'primer' for those unfamiliar with Laughner, I'm trying to veer away from recommending obscure boots. Apart from this one...it's the tits! For some reason, I've never been able to find any info about this boot on the net. Just had another quick look, and I can see a recent article on an Italian site which I'll go and run through Babelfish after I post this - for all the good that'll do. At least it'll give me a laugh. I think this is an amazing document, two important figures in music sitting in the Creem offices, getting pissed as farts and playing songs in a charmingly wreckless manner. The tape seems to have been intended to be passed on to friends - there are frequent mentions of Patti Smith
, for example.
Their love of music - and of VU in particular - permeates the whole thing. Ok, get this...the first song on the tape is a really great track called 'Drug Store Cowboy/ I'm So Fucking Bored'. Now it's split in two, with Lester taking the first half. Laughner gets to sing his half but - 20 seconds before the end - you can make out Bangs begging him to play Sister Ray
. He manages to squeeze in another plea for Sister Ray before the song ends, too. This is a constant motif throughout the entire recording, Bangs is absolutely desperate
to do Sister Ray, and they end up performing it normally, and "backwards and upside down." And, seriously, Bangs goes on and on and on about Sister Ray during this boot - and listening to this recording again of late really helped reinvigorate my interest in VU. To put all this over-excited pleading in context, bear in mind that White Light/White Heat
was released in 1968, and this boot was recorded in 1976!
* Terminal Tower
: I think this would be a really nice staring place for those interested in Pere Ubu and/or Laughner, although both The Modern Dance
and Dub Housing
are absolutely essential
for any music collection. This is the easiest way to get hold of Laughner's Ubu contributions.
* Take the Guitar Player for a Ride
: This is the only collection of Laughner's work available now - I think
it's still available anyway - although there's been a comprehensive box-set mooted for years. It's a real pisser when the promised box-sets for under-valued artists like Laugher or Godz
get caught up in tedious legal problems, or simply never materialise. While we're waiting for the box-set, this is a decent representation of his work, and will give you a feel for how gifted he was as a guitar player and songwriter. You may want to supplement this with the "last recordings" boot which is dated June 21st 1977 - some of the tracks from that boot appear on this collection. Laughner's speaking voice is very rough on the "last recordings" collection. To be blunt, you can tell that he's completely physically fucked. It can be very hard to listen to for that reason...he also chats between songs, which makes the whole thing feel even more deeply personal. And then at the end, he realises that the tape is running out and so squeezes in a very brief rendition of Summertime Blues. The story is that he then went to sleep, and died of acute pancreatitis.*
Now, the really interesting and extremely poignant thing about that is the way it again (obliquely) connects Laughner back to Rocket From The Tombs and Pere Ubu. You'll recall that I mentioned earlier how Laughner appears on the first two Ubu singles...well, one of those songs was brought with them from their RFTT days - namely Final Solution - and was actually musically and lyrically based on Blue Cheer
's cover of Eddie Cochran
's Summertime Blues. Thankfully, I'm not enough of a twat to end this post there, with a smug-as-fuck ellipsis. *
The handsomeproductions site states that there is some debate over this, and that he may have in fact died a day later. Handsomeproductions also date the tape as the 22nd rather than the 21st, which would make sense as Laughner makes reference to 'everyone else being asleep.'Recommended reading:Handsome Productions
: Sadly, there's not a huge amount of information about Laughner on the web. There's another Laughner site, but if I recall correctly it has pretty much the exact same info on it. Few things on handsomeproductions that you don't want to miss:Liner notes for the first Pere Ubu single
- Mentioned earlier in this post, but repeated here for the sake of tidiness..nicely written, and I feel it also illustrates the influence the Beat generation had on Bangs, and in turn the influence Bangs had on Laughner. Lester Bangs' obit for Peter Laughner
: A tough read, particularly when you take into account Bangs' accidental death. He talks about wanting to turn his back on drugs in this article, but died by accidentally over-dosing on prescrtiption drugs a few years later.Laughner's Creem articles
: Interesting reading, particularly as Laughner was involved in the remarkable New York scene. For instance, it's very interesting to read his comments about Patti Smith's live performance of "My Generation" with John Cale
, which was originally released as a b-side, and which is now forever strapped to Horses
as a bonus track.