Been on a pretty serious Peter Laughner kick in the store lately. After a bootleg CD emerged at the store recently called Nocturnal Digressions, that no one seemed to know where it came from, I have not been able to stop listening to it over and over again. Each listen provides further insight and appreciation for the Cleveland patron saint of culture. Some reading this post may be aware of this important recording, but to those who aren’t, the backside of the CD reads:
“Nocturnal Digressions was recorded by Peter Laughner in his bedroom at his parents house in Bay Village, where he’d moved back to after him and Charlotte Pressler were divorced, the night before his death. ”
Whether intentional or not, the record was Laughner’s goodbye. There is a whole spectrum of opinions about whether Laughner’s demise was calculated or not. Some consider the recording to be a aural document of an artist killing himself on tape, while others disagree, and feel that it was more of a slow and steady decline. Regardless, listening to this last recording –literally performed on his death bed– doesn’t provide any answer to that conundrum per se, however a transformation does take place over the course of the album, mainly in the songs he chose to play, which include acoustic reinterpretations of Television, Richard Hell, Velvets, and Robert Johnson (who Laughner points out before playing died at 22), Van Morrison, and Rolling Stones all recorded to tape. He takes a lot of liberties with each song, so much that they become his own, through his distinct style and ability to emphasize the underemphasized parts of these songs, which at once demonstrates his deep love and fan spirit, and his ability to communicate his own emotions through these songs. It is palpable in this last recording how these reinterpretations actually express his own voice, especially when juxtaposed with songs he wrote–the album when taken in entirety presents almost a perfect snapshot into his psyche. Which seems like a metaphor for for Laughner from what I can tell, according to Lester Bangs, Jane Scott, and the others that have written on Laughner. And a gorgeous one at that.
As John Petkovic pointed out in a 2002 25-Years-Ago tribute piece for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “For years, Laughner’s death received more attention than his music. It was immortalized in stories and books..” And for this reason, there clearly is no point in point in further fetishizing his premature and untimely death. (Especially in the current moment of imperialistic reissuers who have no business getting involved- trying to take credit for art that they barely even know a thing about, hilariously clueless and uninformed music journalists, etc.) Of course it’s tragic. Of course one could be easily swept away daydreaming about what Laughner could have done had he lived longer. But instead, there is this puzzle that will never be pieced together, and (for me at least) the enjoyment of the art now comes in the form of cherishing and honoring these moments where you find treasures like this one. So go find yourself one, or come in to Used Kids and ask me for a copy, and I might consider it.
Interested persons, dig the following:
“I have nothing to say to outsiders about Peter. Do what you want. Believe what you want. Use him for any agenda you have in mind. Leave me out of it.” — Dave Thomas on Peter Laughner
John Petkovic- Recalling a Rocker Whose Time Never Came Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 7, 2002
Charlotte Pressler- Those Were Different Times CLE MAGAZINE, 1978