In 2008 Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore and music journalist David Browne stopped by the McNally Jackson bookstore to promote their new books, No Wave: Post Punk, Underground, New York, 1976-1980 (coauthored with Byron Coley) and Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth, respectively. Moore and Browne talk expansively about those halcyon years of 1976-1981, when the No Wave scene sprouted up right alongside NYC’s punk scene. Indeed, Moore mentions that the inclusion of “Post Punk” in the title of his book annoyed some of the original No Wave musicians, because after all, the movement didn’t really start any later than the punk movement. McNally Jackson is located on Prince Street, just a few blocks away from where the No Wave scene was active—Moore makes a couple of sardonic comments about how hard it is to believe that it’s the same place.
Thurston Moore and David Browne
Moore describes very clearly how strange the No Wave scene was—they had no media echo outside of the Village, and they regarded artists like Patti Smith and Television to be waaaaay too beholden to such bourgeois notions like “songs” and “solos.” Indeed, even Moore was alienated by the No Wavers’ chilly approach: “I wasn’t attracted to No Wave at the time. At the time I was really put off by it. I thought these people were really kind of offensive. I was like, Patti Smith’s great, Television’s great.” As he says, at the time he’d be far more likely to spend four bucks to see the Ramones than pay three dollars to see these local artists who half the time hardly seemed to be playing intelligible music. It wouldn’t be until Moore encountered recordings of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance and the Contortions, Mars, and so on that he warmed up to what they were doing. He cites a hostile review of a Teenage Jesus record by Ed Naha in Hit Parader that had such choice verbiage as “This is the worst-sounding record ever made, it sounds like a cat being murdered” that filled Moore with a determination to hear this stuff.
No Wave was so devoid of traditional structure that Browne’s provocative question “How could you tell when a post-punk band sucked?” elicits an interesting response from Moore: “That’s a good question. The general consensus was that everything else sucked.”
For anyone who was in the Village and seeing gigs during those years, the session will represent a wonderful trip down memory lane. Moore recalls the time that CBGB raised the admission price from two dollars to three dollars, and people got PISSED. The references come thick and fast: Bleecker Bob’s, 99 Records, Rat at Rat R, Mudd Club, Mars, Tier 3….
For those who can’t abide such things, be warned that the inevitable Q&A section starts around the 34th minute (although I found it pretty interesting anyway).
Here’s a pretty great clip of James Chance & the Contortions doing “Contort Yourself” in Minneapolis, September 23, 1979: