Song Of The Day 9/25/2016: Peter Laughner – “Amphetamine”


I'm working on a long piece for Treble about Wilco. It feels like I'm always working on a long piece about Wilco. I'm always in love, also. Anyway. It's a retrospective piece. One of the songs I'm discussing is "Misunderstood" from Being There. If you really want to split hairs "Misunderstood" might be the most cataclysmic song in Wilco's career, even more so than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. After I'd owned Being There for a couple of weeks I finally got around to reading the credits and noted that Peter Laughner was credited as the writer of a single verse on "Misunderstood." It didn't say which one.

Laughner's name immediately rang a bell with me. I'd come across him while reading the Lester Bangs anthology Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, which anthologized his most notable rock writing as cleanly as one could. The piece was written on the occasion of Laughner's death, partially -- well, more than partially -- due to his excessive intake of a lot, and I mean a lot, of liquor and controlled substances:
Peter Laughner is dead.

Perhaps the name means nothing to you. If it doesn't I would hope that you would read this anyway, because one of the reasons I am writing it is that there is more than a little of what killed Peter in me, as there may well be in you. This is a magazine created by rock writers about rock musicians for rock fans, and Peter was all three. Before dying on June 22nd at the age of twenty-four of acute pancreatitis, he founded Cleveland, Ohio's original legendary underground rock band, Rocket from the Tombs. They played an amphetamine-driven blend of Velvets-Stooges, and Peter dashed off lyrics on the order of "I can't think / I need a drink / Life stinks." Later they more or less mutated into Pere Ubu, who can be heard (including guitar solos by Peter) on the first Max's Kansas City album. I found it interesting that when they were interviewed in a recent issue of this magazine, they didn't mention their deposed founder once. But then, perhaps they were being kind. Peter was a great writer as well as being a gifted musician. 
There's a lot to Bangs' piece that I have to leave out, but you should read it on your own. This part especially, since it's partially in Laughner's voice:
If Peter Laughner died in part for my sins I tell you now that I will never take amphetamines again (all they ever make me write anymore is crap anyway) and if you wanna kill yourself you can too but stay away from me because it's just too sad, besides which I haven't got the time. Perhaps the best epitaph I could offer Peter comes from the conclusion of his own Coney Island Baby (by Lou Reed) review: "Here I sit, sober and perhaps even lucid, on the kind of winter's day that makes you realize a New Year is just around the corner and you've got very little to show for it, but if you are going to get anything done on this planet, you better pick it up with both hands and DO IT YOURSELF."
All this time of owning Wilco's Being There, playing "Misunderstood" more than just a few hundred times (it was sort of cataclysmic for me, too), I never heard the original Laughner song Jeff Tweedy borrowed from. Until last night. It's called "Amphetamine." Tweedy adapted what is, for all intents and purposes, the song's unofficial chorus: "Take the guitar player for a ride/Never in his life been satisfied/Thinks he owes some kind of debt/Just can't seem to get over it." See what happens with you.

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