9. THE JESUS LIZARD “Countless Backs of Sad Losers” (1994)
From the album “Down”
From the album “Down”
David Yow is inhuman. Usually “he sounds like he’s gargled with rocks” is used as a compliment in music; in this case, it sounds like Yow has done that and come away with permanent injuries and post-traumatic stress. It is a singular, strangled growl, simultaneously throat-scrapingly arid and disgustingly wet, and it is without a doubt my favourite voice in rock music.
My favourite thing about The Jesus Lizard in general is that their sound is so unique, you can tell one of their songs from verse one, second one. If it doesn’t kick off with Yow’s irate gurgling, it’ll be Mac McNeilly’s pounding drums beating a grim, unstoppable tattoo, or David Wm. Sims with the bass sound I aspire to above all others, both top-heavy and rumbling below with a hint of overdrive, or Duane Denison, a guitarist who can only be described as shit hot, with his signature trebly wail owing as much to sirens and airborne combat as to conventional electric guitar. To the uninterested ear, it’s just noise. When you get it, though, you fucking get it.
I first got it when the band that at that time I loved above all others, the mighty Nirvana, did a split single with The Jesus Lizard, released by the legendary US underground record label and distribution company Touch & Go Records, of whom more shall be spoken down the line. Nirvana’s entry, “Oh The Guilt”, was a window back to their punkier “Bleach” days after the surprising sheen of “Nevermind” – a slow hand clap there for Mr Butch Vig, who is America’s greatest Shakespeare lookalike, the very image of England’s greatest playwright, the spit of The Bard. He could rake it in as a model for credit card holograms if Garbage ever splits up; he really, really looks like Shakespeare.
And The Jesus Lizard sent forth “Puss”, from their album “Liar”, and it was utterly without compare in my admittedly short experience in music. Nothing that insanely loud yet oddly calm, that disparate yet united, that chaotic yet ordered, and all behind that uncanny voice – how was he getting away with it? How do you even take care of a voice like that? Arsenic throat pastilles? Somewhere in my tiny mind, a voice that would not be stifled said, ‘I must know more’.
Touch & Go had a great mail order business, even in the UK. In those days, you could find mail order record store adverts at the back of your weekly print copy of Melody Maker. You’d ring them up and give them your parents’ credit card details, or cut out the little order form and mail it off with a cheque or postal order; then you’d tie an onion to your belt, which was the style of the times; and in six to twelve weeks you’d either get what you wanted, something else or nothing at all, for some, all, or more than all of the money you intended to spend. Great days! I hasten to add that I had no such problems with T&G though, and even received some little bonuses – of one of which, more will be spoken later.
I explored every inch of their back catalogue, ordered all the 7-inches and cassette tapes my allowance would allow, and immersed myself in the wonderfully macabre world of The Jesus Lizard - and later, Yow and Sims’ previous band Scratch Acid, producer Steve Albini’s bands Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac, Yow’s collaboration with Qui, Touch & Go labelmates Girls Against Boys and influences such as Chrome; clearly they were a gateway drug to other noise rock and grindcore.
And yet I never seemed to get to see them live – everything from miscommunication and lack of money right up to a death in the family stymied me, through to the eventual dissolution of the band, after an unlikely spell on a major label and McNeilly’s departure (luckily he was replaced by the equally-capable James Kimball). When they reformed and played a single London date, I broke that duck. Despite their obvious ambivalence – the official tour t-shirt was a picture of some bags of money – they played many classics with their usual zest that night, and as the final, savage notes of “7 vs. 8” blasted into the venue, I delighted in my great fortune to finally see these titans of cult hard rock do what they do best.
They didn’t play this one, though.
Next time out, get ready to “Kick Out The Jams”!... In a “Dune Buggy”? Strap in, as it could be a “Lump”-y ride!