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


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Just how important music is

I’ve been reading an interview with founding Pere Ubu synthesizer player Allen Ravenstine and just came across this. It’s an exciting — and sobering — reminder of just how important the arts are, and music in particular. When people are deprived of it, they’re willing to risk everything for it.

I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories. We used to play a club in Berlin called the SO36. It was a very small place and it had almost no ventilation in it. It would fill up and it was so steamy in there that condensation would form on the walls. And I remember one night getting up on the stage and the opening moment of the performance was a woman throwing a shoe at us. And it was just un-bear-ably loud! It was so loud in there, it was painful. And at the end, I went up to the soundman and I said ‘why does this have to be so loud? What is that about?’ He said ‘well, it’s because the club is right up against the Wall. The kids in East Berlin sneak in to the buildings on their side of the Wall to listen to the music.’

And Cutler was the one who had me read a book called The Bass Saxophone Player. It’s a fascinating story about how in the Second World War, the folks that lived in the occupied territories would sneak off into the hills on the weekend and they would get into these little clubs, hotels and they would put on zoot suits and stuff and they would spin the stuff that was going on over here, like Benny Goodman. And they would dance to it and they would have a lookout watching the road and when the Gestapo would come, they would jump out of their zoot suits and put on their folk costumes. And the band would play folk music and they would dance to that to hide what they were up to. And the idea that… you would risk your life to hear some kind of music… just unbelievable. And so that story was always fascinating to me- those kids were risking their necks, sneaking into these abandoned buildings to hear this. And this club (Ubu was at) was cranking the music as loud as it was so that there was some chance that they could hear it on the other side.

I consider myself lucky that I’ve never had to risk getting shot in order to listen to music I prefer.

The whole interview, which references the birth of post-punk, a clash with Devo in the early 70s, ¬†and Ravenstine’s unexpectedly huge influence that he still doesn’t fully comprehend, can be found here. If you want to get a sense of what it might be like to be in a band for years, and touring the U.S. and Europe, with a boatload of differing personalities, you’ll find this interesting.

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