Riding the Wave

New York
06.20.08

Left: Musicians Jim Sclavunos and Lydia Lunch. (Photo: Chad Beckerman) Right: Critic Byron Coley, Abrams editor Tamar Bravis, and Thurston Moore. (Photo: David Velasco)


How many photographs of downtown scenestress and musician Lydia Lunch can one person stand? Scholars in future generations will now be able to piece together pretty much every outfit the postpunk doyenne ever wore in her first five years in New York, thanks to an avalanche of documentation in books from the past couple years: Marc Masters’s No Wave, Paula Court’s New York Noise, and Thurston Moore and Byron Coley’s just-released No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976–1980. Like any good insular art scene, No Wave kept outsiders (and audiences) at bay but photographers on hand. If you were one of the ten to fifteen unhappy-looking observers at the Mudd Club, the Kitchen, CBGB, or Tier 3, watching some legendarily abrasive band, odds are your pain is now catalogued and immortalized.

Draw a gently curving line, more or less, from the location of Dave’s Luncheonette, the oft-reminisced-about late-night Canal Street hangout, out through the Mudd Club, which sat a couple blocks south, and you’ll soon hit the site where KS Art stands today. It was there on Friday night that a party was thrown in celebration of the release of Moore and Coley’s book. In the flyer-and-photo-bedecked gallery, tourists past and present gathered to ogle both the walls and one another: Swimming through the soupy, overheated confines were Moore and his wife, Kim Gordon, Coley, Lunch, the Contortions’ James Chance, one-time Sonic Youth drummer and Lunch cohort Jim Sclavunos, musician Alan Licht, and many of the photographers—Robert Sietsema, Julia Gorton—whose work hung on the walls. Across the street, people glanced nervously at the Knitting Factory, where the main event—a Teenage Jesus & the Jerks reunion, for which Lunch had flown in from Barcelona—was scheduled for 8 PM sharp. KS Art proprietor Kerry Schuss, perhaps sensing some apprehension on my part, attempted reassurance: “They’ve been rehearsing for days!”

Left: Musician Lee Ranaldo and artist Leah Singer. (Photo: Laura Levine) Right: Kim Gordon. (Photo: David Velasco)


Lunch, who, in 1976, at sixteen, left her parents’ home in Rochester, New York, and who, two years later, was proclaiming herself “the best thing to happen to music in 250 years,” has evidently been a good sport—judging from the hours of interviews she gave to Masters, Moore, and Coley—about the canonization she resisted so thoroughly in her first go-round. (She’s loudly on record as being skeptical of No New York, the Brian Eno–produced compilation that helped give No Wave a name and Teenage Jesus a platform.) But what easier target for a notoriously audience-hating band like Teenage Jesus (from which original member James Chance was tossed merely because he couldn’t help but interact with the band’s crowds) than a sold-out, reverential sea of fresh faces?

First, though, we were treated to some trivia: a set by Information, the NO magazine–affiliated, constantly morphing No Wave footnote whose baffling presence was perhaps the evening’s most authentic curveball. “We’re quite amused you all came back,” noted the band’s Chris Nelson, utterly sarcastically. In turn, the band covered a song by the even more ephemeral Blinding Headaches (a trio perfectly memorialized in a Sietsema photo from No Wave, playing an LES rooftop show to all of seven distracted-looking friends). Information’s fifteen-minute set wrapped up with an elaborately announced, ten-second, one-chord-and-done “song.” In between, of course, came the amplified toy piano, the trumpet, and the unbelievably loud steel drum.

As for Teenage Jesus—with Sclavunos back on drums and “surprise guest bass player” Thurston Moore—they were as fleeting, nasty, screeching, and brutish as one could have hoped. Sclavunos stood behind his instrument, staring straight ahead; Moore scrutinized the set list, fiddled with his guitar, and absorbed Lunch’s abuse: “This is what happens when a member of Sonic Youth joins the band,” she spewed. “Fumble, fumble, fumble.” Whatever thrill there was in seeing our own alt-rock gods cut down before their elders quickly faded when Lunch turned toward us. “You have no fucking clue,” she said, glaring straight out into the rapturous applause: “Thanks for nothing.”

Left: Musician Alan Licht and critic Glenn Kenny. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Musician Glenn Branca. (Photo: Laura Levine.)


Left: Musician Jim Sclavunos. Right: Dealer Kerry Schuss. (Photos: David Velasco)


Zach Baron