17 February 2012

#100 - Pere Ubu - Nonalignment Pact

Nonalignment Pact - Pere Ubu
from The Modern Dance, 1978

Since Lin decided to start with the delicate and minor-keyed "Via Chicago," it seems fitting that I should open with a thick slab of raucous noise--Pere Ubu's "Nonalignment Pact," the first track from their 1978 debut LP, The Modern Dance. Beginning with a series of shrill, almost painful shrieks from one of Allen Ravenstine's synths before dissolving into a nearly rockabilly guitar riff and the full-throated ravings of vocalist David Thomas (one of rock's few truly unique singers), "Nonalignment Pact" picks up where Pere Ubu's handful of early singles ("30 Seconds Over Tokyo," "Final Solution") with the late, lamented Peter Laughner started--with the sub-romantic ravings of a heartbroken Thomas, trying to figure out where it all went wrong.

I wanna make a deal with you, girl
get it signed by the heads of state
I wanna make a deal with you, girl
get it recognized 'round the world.

Recognizing (as any decent scholar of international relations would) that the status of love depends upon the recognition of the community (isn't it obvious that Ubu would be constructivists?), Thomas begins and ends this song with the simple request that his ex-girl engage in a credible commitment to leave him the hell alone. The song careens on from there, at one point featuring Thomas's trademarked unhinged warble as he half scat-sings her "thousand other names." Naturally, these entreaties leave him winded, confused, and alone, barking out into the chaos and screaming again for her to just leave him alone. It's also fairly dance-able, in a spazzy, pogo and swing your arms around kind of way.

Ubu are a major touchstone for me, and not only because they're Ohio's number one all-time rock band. Back when I was young, impressionable, and still trying to figure out what punk rock was, David Thomas and Peter Laughner (who died before Ubu could record this record, but who will be making a return appearance in a later post) were among the first to show me that what I thought punk had to sound like was wrong, narrow, and no fun at all. The Modern Dance, along with Ubu's first singles (collected on the Terminal Tower compilation) were post-punk before there was punk, pushing boundaries that the NYC types didn't even realize existed. More than anything else, the joy I still get bopping up and down to this song late at night (and, in one memorable instance, tried to make up for my lack of interest in more conventional forms of parter dancing by urging my then-girlfriend, now-wife to join in) is the joy of knowing that we can make anything into punk, as long as we sing it with enough feeling.


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