Teenage Jesus and the Jerks were an influential New York post-punk group who formed part of the city's No Wave movement. Founded by one-time CBGBs waitress Lydia Lunch and saxophonist James Chance, the group was active from 1976 to 1979, releasing only a handful of singles.
Chance eventually left to form The Contortions and pursue his own equally abrasive musical direction. Both groups were featured on the seminal No New York LP, a showcase of the early No Wave scene compiled and produced by Brian Eno.
Infamous for playing ten-minute sets filled with thirty-second songs, they sought to take music beyond what Lunch saw as the traditionalism of punk rock. The group left behind little more than a dozen complete recorded songs with most of the surviving titles collected on the 18-minute career retrospective CD entitled Everything. However other studio versions of several songs exist alongside a few live recordings.
Lunch and Chance both went on to become cult figures of the New York underground music scene and the group has been cited as a significant influence on subsequent post-punk groups such as Sonic Youth, and The istics.
The band reunited in 2008 for a series of performances, with Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore. The band continued to perform without Moore throughout 2009, including dates in Canada.
Musical style and philosophy
In his book Rip It Up and Start Again: Post Punk 1978-1984, Simon Reynolds identifies Teenage Jesus & the Jerks as an exercise in rock sacrilege.
"Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, and their comrade bands, Mars, Contortions, and DNA, defined radicalism not as a return to roots but as deracination. Curiously, the No Wave groups staged their revolt against rock tradition by using the standard rock format of guitars, bass, and drums. It was as if they felt the easy electronic route to making post-rock noise was too easy. Instead, they used rock’s tools against itself. Which is why No Wave music irresistibly invites metaphors of dismemberment, desecration, ‘defiling rock’s corpse."
Lydia Lunch has voiced her disdain for contemporary rock, claiming in Rip It Up: “I hated almost the entirety of punk rock, I don’t think that No Wave had anything to do with it.”
“Who wanted chords, all these progressions that had been used to death in rock? [To play slide guitar] I’d use a knife, a beer bottle… Glass gave the best sound. To this day I still don’t know a single chord on the guitar.”
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