Residents of Cleveland in the 1970s produced some of the most memorable proto-punk music ever made, music so memorable we still talk about it today even though it was barely recorded and in its day, was almost totally unreleased. These bands still exist for people like me, not like the bands whose records I pored over in my youth but like remembered dreams, rock and roll ideas so imperfectly documented, the imagination has to fill in a lot of blanks. Adele Bertei was in the thick of this scene while it happened, and was in a band with Peter Laughner, whose work as a member of Rocket From The Tombs and Pere Ubu is totemic to anyone even a little bit interested in what punk before punk sounded like. Peter And The Wolves explains how this sausage got made even when it felt like no one was looking.
Picking up enough info about this scene has always been tricky, but possible, kind of like poring through rolls of old microfilm, looking at negative images of photos and trying to get a feeling from them. Bertei’s text puts flesh to the images, vivid memoir writing that captures a flavor from a place and time. I can’t say if this is completely accurate, I wasn’t there, but it rings true according to what I do know about that town and my own impressions of it as a tourist. It has the feeling of reading an article that you want to keep going on. The 80-some pages pass quickly, and I recommend having a copy of Smog Veil’s excellent 5-disc Laughner retrospective from 2019 handy for background music.
Although Laughner’s most well known works were the nihilistic anthems “Ain’t It Fun” and “Life Stinks”, at heart he seems to be more related to the singer-songwriter-poets of punk, the Lou Reed and Patti Smith types, than either the Stooge-clod Dead Boys or the avant whimsy of Pere Ubu. That’s one of the many image corrections that careful reading of this book allows. He left the planet in June of 1977 at 24 years old and it’s irresistible to imagine what the postpunk era would have brought out of him. His music seems completely of its time and yet hovers outside it, because it never got a proper hearing when it was being made.
Maybe a fragmented, remembered dream of an impression of Peter Laughner is all we are ever going to get, but it’s a lot better than nothing. Thanks Peter for trying, and thanks Adele for these memories and your own artistry in telling the tale.