Although I grew up in the punk era, it was really the post-punk stuff that turned my crank, and still does. During that time there were countless odd ephemeral little bands (including one I was in for 15 minutes) that not only stood no chance of widespread popularity, it never even occurred to them that they could be popular or that they should try to make some real money out of their music. It was almost more about doing something that other creative people in bands would take notice of. Why things were like that for a brief and shining moment I really can’t say, though part of it was the way economics worked then: If you didn’t need a lot of stuff, you could sorta get by with very little bread and spend a lot of your time hangin’ out and, occasionally, working out your musical ideas. Those days, of course, were forcibly crash-landed by Reagan & Thatcher, but for a narrow window of time there was some really incredible musical creativity made by folks who wanted to do something interesting.
One of the obscure little bands I was into was called The Raincoats, and I never saw a review of any of their albums, never saw a video and never saw a photo of them (all the albums I or anyone I knew had only had paintings on the covers). Although they seemed to be a mostly female band, I don’t think that thought really explicitly occurred to me back then: They just made this jangly, repetitive-but-catchy music with weird, often miserable lyrics sung for the most part “unprofessionally” (and as a punk that “unprofessional” bit really made it sound authentic to me). But something about it rung true to my ears and to my small circle of friends as well. We’d sit in dark rooms smoking hashish, listening to The Raincoats and just…abide, though not Cali-style: This was New York City style, complete with cold crummy weather and/or pouring rain.
Little did I know, then, that others were also huddled in dark places around the country, and around the world, listening to The Raincoats as if their music was a tiny little fire with which we’d warm our hands. Never having been a Nirvana fan (though I do appreciate their unique sound), I didn’t know that Kurt Cobain had helped to get their albums reissued on CD and had written this about them:
“..I don’t really know anything about The Raincoats except that they recorded some music that has affected me so much that, whenever I hear it I’m reminded of a particular time in my life when I was (shall we say) extremely unhappy, lonely, and bored. If it weren’t for the luxury of putting that scratchy copy of The Raincoats’ first record, I would have had very few moments of peace. I suppose I could have researched a bit of history about the band but I feel it’s more important to delineated the way I feel and how they sound. When I listen to The Raincoats I feel as if I’m a stowaway in an attic, violating and in the dark. Rather than listening to them I feel like I’m listening in on them. We’re together in the same old house and I have to be completely still or they will hear me spying from above and, if I get caught - everything will be ruined because it’s their thing.”
Meanwhile, Kim Gordon had this to say about The Raincoats:
It was The Raincoats I related to most. They seemed like ordinary people playing extraordinary music. Music that was natural that made room for cohesion of personalities. They had enough confidence to be vulnerable and to be themselves without having to take on the mantle of male rock/punk rock aggression…or the typical female as sex symbol avec irony or sensationalism.
Listening to The Raincoats I didn’t get the sense that I was listening in to a message from women to other women. They were just singing bluntly and honestly about their lives (which had patches of light but plenty of patches of rain too), and we listeners scattered in our dark places related to that. Though probably their best-known song is “Shouting Out Loud,” my favorite tune of theirs was always “I Saw a Hill” from Moving. Listen through to the finale and tell me this doesn’t kick your ass and point straight and unwaveringly at that hidden woman that you keep (be ye male or female) deep down inside and that until this moment you were absolutely sure no one could possibly identify:
The Raincoats’ stellar cover of “Lola” by The Kinks:
Below, seldom-seen footage of The Raincoats performing “Go Away” and “No Side to Fall In” in 1982.