Throbbing Gristle, 1981 [photo by Industrial Records Ltd.]
When I first learned of Throbbing Gristle, in the early ’80s, I immediately disliked them. No matter that my sole exposure was a scant entry in the book The New Music by Glenn A. Baker and Stuart Coupe. Gristle, the connective tissue, had turned me into a teenage vegetarian. With a name like Throbbing Gristle, this band was not for me.
Yet I carried that vile moniker around, like a secret badge of shame, for years before I heard the music. I grew to realize that knowledge of it won me admiration from older peers, even as its very mention disgusted high school classmates. Eventually, one of the quartet’s songs — Marc Almond’s cover of “Discipline” — entered my library, but no TG proper ever sullied my ears.
By college, I knew plenty about Throbbing Gristle: Member Cosey Fanni Tutti had worked as a stripper; government officials persecuted Genesis P-Orridge for disseminating controversial mail art; their self-run label, Industrial Records, had coined a whole genre — just about everything, in fact, except what they sounded like. Records by post-TG acts Coil, Chris & Cosey, and Psychic TV nestled beside my Lloyd Cole and Public Image, Ltd. albums, but still I avoided purchasing TG’s Second Annual Report, DoA, or Heathen Earth. I stood firm in my belief that, if Throbbing Gristle was so bloody important, someone else close to me already owned their albums, should I ever need to hear one. (The exact same way I felt about the Rolling Stones, actually.)
Recently, it turned out that someone close to me — very close to me — did. Duped by its misleading title, my partner had once picked up a copy of TG’s 1979 release 20 Jazz Funk Greats. Upon realizing it was not what he assumed, i.e. an anthology of rare soul grooves, he immediately filed it away, only to be unearthed by me, years later, during a housecleaning. I steeled my nerves, gave the record a spin… and dug it. “Hot on the Heels of Love,” in particular, slotted in neatly with the edgy sort of electro-disco new wave heavily dominating my diet at the time. The eerie “Persuasion” made me uncomfortable, even a bit nauseous, but my reaction while sitting through a whole TG disc was hardly the violent revulsion I had imagined. I resolved to study the album more closely.
And lo and behold, just a few weeks later, someone published a study guide: 20 Jazz Funk Greats by Drew Daniel is one of the latest titles in Continuum Books’ popular 33 1/3 series. Much as I love Daniel’s music as Soft Pink Truth and one-half of Matmos, and enjoy chatting with him every year at the EMP Pop Conference, I was nervous. Daniel teaches in the English Department of Johns Hopkins University. He is one of the brightest guys I know. Would his analysis of Throbbing Gristle alienate me with an overabundance of convoluted critical theory and vocabulary busters?
No, thank goodness. Drew Daniel employs a very rich lexicon, but chooses his words judiciously. More importantly, he admits right up front to being a huge TG fan boy, and that enthusiasm translates — even when he veers towards head-scratching territory — particularly in some of his interview passages with the band members (all of whom participated in the creation of his book). And by focusing squarely on the group’s music, not their sensationalistic trappings, in a song-by-song analysis, he opens up the listening experience, both to neophytes and diehards. I might never have imagined such a thing was possible, but Daniel’s musings on 20 Jazz Funk Greats have made me a committed Throbbing Gristle fan. And that kind of connective tissue I can heartily endorse.
DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org.