It seems odd to me that I have more records by The Gun Club/Jeffrey Lee Pierce than I do by any other artist, given that I’d never even heard of them or him until 2012. To be fair, I have more albums by some other bands, but only if you count CDs. Part of that is certainly due to the volume of material by The Gun Club and Pierce – I have 11 records by them, despite the fact that Pierce died at the age of 37, and there are still plenty more out there I don’t have. I mean, I have the entire Led Zeppelin catalog on CD (and a few on vinyl) – but the mighty Mothership only released 10 “official” albums. If you count unofficial releases, comps, and live stuff, then yeah, I have more Zep albums. But honestly, that’s probably the only band that outnumbers The Gun Club/Pierce. (♠)
I assumed I already had Miami, so I’ve actually passed it by a number of times over the years. The other day I figured out that in fact I did not have a copy, and rectified that situation with a very reasonably priced ($14) sealed one on blue vinyl. It’s hard to place this album into a 1982 mindset, the year it was released; it doesn’t seem to even remotely fit what was happening in music at the time, at least not anything I was aware of. It may very well have been ahead of its time, a type of proto-country-grunge – tuned down, sung in a way that takes Pierce’s voice outside of the musical framework of the songs, and just plain muddy. Is it early cow punk? I don’t know. But what I do know is that when Pierce sings, I am compelled to listen.
The Gun Club was known for playing covers as well as their takes on some traditional songs (i.e. old songs without a known author), and Miami is no different. It includes covers of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Run to the Jungle” and Jody Reynolds & Stordivant Sonya’s “Fire of Love,” as well as the traditional folk song “John Hardy.” The number of covers is surprising given how great their original material is, but I give them a lot of credit for putting some new spins on the songs that influenced them. I was also intrigued to learn that Blondie’s Debbie Harry (credited as D.H. Laurence Jr.) sang the female backing vocals on the album.
When Jeffrey Lee Pierce died in 1996 at the age of 37, he was HIV positive and suffering from both cirrhosis and hepatitis. While it was a brain hemorrhage that technically killed him, one has to think that all these health problems contributed. The years of IV drug use and alcohol abuse took a heavy toll, and took it fairly quickly. Why do we seem to lose so many musicians this way? Do they succumb to drugs and alcohol more frequently than other celebrities, or than the general public, or does it just seem that way? Do their personal demons both contribute to their artistic brilliance and drive them towards some type of misguided solace in drugs and booze? Certainly heroin and cocaine are more easily available if you’re a musician, so there’s definitely that to keep in mind. Or is it perhaps we just hear about these deaths more often because they’re famous, and therefore sensationalized news, while the “regular” person who destroys their life remains anonymous other than to their family and friends. I don’t know. But I think about these things when I listen to The Gun Club, I’m sure in part because I was never aware of Jeffrey Lee Pierce while he was alive, as opposed to someone like Kurt Cobain – it’s a different kind of loss, the loss of a person you never had at least a sense of connection to while they were still alive.
(♠) I did go through a very serious Ted Nugent phase in high school, which seems quite bizarre to me now. Regardless, I’m pretty sure I had his entire catalog on CD and/or vinyl, including his stuff with The Amboy Dukes, and that collection outnumbered The Gun Club. Today I have one of his albums on vinyl (Weekend Warriors), and I’m guessing I have a couple of CDs too, though they rarely get played.