A girl at university tells me one day she’s got an album she wants me to hear. So I go okay. I’ve got this massive CD collection. I’ve heard everything. I’m not sure that I ever thought like that but I’m damn sure people thought that of me. Anyway, I’m always intrigued when someone tells me they want me to hear something. And partly because I want to know the reason why they want me to hear it – it’s still the case to this day – so in this case she tells me that her uncle’s got this band and that they’re kinda a big deal ‘cept no one’s heard of them. And that makes no fucking sense to me at all at that point. I’m 19 and figure I know it all. Or as close as you’d need. I’ve grown up obsessed with music and the big deals I’m aware of are things like Dylan and Bowie and the Stones and Beatles and Kinks and Floyd, Santana and, well, you name it…
All of them, big – big – deals.
So she names it. She goes “The Dead C”. And I do a blank-face. This means fuckin’ nothing to me.
“Anyway, she says, give ‘em a listen. It’s my uncle’s band. He runs a little label and stuff too. So you can drop him a line if you like it or whatever”.
Now this I do like. I like the idea straight off. I’m from Bumfuck Egypt or Buttfuck Idaho or however you pronounce it. (You spell it H-A-V-E-L-O-C-K N-O-R-T-H. But anyway…)
I’m new here. And I like this big city with its Saturday afternoon jazz trios in cafes and real coffee and its CDs stores open late at night and in the weekends and the movie theatres and plays and bars and I’m getting turned on to all sorts of things – like that beautiful Rite of Strings album by Jean-Luc Ponty, Stanley Clarke and Al Di Meola. And I’m able to get Sonic Youth albums easily and you know I’m generally having a blast. Going to the odd class too. It’s a fun fun time. Well, apart from that damn hill.
Anyway she drops in this album to the flat and I like it right away because it’s called The White House and it has this cover with no words, just a picture and I have no idea what this music is going to be but I’m curious. I like the invitation too that I might like to write to this guy – you know, if he’s any fuckin’ good – and that appeals to a 19-year-old know-it-all who wants to be a music writer or some shit like that…
So I put it on and then check my speakers are in properly and that I’m on the right function – I haven’t bumped the radio button and it’s tuned to static have I?
What is this fucking noise?
Oh it’s beautiful! It’s fucking chaos but it’s amazing. It’s so much to take in and I decide that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to take this right in. So I sit with it. And sit with it. And I play The White House non-stop. There’s no internet in my flat at the time – it’s still a bit new. Actually, one dude has the net right. He has to plug in a long extension lead and the phone is out of action and it’s like back when you were loading up computer games at primary and intermediate and you’d go outside and have a bounce on the tramp while your game got ready. And we hardly know how to use the internet but when we do we’re all crowded around one desk in one bedroom, all hovering over each other as if the computer is possessed. Some strange magic.
So, I don’t find anything much out about The Dead C apart from all I need to know which – in this early stage – is on this CD. And then when I need to know more it’s on another CD by The Dead C. And another. And another. Each CD possessing some strange magic.
You see The Dead C got to me. And got inside. And it was damn glorious. Because inside the noise I could hear melodies – loads of fuzz and drone and feedback and slow-but-loud drums and voices that were mumbled-as. It sounded a bit like my worst (and best) band practices. Except of course it sounded way better. This sounded so intentional.
I never sounded this intentional. I never sounded this good.
Actually fuck-all sounded this good. And nothing ever sounded quite like it.
Then this girl tells me it’s not really her bag at all and that I can hang on to the CD for a bit because the only reason – really – that she has it is cos it’s her uncle that’s in the band. And by the way did I ever call him or write to him?
I can call him? This guy that’s at the helm of this beautiful, ugly, epic, wondrous noise? I can call this guy? Fucking hell!
I don’t call him.
But I do write. I write a handwritten letter and tell this Bruce Russell guy that I sorta know his niece and that she gave me a copy of The White House and that my god I love it and that it’s taking me places in-between my John Coltrane A Love Supreme album and my Sonic Youth CDs I’ve recently picked up like Evol and Confusion Is Sex. I tell him that I’m so hooked. I tell him I’ve started writing reviews for NZ Musician. I want to be a music writer.
And he sends me a really nice note back. Straight away. I mean, sure, it’s not like email. This took a couple of weeks. But still, pretty fast. He writes and sends me a catalogue and tells me good luck with writing about music and I thank him for showing me where music can go – because all though I’ve had a few hints that music can go to some pretty way-off/far-out place and the beauty of it even when it’s sounding a bit ugly is that it takes you too, you get to go off – and so he sends me another great Dead C album (Eusa Kills) and because I’ve obviously rabbited on about Sonic Youth at some point he sends me a CD that Thurston Moore made away from the band, cardboard sleeve, his guitar sounds like it’s throwing up for the most part. Oh, and it’s gorgeous-good! All drones and mope and chaos.
Bruce Russell writes to me for a bit. And sends me ideas – mentions bands and albums and things to hear and read. And I pay for some CDs from his label. I pay by cheque.
It’s another world.
And that’s what I always think when I hear this album – and now any from The Dead C. I think about another world. I go to another world. There are other albums but this is the one I heard first. That crucial, wonderful introduction. I get to see the band live and I hang on to the name – many, many years later I even get to review one of their albums. A Dead C member releases music under another name, Gate. And I get to review that. And that music is super fucking good too.
But before we get to any of that – back when it’s just me and this album and my flatmate of the time thinks going “way out” with music is playing his Men At Work Greatest Hits CD and his Metallica Black Album back to back – I work out, pretty swiftly, just exactly what that girl who loaned me this CD was meaning when she said they were kinda a big deal but not all that many people knew about them. I get a job in a music store a couple of years on and boy, this is one of the bands that gets mentioned in hushed tones. For every one that loves them, craves them, asks if we can get anything at all by them, there’s someone that scoffs about overrated, about noise – not even music!
I love The Dead C. I love The White House. And Eusa Kills. And all the other things I heard by Russell, Morley and Yeats – together and alone. Different combinations, different sounds, the same sonic footprint. But it’s all as a result of The White House. That’s the one. Such a brilliant gateway. I had a hint of noise and improv and the other side of jam-bands but only a hint. Not much to go on before this.
I’ve been listening to The Dead C again just recently. Which isn’t to say I haven’t always been listening to them ever since hearing this record some 15 years ago. But just very recently I went back to this.
So thanks Bruce. And Robbie, Michael. Thanks Dead C. For free-rock, noise-rock, post-whatever/experimental…
In a way this was the best loan-CD I ever had. The best “here, you must listen to this” I had foisted upon me.
So thank you so much for this Alice. You had no idea what this album would do for me. And I have no idea where you are now or what you’re doing but if I never wished you well before for any other reason (and I’m sure I probably meant to – or should have) then I certainly wish you well (now) because of this.