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



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.

One Response to “Ubuwerks”

  1. Uncle Rich Says:

    There’s a book called THE BANQUET YEARS, by Roger Shattuck, which is about Jarry, along with Eric Satie, Apollinaire, and Rousseau. When I was in my teens I had a friend named John who was deeply interested in Jarry. He had this book in his treasure chamber of an attic bedroom, along with lots of unusual recordings (like John Cage’s INDETERMINACY), ‘sculptures’ formed by countless layers of dried housepaint, and his own fascinating films and drawings. That was back when it was social self-destruction to be interested in the avant-garde, past or present. I visited him regularly and am a grateful still for having been introduced to so much out-of-the-mainstream material. Of course, I was already pretty far along that road myself (courtesy of Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and the Dada/Surrealist artists) and shared my oddball tastes and quirky art with John as well. Which is why I get a bit nostalgic when Jarry is mentioned.

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