David Thomas, The Book of Hieroglyphs, Lulu, 2012.
Download a PDF of excerpts.
There's a blog site dedicated to the book.
The Book of Hieroglyphs is rock and roll. It does not present stories of drug fuelled debauchery. It is without amusing anecdotes of life on the road. There are no details of the deeply engrossing lives of rock musicians.
It is the essence.
David Thomas writes according to the unique narrative architecture which has evolved over the century since Edison invented the phonograph/microphone, and over the decades since Ike Turner recorded ‘Rocket 88’ in 1951.
This is a poetry book that doesn’t look like a poetry book. It’s a novel that doesn’t look like a novel. It’s a story that doesn’t look like a story. It’s a film that doesn’t look like a film. It’s a song that doesn’t sound out loud.
Rock and roll makes you pay attention. It reveals ghosts. It reveals ghost towns.
"I'm having the pleasure of previewing David (Pere Ubu) Thomas' book of nonpoems called The Book of Hieroglyphs. Thomas refuses to call the pieces in this book poetry, says they are not the songs. I really don't care what you call them, and it's true that they are unlike anything you've ever read before, but what they are are zings, stings, word bullets that tell stories so condensed that your mind changes on every syllable." - Bob Holman
David Thomas: Interpreting HieroglyphsDavid Thomas, the frontman of the often cryptic and generally electrifying ‘rock band’ Pere Ubu, has moved beyond the aural and released a mesmerizing and bewildering tome of ‘lyrics’ and musings that probe the dark soul of the American Geography of Sound.
This is one of those strange creatures that belies any easy form of categorization. I have long been an admitted fan of the various aural incarnations of David Thomas’ work, from the avant garage surrealism of Pere Ubu to his outings with The Two Pale Boys. Thomas’ lyrics concoct landscapes and narratives from an alternate, bizarro rock world. And here many of those words are set in ink on paper like some gnostic papyrus.
But what, exactly, is The Book of Hieroglyphs (BOH)? It would be far, far too simplistic to describe it as a book of lyrics. For one thing, it is abetted with intense essay-forms alongside strange, surreal narrative musings. There will be an inevitable debate about the precise form(s) of this book, indeed the back cover description clears the runway for interpretation: “This is a poetry book that doesn’t look like a poetry book. It’s a novel that doesn’t look like a novel. It’s a story that doesn’t look like a story. It’s a film that doesn’t look like a film. It’s a song that doesn’t sound out loud.”
David Thomas has always refuted easy categorization. Cultural critic Greil Marcus’ begins his book The Shape of Things to Come – Prophecy and the American Voice with a cornucopia of myriad voices, with quotes from Noam Chomsky and The Reverend Jerry Falwell, Bob Dylan and Herman Melville. He immediately moves into the most lively account of the speeches of Martin Luther King imaginable, a brief but poignant history of the Puritans and the politics of Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, the voices of King and Lincoln, along with Kennedy, Clinton, Presley and Dylan haunt these pages like an unseen and unruly choir. At its core it is a strange grouping indeed. Essentially, and this is simplistic at best, Marcus focuses his discussion on the novelist Philip Roth, the filmmaker David Lynch, the poet Allen Ginsburg and David Thomas. Only Marcus could start a chapter on Pere Ubu with references to a 1953 essay by the historian Edmund Wilson on the American Civil War along with quotes from Moby Dick and Abraham Lincoln. But there can be little doubt that the juxtapositions work. Titling the section ‘Crank Prophet Bestride America’, Marcus raises Thomas’ work into the pantheon of great American voices. The BOH, as a solid, text-based object will either cement this claim or shatter it.
What can be definitively claimed is that The Book of Hieroglyphs is a strange, captivating book; a journey into the lost soul of America with its lipstick-stained coffee cups and perilous future.
“Thomas’ gnostic argument – that art exists to at once reveal secrets and to preserve them – makes sense of a particularly American – or modern – form of storytelling,” Marcus wrote in Double Trouble (Faber And Faber, 2000). “In a big, multifaceted democracy, you’re supposed to be able to communicate directly with everyone, yet many despair of being understood by anyone at all... Out of this comes an American language that means to tell a story no one can turn away from. But this language – identified by D. H. Lawrence in 1923, in Studies in Classic American Literature, as the true modernist voice, the voice of Hawthorne, Poe, Melville – is cryptic before it is anything else. It is all hints and warnings, and the warnings are disguised as non-sequiturs. The secret is told, but nonetheless hidden, in the musings, babblings, or tall tales of people who seem too odd to be like you or me, like us...”
21•C: The River (and bridges) are an ongoing theme in your work. To what extent are Twain and Conrad influences in this regard? What is the significance of the River – most especially the Mississippi (but in terms of American mythos could one consider the Mekong as well)?
DT: I don’t want to start this interview off bad but I’m not going to explain things. Shorn of mystery a musician is a used car salesman. Twain and Conrad are influences certainly. Clearly. The Mekong has no special meaning to me. I don’t live in Vietnam. I don’t cross the Mekong. It has no significance to me. I’m sure it does to others. A war was fought along it. A war was fought along the Mississippi. Neither river can be defined by those events. Each river approaches a state of timelessness. The respective wars are dots on the timeline. The river flows. People come and go. And the river flows.
There will be an inevitable debate about the narrative form of this book. Lyrics/poetry/narrative. By presenting much of this work according to poetic/lyric form you traverse an inevitable trap. I’ve tried to block out the musical element when reading the BOH (a difficult task to say the least). But if you were to eradicate the structural form of Perfume or Prepare For The End so that they read as pure, albeit experimental, narrative they would take on a different flavor altogether – did you consider tinkering with the form in that regard? (I’m thinking here of the more experimental fictions of such contemporary writers as Blake Butler (Scorch Atlas) or Ben Marcus (The Age of Wire and String).
More time was devoted to the form of BOH than any other element. It was a brutal process involving more than one all night/all day session of reworking EVERYTHING. Then throwing it all away and starting again. The effort became so physically draining that I believe it contributed to the illness that hospitalized me for a week in Intensive Care. At the end of the process certain principles prevailed. The overarching one is described in ‘Read Me First’ – you will of course recognize the title from every computer/software manual you’ve ever encountered. There I make it clear that, like a piece of music or a movie, it is meant to be consumed all in one go, in a short space of time, so that all information is processed simultaneously. Of course, this is not the way reading works. Reading is linear and time consuming. Still, that is its unreasonable demand. Hence the use of footnotes, narratives and essays. It is evolved from the hypertext model of Apple’s HyperCard program. As I said, there were many ways of organization that I attempted, including jumbling the whole thing up. I considered turning pieces like ‘Perfume’ or ‘Prepare for the End’ into prose. I considered turning it all into prose. I rejected the approach because it didn’t seem necessary. The stories are there in such a form that they accomplish all that is required from a narrative POV and they pull in the reader, hopefully, and engage the reader so that the reader’s imagination fills in the blanks personally. This has always been my approach to writing music. It comes from a childhood listening to radio dramas. Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts. Prose encourages bad things like adjectives and adverbs. Gratuitous details and description. Who cares what a character is wearing, or what something looks like, or even what someone is thinking? Who am I to presume what one of my characters is thinking? Once assembled as you read it, it seemed to me to be successful as would be a movie script. The same characters appear throughout in a consistent narrative curve across a series of ‘scenes.’ You get it or you don’t. It’s not my job to spell it all out like I’m talking to children. No, I should rephrase that. If I was talking to children then they would take it as is. It’s not my job to spell it all out like I’m talking to stroppy teenagers or their insolent teachers. Just the facts.
Reading something like Prepare for the End without musical accompaniment is a jarring experience given that in the recorded version the 2PBs complete or help develop the overall narrative. I’m aware that the wording has shifted in this context – are they unrelated in this form?
Well, you put your finger on it there. There is a back story to every song I write. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a scene, a momentary glance out of a window by a character. From that back story I write a set of words and oversee a set of musical ideas and sounds that communicate the sense of the story in a hopefully forceful way. As part of the musical process expressive embellishments intrude, co-workers contribute. The song form itself demands concessions. And sometimes you just gotta fill in space between here and there so that the bridge works. Musical form makes use of repetition in an accumulative way so that the listener has time to process a change of scale or so that he can be placed in a series of recurring and moving POVs that bring into question assumptions he may be making or so that he can ‘see’ the narrative from differing and revealing angles. For BOH I stripped out elements that were musically-derived. I focused on the story and telling the story as succinctly as possible. As the story is shaped one way in a musical presentation, so it is shaped another way in a written presentation. The stuff looks like poetry in the same way that Pere Ubu songs ‘look’ like pop songs. You make use of that similarity for narrative and contextual purposes. I make it clear that I do not see these things as poetry. I do not presume to be a poet. I make up stories and tell them quickly with as little personal intervention as possible. I’m the sort of guy that watches a movie and sees only what’s in front of me. Then after it’s over my wife says, “The Harrison Ford character was a replicant, of course.” “What?!” “You know, the unicorn scenes.” Me, I just thought it was something they put in the movie.
I’ve often thought that ‘poetry’ per se died circa Ginsberg’s Howl to be then gently mutated by the likes of Dylan and Patti Smith – would you essentially agree with that?
I’m not qualified to say. It does seem that ‘poetry’ is of a certain time, a generational window that I feel no part of. Dylan wrote some cool songs. At the time I didn’t think I was supposed to perceive them any differently than Screaming Jay Hawkins, Johnny Cash or Bo Diddley. Naive, I guess. As for Patti Smith, it all left me a bit cold in a ‘gimme a break’ sort of mode. I loved Vachel Lindsay. When I was learning Anglo-Saxon I really liked the lean writing they did. Reminded me of Hemingway. I loved lots of the Beats for the immediacy. Too often the form of poetry obviates immediacy. To quote myself, “Maybe you see further than I can see. Maybe you and I just see things differently.” I am an American of the late 20th Century. Unrepentantly, I want it all and I want it NOW.
In talking about form could one equate the differences between sheer narrative/the essay and poetry to musical forms? eg; if you play ¾ time you get a blues variation, you play 4/4 time you get something along the lines of rock. Could an equivalent breakdown be made for poetry/essay/narrative?
Yes. Good analogy. I'll steal that one.
Yours – and you in fact emphasize this – is a distinctly American voice. What do you think distinguishes the ‘American’ from the ‘English’ or ‘European’ voice?
Since he comes up often, I'll leave that to Greil Marcus. Double Trouble (Faber And Faber, 2000), pgs. 167-168.
In Marcus’ The Shape of Things to Come – Prophecy and the American Voice he begins his book with a cornucopia of myriad voices, with quotes from Dylan, Lincoln and Melville. He raises your work into the pantheon of great American voices. Are you comfortable with these comparisons? Who would you add/subtract?
As regards Greil's book and my place in it I must confess that I have avoided reading it. I enjoy his work and I, naturally, flicked to the chapter on me first. I forced myself through part of the first page and found it impossible to continue. Who the hell is he talking about? Me?!? I do not suffer from false modesty. I am aware of my talents and abilities. But I simply could not face being considered in such exulted company. Abraham Lincoln and David Thomas? Who can read such things about themselves? I am a shlub pop musician with pretensions. Which is not to say that Lincoln was not a shrub county dog catcher with pretensions. Still, there are limits. My job is to keep moving, to keep pushing the boundaries of my field. Greil’s is to analyze. We each get on with our jobs. Greil’s field of vision is society, the Big Out There. My field of vision is my immediate surroundings.
Speaking of American voices – Raymond Chandler and the general sense of a noir sensibility runs through a great deal of your work. Literally the track/story Little Sister and elsewhere (was Bay City from Chandler’s short story Bay City Blues*?). When and how did Chandler impact on you?
The very first Pere Ubu song was ‘Heart of Darkness’ (1975). (‘30 Seconds Over Tokyo’ and ‘Final Solution’ were inherited from RFTT [Rocket From The Tombs, the predecessor of Pere Ubu].) It is a collection of Chandler quotes, paraphrases or derivations. The link to the cheesy horror fiction of Island of Lost Souls is another recurring theme of Pere Ubu songs. The Noir sensibility has been there from the beginning. The references to Bay City are clearly Chandler, and meant to be read that way. As a teenager I devoured all of Chandler. I revisit the books at least once a decade. How did it impact? The loosely drawn demarcation between prose and poetry. The romantic and Noir point of view. The deprecation of plot lines which serves to accentuate the notion of the hidden story – that things are going on beyond the grasp of Marlowe and the reader and the implicit partnership of narrative thereby established. The reader is engaged in the Narrative Voice of the book, drawn into the noble, flawed and possibly doomed pursuit of the Right Thing.
In New Orleans Fuzz Happy Francis tells Billy Two Toes to “Live Free or Die.” In the day and age of No Smoking rules, rules about just about every damn thing, is the notion of ‘freedom’ being utterly eroded. Is this a weird Puritan backlash? The result in part of 9/11? What are your thoughts on bureaucracy?
I like the Puritans. My family through my mother’s line arrived in America in those times. The Puritans have been unfairly stigmatized by Hawthorne and ever since. I am a ‘live free or die’ sorta guy. I do not react well to social engineering and bureaucrats. I do not believe you can pin the obliteration of the notion of personal freedom to the Puritans. It is a purely and wholly left wing imperative in modern times. This is not a political point. It’s simply observational. Anybody is free to do anything they want as long as they are willing to take the consequences. I have made all sorts of possibly disastrous decisions in my life and career. I have been willing to pay the price. I have never asked to be saved from myself and I resent any such attempt.
For an artist whose best work, arguably, is based on the highways of America or the sweaty environs of a place like New Orleans you have moved to England – a fact I find somewhat astonishing. What inspired that move?
Purely personal and family reasons.
Keeping on the road – your work is full of ghost towns, deserted or barely populated diners, loners and misfits. There’s a sense of demise or decline throughout. Do you see America in decline? Has the country lost its soul along with the Wilson Shute? These are stories of localized Armageddon as opposed to Cormac McCarthy’s generalized devastation in The Road, would you agree with that rather bleak view?
I haven’t read McCarthy’s book. As for the substance of the question, my feelings are complicated on this. It depends on what part of the day or what mood I’m in or what I’ve had to eat and how it’s sitting. Marcus paints me as a prophet in the Biblical sense – someone who warns of consequences. Let’s leave it that I warn of consequences. I see the things town away, or abandoned; the things lost there are consequences.
McCarthy’s book, like many other recent fictions from North America tackles the End Times – this would seem to be a particularly American obsession. Does that stem from Puritanical roots? The imbedding of Biblical language? (even the Constitution smacks of the Commandments at times).
I like the Puritans – definitely a people who have gotten the short end of the stick history-wise from self-righteous, self-satisfied and smug revisionists. All men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among them Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness. I know it by heart. I’m an American. I’d say the definition of an American is someone who knows that by heart. BY HEART. Modern democracy, the notion of individual destiny, is solely derived from Christian culture. I see no reason to apologize for it. Yes, there is a sense of End Times in America. In some places it is palpable. It’s a good thing to sense if for no other reason that it focuses the mind.
The words in Electricity; “the city does go mad/whispering in the dark” is particularly apocalyptic. Is the City inevitably the locus of the end?
No. It’s popular to think that – Blake onwards – but I don’t buy it.
In Ghosts you write of “something ancient, Something weary, Something hurt hangs in the air…” This abstract dread reminds me strongly of Lovecraft and, to a slightly lesser extent, Poe. There are hints of horror throughout the book, to what extent (dangerous terrain) would you describe these senses as “supernatural”? You do reference Charles Fort, which opens the floodgates somewhat.
A sense of dread, of something under the surface, lurking, pervades the Pere Ubu catalog. See ‘I Will Wait.’ Even the beginning of the Ubu recording career, ‘Heart of Darkness’ focuses right in on it. Fortean? Yes, but Fort was not about the supernatural in the Lovecraft sense. (Though I was an avid reader of Lovecraft as a teenager.)
The use throughout of footnotes smacks to me of a sneer towards academia. What was your motivation with footnoting certain elements? Obviously in the world of contemporary fiction David Foster Wallace pushed this tactic to extremes – an influence? (I was particularly reminded of DFW’s essay approach in Media Priests of the Big Lie, that ability to focus in on the apparently irrelevant, but in fact highly poignant, minutiae detritus of human life).
I have not read Wallace. I used footnotes as an extension of my approach to music – cram it all in. More info now. All songs I do reference other songs in my catalog, or sometimes iconic songs by other performers. I figured the way to do this in the linear structure of a book was footnotes.
Another literary sidetrack – Golden Surf has, ever since I first heard it and now reading it as prose, reminded me of the writings of Steve Erickson. Do you know his work?
I have not read Erickson. To clarify this point: I often say I don’t watch movies or read books unless a spaceship or baseball is involved. Which is not quite true cuz I read detective stories.
Yet another literary moment – in your discussions of automobiles – most especially the crash, in your case that of the locomotive – I wondered if you’d digested J.G. Ballard’s Crash and his own particular obsession with the automobile?
THAT I’ve read but I’m not aware of much crashing of cars in my work!
There are many references to Brothers and Bones throughout, most especially in the Green River section – who are they?
I hate answering questions like this! Clearly in Green River the bones and brothers are the dinosaurs buried in the hills. ‘Brother’ I usually use to address fellow wanderers as in ‘Last of the Mohicans.’
You came up with the title Datapanik in the Year Zero in the mid-’90s which well preceded the fears inspired by the Y2K bug. Was this pure prescience? Similarly your manifesto which includes information as a sedative drug and dataflow as an imperative pre-empts the obsessive day and age of Twitter, Text and Facebook. How accurate does the notion of Datapanik seem now?
Actually John Thompson and I came up with Datapanik theory in 1976. The first release called ‘Datapanik In The Year Zero’ was an EP released in 1978. Datapanik, formulated as it was in the mid ’70s, is unnervingly prescient. I’d say. At that time computers and the internet were barely a gleam in a geek’s eye. We were looking at TV and pop culture. We were fascinated by advertisements and commercials. Loved used car salesmen on the TV. TV weathermen and local TV news techniques were also very influential to the devising of the theory. We studied what was going on and extrapolated.
Your footnote on p. 258 hones down being American as being based around the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence – but given the preceding pages where is Elvis? Or Robert Johnson or perhaps even arguably Iggy Pop in his Stooges years? Let alone the impact of Melville, Twain or Hawthorne? Or Martin Luther King? Or Poe, Chandler and Philip K Dick?
They’re all in there and derive from the Constitution and Declaration.
In your Biography you make the claim to have fixed the Great American novel. All readers love this blarney – Mailer versus Wolfe, Ben Marcus versus Jonathan Franzen. Books like Don DeLillo’s Underworld, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy have all at one stage or another been handed the poison cup… The Book of Hieroglyphs aside, what is in your pantheon of The Great American Novels?
The list begins and ends with Twain’s ‘Life on the Mississippi’ – not because it written better than anybody else but because it’s the one book you need to read to understand America. It’s Ice Nine somehow.
I last interviewed David Thomas in the year 2000 for disinformation.com. It is reproduced here for die-had fans who haven’t collapsed after the last 3800 words.
pere ubu: datapanik in the year 00
Encounters with the big man. An email discussion, a radio interview, a soundcheck, a dinner, a concert and a drinking session with David Thomas of Pere Ubu.
It all started as a rather odd email encounter when cultural critic Greil Marcus sent me an essay by Pere Ubu’s frontman David Thomas titled The Geography of Sound. At the time I was editing an art magazine. Thomas’ immense, rambling but thoroughly fascinating essay had me enthralled, but it sure didn’t fit an art magazine. Indeed, I’m not sure where it would or will fit, ever. In essence, Thomas' essay, sitting as of writing at around 10,000 words but growing every day, is about place and how that sense of place effects his – and all – creative output.
"Isolation preserves. Isolation clarifies," he writes. "I travel to confirm something I already know, that the sound of musical activity is as much about space and perspective – a geography of sound – as it is about the physics of vibration, or the aesthetics of melody, harmony and rhythm."
We discussed the piece via e-mail, or at least I attempted to discuss it and he grunted, if that’s possible via electronic mail. It didn’t take long to figure that David Thomas, even over the souless medium of email, was one seriously eccentric character. But hey, Pere Ubu remain one of the most influential and seriously ‘alternative’ bands in rock’n‘roll history.
“Culture as understood 100, even 50, years ago no longer exists,” says Thomas. “The only reason Mozart wrote music was to sell Calvin Klein perfume. Voltaire only wrote to sell Gauloises cigarettes. We live in a punk world. Malcolm McLaren said he invented punk music to sell clothes. Everyone laughed at his wit . . . those ironic Englishmen.
“We recognized the horror and truth behind it.
“Punk represented the victory of fashion over substance, of appearance over meaning, of attitude over content,” he says. “It was the tool by which culture was finally done away with, rock music’s evolution into literature short-circuited. Businessmen loved it. It was the victory of Madison Avenue just at the point that rock music was preparing to deliver William Faulkner, Henry James and Herman Melville. Punk and the Sony Corporation rode to the rescue.”
Thomas, of course, speaks from decades of relative obscurity and a position of remarkable influence. The band, formed in 1975 in Cleveland, Ohio, took the jarring discord of punk and gave it a new and poetic form. Thomas’ lyrics, often chilling, but always tongue-in-cheek, had a surreal edge. The band’s early albums, The Modern Dance (1978), Dub Housing (1979) and Datapanik in the Year Zero (1977) became instant classics in any self-respecting ‘avant-gardist’s’ record collection alongside Swans and Suicide, while their first single, 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, preempted many of the nihilistic themes of punk rock.
Their 1980s and early 1990s work was mixed, but their eleventh album, Pennsylvania (1998), suggests a new lease of life.
Pennsylvania's lyrics traverse a strange blend of nostalgia and manifesto-like rants against culture, inspiring Greil Marcus to write in the New York Times: “Pere Ubu may be a better band today than it has ever been; funnier, more doom struck and more passionate. Mr Thomas’s voice is that of a man muttering in a crowd. You think he's talking to himself until you realize he’s talking to you.”
Indeed, at times he has indeed sounded like the guy you try to avoid in the crowd. Thomas is known for his substantial girth and manic stage performances and at times his lyrics have veered into crazed rants; in the 1979 song, Lost in Art, he cries out in a panicked tone “Gimme, gimme, gimme. I want my shoes” over and over until you’re sure what he needs is a straitjacket and a hefty dose of valium. But Thomas’ more extreme moments seem calmed, at least in execution, on the latest record. Pennsylvania is a journey through a remembered landscape speckled with outraged, manifesto-like statements:
“Liars own the words and all the pictures in all the museums in the world are just shell and pea game played by the clever people to bilk the rubes.
“Reality is defined by the needs of the media… Culture is a weapon that’s used against us... culture is a swampland of superstition, ignorance and abuse.”
And David Thomas isn’t joking. In what may be one of the last true punk statements, Thomas happily dismisses almost all forms of culture in a simple broadside. “Visual art only exists to be decorative,” he says. “Nobody with serious ambitions can use the form. The day is past.”
However rock music almost passes muster. On the Pere Ubu Web site Thomas writes: “Rock music as an art is designed to communicate that which is beyond words. It's visionary, nonlinear, nonverbal, non-narrative, inarticulate. We’re dedicated to the art of cohesive, intelligent, nonverbal communication.”
Yet lyrics are an integral element of Pere Ubu's work, most especially on Pennsylvania. “I rarely write lyrics in a linear way,” says Thomas.
“There is a synthesis of vision and sound. The object is to shape sensation. Human consciousness, it seems to me, may exist as a form of complex, hieroglyphic sensation from which we pull the words that we need. Everything that I know seems to be encoded as sensation. I wouldn’t know a thought if it came up and bit me. When you ask a question the answer springs out of nothingness and I flap my gums. If I like the sound of what my voice speaks then I learn it by rote so that I can roll it out like a monkey the next time. The form of the words triggers a recognition of meaning.”
However compared to earlier Pere Ubu, the lyrics on Pennsylvania have more of a narrative quality. “I had a very specific setting in which I wanted the sensations of the art to be presented,” says Thomas. “This required that I use a more narrative approach... I also used [it] for the specific reason that I always say that I don’t use a narrative approach.”
Ironically, for a man who disputes the value of words in linear form, Thomas started out as a rock journalist. “There was an entirely different school of thought 20 or 30 years ago,” he says.
“Each album, believe it or not, was reviewed according to criteria that took into account whether the art of the form was being advanced, whether society and mankind itself was moving forward. I know it sounds bizarre, but it’s true. I was there. That’s a far cry from the current state of journalism. It’s simple why Captain Beefheart didn’t sell as much as Michael Jackson. In a punk world only the surface is saleable. The public is not at fault. The media is at fault. It is, in fact, your fault personally. I’m not speaking metaphorically. If you knew what you were doing there would be no crime or cancer or bad music. Shape up.”
Pennsylvania paints a metaphorical landscape; a roaming away from interstate highways, to places long gone but cherished in hindsight, a world where ‘culture’ is described via diners and bars, a world experienced first hand without the filters of contemporary social expectations.
“Pennsylvania is the space between where you are and where you want to be,” says Thomas. “Look at a map. Consider the breadth of our work. Over and over we set our songs in the spaces between: Montana, the west, the flats, the badlands, wildernesses, both urban and natural.
“Rock music is clearly a reflection of the American geography, both cultural and physical and it hangs as a literary format on the American understanding of space. The language and poetry are parochial, they're not catholic, they’re parochial, it’s a continuity in the nature of folk music fuelled by a core set of values derived from some synthesis of hillbilly, rural black and white middle class sensibilities. Rock music is a refection of American geography, no other geography.”
Despite travelling the world on tour, new continents barely register on the creative process. “Of course not,” he says bluntly. “How can it? If I can read some French and you asked if that affected my use of the American language well, no. Geography is a language. By geography I don’t just mean the rivers and canyons, but how geography changes culture. I understand the language of where I come from and by extension the lands that are attached to it.”
Other geographies remain alien: “I haven’t seen the various ways the sun moves across the bay and the way that this building was built and was torn down and the universal vibration machine shop that was there and has gone. All this stuff I don’t know, I have no grounding.”
One of the key constructs running through Pennsylvania is that the landscape retains more power over memory and mind than culture could ever achieve. However despite the fondness with which the lyrics describe lost terrain, Thomas denies that there is a sense of nostalgia.
“There is no nostalgia,” he states bluntly. “There is only observation. What’s the line about being doomed to repeat the history you don’t bother to learn?
“We all have a sense of living in places that cease to exist. This is what happens when the future destroys where you live. The future destroyed America approximately 25-30 years ago, the future destroyed England about three years ago.
“The media is the future, the media is what destroys nations. At a certain point the media understands the full power that it has and when the media understands that it is the sole creator and arbiter of what is real and true and good and bad, that’s what's called the future and that’s the thing that destroys culture.
“You’re part of the problem. You’re the media. It’s your fault and only you: If only you had made different decisions there would be no cancer or crime or warfare. It’s your fault. It has to do with the media control of reality.
“Where it all stems from is the TV weatherman,” says Thomas. “We did an album in 1977 called Datapanik in the Year Zero and we called it that because it was our impression, our analysis, that information can only act as a sedative-like drug in which the consequences after a period of time is that there can be nothing that’s right and nothing that’s wrong. This was strangely prophetic given the world we live in now, the Internet and the dance culture are both extensions of that data panic situation. It was very clear to us that the tool of this expansion of that idea was the TV weatherman. They are really the ones to blame for everything. In the 20th century there's like Hitler, then, just below Hitler is any TV weatherman, period.”
On Pennsylvania, Thomas states that “culture is a weapon used against us.” He goes even further. “Culture has ceased to exist,” he says. “William Faulkner wrote what he did to sell Fiats, Shakespeare wrote for the sole purpose of having a cigar called Hamlet. It’s all gone. Everything has changed.”
And David Thomas’ writing? “We try to protect ourselves by being as unrealistic as possible. Insanity is a fortification sometimes.” Thomas describes Pere Ubu as the custodians of the avant-garage, although he quickly adds that avant- garage is a joke invented to have something to give journalists when they yelp for a neat sound bite or pigeonhole.
“The only label I recognize is Pere Ubu, rock band.”
Despite their influence, Pere Ubu have essentially sustained 23 years of comparative obscurity, maintaining what Thomas predicted in 1975 as their position in “The Brotherhood of the Unknown.”
“We don’t sit around and say what can we write that nobody will like. It’s not our fault: We’re a mainstream rock band, we define what mainstream rock is in 1999. We’re a folk band. You’re talking to somebody who’s from some tribe in Africa who comes to the big city and you ask ’em why they’re not in Hollywood films. They’re non-sequitur's to me. Rock music is a folk music. We’re a folk band, we come out of the woodwork every so often and make a record and go on tour, we’re not a pop band, we’re not in the commercial world.”
At the sound check the band sounds tired but powerful. Thomas decides, after debate from the lighting operator that he wants working lights only on stage. It’s a bleak setting and few bands would have the courage to even contemplate such a non-show-business approach. No spotlights, no color. Beck would die. The lights operator goes off to the bar muttering, clearly planning to get drunk.
Thomas invites me to join the band for dinner. The conversation is strained.
It’s difficult to imagine what one could say that would not receive an immediate and sarcastic comeback from the big man. In part it is because the rapid-fire assault on Osaka, Tokyo and Sydney has left the whole band ragged. When Robert Wheeler, who plays an ancient looking EML and a very cool theremin and breeds cattle in Ohio, asks politely how I come to be with them at dinner, Thomas jumps in.
“He runs an art magazine and he thought we’d be intellectuals!” he heaves. “We’re not intellectuals, are we? We’re rubes, we’re fools!”
End of conversation.
Unfortunately I had been asked if Thomas would be interested in giving a paper at London’s Tate Museum on Jackson Pollock, so sure enough art comes up again.
“Art doesn’t work for me,” he states, but agrees to deliver a paper regardless. Pere Ubu’s young drummer Steven Mehlman is sitting opposite. I’m told that Thomas rescued Mehlman from an asylum. Mehlman just nods. The rest of the band goes silent. There’s just no knowing. Thomas asks what he’s having for dinner and Mehlman says a burrito. Thomas rears back in horror.
“No, you’re having a steak,” he orders.
“No, a burrito,” says Mehlman bravely.
This goes backwards and forwards for fifteen minutes. Thomas orders a steak and chips and beer and snorts in disgust at Mehlman. The rest of the band orders steak and chips and beer. No beans and salad for the big man.
Politics appears at the table in the form of Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings. “Any man in power should be allowed to, no must, force a girl to give him a blow job,” Thomas says loudly and thumps the table. Sarcasm? Maybe... there's just no knowing. That’s it for Thomas, he retreats into himself and begins humming the tunes from Pennsylvania over and over, quietly rocking to his own songs.
On stage, David Thomas is ten times more daunting. He appears on the barren stage like Marlon Brando as Kurtz, massively overweight, sweating prodiguously, even donning a black beret along with a black butcher's apron. He is clearly angry as the first song starts, gesticulating aggressively at Wheeler, muttering and cursing at guitarist Tom Herman. I’m reminded of Dennis Hopper surrounded by corpses in Apocalpse Now; “the man's a genius,” and for the first two songs the band are his sacrifices; it’s not hard to imagine them skinned and bleeding in a humid jungle while Thomas strides around swinging a machete.
Something is definitely wrong. Is he having a heart attack? He appears to be in mortal pain, grimacing, frowning, shaking his head like a rabid dog. There’s a sudden silence and he states they are taking a five-minute break. We’ve definitely gone up the river.
Five minutes later the band returns, Thomas wearing a sheepish grin. He launches into a brief speech about being only human and recalls seeing a terrible gig by his friend. Afterwards he went up and congratulated him.
“It was an awful gig,” the friend replied.
“Yes, but watching you struggle through it made it a wonderful gig.”
Thomas then shakes himself, quite literally, out of his bad mood and plays a magnificent gig. And what becomes increasingly apparent is that this performance means everything to the big man.
Despite the manifesto-like rants, despite the inevitable sarcasm and impatience, up on stage he is giving everything. This is no avant-garde game, this is no Beck playing with surrealist matches. Pere Ubu’s strange amalgam of apparently unstructured sound is quite the opposite, every note, every lyric, counts. They are a bizarre sight. The huge Thomas is like a mad conductor, Tom Herman on guitar is a stick figure behind him and beside Herman is the diminuitive Michele Temple on bass. Steven Mehlman on drums comes in for special attention, Thomas dragging him to the fore to squeel on a pipe and rubbing his organge-died hair fondly (Pere, of course, is French for ‘father’ and Mehlman has been adopted). Robert Wheeler on the theremin drags out howling sounds between Thomas’ howling lyrics.
And no sooner has it begun it seems than it is over and, the strangest outcome is that for a band renowned for its nihilism and aggression, the audience is smiling – indeed, grinning idiotically – as one.
Five minutes later Thomas swarms through the remaining crowd like Bill Clinton on heat, shaking hands, welcoming comments, signing everything in sight.
Afterwards we head for last drinks, several hours of last drinks as it transpires. The conversation ranges through geography, travel, art, rock’n’roll and sexual relations. In the same way that Thomas’ lyrics can lodge in the brain, some of his comments hover in memory:
“Where I come from, men don’t talk, they feel.”
“It’s real when I don't talk about it.”
And perhaps the truest statement about Pere Ubu's music:
“It's not performance.”
Pere Ubu: Sound Bites
“Culture’s a weapon that’s used against us. Culture’s a swamp, of superstition, ignorance, and abuse....
The land, and what we add to it, cannot lie.” – David Thomas
Pere Ubu’s David Thomas espouses a new Geography of Sound.
By Greil Marcus 1998
Pere Ubu’s David Thomas. Image Source: Listen.com
As the leader of Pere Ubu, singer David Thomas is a storyteller. Last spring, the band released a sly, cryptic album, Pennsylvania, where Thomas’s voice is that of a man talking in a crowd; you think he’s talking to himself until you realize he’s talking to you.
Thomas and others formed Pere Ubu in 1975, in Cleveland (“in the ancient ruins of the industrial mid-west” as one can read in the notes to Datapanik in the Year Zero, the band’s five-CD box set). As an experimental rock’n’roll combo, the group drew from disparate sources. Among them were the Seeds, a Los Angeles garage band renowned for its 1996 hit “Pushin’ Too Hard,” and Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi, which, premiering in Paris in 1896, sparked the current of absurdist, sardonic, sometimes self-consuming black humor that has run through the 20th century like Groucho Marx on the lam from a lobotomy clinic.
The original idea, Thomas later wrote of his goals for Pere Ubu, “was to record an artifact [that] would gain him entry into the Brotherhood of the Unknown that was gathering in used record bins everywhere.” It worked. Pere Ubu has put out more than a dozen albums since the release of its first single, “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” – a Grand Guignol recreation of a World War 2 American bombing raid – and none has ever made the charts. But despite countless personnel shifts in the group (Thomas is the only remaining founding member), and a late-1980s hiatus during which it seemed the group had given up the ghost, Pere Ubu may be a better band today than it has ever been: funnier, more doomstruck, more questing.
All across Pennsylvania, people turn off the main roads and find themselves in towns whose names they can’t remember. “But I do remember the frozen quality of the hours we stayed there,” Thomas recites in “Perfume”; he might be guiding you back, by means of a 1940s film-noir voiceover, through the wreckage of what seemed like a good idea at the time. That’s the feeling: a loser who’s come to grips with the fact that he’ll never win, but describing paradise. “I remember the waitress and what time we had to eat,” the singer says to you, jostling you on the street to get your attention; the calm in his voice, the certainty that right here is where it all went wrong, makes you keep listening instead of shrugging the guy off. “I remember the faces of the other customers like they were my own family.”
This song, and the others that share its bereft, dream wanderings on Pennsylvania, have their source in Thomas’s notion that today, all towns are becoming ghost towns – a notion Thomas explores as well in “The Geography of Sound in the Magnetic Age,” a lecture he delivered April 4 at his self-named Disasterdrome! festival at the South Bank Centre in London. “Geography has a sound,” Thomas, now 44, said in February from his home in Hove, England, a town near Brighton. “Music of the steppes, the Arctic Circle, the Industrial mid-west; there’s a reason people feel an attachment to a place, and a lot of it has to do with sound.”
Pere Ubu, in the beginning, thought of itself as an avant-garde garage punk folk band, Thomas once wrote. “The whole scene in 1974,” he said, “amounted to not much more than 50 people. It was a small, isolated society living in a space as isolated as any pioneer outpost on the plains of Kansas. And they identified with the land, passionately. Except that the land wasn’t rural.” That tiny society had somehow found its way to a forgotten part of the city, and into a bar where a band was playing; “they had simply stumbled into a lost world where the sun would set, the inhabitants flee and the stones of the bridges, buildings and monuments whisper in the timeless dark, speaking in a dead language.” That was the sound Pere Ubu tried to alchemize with synthesizer and electric guitars. But the sound of a place depends on a place holding its shape, Thomas argues now; as a culturally distinct republic making its way through the politics of its age and in some essential way not changing, not changing its voice.
“Woolie Bullie,” the first song on Pennsylvania, is about the effect such a place can have on a visitor, about how a place can haunt you. It begins with a rough, harsh, loud scratch down the neck of a guitar, a hard beat establishing a relentless momentum, and then Thomas stepping up to the podium: “There’s a diner out on Route 322, in western Pennsylvania. I spent my life there one afternoon.”
It’s a terrific reversal of the old nightclub comedian’s joke about his last gig in a nowhere town, the sort of town that in that sort of comedian’s act usually gets called “Cleveland”: “I spent a week there the other day.” But now, with the music rushing past him like a back projection of the Robert Mitchum film Thunder Road, like footage of bootleggers speeding on mountain roads in the dead of night with their lights out, Thomas is saying he will never get the sound of this place on Route 222 out of his head. And why should he? “I hear it when takin’ a shower, readin’ the paper,” he says in a drawl he probably picked up in that diner. “I look up and see it cross the valley. They tore down the Starlight down at the end of the road and put up a big Days Inn that blocks the view.” He shifts into big, rounded, elegiac tones: “But I know that road’s still there. I can feel it wherever I go, whatever I’m doin’, and it knows that I’m still here.”
“The places we live tend to separate, to come apart,” David Thomas said in February. “America is no longer America. When I’m in Germany, I say to people, Germany is no longer Germany, and they all nod their heads, as if they know exactly what I mean. I wish,” Thomas laughed over the telephone, “I knew exactly what I mean.”
“Cleveland is all gone,” he said. “They’ve taken everything I loved. They took away our Nike missile base, They tore down the Aeronautical Shot Peening Company. They put in puke palaces all down the river, places for teenagers to get drunk on cheap beer: nobody asked me about this. I began to notice that they were taking things away from me without asking me,” he said like a madman, only to speak like a citizen: “The people in control didn’t know what was stunning about Cleveland.” With a fierce vehemence overwhelming all mere nostalgia, on the telephone Thomas matched the rant that ends “Woolie Bullie,” that guy on the street now pulling on your coat and you pulling away and ready to run: “History is being rewritten faster than it can happen; culture’s a weapon that’s used against us. Culture’s a swamp, of superstition, ignorance, and abuse.... The land, and what we add to it, cannot lie.
Part of what is added, Thomas said, is the band’s sound. “That works into the musician’s intentions, and that works into ‘the Great Un’ – the unexpected, the uncontrollable. It introduces the real would into art. It has to do with Elvis – ¬abstract thought was his big thing. Elvis introduced abstract thought into hillbilly music and rural blues: He was going for the sound of the thing. He didn’t even have to write his own words!”
Thomas was reaching for the source of Elvis’s appeal, and for the engine of the musical and social transformations that followed in his wake – among them Pere Ubu, and Thomas’s own life’s work. The sound of a place is fundamentally an abstraction, which is not to say that it isn’t absolutely real: that was what Thomas was getting at. “This business of sexuality and adolescent rebellion has been bolted on to the history of rock’n’roll ex post facto,” Thomas said with indignation. “It’s been grossly exaggerated! It’s abstraction! That’s why people are attracted to Elvis. People are attracted to the inarticulate voice.”
David Thomas had taken off. I was spinning, but he was just warming up. “It’s about sound emerging as a poetic force in its own right,” he said. “Rock music was the force that liberated sound from being merely a handmaiden to musical activity. Rock music is about that which is beyond words. Elvis was the singer as narrative voice. Sinatra was a kind of avatar, but it was with that the singer becomes the priest, the mediator between the secret Masonic cult and the public.”
“The singer is the priest?” I asked. “The secret Masonic cult is the band?” Now I was sure Thomas had gone completely off the map, but he seemed to know exactly where he was. “Culture happens in secret, all art is secret,” he explained patiently. “Ordinary people only see the ashes of art, or the failures, or frozen moments. Only rarely onstage do bands achieve reality; mostly it’s in rehearsals, in lost moments. Nobody ever sees that, or knows anything about it” – but, he said, referring to the great 1960s running back for the Cleveland Browns, later the star of The Dirty Dozen and king of blaxploitation movies, “Jim Brown would understand. I think baseball players and football players would understand the same thing.”
Thomas’ agnostic argument – that art exists to at once reveal secrets and preserve them makes sense when you think of the arguments as a theory of a particularly American – or modern – form of storytelling. In a big, multifaceted democracy, one is supposed to be able to communicate directly with everyone, yet many despair of being understood by anyone at all. Pere Ubu’s original recordings, nearly a quarter-century ago, Thomas has written, were the result and the work of an “inward turning, defiant stance of a beleaguered few who felt themselves to be outside music, beneath media attention, and without hope of an audience.” Many Europeans have felt a similar estrangement, of course, but in Europe elitism is always an answer, one has the privilege of considering oneself above media attention, not beneath it. In America, in the modern, to feel oneself beneath media attention is to doubt that what one has to say is worth anyone’s attention.
Out of this comes the American language that means to tell a story no one can turn away from. But this language – identified by D.H. Lawrence, in 1923, in Studies in Classic American Literature, as the true modernist voice, the voice of Hawthorne, Poe, Melville – ¬is cryptic before it is anything else. It’s all hints and warnings and the warnings are disguised as non sequitur’s. The secret is told, but nonetheless hidden in the musings or adventures of people who seem too odd to be like you or me, like us.
For those people – people like David Thomas, whose history, as tracked by the progress of his voice over the decades, is the history of a wild, expansive, all ¬accepting, yammering private joke – no one can be at home in a place where everyone is presumed to understand everyone else. The whole existence of these people is premised on their attempt to tell a secret, perhaps to discover the secret in the telling, in the stunned, shocked response its telling provokes – but no one can be at home in a place where it is presumed there are no secrets, that all reality is transparent. Thus those who tell this story will likely mistrust even an imaginary audience. If they are like David Thomas on Pere Ubu’s Pennsylvania, they’ll create an aura of portent and unease, but only, as it were, sinstramente, with the left hand; by means of unfinished sentences, dead¬-end monologues, floating images, outmoded phrases, archaic pronunciations, a tone of voice that is blank and addled by turn.
The tenor of all the wistful, vaguely paranoid tales of displacement on Pennsylvania – tales of abandoning the Interstate highways, getting lost, and finding the perfect town when it’s too late to change your life and live in it – is caught in the weirdly menacing way Thomas pronounces “Los Angeles” in the tune “Highwaterville.” It’s the old flophouse way, the way Anjelica Huston’s character speaks the name in The Grifters, with a hard g and a long e at the end, so that the place sounds like a disease. The same sense of the strange, the unacceptable, in the familiar is there in “Mr Wheeler,” which sounds like an old tape of a very old telephone call, a tape that showed up in a box in a room in a house where no one has lived for 20 years. “Uh, Mr Wheeler?” somebody says; as with every bit of talk in the number, it’s followed by a long instrumental passage, as if some great drama is taking shape around a story that will never be put back together. “I have an old light bulb,” the man on the phone is saying, almost embarrassed. “One that you made yourself?” asks Mr. Wheeler, just like a FBI agent; when the first man claims that this lightbulb he’s trying to sell has been in his family for 75 years, it feels like he’s trying to sell you an old atom bomb.
What comes into view is a secret country: Barely recognizable, and undeniable. And it’s a thrill to hear, now, all of David Thomas’s voices swirling around the listener, on the street. Pennsylvania seems to draw out of its own spectral geography and that street can be wherever you find yourself. “It knows I’m still here,” Thomas says of the lost diner “Woolie Bullie”; from his home in England, he might be speaking of Cleveland. Wherever they may live, all the current members of Pere Ubu are Clevelanders; they come together in Cleveland to rehearse, and record in the same studio where Pere Ubu has recorded for almost 25 years. “Cleveland is all gone,” Thomas says again over the telephone, “but I’m like Saddam Hussein. I only trust people from my own village.”
Expressionist avant-garage band Pere Ubu and film-makers The Brothers Quay present Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi, an adaptation of Ubu Roi, Alfred Jarry's landmark play that inspired the band's name and is widely seen as the precursor to the Absurdist, Dada and Surrealist art movements.
Written by Pere Ubu's singer, David Thomas, it is as groundbreaking and radical in its intent as the original that sparked riots in a Paris theater in 1896 - a repudiation of common sense and the refined aesthetic at the heart of the Art-Industrial Complex, of which President Eisenhower warned so eloquently... or was that the Military-Industrial Complex? No matter, same sorta thing.
Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi premiered at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London's Southbank Centre for a two night run April 24 and 25 2008.
This adaptation approaches theater with the unsettling ethos that Mr Thomas and his comrades have applied to music production since 1975. It incorporates the narrative voices of abstract and concrete sound into musical structure, creates an aural Theater of the Imagination, and facilitates the Intrusive Other - a mechanism by which the telling of a story incorporates Points Of View that run in parallel or at some angle to the central narrative, crossing it, intruding, overlaying, contradicting, deprecating, or even ignoring it.
Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi does not promote mayhem. It preserves mayhem. The theatrical production is framed by wide-screen animation from The Brothers Quay which serves as an innovative interpretation of Jarry's staging instructions. David Thomas takes on the role of Père Ubu.
Ex-Communards singer Sarah Jane Morris performs the Mère Ubu role. Band members enact minor cast roles when not performing the 14 songs, or laying down the electronica ambience, that provide the live score to this 100 minute, two part show.
Puppet-like choreographies, chaotic interventions, stark staging, and anti-naturalistic dramatic passages preserve the spirit of Jarry's intentions. Other music groups have ventured into theater but never to the extent that the band itself, as a self-contained unit, undertakes all aspects of the production. Pere Ubu goes to places few others would even dare to dream of. We call it disasto so nothing can go wrong.
Jarry's plays were widely and wildly hated for their vulgarity, brutality, low comedy and complete lack of literary finish. They were seen as the theatrical equivalent of an anarchist attack.
"One reason that Ubu Roi endures is that, like water is the Universal Solvent, Père Ubu is the Universal Monster," Mr Thomas says.
"Whoever you personally think is the Bad Guy - whether you demonize those on the Left or the Right, or everyone In-Between - the Church or the State, Big Business or Big Labor - Père Ubu can supply the face and voice. Ubu is a portrait of the soul of every do-gooder monster."
MusicWeb InternationalSavage wit. So involving was this piece of music theatre that when someone in the audience was taken ill during the performance, everyone thought it was part of the act, "planted" in the stalls to extend the show, even when a paramedic arrived.
Ian Gittins, The GuardianThe vivacious Morris is excellent as the plotting queen.
Ed Pinsent, The Sound ProjectorAll very anti-theatre and anti-good taste. And what made it all worthwhile? Hearing Thomas in full baritone majesty belching out that one word he was born to deliver: "MERDRE!!!"
Nick Morgan, WhiskyfunLike pantomime without the ghastly television "celebrities," a sort of Carry On Pataphysics. I've rarely left a theatre feeling quite as entertained.
The LondonistIt's hard not to delight in Thomas' frustrated dictatorship of both Poland and the production itself. Deviating from the plot to demand that the scene fade to black (which it always did, of course, by way of someone running past with a sign reading "Fade To Black"), Thomas displays an enthusiasm for the work that quickly spreads to the audience. When two of the characters exclaimed, "I think we're in danger of alienating the audience!", Queen Elizabeth Hall erupted in laughter. It was hilarious because it couldn't have been further from the truth.
March of Greed Animation
The Quays' animation (see below), projected wide-screen, serves to frame the action on stage, which includes performance of the song "March Of Greed," and Puppet Watusi choreography devised by Ubu bass player Michele Temple. The featured singer is Sarah Jane Morris.
Song Of The Grocery Police Animation
The Quays' animation (see below), projected wide-screen, serves to frame the action on stage, which includes performance of the song "Song Of The Grocery Police."
Lady From Shanghai
Smash the Hegemony of Dance. Stand still.
The new Pere Ubu album, Lady From Shanghai, is scheduled for release in January 2013, the thirty-fifth anniversary of the group's debut (The Modern Dance).
"The dancer is puppet to the dance," says singer David Thomas. "It's long past time somebody puts an end to this abomination. Lady From Shanghai has fixed the problem.
"What is the problem? Dance encourages the body to move without permission."
Lady From Shanghai is an album of dance music... fixed.
Pere Ubu Studio Albums
The Modern Dance (1978)
Dub Housing (1978)
New Picnic Time (1979)
The Art Of Walking (1980)
Song Of The Bailing Man (1982)
Terminal Tower (1975 - 1981)
Datapanik In The Year Zero (Box Set)
The Tenement Year (1988)
Worlds In Collision (1991)
Story Of My Life (1993)
Raygun Suitcase (1995)
St Arkansas (2002)
Why I Hate Women (2006)
Why I Remix Women (2006)
"Long Live Père Ubu!" (2009)
Lady From Shanghai (Demos)
Pere Ubu Live Albums
* - Denotes download only.
The Shape Of Things (1976)
Pirate's Cove* (1977)
390° Of Simulated Stereo* (1977 - 79)
U-Men Live At Intersate Mall* (1978)
One Man Drives While The... (1978 - 81)
I Walk The Line (1981)*
The Art Of Talking* (1982)
Waltz Across Texas* (1989)
Waltz By The Sea* (1989)
London Texas (1989)
Paradiso - Part 1* (1991)
Paradiso - Part 2* (1991)
Apocalypse Now (1991)
The Late Show* (1992)
A Ghost Town Goes Where You Want To Go* (2006)
Light It Up!* (2007)
Live at Grant Avenue* (2007)
Oh, Pennsylvania...* (1998 - 02)
The Annotated Modern Dance* (2010)
David Thomas Albums
* - Denotes download only.
Vocal Performances (1981) *
Winter Comes Home (1982) *
Monster Box Set
Mirror Man (1999)
Bay City (2000)
Surf's Up! (2001)
18 Monkeys on a Dead Man's Chest (2004)
Brunswick Parking Lot* 2003
A Map Only Tells Me...* (2008)
Mirror Man Act 2* (2009)
Let's Visionate!* (2009)
How's Things In Your Town?* (2005)
I Remember Mars* (1996)
David Thomas and The Holy Soul* (2010)
Rocket From The Tombs
I Sell Soul / Romeo & Juliet (2010)
The Day The Earth Met... (1975)
Rocket Redux (2004)
When It's Too Late To Die Young (2003)
Extermination Night (1974)