Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dust It Off: Rocket from the Tombs - The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs

OK, OK, I'm still running way behind. Dust It Off is one day late this week. My sincerest apologies...

The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs
Album: The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs
Smog Veil, 2002
Recording date: 1975

During the years leading up to the first wave of American punk, Cleveland, Ohio emerged as an unlikely epicenter of the new movement, drawing influence from and in turn influencing scenes Detroit and New York City. The two most notable Cleveland proto-punk bands, Pere Ubu and Dead Boys, were both born of the splintering of their joint prototype, the short-lived and oft-forgotten Rocket from the Tombs.

Feautring future Dead Boys Stiv Bators and Gene O'Connor (aka Cheetah Chrome) alongside Ubu founders Peter Laughner and David Thomas - not to mention Craig Bell of Mirrors/Styrenes - this reverse-supergroup provided the ideal petri dish in which to breed a completely original approach to rock'n'roll. Training so many of punk and post-punk's greatest innovators, RFTT could not have been more important.

However, the inevitable clashing of the group's creative minds tore them apart before any official recordings could be made - RFTT was doomed to obscurity, just a footnote in the history of punk. A handful of live recordings and demos floated around among collectors, but absolutely nothing was available commercially until the release of this compilation in 2002.*

Scraped together from what few recordings remained intact, The Day the Earth features early incarnations of many of the best Ubu and Dead Boys songs: "30 Seconds Over Tokyo," "Life Stinks" and "Final Solution" (Ubu), and "Ain't It Fun," "Down in Flames" and "Sonic Reducer" (Dead Boys).

Most importantly, however, the album includes a fairly extensive overview of Peter Laughner's work. Though Laughner would go on to found Pere Ubu, drug and alcohol problems led to his quick departure from the group and not long after, to his death at age 23. One of the greatest innovators in the Cleveland scene, Laughner's songs are profoundly affecting and remain the album's best tracks. In "Ain't It Fun" (written jointly with O'Connor), Laughner speaks of utter desperation and hopelessness, plunging as deeply into life's darkness as any lyricist to date. Such is the despondent resignation of the song that Laughner's prediction of his own early death sounds more tragic than haunting.

The rough, raw sounds of the album bring to mind garage rock and the likes of the Stooges, but the artistic approach to sound and song sets RFTT far apart from any band of their era. The ear-splitting guitars on "Final Solution" sound more like a metallic demolition you might hear in one of Cleveland's factories than like rock music. Thomas's refusal to conform to any existing notions of song craft, as evidenced by "30 Seconds Over Tokyo," would not be matched by New York's art rockers for years to come.

Many years ahead of its time, The Day the Earth is an essential document in the development of American punk. And education aside, it just fucking rocks.

*One compilation was released in the 90's but the limited pressing (<1,000) was virtually impossible to find.

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