The Point of the Jesus Lizard

Once in a while you see an example of rock music that makes you realize exactly what that well-worn exercise is all about. The Jesus Lizard and David Yow were to me always the supreme exemplars of rock music: a tension between precise, simple musicality and raw unhingedness; the Apollonian and the Dionysian. On the occasion of the Jesus Lizard’s brief reunion a few years ago, Sasha Frere-Jones wrote in the New Yorker that Yow “acts like a storyteller who has just arrived, out of breath and perhaps drunk, with the need to tell us something unsettling.” I would go further and say that Yow seems like he has witnessed the end and that by the time we hear his apocalyptic message there will be no more anything, or as a friend of mine who knows rock’s tensions well once put it, “it seemed to me that part of the point of The Jesus Lizard was that in the future there would no longer be magazines like the New Yorker.”

Being there is still the best way to experience rock but this finely-made video captures the tension quite well.  The drummer and bassist pound out a syncopated rhythm; the guitarist’s hollow-body wails. The instruments are festooned with weird little totems, the singer sticks his hands in his mouth. Snippets of grim lyrics reach us through the noise: “the neighbor’s house was burning/but now is only smoking.” The singer contorts his face; he is possessed, a yowling messenger made mad by the unsettling thing he has been dispatched to tell us about. And just as it reaches a perfect pitch-point of psychic horror, it promptly resolves into four self-amused guys standing in a little room — the essence of rock music, as anyone who has been there knows.