By Rob van Alstyne
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By Emily Weiss
In New York circa the late '70s and early '80s, the Bush Tetras blazed brightly in the sweaty clubs of the Lower East Side. "That first summer when Bush Tetras became the most popular band in NYC they were, to me, probably the greatest band in the world," says Thurston Moore, who recently penned a book about the No Wave movement, No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980. Bush Tetras were the shining stars of the time.
No Wave: a brief post-punk revolution, all driving rhythm and nihilistic trance. Artier and more experimental than punk, the movement had Bush Tetras, along with Lydia Lunch, at its epicenter. Bush Tetras were bad-asses, and they were ladies, with the exception of drummer Dee Pop—a sight seldom seen on the p-rock stages of yore. These ladies remained kittenish despite the fact that they could kick out successors Belinda Carlisle or Susannah Hoff's perky little teeth.
Art and music co-existed in sweet dissonance. Rent was cheap and the living was good. "New York in the early '80s was like the Wild West: a bankrupt, burnt-out city, good for young artists and musicians to have cheap apartments and run wild, making art and music," says Tetras guitarist Pat Place.
Place recalls the time as a blur. "It was over-indulgent, the eye of the storm, touring constantly—going, going, going." Just out of art school and inspired by the music scene, Place made the transition from artist to musician. "Hanging out around '77, one night it was Blondie or the Talking Heads, Ramones, or Voidoids [featuring Richard Hell]. Then No Wave—which was a little more out there and avant-garde. The clubs were this breeding ground, ripe for creativity."
The scene was both a visual and aural experience: New York, spiked hair, tight pants, striped shirts, and frantic energy. There was excess, drugs, experimentation, and, as drummer Dee Pop says, "We had a lot of sex. I mean a lot! Yee haw!"
Bush Tetras' career was brief and their recordings limited—they released only two 45s and one EP (produced by the Clash's Topper Headon) during their dazzling run. Their single, "Too Many Creeps," made the college top-ten charts. The Tetras' music was hypnotic, tribal, and dirty. The heavy staccato alteration—unstressed beats being just as important as the stressed ones—was noted as an inspiration to Babes in Toyland's Lori Barbero's Flintstones-style drumming. "Nobody can hold a match to the uniqueness and rhythmic trance that the Bush Tetras created 30 years ago," says Barbero. (Disclosure: This writer is also a former member of Babes in Toyland.)
Almost 25 years after her heyday with Bush Tetras, original bass player and founding member Laura Kennedy now calls the Twin Cities home. She has been living in Minneapolis, unable to work while suffering complications from hepatitis C. After a long and tenuous wait, on November 18 Kennedy received a liver transplant at the U of M Hospital. Kennedy's medical bills are astronomical. The rest of Bush Tetras are stepping up to the plate—they have put on a series of benefit shows to help Kennedy with her monumental expenses. On January 17 the band unites at Nick and Eddie to support Laura—and this will be the first time they have played in the Twin Cities in more than two decades.
Kennedy's friends and family rally by her side and keep everyone informed of her progress via blog posts. Recent reports are that this "type O negative girl [who is] stayin' positive" is gaining strength and may soon be transferred from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility. She hopes to attend the Nick and Eddie show.
Thurston Moore immortalizes Kennedy with these words: "I remember seeing Laura jump up with her bass in some kind of rock 'n' roll move (which no No Wave person would ever do) and it forever blowing my mind. I saw her as the coolest girl ever at that point. She certainly remains that way in my consciousness."
BUSH TETRAS play a benefit show for Laura Kennedy with the Suicide Commandos and Skoal Kodiak on SATURDAY, JANUARY 17, at NICK AND EDDIE; 612.486.5800