Agony Shorthand

Thursday, April 17, 2003
BULL TONGUE, PRESENTED BY BYRON COLEY & THURSTON MOORE….Unbeknownst to me until I stumbled upon it – formative rock critic BYRON COLEY and fellow connoisseur (and musician) THURSTON MOORE are teaming up every two months in the pages of the freebie ARTHUR magazine with a lengthy, multiple-page column called “Bull Tongue”. The reason for the bi-monthly gathering is in order to “Explore the voids of all known undergrounds”, be it music (usually), film or print. First, it’s great to see Coley back in action. I know he never really left – I see his stuff in Mojo or The Wire from time to time, but this particular forum allows him to unfurl a couple dozen reviews, opinions and raves all in the same column, obviously unshackled from anything except for having to share space with Mr. Moore. Not to damn with faint praise, but my whole idea for having this web log serve as a “consumer guide” came not from Christgau, god no, but from Byron Coley, who was and pretty much still is the only critic I can say I almost fully trust. Sure, he likes the basement/outsider/free noise/private-press/hallucinogen-gobbling freak world far more than I do, so I just ignore those reviews and move on. But if it’s not that, and it’s the other thing instead, and he says it’s good – well, it probably is. I’ve listened to him enough times over the years to count on it.

Moore, too, is a damn good writer – I’d seen his Sonic Youth tour diaries over the years, but this stuff is better. Especially in their debut column, which kicks off with 15 paragraphs from Moore on one of my favorite subjects, late 70s/early 80s Southern California punk rock, with an emphasis on THE GERMS and the recent Brendan Mullen/Don Bolles oral history book on Darby & the band: “Lexicon Devil”. From the article is a passage I really dug about hearing The Germs for the first time & then recognizing their place in musical history:

“The primitive repetition and mono boredom-core of the first Germs 7” “Forming” is an transcendent an American outsider recording as exists, inhabiting the same mythical light as anything Harry Smith might’ve uncovered on a backwoods 78 of the 1920s. When Darby recites his brat-commentary at song’s end, berating-yet-celebrating the Germs’ “effort”, it is at once the most giddily frightening and genuinely liberating experience documented by punk rock youth. When Pat Smear’s slashing downstroke guitar style, Lorna Doom’s zoned-out thump/dump bass and Don Bolles’ stoned record collector drumming gel into the most panic attack-driven punk rock band EVER on “Lexicon Devil” (or any other track they recorded), you can hear the future of punk explode through hardcore and then mature into the experimental stylings of everything from Nirvana to Alan Licht….”

Makes you want to throw on some GERMS right about now, doesn’t it? That’s what should happen when a writer is on his game. In the October 2002 issue Coley & Moore also discuss LIGHTNING BOLT, BLACK DICE, CHICKEN LEGS WEAVER (!), MENSTRUATION SISTERS, ED SANDERS and a whole lot more. Move on to the January 2003 issue, & you get the LIARS, COBRA KILLER, A-FRAMES, SUN CITY GIRLS etc. New records to buy, new ‘zines to pick up. The latest March 2003 issue has some RAYMOND PETTIBON film worship, along with much more interesting-sounding media, but nobody’s perfect, right? At least he’s an authentic underground iconoclast, and that’s pretty much what counts here. I wish these guys a long run in these pages. ARTHUR makes each of its issues available in PDF format for printing, right there on their home page. You too can explore the void – print it at work on color paper, like I did!