Artists On Albums: AOA#33 (Thalia Zedek on Junkyard)

Thalia Zedek on…

The Birthday Party’s Junkyard (Missing Link/4AD, 1982)

The Birthday Party - Junkyard

The Birthday Party – Junkyard

I remember clearly the luckiest record shopping day of my life.  It was 1982 and I was at Newbury Comics, the only record shop in Boston that stocked underground records at that time.  I went to the new arrivals bin and starting flipping through the stack, and then I did something very uncharacteristic for me, as I was EXTREMELY financially cautious at the time and buying new records was a very big deal.  I selected two records by bands I had never heard of before based solely on their cover art. Those two records were Fire Of Love by The Gun Club and Prayers On Fire by The Birthday Party.

The Gun Club was love at first listen.  Their blues-fueled rampages went straight to my heart like a shot and I could easily follow their trail of influences because they were my influences too.

But the Birthday Party – holy shit!  This music was weird!  It was wild. Unlike anything that I had ever heard before. The guitar player sounded sometimes like a mariachi band, other times like a swarm of bees. The drums lurched and spasmed.  The lyrics were totally not blues, not rock and roll – they sounded like the diary of a schizophrenic; “I am a figure of fun (dadadadadadadada) RIGHT!!!”  You couldn’t really dance to it, you could only convulse. The Gun Club record spent more time on my turntable but I was probably more proud of owning The Birthday Party record.  No one else that I knew had heard of them and I loved to play this rare specimen of a band for my friends and watch their reactions.

Fast forward to 1983. By then I was working at the aforementioned record shop, which had just opened its second store.

When the bimonthly shipment of new releases came in we all rushed to unpack the boxes. Newbury Comics had a policy of allowing its employees to ‘borrow’ records.  We would usually only get one or two copies of the imports, so this could get quite competitive.

I almost didn’t recognize Junkyard as being a Birthday Party record at first.  The Big Daddy Roth cartoon on the cover was completely different in style than the Prayers On Fire cover.  I put it on at the shop right away.  The first booming, descending bass notes of “She’s Hit” lurched forward with a clattering faltering snare drum chasing at its heels. “There is woman pie in here, Mr. Evangelist says she’s hit, the best cook you ever had you can’t blame the good woman now Dad…”

“She’s hit, every little bit she’s hit she’s hit she’s hit… HOLY SHIT.”

I was hooked. This record was on my turntable every day, at least twice a day at the record store and then all night in my tiny roach-infested studio apartment above the greasy spoon where I would snarl along to “Big Jesus soulmate TRASHCAN!”  This record made me quit my pop band (Dangerous Birds) and form the more experimental Uzi.  It made me love poetry again.  It made me love reading again.  It was the first band that I had heard that sounded nothing like any other band.  The first band that I heard playing a type of music that didn’t exist until they created it.  As much as I loved the Sex Pistols and The Ramones, I recognized them as speeded-up and simplified basic rock and roll. The same with bands like R.E.M. and Dream Syndicate with their 60s influences.  They were fun, but The Birthday Party was something REALLY new, and Junkyard was the most ferocious, sleazy, and sexy record I had ever heard.

[To this day, one of my biggest musical ‘regrets’ is not going to see Rowland Howard perform in Melbourne in 2005.  RIP Rowland. RIP Tracey. Your music lives on…]

Notes On The Artist:

Thalia Zedek

Thalia Zedek

A resiliant and creative veteran of the US underground rock world since the early-‘80s, Thalia Zedek has left a trail of tough and uncompromising yet enduring and inspired work across her career to date.

After one release with short-lived all-girl Boston pop-punk quartet Dangerous Birds in 1982 (the now highly-collectible “Alpha Romeo” b/w “Smile On Your Face” 7” single), Zedek formed the short-lived Uzi, another Boston-based band, which yielded just one mini-album in the shape of 1986’s Sleep Asylum.  After a short stint in New York between 1987 and 1990, taking over as the main singer in no wave outfit Live Skull, Zedek returned to Boston to form her most successful band, Come, with Codeine’s Chris Brokaw.

Signed at various times to Matador, Beggars Banquet and Domino in the US and Europe, Come delivered an incendiary, intrepid and underappreciated four-album run with 1992’s visceral-kicking Eleven: Eleven, 1994’s brutally bleak Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, 1996’s more experimental Near-Life Experience and 1998’s sublime double-length swansong Gently, Down The Stream.  After a long hiatus that became a de facto but amicable retirement for Come, Zedek has released a string of solo albums through Matador (2001’s cruelly overlooked Been Here And Gone) and Thrill Jockey (2004’s Trust Not Those in Whom Without Some Touch Of Madness and 2008’s Liars And Prayers), along with a clutch of EPs and limited edition releases through the likes of Acuarela and Return To Sender.

In recent years, Zedek has reunited with the original line-up of Come for occasional reunion shows. A deluxe reissue of Come’s Eleven: Eleven (expanded with vintage live material) is set for release jointly on Matador and Glitterhouse in May, with further live shows planned to coincide.  In the interim, Zedek’s latest and long-in-the-pipeline solo album, the gritty yet yearning Via, is available on Thrill Jockey towards the end of March.

Comments

  1. What a nice surprise, thanks so much for the article, it’s a nice opportunity to read Zedek’s writing, she is even poetic in her prose. I always wondered about the transition from Dangerous Birds to Uzi and now I know. Love the artist notes as well, hope to see her writing featured again soon!