Now, not to cast aspersions on your knowledge of the New York underground scene of the mid-70s, but I'd wager a fair amount that most of you reading this were first made aware of Peter Gordon—and his Love of Life Orchestra—as a result of James Murphy and Pat Mahoney's seminal FabricLive.36 compilation. That mix—nearly 80 minutes of prime-time disco by the likes of GQ, Chic, and Donald Byrd—was bookended with Gordon's most famous release, the unfathomably amazing "Beginning of the Heartbreak/Don't Don't", a double-headed thing of joy beyond belief. There's more to Peter Gordon than just one record, though.
A contemporary composer who's written operas, collaborated with the likes of The Flying Lizards, Arthur Russell and Factory Floor, and worked on the Desperate Housewives soundtrack, Gordon's place in the avant-garde American canon is secured. And that's why we're so delighted to be bringing you an exclusive listen to two previously unheard Gordon originals from back in the day.
The pair of tracks you can hear below—set for release on London-based label Foom—see Gordon working with drummer and sound-artist David Van Tieghem, in a 1978 set that's been rescued from the archives. The Kathy Acker-featuring "Winter" comes on like the proto-minimal wave gem you never knew you needed, while "Summer" is a lilting and uplifting bit of piano-heavy dancefloor-ready pseudo-krautrock. Both are perfect examples of Gordon at his best, and, in a twist that'll delight anyone with even the slightest interest in the downtown scene, the whole package comes wrapped in brand new artwork from none other than Laurie Anderson.
THUMP: Peter Gordon….Kathy Acker….Laurie Anderson….is this the great American avant-garde all-star supergroup the world's been waiting for? How did you come to work with Kathy and Laurie?
Peter Gordon: I first met Kathy in the summer of 1972 in San Diego. I had just graduated from the University of California San Diego, and was planning a cross-country drive to New York with my friend Jeff Weinstein. At the last minute, we were joined by Kathy, who I didn't know at the time but was an old friend of Jeff. Kathy and I got to know each other on the drive and ended up living together for seven years. I first met Laurie in 1975 at Pooh Kaye's loft, which was in the same building as Laurie. Pooh had these open dance jams, where people would dance and different musicians would jam along. Laurie had her violin, I had my sax, and we ended up playing together. And sometimes the pre-Love Of Life Orchestra iterations of my band would include Laurie, Kathy, plus Rhys Chatham, and/or Arthur Russell, but nobody was a star, so we really didn't think of it being a supergroup.
How does it feel releasing new-old music like this?
Music is all about time, but it is also timeless. Sometimes a work of music—or any art—needs some time for the culture-at-large to catch up with it. Even though these tracks are old by chronological standards, they feel quite fresh to me.
Can you explain a little about David Van Tieghem for a British audience who might not be so familiar with him?
David is a brilliant and rock-solid drummer and sound artist. He was my early collaborator in the Love of Life Orchestra and he was a member of Flying Hearts, along with Arthur Russell, Ernie Brooks and Larry Saltzman. When we first met, he was also a member of Steve Reich and Musicians. In addition to LOLO and Arthur recordings, he is also featured on Eno/Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and toured extensively with Laurie. He is currently one of the leading sound designers for Broadway plays.
Was the Downtown scene of the late-70s/early-80s really as vibrant as someone like me—a 26-year-old who only visited NYC for the first time in 2016—would like to believe?
I know that the era has been romanticized a lot, but it was, indeed, an incredibly vibrant scene. There was a great sense of mission and a can-do spirit among artists of all sorts. There wasn't much money around and New York City seemed to have hit rock bottom, but this meant there was an opportunity and a DIY spirit. We didn't need permission from presenters, curators or critics—we just made work and if we had to find a vacant space to put it on, we would. Or we'd cajole a bar owner to let us perform since the place was pretty much empty. And rents were cheap. It was really that vibrant, and then some.
Finally, if someone, possibly me, was to say that "Beginning of the Heartbreak/Don't Don't" was one of the undisputed greatest records ever made, how would you react?
I would probably blush and say thank you, you are the listener the record has been waiting for all these years.
Winter/Summer is out on the 2nd of December on Foom. Pre-order it here.