|Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart
Jeff Lewis The Crypt. Bristol. Sept 17th 2004.
So I stumble down stone steps into a crypt, half
expecting some Goth nightmare. Instead it’s an Indiekid haven, complete with tables filled with comics and ‘zines. It looks fantastic. The three piece band on stage are pretty good too. They’re called The Loners, and the singer reminds me of a ten year old Gregory Webster (of Razorcuts and Sportique). He sings songs that go ‘la la la la la la la’ dead loud whilst thrashing the living daylights out of a guitar like The Wedding Present the moment before everything got spoiled. They are like overexcited Year 7’s in the first week of high school, and that’s
to be applauded. Go Loners!
By comparison I Lost My Collar are like underachieving Year 9 boys. They do a cover of my second favourite Jonathan Richman song (‘New Teller’) that shows how misunderstanding the naiveté of Richman leads only to embarrassment. With their appalling stumbling and fumbling, these guys prove to me that the idea of improv only works with people who are either amazingly good or so naturally bad it kind of turns itself on its head. I Lost My Collar are way too knowing to be naturally bad: They probably think they are twee punks but really they are just a bit embarrassing. Gimme more Loners!
I tend to think of Jeff Lewis as a loner. If we were to continue the whole high school metaphor, Jeff would be the naturally strange and quiet Year 11 kid spending his lunchtimes in the art room drawing comics and making life size models of the Velvet Underground in clay. And when he takes the stage with his bassist brother Jack and drummer David Beauchamp they kick off with a performance of ‘Arrow’ (from the ace It's The Ones Who've Cracked That The Light Shines Through album on Rough Trade) that is like those Velvets, Galaxie 500 and Modern Lovers all rolled into one. It’s heavenly.
Jeff then goes solo for a while, ditching the mic and running us through the opening of what is shaping up to be one lengthy ‘lecture’. It’s an illustrated history of Communism, kind of like his ‘History Of Punk On New York’s Lower East Side, 1950 1975’ that you can pick up on the CDR accompanying issue one of his ‘Guff’ comic, and it’s of course hilarious and captivating and special and sad all at once. It’s like seeing a walking Powerpoint presentation, only way more enjoyable and entertaining than that sounds. Really. I’d love to ditch my PowerBook and data projector and just have Jeff Lewis come in and do a ‘lecture’ in my class every time I kick off projects, but I guess that’s kind of impossible. Unless Jeff wants to come and be our school’s Artist In Residence. Hey Jeff! Ya fancy six months in Devon?!
Though he doesn’t play it tonight, I think his ‘History of New York Punk’ lecture is kind of crucial to any understanding of Jeff Lewis. I mean, I never really got that whole ‘anti-folk’ tag. It seemed to me that people like Adam Green, Kimya Dawson, Major Matt Mason and Jeff Lewis who got stuffed in that pigeon hole were really genuine Folk music, pure and simple. Just like The Fugs were folk music. But then they were/are also Punk, just like The Fugs were Punk, and just like Harry Smith was a proto-punk. Jeff Lewis knows this all instinctively. Also Jeff is hip to the importance of David Peel And The Lower East Side, and if that ain’t good enough for you then, uh, well then get a damn education.
Like all great Pop artists Jeff Lewis is a glorious contradiction. Parading self doubt and fragility in a powerful stage presence, he reminds me of Daniel Treacy so maybe then it’s no surprise that he covered the TV Personalities’ ‘Part Time Punks’ for Rough Trade’s 25 year celebration collection. In my dreams he also does Patrick Fitzgerald’s entire back catalogue. In reality he does a string of his own wondrous songs, culminating in the classic ‘Back When I Was 4’ complete with the soon to be legendary million rubber skeletons. He leaves me beaming and dreaming. Jeff Lewis, I got a safety pin stuck in my heart for you.
© 2004 Alistair Fitchett