BOSTON, 1980 – New York City. Just saying it out loud conjures a cascade of culture and a boisterous, brainy broadcast of fleeting images that tumble across your cerebral cortex like a thousand, tiny Eastern European gymnasts.
Chimey Sinatra geography with the Bronx up and Battery down. The blaring discordance of a new freedom on 52nd Street as Monk and Mingus spread the news. The jingle-jangle Village of Dylan in the basement and the Yippies bringing it all back home to the big bang.
Then that crash, the high speed, driving impaired, bound to happen 70’s slide of Times Sq. and the cities shattered soul down into an everlasting gobstopper of porn, dope and crime.
As always, the music of that time, those fevered offerings to the gods heard only by those who listen can tell the whole story of that insane time in New York City.
Things were not much better in Boston to be sure. They weren’t much better in London, Los Angeles or Lahaina either. The sad tatters of the 60’s dream of peace and love could be found around the world.
Right along with a few pennies and a bent dime if you looked deep within the grimy paper cup festooned with the words “spare change” that dirt-grimed hands would thrust at you as you walked down most any metropolitan street in those days.
The ruthless lie of “Teach Your Children” was exposed to be more akin to pulling a train on a drug-addled kid by a line of slobbering creeps than the Aquarian love fest that was sold to gullible teens around the world as “giving peace a chance.”
The Bush Tetras seemed to embody all that was adored and abhorred about NYC in 1980 with their opening salvo “Too Many Creeps.”
Propelled by the dual exhaust, finely-tuned funk engine of Dee Pop and Laura Kennedy and primed for detonation by the surgical precision of Pat Place’s angular and athletic guitar stylings, the band was a bold, CinemaScope (TM) snapshot of the time and became a blistering critique of our withering society with the addition of Gurl Fourteen’s words and ways.
Cynthia Sley arrived in NYC in 1979 and quickly found herself in the middle of a maelstrom. If your fairy tales featured hobnailed art criminals, scheming dope peddlers, passionate dreams and unquenchable desire then you could say she was living a typically Grimm life.
Your humble narrator first met her four days after his 20th birthday. (see Gurl Eleven) when her band came to play at the Underground in Boston. They were playing right after a two-night stand by an amazing UK combo called Delta 5.
As brilliant as those radical, political, feminist, from the same Leeds scene as Go4, Mekons etc were, many of us, in the thrall of NYC and the proto-funk/post punk dance gods that lived there, saved our essence and best drugs for that Friday. None of us were disappointed.
There is one, nearly universal thing that can be said about musicians who have “it!” That ephemeral, magical, unpredictable “thing” that elevates them from merely being someone who “makes” art into magical beings forging celestial marks in the heavens that you can guide your ship by.
That is simply this…they don’t know how it happens.
It doesn’t matter. Ask Picasso, Pynchon or even Patti Smith “hey, how did you get THAT idea?” They will almost always say “Uh, I dunno man, it just came to me.”
When you are a real artist you simply make shit that allows the rest of us to find meaning, comfort and solace in that work almost by accident.
It is like all the joy, all the pain, all the emotive energy expended in the world flows out and then is channeled through the special folk we call artists into work that will move us to tears or drag us to laughter.
It is pretty clear that having this gift doesn’t necessarily make you a nice or, better person. As a matter of fact, a whole heaping shitload of great artists are complete assholes.
Somehow, we overlook their fatal flaws because their work moves us and gives meaning to our pathetic scramble for validation.
Sometimes, we get lucky and find artists like Gurl Fourteen who, in addition to their gifts are also evolved and spectacular human beings as well.
She has an uncanny humanity that can only come from being better than you were supposed to be. Her notions that simply by being, simply by working, simply by being fearless in the face of adversity you can change the world, was inspirational.
She is what the hippies should have been. Through it all, her steady exploration of self and her respect for an individual’s journey played a huge role in the formation of your humble narrator.
After that first show a long-lasting relationship with the band was formed. It led to touring together and shared experiences that can still only be acknowledged when we are together by a raised eyebrow or a polite chuckle when “others” are around.
Your narrator’s Grandfather died the night of a triumphant Bush Tetra’s Boston show in front of thousands of fans. It was a bittersweet evening but with the whispered words of Cynthia, it became the catalyst for a metamorphosis that led to an insanely cool life and to the answer to questions that would never be thought to ask.
That is perhaps the purpose of these little screeds. An acknowledged and measured appreciation of Gurls that have contributed to an amazing journey.
No dreams were undreamed in the writing of this article.
Your humble narrator Kip Wilson is the main character of “The Lonely Planet Boy” and is known for being a critic and someone whose life is irrevocably altered by an artist.
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