KCRW Broadcast 16
When Jeffrey Lee Pierce died in 1996, he disappeared back into the mists from which he came. Jeffrey is the first and only American mythological figure I have ever met. It really doesn’t matter where he was born—he wasn’t from there. Jeffrey was from the badlands, the bayous, the swamps, steaming jungles and endless deserts of his imagination. He cloaked himself in Blues imagery and lived his life as a tragic hero on a death trip, a visionary who knew that his time would soon be up. I know this sounds to be an exercise in hyperbole but Jeffrey was that far out there.
That Jeffrey would not make it to old age was a given. It was apparent to me every time I hung out with him. It wasn’t that he was a downer to be around, quite often he was very buoyant, friendly and upbeat. It was also easy to see that his skies were clouded and that he saw that his end date was near. I know this sounds very romantic and from the outside, perhaps it is but up close, it was not. It was sad. Whenever I saw Jeffrey, I always wondered if it was going to be the last time.
One time, he came by my office and sat next to me, where I am sitting now, writing this, and showed me pictures of Vietnam. The pictures looked like they were taken decades ago. Farmers, rice paddies, oxen, jungle. I asked him where he had gotten them and he told that he had taken the photos, that he had been living there. I immediately thought to myself that I was sitting next to Col. Kurtz or Arthur Rimbaud. Jeffrey’s life outside of America, a place that never appreciated him enough for my liking, will always be shrouded in partial truth and shadow. For years he lived in Europe, only periodically coming back to America, only to face the homogenized apathy that stifled and simultaneously fueled so many artists. This years spent away from his bad America only expanded the pool of darkness around him.
In true Blues fashion, Jeffrey wrestled his demons constantly. He sought solace in drugs and alcohol, to the point to where it threatened to dull his very immense talent. For years, Gun Club shows I witnessed were erratic because of whatever Jeffrey had ingested before walking onstage. At one point, soon after the release of the Mother Juno album, a beautiful piece of work, he asked me for advice. I gave Jeffrey pep talks about taking better care of himself. I listed all the things he had going for him. His new album was great, his band was powerful, attendance was up, it was everything a musician could want, why threaten something that he had worked so hard for? I knew he heard me but I also knew that whatever destructive forces dominated his life were ultimately the spoke to him most clearly.
One night I’ll never forget. He and the band hit stage at the Lingerie Club in Los Angeles and basically played the Pastoral Hide & Seek album in its entirety to a less than full audience. I was at the front of the stage and when they finished the song Flowing, I was barely able to clap I was so awed by what I had just heard. It was a moment I can’t forget because I remember realizing that somehow this thing that he had would slip away, underappreciated and that eventually, it would turn into that which would do him harm.
Jeffrey’s talent was so real and so rare, I get very angry that it wasn’t acknowledged by more than the few who were sharp enough to pick up on his work. All the Gun Club records are good, great even, and deserve repeated listening. They are however, heavy listening and not always the right soundtrack for more than a solitary evening in a room or a long drive. He had a gift that he very obviously knew he possessed but was also a curse, a hellhound on his trail. Eventually it got him and swallowed him up. It was only a matter of time.
Thankfully, the music lives on and it’s there, re-issued and maintained by those who know that we’re all better off with Jeffrey’s very great songs in easy reach. The final blow, or irony if you will, is that the one person who never got the benefit of Jeffrey’s genius was Jeffrey. I can’t explain to you how much I miss him. –Henry Rollins
E-Mail address for Henry: Henryontheradio@AOL.com
01. LL Cool J - Going Back To Cali / Less Than Zero Soundtrack
02. The Misfits - Static Age / Static Age
03. Sly & Robbie – Jailbreak / A Dub Experience
04. Thin Lizzy - Jail Break / Jail Break
05. We Should Be Dead - Zero Point Five / Forget Romance, Let's Dance!
06. Manifesto - E Dub / Manifesto
07. The Clash - Remote Control / The Clash
08. The Rolling Stones - Hang Fire / Tattoo You
09. Prince Zulamkah – Ligiligi / Living Is Hard
10. Sam Cooke - Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen / Sam Cooke's Night Beat
11. Wire - Map Ref. 41°n 93°w /154
12. Television - Marquee Moon / Marquee Moon
13. The Fall - Free Range / Complete Peel Sessions (Disc 4)
14. Dinosaur Jr. - There's No Here / Farm
15. Stan Getz & João Gilberto - Corcovado / Getz-Gilberto
16. Miles Davis & Gil Evans – Corcovado / Quiet Nights
17. Iggy & The Stooges - I'm Sick Of You / single
18. Dan Deacon - Red F / Bromst
19. Thee Oh Sees – Rainbow / Help
20. Black Dice - Ten Inches / Repo
21. Sun Ra - The Antique Blacks / The Antique Blacks
22. Thomas Mapfumo – Murandu / Hokoyo!
23. The Tuff Monks - After The Fireworks / single
24. Gun Club - Bad America / The Las Vegas Story