Smog Veil Records
When it comes to rock and roll cities, Cleveland, despite hosting the Hall of Fame, isn’t generally discussed in the same way as New York, Los Angeles or even Memphis. But when someone does mention it, the name Peter Laughner is sure to come up. An early, or founding member of such legendary acts as Pere Ubu and Rocket From The Tombs, Laughner, who died in 1977 at the age of 24, casts a mighty shadow on Cleveland’s underground rock scene. This new box set collects previously unheard songs, lost radio shows and out of print releases to make up a five cd collection, including thirteen songs Laughner recorded solo hours before his death from pancreatitis.
If you draw a blank placing Laughner, it’s because his work saw little release during his life, and he was rarely recorded in a studio. In fact, only a single by Pere Ubu was officially released while he was alive. So this collection ranges from solo radio shows that find him playing original songs and frequent Lou Reed and Bob Dylan numbers (in fact, a large portion of this box set is one of those two, from acoustic guitar flights to grinding rock with his bands such as Friction, Fins or a particularly brutal version of Reed’s “Heroin” with Cinderella Backstreet). His most known song – “Amphetamine” – is noted because Jeff Tweedy quoted it on “Misunderstood” on the 1996 Wilco release Being There (“take the guitar player for a ride”).
As noted, the five discs found here start with a pair of radio shows from 1972, with Laughner covering everything from Dylan to Jimmie Rodgers to “These Days” from Jackson Browne. The second disc focuses on his 1973-74 band Cinderella Backstreet, with a punkish burst of moments from Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed and a Laughner original, “I’m So Fucked Up”. Later discs include a duo performance of “Amphetamine” with Don Harvey, and the single greatest moment of the set, a jaw-dropping “Ain’t It Fun” with Rocket From The Tombs, which featured a pre-Pere Ubu David “Crocus Behemoth” Thomas and Cheetah Chrome, soon to be in the legendary Dead Boys.
The last disc, entitled Nocturnal Digressions, is Laughter solo on acoustic guitar, recorded at his home a short time before he died, which lends a certain ghoulish overtone to the songs. His versions of Tom Verlaine’s “See No Evil” and “Come On In” (Laughner played guitar for a brief time in Television), along with numbers from Jesse Winchester, Robert Johnson and Richard Hell show the broad range of Laughner’s influences, and makes you wish that he had lived longer, to truly achieve what this collection hints at. Peter Laughner propelled Cleveland’s punk underbelly, and died before most anyone knew who he was. But now, thanks to Smog Veil, that situation is hopefully in the past, because his work deserves wider acclaim. Not to mention it rocks.