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Jesus Lizard Worthy of Better Review

It is no wonder John Jacobs fails to appreciate Down, the latest release from The Jesus Lizard ["Tracks on Lizard's Down lack melody, rhythm, and form," Sept. 23]. "Normal people," writes Jacobs, "don't want to hear about fellow humans sodomized or someone ovulating in front of a full-length mirror." This may be true. What Jacobs fails to understand is that The Jesus Lizard really could care less about "normal people" like him and does not write music for their ears.

The Jesus Lizard is not "punk rock" as Jacobs alleges. It is unfortunate that supposed critics like him label anything outside of mainstream "rock" (which is not even true rock and roll anymore) as "punk." The Jesus Lizard is about punk rock the way Ornette Coleman is about bebop; punk may provide a convenient reference point for the music, but the Jesus Lizard goes way beyond it, creating something truly unique that may retain something of the original vision of its predecessor, but delivering it in a new musical context.

It is true that The Jesus Lizard eschews traditional pop melody structures. However, it is ludicrous to say there is "no melody." It is simply not a melody discernible to someone like Jacobs - someone who apparently gauges a band's worth solely by it's relative influence on Kurt Cobain. Yes, the music can be grating and perhaps it can even "cause you stress." But, these attributes do not indicate a lack of melody or of artistic value. Art - effective art - should evoke an emotional response from the audience. As one who has seen the Jesus Lizard perform live many times, let me assure you, their music does just that. The response may be a violent one. People like Jacobs may get clobbered in the crowd. Then again, I might become ill at a Mariah Carey concert, which is why I wouldn't go.

I must take particular exception to Jacobs' comment that "The Jesus Lizard has a paramecium's concept of rhythm." With the possible exception of a few avant-garde jazz bands, I have never witnessed a group that had greater rhythmic maturity than The Jesus Lizard. Like great jazz, each of the four band members seems completely absorbed in his own role, and yet, simultaneously, each part makes sense in the overall musical context of the others, both melodically and rhythmically. Jacobs only assessment is, "The overall effect is a nerve-crunching overdose of a single beat." I suppose it could be nerve-crunching. And, at times, there is an almost numbing repetitiveness to their music. This creates tension, and, in some , an extreme sense of discomfort. But, again, who is to say that such a tension is a detriment to the music! It is precisely this tension that I find so appealing in the band. If it makes you uncomfortable, that's good. At least it makes you feel something, besides bored.

Finally, we come to the issue of the lyrics which Jacobs finds perverse and pointless. Frankly, I have never felt that rock lyrics should be much more than pointless. The late rock critic Lester Bangs once praised "throwaway lines" as "the best lines in rock, which is basically a music meant to be tossed over the shoulder and off the wall."

As to perversity, rock and roll has always had an element of perversity (if not outright perversion), both in its lyrics, and in the lifestyles of the performers. Rock and roll has most often been the voice of a frustrated 16 year old male libido. Like it or not, and many of you won't, from Elvis Presley to the Ramones, sex and rock and roll go hand in hand.

The Jesus Lizard may express things in a somewhat more graphic and offensive manner, but the sentiment is the same. For some, "Pina coladas and getting caught in the rain," is enough sentiment, while for others, the vulgar musings of G.G. Allin are more satisfactory. But to steal a quote about another band, The Jesus Lizard "don't descend into the depths of squalor to make a point about the human condition - they just like it down there." Let them enjoy themselves. And if you don't want to join them, you know where the volume knob is.

I suppose "normal people" should stay away from The Jesus Lizard. But please leave any critical evaluation of them to those of us to whom their music is directed. They are a great band worthy of a far more intelligent and informed review than Jacobs has offered.

Jonathan M. Gladstone '95