'A Tumbleweed of Grumbly Noise'
As I reported yesterday, Hugh McIntyre, bassist of the granddaddy of all noise bands, the Nihilist Spasm Band, died on Monday. His memorial service will be this coming Monday, Dec. 13, at the George Millard Funeral Home, 60 Ridout St. South, London, Ontario ("the same room," Ben Portis tells me, "where final farewells were offered to Greg Curnoe in 1992").
Elsewhere I found a quote on the session from REM bassist Mike Mills: "It was nothing but improvisation. You just get up there and start making noise. That was huge fun for us since we don't really do that on stage. We're not the most improvisational of bands."
I haven't heard back from Tim Glasgow, recording engineer for the Nihilist Spasm Band (and Sonic Youth and others), but I am going to take the liberty of posting the message he sent out after Hugh's death on Monday, as touching a tribute as anyone could ask.
From: Tim Glasgow
Date: Mon, 6 Dec 2004 20:38:31
Subject: Hugh McIntyre (1936-2004)
i was over at the Old Victoria Hospital this afternoon when Hugh McIntyre died, just a stone's throw away from the Old Vic Tavern (known to most locals as "The Bucket Of Blood") where The Nihilist Spasm Band once held a Monday night residency. He passed away very quietly, surrounded by most of the remaining Spasm Band members and friends.
i held his right hand for a while, and felt the callouses on his fingertips from the just-shy-of forty years of clomping away on his three and-a-half string bass (this hand also occasionally operated the stopwatch that he emphatically used to tell the rest of the band that they had damn well gone on long enough and it was time to start another "number"). As i held his fingers i could feel their warmth and every once in a while he would gasp and take one more breath - and i was struck by how long it seemed to take him to die. As many of you know, Hugh was a big man and (though i never once heard him complain about his own cumbersomeness or fragility) it took a certain amount of patience to go anywhere with him because he moved so slowly. Even though he had technically already passed on i'm sure that the vast majority of his body was still very much alive, and probably remained so for quite some time.
Hugh was an exceptional musician by his own right, and as is fitting for the bass player - he was the band member least afraid of real, steady rhythm. While Murray and Boyle seemed to try to shove sticks into the spokes of any steady cycle of time, Hugh was happy to keep the steady groove going - especially when given a drummer like Aya [Onishi, of Osaka thrash band Sekiri] that would choose to groove with him. But true to Nihilistic form, on occasion he would hammer out a tumbleweed of grumbly noise (my favourite moment in the Spasm Band documentary What About Me, The Rise of the Nihilist Spasm Band is the clip from Rochdale College in the 1960s when Hugh is positively wailing on his bass!).
But more than that, Hugh was an exceptional musicologist, fluent in many languages from early free jazz to way earlier chamber music to Cuban Guajira. One of my favourite memories of Hugh was catching a lift home in his car on cold Monday nights last winter and hearing whatever he had in his car CD player. One day it would be the hardest dub reggae, and the next time it would be something else - and he would always be able to fill the short drive home with a comprehensive explanation of exactly what we were listening to. He was also a fantastic historian who seemed to remember everything that ever happened, anywhere. He would know about some war that happened in Asia in 1127 or something - really far-out stuff. He recently explained the entire political history of Cuba to me in about 20 minutes.
There really hasn't been any discussion as far as i know about what will happen with the Spasm Band. While it seems at times unthinkable to have a Spasm Band without Hugh, i expect the band will soldier on. It was probably as much of a shock when Greg Curnoe died and it kept going then - and the current residency at the Dissent Club here in London is convenient and comfortable. The Spasm Band is such a family that it seems like they/we need our regular time together now as much as ever, with the weekly sermon of music, humour and insight. Especially humour. Leaving the hospital today on the way to the car (parked on the street at a city parking meter) a teary Bill was heard to quip, "That was awfully considerate of Hugh! I still have time on my meter!"