Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Archive for the ‘Pere Ubu’ Category

Forever young

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Today was the birthday of the nation, which 235 years after its founding still feels rather new, and the final day for legendary Cleveland rock critic  Jane Scott, who died this morning at age 92.

Her importance as a major cultural voice cannot be overstated. She created careers, promoting Bruce Springsteen and other luminaries long before more mainstream news organs discovered them. And if you love the Ohio music scene the way some of us do, you owe a debt of gratitude to Jane Scott for spreading the word. Without her, would the rest of us have learned of The Dead Boys, Devo, and Pere Ubu? Perhaps not. If you watch any of the several good documentaries about Cleveland rock, she’s mentioned or featured in all of them. She was an inveterate champion of the new and the different, and that’s what all of the good music of the mid-70’s and 80’s was.

Most of all, as this very good obit in the LA Times notes, she was an ardent fan. In the piece, she’s quoted as saying, “What I like about rock music is that you can’t sit around, feeling sorry for yourself… the blues perpetuates your feeling of despondency. Rock gets you up on your feet, dancing, and you forget about it. The beat gets you going.”

And, if you let it, it’ll keep you going for a long time.

Is this cool, or sad?

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

My favorite musical artist, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, is now taking bookings for solo concerts — in people’s living rooms. I’m preferring to think this is cool, a la Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory doing one-time plays staged for audiences totaling all of 40.

Here’s the info… and a friend and I are already figuring out how we can round up 30 people to join us.

Another show I wish I could see

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Oh, to be in London on February 12th to see “Carnival of Souls,” screened with a live underscore provided by David Thomas & Two Pale Boys.

Mr. Thomas, as longtime readers of this blog, is to me the most important figure working in music today. Whether it’s with Pere Ubu or with Two Pale Boys, his off-kilter music and sensibility thrill me and speak to me deeply. There are certain sounds that speak deeply to individuals who take the trouble to tune into them. For me, it’s Glenn Gould’s piano, it’s Robert Wheeler’s theremin, it’s one of Thomas Dolby’s specific keyboard noises, it’s Robert Fripp’s guitar, and it’s the certain sound sets that only Brian Eno’s studio wizardry can result in. I can pick these things out from any haystack, because somehow they seem so tuned to me that the haystack disappears and the sound becomes iridescent. Chief among these things is David Thomas’s voice. And by voice, I don’t mean just the singing instrument — yes, that beautifully expressive warble, but also the delightfully blinkered worldview so specific to him that comes through all his work, his unique take on the culture we all live in, but which only he sees in his particular way. To listen to David Thomas sing about, for example, U.S. Route 322, which fronted our house when I was a boy, is to learn anew something you thought you understood but never did.

I also find with artists that I follow that when I arrive someplace newly exciting — they are already there. The skewed sensibility that attracts me to them seems to lead us to the same places. Who produced that first Devo album that I could not get off the turntable? Brian Eno. Of course.  When I discover the era of Beach Boys music that truly speaks to me, I find that it’s all associated with Van Dyke Parks — and who appears in David Thomas’ oddball but thoroughly enchanting live “Disastodrome” extravaganza but Van Dyke Parks? And now, who is providing underscore to “Carnival of Souls,” a relatively little-known movie that got a small rerelease about 20 years ago, which I went out of my way to see at that time? David Thomas.

About four years ago, my son and I went to see Pere Ubu provide live underscoring for “Man with the X-Ray Eyes” — another great low-budget black-and-white horror movie — at UCLA. I had seen the movie several times before, but now it’s forever linked in my mind with the live performance by Pere Ubu, especially when the band played “Drive” during the final big chase scene, as Ray Milland’s character goes insane from everything that he can now see. Does it detract from the film, having it now associated with a song performed forty years after its release? Is the film harmed in any way? No — it was thrilling. The evening provided a new way to experience something I thought I’d already known (again, a specialty of Mr. Thomas’). And this is completely in the tradition of film. Silent movies came with suggested scores for organists to play, but many improvised their own scores; your enjoyment of Buster Keaton was often amplified by the aptness and originality of the attack by whatever organist you drew. I’m sure it will be this way with David Thomas & Two Pale Boys — another fine band that Mr. Thomas plays with, with a sound radically different from that of Pere Ubu — as they bring a fresh approach to a little film that is simple and terrifying in its own right, and which deserves every bit of attention and care that I’m sure the event will bring to it.

“Carnival of Souls” was filmed in and around the SaltAir Pavilion in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2002, I was in Salt Lake City on business and rented a car so that I could drive out and see the SaltAir Pavilion. Salt is essential for life, but salt flats, of course, kill. Stretched far and wide were the salts left by a distantly receded lake; a flat bitter tang hung in the air, enclosing a pavilion that was remote and almost abandoned. This is the backdrop for the film, and provides to my mind a promising platform for the simultaneously anxious and affectless music of David Thomas & Two Pale Boys. I just wish I could be there for it.  Here’s hoping that some point, they bring it to the states.

Folly of youth

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

The other night my daughter and I watched the movie “Unbreakable.” This is one of my favorite movies. I respond to its central message — that if you don’t express who you really are, you will be lost — and to its driving metaphor:  that comic books reflect inner truths about us as a species. I was thrilled at her interest in watching his movie. When it was over, I asked her if she liked it. She said, “No. It was boring.”

A night or two later, I invited her to watch an episode of “Wonders of the Solar System” with me. When it was over she insisted that we never watch that together again, because it was boring.

Then on Sunday we were in my car when she suddenly perked up to a song playing on my stereo. “What is this?” she asked. “Raygun Suitcase,” I said, “by Pere Ubu.” “I don’t like the way he sings this,” she announced, adding, “I don’t like the way he sings ‘Kathleen’ or ‘Oh, Catherine, in fact, I just don’t like the way he sings.” In this way, she overturned 15 years of universal agreement in our household that these are wonderful songs, brilliantly delivered.

Did I mention that she just turned 12?

As good an explanation of my favorite band as you’re likely to find

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Today’s Music Video

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Yes, it’s Pere Ubu again — but it’s my blog, and I’m trying to evangelize. Or, at least, be understood.

So why do I so love this video of “Folly of Youth”?

It reminds me how sexy Michele Temple is. I took a friend with me to see the band on the tour that accompanied this album release in 1995 (hard to believe now that it was that long ago). He was a novice, and he was smitten too. Her bass line fills my dreams.

I love the way Jim Jones warps the guitar tones with feedback.

I think the song, and David Thomas’ singing, are hypnotic. To me anyway.

And I could watch Robert Wheeler play that homemade theremin all day. Very much calls to mind this.

It’s like Ringo personally mailed me the new Beatles CD, only better

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009


Last week, Pere Ubu guru David Thomas kindly emailed me to say he’d make sure that I got the new Ubu disk, as well as the recent CD he produced for 15-60-75 (the Numbers band), in the mail.

The Numbers’ disk arrived two days ago and I’ve just started to explore its deep soulful blues.

Today in my mail, there was the new Pere Ubu disk. In a hand-addressed bubble mailer. With the hand-written return address of… Steve Mehlman, the drummer.

This has just gotten better and better.

“Punk” makes good

Sunday, September 20th, 2009


Imagine my delight — and astonishment — at seeing Pere Ubu written up in today’s LA Times.

The headline of the piece attaches the band to punk music, which I think is unfortunate. Whatever the definition of “punk” now, it does more to limit than to explain. If The Clash and Elvis Costello and Husker Du and the Sex Pistols and Pere Ubu are or were all “punk,” then I surely don’t know what it is. First and foremost, through all its incarnations, Pere Ubu always has been a band, a band with a particular (though evolving) sound, and that sound has little to do with anyone we think of as “punk.” I understand the need of the human brain to confine things to groupings, but it’s unfortunate when groupings remove subtle shades of difference.

That quibble aside, I’m delighted to see the band in today’s newspaper.

You’re in good company

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Imagine my thrill when David Thomas of Pere Ubu emailed me just now to thank me for this blog post. In return, I tried very hard not to sound like a sycophant.


Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Yes, today is 9/9/09, the day that a bunch of 40-year-old albums by a certain band got re-released in various CD re-packagings, to the delight of millions around the world.

For others among us, it was another day in the countdown toward the new Pere Ubu album, “Long Live Pere Ubu!” Even if it turns out I hate it, I guarantee it’ll be far more artistically provocative than any other new music coming out this month. Yes, the Beatles were provocative. Forty years ago.

The new Ubu album brings together two things I’ve been interested in for a long time:  the band Pere Ubu, and the inspiration for their name, Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu Roi.” “Ubu Roi” was an adolescent prank — a play written by a high-school kid to mock his teacher. I wrote a novel in a similar tone when I was the same age, but my novel’s still in a box somewhere while Jarry’s play radically changed its artform. (Do we get to have Ionesco, or Theatre of the Absurd as a whole, without Jarry? Probably not.)

Fittingly, Pere Ubu the band has been every  bit as influential as “Ubu Roi,” and even more doggedly uncommercial. One of the bonus features on an Ubu CD is a series of documents, including one that references an album’s sales as numbering about 6,000. This for a band with a three-decade history and a sound that influenced Nine Inch Nails, the Pixies (and, therefore, Nirvana), Joy Division, REM, Thomas Dolby, Hüsker Dü, Henry Rollins, Bauhaus, and innumerable others including the entire industrial-rock movement, a band rightfully recognized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (albeit in an undeservedly small corner), where one of singer David Thomas’ instruments is proudly displayed:  a railroad spike with accompanying ball peen hammer. And if you listen closely enough, you can hear that very instrument on some early tracks where it is played to perfection.

This FAQ about the rationale behind the concept and recording of “Long Live Pere Ubu!” speaks to some of the many reasons I love this band. Imagine this sentiment, by David Thomas about the resurgent appearance of the monstrous Pere Ubu wherever you look, being uttered by any other recording artist this long in the game:  “Regardless of whoever or whatever it is that you personally choose to lionize, it’s more than likely that such a person or organization is Père Ubu. Every talking head that you see and admire on the tv is Père Ubu.” Thirty-four years on, 20 years past the last gasping relevance of the Rolling Stones, Pere Ubu retains the industrial crackle of original thought. That makes every new CD by them a release worthy of anticipation.