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In Writing

Read Extracts From Byron Coley's C'est La Guerre

August 2011

Read two extracts from C'est La Guerre: Early Writings 1978–1983, a collection of writings by The Wire's regular Size Matters columnist from the beginning of his career.

Letter From San Francisco #3, February 1979
By this time, Angela [Jaeger, Coley's close friend] had moved to England from Manhattan, and was living in a squat with X-Ray Spex (if I remember correctly). She was passionate about the Clash and I actually did enjoy their Berkeley show, but their second album didn’t do much for me and I didn’t follow them too closely after that. I wrote a long review of the Clash show for NY Rocker, but it never ran. As I recall it was less about the Berkeley show than it was about my experiences at the “unannounced” show the following evening. To the best of my memory, this story began with me getting a blow-job on a city bus and ended in a very weird sex scene that turned into a total drag when the cops got called. Perhaps it’s best the details are muddled.

This last week has been pretty good for music as far as the city by the bridge goes — Weds & Thurs saw the Clash in town; Fri & Sat offered Elvis; Gregg (VOM) Turner’s new band, the Angry Samoans, put me on their guest list for Sat and Sun at the Fab Mab, so it was really a week-au-go-go.

The Clash were real reet Weds at the Berkeley Community Center. I’ll tell ya though, I for one could have lived without Bo Diddley. I mean, shit, when they were handin’ out brains this guy thought they said, “Trains,” and asked for an H.O.! The dink knows one goddamn riff, which he’s been poundin’ out with frightening regularity since I lived in Wantaugh (and I moved outta that cowtown in ’59). It is totally beyond me why the Clash asked him to open this tour for them. Half the crowd went out into the lobby at the very sight of this paunchy pederast and the rest scooted after the umpteenth rendition of “Mona.” There were about 50 peaheads left in their seats and the 2000 or so were jammed to the very rafters of the “smoking room” trying to avoid the hideous grunts and growls of the very old man who had possession of the stage. As if his mere presence wasn’t punishment enough, the old coot had the gall to come back out for an encore when the only people who were yelling anything were yelling, “WHITE RIOT!” I don’t know. Maybe his hearing aid was on the fritz and he thought they were saying, “WE LIKE IT!” If so, the old gentleman was certainly mistaken. If theatre personnel had allowed the audience to bring in bottles, I’m sure that within seconds we would have beheld a mountain of litter moving about slowly and belting out the same tired old “one liner.” I mean, c’mon, let’s transistorize this jerk and send him to the land of the rising sun. Those guys like everything!

Clash were great, though. I elbowed my way right up to the front and writhed along with the pogoing masses. It was great fun. But you already know that. The next night the band was to play an “unannounced” benefit for an aggregation of punk fans and musicians who are trying to get a non-profit club going. I’d like to report on this undoubtedly fine show, featuring such swell acts as the Zeros (known in these parts as the Mexican Ramones), but I got into a fight just before the show began and spent the remainder of the night as a guest of the state. Such is the life of a true rock & roller, I suppose. Elvis was real good. I never really liked him much, but what the heck. For all I know he could be the real Bruce Springsteen (snicker). Angry Samoans were tuff, and that about wraps up music fun for the time being.

Still boring out here. I finally gave up trying to advance through the ranks at McD’s, so I guess I’ll never be a burger magnate. C’est la guerre.

Suicide: Suicide (Red Star reissue) Alan Vega & Martin Rev (ZE/Antilles) (originally published in Take it!, January 1981)
In the Fall of 1980 I moved up to Boston to live with my future wife, Lili Dwight. I tried to rustle up some local writing gigs, but I did not have great success, even though I’d been published regularly for a while. Then I saw an ad for someone who was starting a new local music mag, and met this young Florida guy named Michael Koenig. He seemed a little straight, and the mag’s name (Take it!) sounded sorta doof – but what the hell? I signed on as managing editor and started rounding up writers I knew – Tom Givan, Ira Kaplan, Richard Meltzer, Gregg Turner, Mick Farren – a whole crew of weirdos. The mag ran for a couple of years. It turned out to be a pretty fun gig. Interestingly, a year or two after this ran, Chris Stigliano, who still runs a fantastic fanzine called Black To Comm, found a tape of me fighting with Suicide that night at Max’s that I mention in the course of the review. The sonics weren’t great, but it was a goddamn funny thing to listen to.

The first three times I saw Suicide I hated their guts. Their hoity-toity electro-musings were far from the brand of shit I chewed, gritty though they might have been. My ire reached such intensity that the third time I saw ‘em I knocked over Marty Rev and got bounced down the stairs at Max’s for my troubles. Then their rec came out, and my peep-headed friends played it so often that it became more than familiar. And I’ll be a stein o’ Steg if I didn’t start likin’ it. Yeah, it was funny, good, all that stuff. But that was years ago, and it went outta print before too long so ya couldn’t find it in yr local shoppe. But now that’s been fixed and more!

It’s true that “Girl” from the real first rec ain’t present, but who can care when there’s so much other stuff in attendance? “I Remember”’s from the first Brit single, “96 Tears” is live in Berlin, “Keep Your Dreams” comes to us from CBGB, and ya get the whole, entire 23 Minutes Over Brussels thing from when the crowd had a riot and swiped Alan Vega’s mike and stuff. That’s especially teriffic, and the only place you could get it before was on an ultra-rare (100 smackers-plus!) promo disk. But now it comes “free” in this package as a 10” flex disk and that’s more than hep. It’s reet.

These guys were the first real hot-to-trot-with-synthessizers band that knew what they were doin’ (in modern times, anyway) and the reish’s a blast. Too bad the new one (produced by Ric “Call Me Mister” Ocasek) isn’t as good as its previous single, “Dream Baby Dream.” That one was pretty light, but also contained some good meat. This album’s mostly sparkle and cereal and doesn’t even have a rehash of “Dream.” It’s still listenable and all, just nothin’ to get a boner about.

C'est La Guerre: Early Writings 1978–1983 is reviewed by Daniel Spicer in The Wire 330 and is published by L'oie De Cravan.

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