Tuesday, March 2, 2010

8 Eyed Spy

"Teenage Jesus and the Jerks bit the dust in mid-'79 after a torrid European tour featuring a wheelchair bound Lydia Lunch, Jim Sclavunos on bass and Lydia's then-squeeze Johnny O'Kane on drums (in lieu of regular pounder and loose-cannon Bradly Field). Having sonically expressed so much about sheer terror in a corpus adding up to so few total minutes, it seemed that the group was cut down in its prime simply for the sake of sheer nihilism. After Lydia finished the sessions for her bizarre, almost torchy debut solo album Queen of Siam (ZE Records, 1980), she set about forming a new combo with Sclavunos on drums and added ex-Contortions bassist George Scott (who appeared on said solo album under the pseudonym 'Jack Ruby' in an allusion to his defunct '77 hard rock combo named after the famed assassin) along with guitarist Michael Paumgardhen and multi-instrumentalist Pat Irwin to make 8 Eyed Spy.

After debuting in Fall '79, the band lasted shy of a year, but packed a huge musical wallop, as evidenced on their classic, posthumous Live cassette release on New York City-based proto-indie ROIR Records. Operating in a totally different and more mature musical mode than previous Lydia Lunch projects, 8 Eyed Spy fused Beefheartian discord with Surf music and roots-rock earthiness while retaining the bleak lyrics and monotone caterwaul expected of their anti-charismatic front person. The Spy is undoubtedly a rock and roll band - hot, energetic, dirty and emotional. Their songbook included furious and scabrously performed covers of songs by the likes of Bo Diddley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane and the Strangeloves' galloping 'I Want Candy' (beating Brits Bow Wow Wow to the punch by two years), but don't get the wrong idea here, kids: 8 Eyed Spy wasn't some fogey-ish '60s revival group - when it came to original material, this quintet delivered some truly gnarly, harrowing skronk! On the ROIR tape, ditties like 'Frantic', 'Love Split With Blood' and 'Boy Meets Girl' careen with berserk discord as the guitars pile up in a contrapuntal/polytonal gridlock on top of Jim Sclavunos' busy, angular drum frameworks. On many of the tunes, Pat Irwin (at the time concurrently playing in modernistic, Surf-influenced instrumental outfit The Raybeats with George Scott and fellow Contortions alums Jody Harris and Don Christensen) drops his axe and blows some piquant alto saxophone lines over the whole seething mess. There's a grungy, barwalking feel to the honking horn playing on songs like 'Sorry for Behaving So Badly' and 'Lazy in Love' which really expanded the tonal possibilities of the unit. Lunch is particularly effective as a vocalist when she really lets it rip, almost losing control on the cruelly spiteful dirge called 'Looking For Someone'.

By the Fall of 1980, after a string of killer New York City dates and some European touring, Lydia abruptly quit the band, remarking accusing Irwin in particular (who would later be seen mugging away in the B-52s corny 'Love Shack' and 'Meet The Flintstones' videos!) was trying to push the music into a more polished and cozy commercial Pop direction. To hammer an ominous nail into the coffin, bassist George Scott died of an allegedly accidental heroin overdose on August 8, 1980, pretty much insuring the end of the project. The four remaining members briefly regrouped later that year to record a few over-produced and ineffectual versions of some of their original material, bundling those tracks with a side's worth of live stuff to muster a forgettable eponymous album released in 1981 on UK-based Fetish Records.

The far-superior and vastly more energetic Live release seems to be culled from (perhaps) three separate shows. The versions of 'Sorry For Behaving So Badly', 'Innocence', 'Boy Meets Girl', 'Swamp Song', 'Run Through The Jungle' and 'Motor Oil Shanty' spring from the final live gig at Hurrah's, in New York City on August 3rd, 1980. Video footage of this particular performance surfaced on Lydia's recent Video Hysterie DVD, originally shot by video artist Paul Tschinkel for his defunct NYC cable access show Inner Tube. 'Looking for Someone', 'Ran Away Dark' and 'Frantic' are from a San Francisco gig at Mabuhay Gardens (featuring opening acts Johanna Went - the awesome, uber-messy performance/sound artist - and early-industrial junk-metal percussionist Z'ev) on February 9, 1980. The Bay Area-based video company Target Video filmed this particular gig and it appeared on a long-out-of print VHS video compilation. I'm not sure where or when the remaining quartet of tracks came from, but they sure sound great. All of the audio here was 'reprocessed' (i.e. mostly likely re-eq'ed) by dB's frontman Chris Stamey and the final product was released in late 1981.

Lydia Lunch continued on soon after to lead combos like the quasi-blues Devil Dogs (not the garage band, folks) and the Los Angeles-based death-rock band 13.13 (arguably her finest purely musical achievement) before concentrating on her solo music and spoken word work, amongst many other disciplines. Rock-solid axe-man Michael Paumgardhen would play briefly in Lydia's Devil Dogs and on one track appearing on Richard Hell's R.I.P. anthology before dropping off the No Wave map. Multi-talented Jim Sclavunos - who also was a member of such no-wave related acts like Information, Red Transistor and Beirut Slump - went on to some notoriety in Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds as well as playing in many other acts, including the recently reincarnated - and re-slain - Teenage Jesus line-up. Pat Irwin works steadily in the movie biz, supplying soundtracks to various films and cartoons. Like most of the classic No Wave ensembles, 8 Eyed Spy wasn't built to last, but rather existed to create something brilliantly urgent, jarring and incendiary.

Weasel Walter, Brooklyn, 3/1/10"

Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, 8 Eyed Spy.

Live (ROIR)
1. Diddy Wah Diddy
2. Love Split With Blood
3. Sorry For Behaving So Badly
4. Innocence
5. Boy Meets Girl
6. Swamp Song
7. Run Through The Jungle
8. Motor Oil Shanty
9. Ran Away Dark
10. Lazy In Love
11. Looking For Someone
12. Frantic
13. Maintaing My Cool

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