Teenage Jesus and the Jerks/Beirut Slump
Shut Up and Bleed
Rock n’ Roll? Good lord, yeah fuckin’ right. In the Seventies, that was absolutely the last thing a young Lydia Lunch had time for. Recently fled to New York from stifling Rochester nowheresville, and with a head full of Suicide and Herbert Huncke and Hubert Selby, she temporarily (or so she thought) put her writing and poetry behind her, just for a time, y’understand, so she could destroy rock n’ roll. It had to be done. Armed with a beat-the-fuck-up three-string electric guitar and a revolving door cast of fellow delinquents that included James Chance and future Bad Seed Jim Sclavunos, she formed Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, sonic hatred incarnate and mainstay of New York’s short-lived No-Wave art/noise/performance scene. This would also be the first volley in a long and fruitful and confrontational “career” in music and performance.
Free of rhythm n’ blues ripoff guilt, the music of Teenage Jesus was an ugly, antisocial, insectoid riot. The only beat or swing is a martial stutterstep that would be more fitting for a jaunt to the firing squad, and Lunch just buries the hell out of that with her guitar anti-heroics and high-pitched (funny when you think about her later, deeper singing) impetuous howls and screams. There’s lots of Birthday Party sweat-grind, especially in the crawling “Burning Rubber.” The guitar sounds like a rainstorm of nails, the drums are like a migraine attack, and Lunch’s young voice is 80% sneering contempt and 20% passionate truth. There is no set formula to Teenage Jesus, the music veers wildly between proto-grindcore bursts of speed, air raid siren vortexes, sax-augmented chiming free jazz, woozy disoriented trudges, punk-like bursts of shouty bile, and one-chord adrenaline that anticipated Riot Grrrl and Sonic Youth. Their anti-music was pure discipline-and-punish genius; it is still alive, it still annoys.
Now this was not all Ms. Lunch was involved in. Less well known is that toward the end of Teenage Jesus, Lunch moonlighted with another downtown NYC outfit, Beirut Slump. With Beirut Slump, she refrained from vocals, leaving those to the Marc-Almond-on-meth drone of Bobby Swope and restricted herself to deconstructing the electric guitar. Pacing was funereal and tribal, with slow-motion Mo Tucker drums, flickering organ lines, and Lunch and Swope weaving their dark cult magicks. The music of Beirut Slump is swampy, sludgy and dirgey, sharing similar sonic subspace with the Swans, Melvins and Dark Castle. Lunch’s guitar work is paint-peelingly atonal and doom-impeccable in equal measure, heavy and eerie as shit, waaay ahead of the curve in terms of more-with-less inventiveness and lo-fi tone manipulation. Who knew that this compilation would reveal her to be one of the overlooked guitar heroes of ’80s NYC? Damn.
With Shut Up and Bleed, we finally get all of Lunch’s recorded “No Wave” works, collected in one handy primer. The tracklisting intersperses Teenage Jesus and Beirut Slump songs in order of creation — which makes this a fucking fascinating document of one woman’s restless creativity, like flipping through the pages of a sketchbook in fast forward, mining and abusing all the possibilities of sound available and inventing some new ones along the way. Riot Grrrl starts here, no wave starts here, post punk finishes here, your educations begins here.