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Old Pundits Play Hard

Old Pundits Play Hard

Cleveland's original punks turn to writing

(l-r) Cheetah Chrome, Bob Pfeifer, Mike Hudson
Photo courtesy of Smog Veil Records

(l-r) Cheetah Chrome, Bob Pfeifer, Mike Hudson

The punk rockers and avant-gardists coming to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum for “Cleveland Confidential” Monday evening have found new fields to plow. After all, the music that brought Cheetah Chrome, Mike Hudson, Bob Pfeifer and David Thomas notoriety was made more than 30 years ago, qualifying them for induction into the Rock Hall.

Not likely, however; they’re not the type. Not only were the groups they were associated with – respectively Rocket From the Tombs/Dead Boys, Pagans, Human Switchboard and RFTT/Pere Ubu – not commercial, they were subversive, and the Rock Hall – if somewhat uneasily – is establishment.

Chrome recently published Cheetah Chrome–A Dead Boy’s Tales From the Front Lines; Hudson’s books are Jetsam and Diary of a Punk; Pfeifer just released his first novel, the kinetic curiosity University of Strangers; Thomas has worked solo and in various permutations of Ubu and wrote Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi, an adaptation of the Alfred Jarry play that inspired the original Ubu in the mid-‘70s. Thomas is only on this date and on one April 14 in Los Angeles.

I recently interviewed Pfeifer, whose vocals and nervy guitar, along with Myrna Marcarian’s Farfisa organ (inevitably called “cheesy” whenever the group pops up) defined Kent’s short-lived Human Switchboard. I also interviewed Thomas via e-mail. Here are highlights:

“I have linear writing, straight writing, then I have this kind of writing,” Pfeifer says of University of Strangers, his brief, dense book about the Amanda Knox murder trial in Italy. “I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I’m really interested in some correspondences I’ve had with people, how correspondence can tell a story. Two people kind of confess things at a distance. I think Facebook kind of does that.”

Following Human Switchboard, Pfeifer released a solo album, After Words, on the long-defunct Passport label, and held executive positions at Epic Records and Hollywood Records. He includes a download card of his latest group, the Tabby Chinos, in copies of University. He’s largely over music.

His debut novel is challenging, shifting points of view and voice in lurid, tabloid style. Even when it bewilders, it’s compelling. “There is a linear story in my book… the hardest part was to not just be a bunch of people talking and to make them connect from different points of view.

“The story of my book is very basic. Every story has been told: there’s a love story, the jilted lover story, the murder story. The story just has to be told differently.” What attracted him to the Amanda Knox case is it’s probably the “first international murder I know of where there are three parties from different countries”: Knox is American, her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito is Italian, and Rudy Guede, “the person who probably did it all,” is from Africa. Knox and Sollecito were convicted of sexual assault and murder in the death of Meredith Kercher in late 2009.

Pfeifer plans to read from his novel at the rock hall. Thomas (pictured below) may improvise.

“I'm really grotesquely unaware of exactly what I'm supposed to do,” he writes in an e-mail. “If they want me to read, then I will do a dramatic reading from my eBook illustrated script to Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi - though I suppose I could read from one of my 'lectures' posted on www.ubuprojex.net. I am rather proud of the website - it's nearly a book in itself at this point. And as such satisfies much of any desire I may have to express myself in print.”

Has he considered writing a book? “The closest I've gotten is the notion of working on an annotated photo/art book with John Thompson (who designs all Ubu graphics). I don't have any desire at all to do memoirs. My songwriting uses up all the desire I have to do fiction. I might be tempted to do a ‘scientific’ work on the interaction of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity and music/sound but that's an ambitious work that will probably never see the light of day... there's always some bit of paperwork or accounting that eats up my time."

Does Thomas want to be inducted into the Rock Hall for Pere Ubu, as solo artist, or both? “No, I have no desire to be there. I know there is zero chance of it ever happening, so there's not much incentive to work up a desire. I crave recognition as much as the next man, let's be clear on that, but long ago I came to a separate peace with the ego drive that's required to succeed in that realm. The thing I fear is that Pere Ubu will be shoe-horned into a ‘Cleveland's A Plum’ ghetto in some dim distant corner as a ‘political’ sop. That I would refuse so powers-that-be take note. If Soft Machine or Henry Cow ever get in then my hopes might rise.”

Sponsored by Smog Veil Records, the "Cleveland Confidential Book Tour" takes place at 7 pm on Monday, April 11 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The free event reached capacity in an hour, but will be streamed live from the Rock Hall website.

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