When I moved to New York late in 1976 punk was breaking. Patti Smith’s Horses was already out, and the club scene was lively and exciting. New records, new great records seemed to come out every day, and the music press, the Voice, the Soho News, NME and others were crazy with coverage and analysis of the vibrant music and the scene that came with it. It was an astonishing time to be in New York, a city that was bankrupt and dangerous and eating itself from within, but also reinventing the world.
While the punk scene was centered in the East Village, and I visited all those clubs there, I somehow ended up hanging out in the Village itself, mostly at Gerdes Folk City on West Fourth Street, and Kenny’s Castaways on Bleecker Street. There the music was also hot, artists were being signed, but it was a singer-songwriter scene that was evolving, birthing a new generation of folkies, these far less interested in folk songs per se and far more interested in songwriting and confession and reflections on the quotidian and how life is lived by everyone and themselves.
I would have to do a little research to find a list of names of performers from that scene, some of whom I’m sure got a little famous and some of whom did not, but the two acts I admired most and saw many times were Steve Forbert and the Roches. Forbert wrote aching songs and sang with an aching voice, but the result wasn’t morose. His honesty and clever melodies are compelling and enduring, at least from his first two elpees, and it was hearing him live on the radio play a rocking careering version of Telstar on his acoustic that helped me develop the idea that the rock ‘n’ roll spirit isn’t just about volume and drive, but also about an honest and straightforward accounting of whatever you’re doing in song.
Which brings us to the Roches. The three sisters were delightful, funny, vivacious, and clever. They lit up the stage as presences, even Maggie the shy one, and lit up the room with their clever and lovely and surprising harmonies. We is their far too cute origin song.
As Tom recounts below, their first album as a threesome was produced by Robert Fripp, the famed progressive and experimental rock guitarist. The result is a spare and resonant sound, full of room without obvious reverb. Pretty and High was a song by Maggie, it closes the album with surreal drama and poetry and a clanging guitar. Play it loud, as if it rocked.