Thursday, 24 March 2011

'So easily excited, we were having a party but we weren't invited.' - Peter Laughner

I wouldn't imagine Acute Pancreatitis is a nice way to go. The sudden and severe inflammation of the organ that regulates digestion resulting in unbearable abdominal pain, usually sending the body into shock, leading to multiple organ failure doesn't sound like a walk in the meadow. It's usually brought on by heavy alcohol and/or drug abuse.

Consuming large quantities of alcohol and drugs was probably the thing that Peter Laughner was third best at. He succumbed to the aforementioned disease in 1977 (ironically, the year that Punk, a genre he helped to create, finally took off) at the astonishingly young age of 24 after sustained substance problems, and initially left barely a scratch on the music world he was so desperate to be a part of.

If I was going to hazard a guess at what Laughner was second best at, it would probably be music writing. He contributed regularly to CREEM magazine, idolised Lester Bangs and championed a number of artists, including The Velvet Underground and Television. The man had taste. 

His forté was undoubtedly as a songwriter, though. For a man that there's hardly any record of actually entering a recording studio, he managed to get down a sizeable amount of material, mostly home recorded demos, and later some live recordings, and one thing that is absolutely staggering to appreciate is how varied, interesting and versatile he was as a songwriter and guitarist. Capable of proto-punk savagery with Rocket From The Tombs (most notable for their song Ain't It Fun, covered by Guns 'n' Roses on The Spaghetti Incident?) as well as more interesting, experimental work with Pere Ubu (a band that he did actually manage to record with, but left after just two singles due to his ongoing battle with drug addiction), he was also a stunningly poignant, sensitive lyricist, capable of the lighest touch. In fact, it is arguably this versatility, making him impossible to pigeonhole, that limited his reach among potential fans and would-be admirers of his work.

The best example of Laughner's lyrical prowess and emotionally wrought delivery is on the posthumously released compilation Take the Guitar Player for a Ride, a record sadly now out of print and therefore unavailable, aside from a rather below-par bootleg version. On the magnificent Amphetamine, he eschews any sneering, punk sensibilities to deliver a harrowing Springsteen-esque vocal that is both poignant (given his subsequent demise) and emotional. It dances along for over eight minutes, yet never outstays its welcome.

Peter Laughner was and is a criminally underrated contributor to modern music. He was undoubtedly a key protagonist in the birth of Punk and New Wave in the United States. In my view, he was arguably as important as The Stooges and The MC5, without which there'd be no Ramones. A man whose life seemed to be tarnished with such disappointment and personal problems culminating in an untimely and painful death deserves to be lauded for the beautiful, understated music he created.

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