Sep 28 2011
Claude Bessy, aka Kickboy Face, co-founded Slash magazine in 1977. His writing has not yet been collected, and his career has not been properly documented. He embodies all the qualities that are completely missing from what now goes by the name “punk”: ruthlessly critical, relentlessly negative, skeptical, wasted, lively, funny, charming, smart. Readers who have seen Penelope Spheeris’s LA punk documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), will remember him as the acerbic Frenchman who pronounces: “I have excellent news for the world. There is no such thing as new wave. It does not exist. It’s a figment of a lame cunt’s imagination. There was never any such thing as new wave. It was the polite thing to say when you were trying to explain you were not into the boring old rock ‘n’ roll, but you didn’t dare to say punk because you were afraid to get kicked out of the fucking party and they wouldn’t give you coke anymore.”
Bessy gave a short version of his life story to Richard Meltzer in his 1979 interview, “Cocktails with Claude.” Kicked out of the Sorbonne for showing up drunk at nine in the morning, brandishing “a bottle of brandy and threatening a teacher,” Bessy came to Los Angeles in 1967, caught psychedelia at its peak, then went to Afghanistan to deal hash. After kicking methedrine in a French nuthouse, in 1970 Bessy returned to Los Angeles, working as a surly, chain-smoking busboy in Santa Monica. His English girlfriend (later wife), artist Philomena Winstanley, introduced him to reggae, and in the mid-70s he self-published the reggae zine Angeleno Dread. Bessy took his pseudonym from reggae artist Prince Jazzbo's 1976 album Kick Boy Face.
Claude Bessy interview and Catholic Discipline performance of “Underground Babylon” from The Decline of Western Civilization
During Slash’s first year, Bessy appeared as “Frenchie” on the TV show The Hardy Boys Mysteries. Though his band, Catholic Discipline, only existed for a handful of shows between 1979 and 1980, it appeared alongside Black Flag, Fear, X, Circle Jerks, Germs, and Alice Bag Band in The Decline of Western Civilization (see below). The performance of “Underground Babylon” on the Decline soundtrack was the band’s only release until 2004, when the excellent Artifix label issued a Catholic Discipline CD, Underground Babylon. Compiled from cassettes of live shows, it is not a high fidelity experience, but the whole thing is good, and the world is a better place with two versions of “Everyone Dies Laughing” in it, instead of none.
Catholic Discipline “Everyone Dies Laughing”
Claude and Philomena moved to England shortly after the election of Ronald Reagan. Until his death, Bessy continued to have a spectral existence in recorded media, making sporadic appearances in obscure places. He wrote the liner notes to Throbbing Gristle’s 1980 Greatest Hits: Entertainment Through Pain (“the only Help-From-Above scheduled for your lifetime, bub”). In England, Bessy worked for Rough Trade and Factory, but he was not a company man, and earnest salesmanship does not seem to have been his bag. He showed zero enthusiasm for the season’s product on the Factory Records promotional video that he hosted around Christmas 1984 (see below), making it a unique artifact in the history of public relations. Introducing Sonic Youth in 1986 (on the semi-bootleg Walls Have Ears), Bessy said nothing about the band, but instead shouted down a hostile crowd to complain about Rough Trade’s attempts to censor the cover of their “Flower” single.
Claude Bessy promotes Factory Records
He and Philomena moved to Barcelona in 1987. Wir (Wire dropped the “e” in their name when drummer Robert Gotobed left) built the song “naked, whooping and such-like (extended on and on),” from 1991’s the first letter, around a tape of Bessy reading his work. Mark Cunningham of Mars moved to Barcelona that year, and his new duo Raeo recorded “Dejame Solo” with Bessy singing. Claude Bessy died of lung cancer in Barcelona on October 2, 1999.
Previously - Song Morgue
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The Story of Dakota Joe, a Jailbird on the Appalachian Trail
The Story Behind Nas's 'Illmatic' Is Almost as Great as the Album Itself
OK, So I Have a Drinking Problem
The US Prison System Is Shrinking, but Very, Very Slowly
Meeting the Man Who Cared for Survivors of Anders Behring Breivik's Killing Spree in Oslo
The Alternative Miss World Beauty Pageant Prefers Bitchy Quips to Bikinis
I Relived My First Week of College to See if Students Have Changed