David Thomas on Croatian cops, buses and YouTube
March 2, 2007 6:29 AM   Subscribe

Whenever I feel confused about the rights of artists in this age of freely-shared media – which is easily done, let's face it – I take a moment to revisit Pere Ubu's page of protocols. It's a beautifully written, concise series of rules which neatly explains, amongst many other things, why there are (virtually) no Ubu videos on YouTube. I used to work for David during the 1990s; the clarity of his thoughts on the music business was always inspiring, and continues to be so.
posted by rhodri (61 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Soo...."Pere Ubu" is the name of a band? And this "David" must be a member?
posted by DU at 6:39 AM on March 2, 2007


Clear, but also somewhat precious. Bands that talk about their 'art' rather than their 'music' trouble me, even when they're Pere Ubu. It's only rock'n'roll, baby. Lighten up.
posted by sweet mister at 6:41 AM on March 2, 2007


Apologies. Last time I posted here I was told I'd gone overboard with detail; this time I've clearly posted too little. Pere Ubu are a rock band from Cleveland, Ohio, formed in 1975. David Thomas is the lead singer.
posted by rhodri at 6:44 AM on March 2, 2007


Well, it's not just "only rock'n'roll" if you make your living from writing, recording and performing. And if you consider your music or your art precious, then being precious about it is surely your prerogative. And there's enough humour in that page to avoid accusations of needing to lighten up, I'd say. But that's just me.
posted by rhodri at 6:48 AM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, the tone of that page is equivalent to what I used to see when goth people would write about 'goth culture' and how horribly misunderstood they were by 'normals.'

Total douche-baggery.
posted by owenkun at 6:51 AM on March 2, 2007


Count me among those who consider it okay for people like David Thomas to refer to their work as their "art".
posted by psmealey at 6:52 AM on March 2, 2007


... basically: suck it, haters.
posted by psmealey at 6:55 AM on March 2, 2007


That's a lot of rules for a band that had at most a cult following in their hey day (I count myself in there) and by now has probably 500 fans on the planet. That's irrelevant though, as they say, 'it's our art'.
posted by spicynuts at 6:59 AM on March 2, 2007


Wow, I never heard of these guys. I just heard some of their music for the first time. They aren't good enough to justify acting like this.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:01 AM on March 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Pere Ubu's page of protocols.

Pere Ubu are a rock band from Cleveland, Ohio, formed in 1975.


So basically this is a link to the protocols of the elders of Ubu...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:05 AM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


self absorbed, egoistic wankers. I'd say art fits the bill just nicely.
posted by twistedonion at 7:05 AM on March 2, 2007


I guess when you've been in a band for 30 years, you pretty much know how you like to run things.

See also: Iggy's rider
posted by gwint at 7:07 AM on March 2, 2007


I once saw Pere Ubu mop the floor with the Pixies. Embarassiing for Black and his band but rather stunning for the audience.
posted by dobbs at 7:10 AM on March 2, 2007


Wow, I never heard of these guys. I just heard some of their music for the first time. They aren't good enough to justify acting like this.

Wow, thanks for weighing in, n00b. I've been a fan of these guys for 20 years at this point, they are ridiculously good live.
posted by psmealey at 7:11 AM on March 2, 2007


Indeed. I find it hilarious that people think that life in a successful band just kind of happens, and that no-one needs to dictate what happens when, where and how. If you don't lay down some kind of framework, you probably end up like Babyshambles, I guess.
posted by rhodri at 7:12 AM on March 2, 2007


Your favorite art band sucks.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:12 AM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


self absorbed, egoistic wankers. I'd say art fits the bill just nicely.

Or just plain sarcastic. I read it like he's taking the piss out of those bands who DO take themselves seriously:

1. Pere Ubu won't have its picture taken for press or promotional purposes anywhere in public, i.e. anywhere that civilians can see us getting our picture taken. We prefer studios or out of the way locations. It is a shameful thing for a man to pose for a picture and we seek to hide our shame from the public. Photographers, note: we will not run or jump or do anything. Don't ask. Don't think you can wear us down. Many have tried. We do NOT relax.

No wanker would say it is "a shameful thing for a man to pose for a picture." Real wankers do it all the time.
posted by three blind mice at 7:14 AM on March 2, 2007


If I thought that this would provoke a debate on the level of "my favourite band is better than this band", I probably wouldn't have bothered. Ah well, you live and learn.
posted by rhodri at 7:15 AM on March 2, 2007


Exactly, 3bm: it's art rock. The attitude, framework and structure is part and parcel of the whole Pere Ubu package. It's not for everyone to be sure and fine to reject it, but in order to "get" it you need to look at the totality of it.
posted by psmealey at 7:16 AM on March 2, 2007


Definitely artists. With a lot of time on their hands to think and write all of this. Reagardless of me agreeing with them or not, it is their art and this does make for a vey interesting read.
posted by horseblind at 7:17 AM on March 2, 2007


Every band is like blood in the blue, blue water around here, rhodri. No exceptions.
posted by cgc373 at 7:17 AM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


They aren't good enough to justify acting like this.

Good god, yes they are. I don't know what you listened to, but Dub Housing and The Modern Dance are undeniable classics of punk music. Art-punk, sure, but punk nonetheless. And the Terminal Tower singles comp is one of the sharpest, smartest documents of late 70s music you can possibly own:

This music's historical importance is undeniable -- not only because of the band's pioneeringly independent status in an area not as celebrated for its punk scene, but also because Pere Ubu was one of the first bands to push their art punk sound into territory later classified as alternative, a testament to their forward-looking approach. None of that would matter if Terminal Tower didn't hold up so well as a listening experience, but Pere Ubu still sounds utterly original.

Thomas is one weird human, definitely, but his YouTube position is hardly off the planet:

There is nothing to prevent a fan from seeking our permission to post. There is a methodology for accomplishing this. We are freely available via email. The issue is permission, not money, not appreciation, not harm or benefit. It is politeness, respect, and appreciation for the fact that we are entitled to have absolute control of our own art. The beginning and end of the issue is Permission. When you want to use somebody's property you ask.
posted by mediareport at 7:21 AM on March 2, 2007


OK, leaving aside how great they may or may not be live, could an Ubu-lover recommend a first album to download off p2p, please?

According to the imperium protocols, I always download one first, if no-one I know owns any to listen to. Subsequent albums may be purchased, or the original album may be deleted without recourse to discussion with the artist. On occasion the original album itself may also be purchased, although this is rare.

Sometimes further albums are simply downloaded, though. I am very reluctant to own a drawer full of plastic crap I never use and "artwork" I never look at, nor do I wish to fill my computer with DRM'd crap. I only accept clean high-bitrate MP3s that I can listen to on any hardware of my choice.

Artists unwilling to find record labels that accede to this reasonable request will find their art downloaded off p2p networks. I would like to give them money for this directly, and have arranged to do that with one label I know people from. If I like this Ubu stuff I would quite enjoy just sending him a cheque for some CDs I didn't buy.

These decisions will be made in a democratic and unanimous manner by me, based on the quality of the musical experience. All rights of the listener are reserved. For further info on why this is a reasonable stance, see here.

So, where should I start?
posted by imperium at 7:28 AM on March 2, 2007 [4 favorites]


Their choice is also their loss.
posted by srboisvert at 7:31 AM on March 2, 2007


could an Ubu-lover recommend a first album to download off p2p, please?

Haha, the irony. Fortunately, the albums are all available as DRM-free mp3s here, at fairly reasonable prices. Dub Housing, The Modern Dance, New Picnic Time, Ray Gun Suitcase Pennsylvania – all 9 on there are worth hearing.
posted by rhodri at 7:35 AM on March 2, 2007


Their choice is also their loss.

As they say, "whether it hurts or helps us has nothing to do with it."
posted by rhodri at 7:36 AM on March 2, 2007


I met David Thomas a few years back, he is a great if somewhat bizarre guy. The David Thomas and Two Pale boys album is brilliant though.
posted by fire&wings at 7:36 AM on March 2, 2007


Do not let Mr Thomas stand around like a lemon. ... If Mr Thomas is allowed to slip into an Outcast Lemon Mode you will have an unsatisfactory experience.

Do not taunt Outcast Lemon.

Seriously, this entire passage is a gem:

Please remember that the first 30 seconds of arrival in-store sets the tone for the entire episode. If Mr Thomas is allowed to slip into an Outcast Lemon Mode you will have an unsatisfactory experience. INTRODUCE HIM. ENCOURAGE CONVERSATION. TAKE UP ANY SLACK. If you know a fan who wants to meet him then by all means introduce them. Mr Thomas prefers ordinary people. He wants to be approached. He wants to talk.

Mr Thomas can be the most charming & exciting personality if very simple steps are taken to avoid awkwardness. Once he gets rolling there are no problems, you can sit back, relax & observe a professional smarming his way into the hearts of all around him. The initial stages, however, are critical.

posted by maudlin at 7:37 AM on March 2, 2007


Some of Pere Ubu's music is available cheap and DRM free at emusic. 50 free tracks if you're not already a member.
posted by dobbs at 7:42 AM on March 2, 2007


I had no idea they were still around. What are they, like 60 now?
posted by fungible at 7:43 AM on March 2, 2007


From the quotes on the Wikipedia page -

That has been our one significant success to this date: we are the longest-lasting, most disastrous commercial outfit to ever appear in rock 'n' roll. No one can come close to matching our loss to longevity ratio." – David Thomas

I like this guy!
posted by TwoWordReview at 7:47 AM on March 2, 2007


I love Pere Ubu. I saw them kill the Pixies (I'm guessing it was the same tour, dobbs) and, in a really strange pairing, They Might Be Giants really didn't have much of a chance either. Both times David Thomas introduced the band as the grandfathers of weird (and this was in the early 90s). I can't really say that I've loved every album that David Thomas has put out, but god bless him for sticking to it, both monetarily and aesthetically. By the way, Monster Walks the Winter Lake is a great album as well.

As for all of the hate, just wow. Learn some history or something.
posted by sleepy pete at 7:52 AM on March 2, 2007


I came across this a few days ago and thought it was well reasoned. But then again, I'm a Pere Ubu fan, the child of artists, and an "artist".

What constitutes Art is subject to interpretation, personal taste, prejudice, ignorance/education, et cetera. I'm a supporter of McLuhan's position: "Art is anything you can get away with."

An artist has every right to determine the disposition of his works still in his control. David Thomas and Pere Ubu have produced a body of work and wish to ensure that it is not diluted. More power to them.

Recordings of live events are not accurate reproductions of the event. The concert experience cannot be captured on tape. It is a gestalt of innumerable real-life sensations that fill each moment as it goes by and then are lost forever in the time stream.

It's my take that Thomas and Ubu have the same approach as performance artists: the performance is the art. Recording the performance does not capture the art, it only captures a microcosm of the experience.

One does not expect an "encore" from an artist. There is no encore to Swan Lake. Jenny Holzer does not give "encore" truisms. It is only a small subset of the artist community that we have coaxed and come to expect to perform encores.

Similarly, Art In America would never ask Jasper Johns or Warhol to "do something cute" or "look funny." Artist portraits are invariably formal, in studio, or in a manner that does not demean the artist. Ubu merely points out that the same respect is due them.

Don't confuse the fact that their product shares attributes with that made by others who are willing to demean themselves to the level of entertainer. Product popularity has nothing to do with the way Ubu chooses to make the product available.

On an slightly related note, I 'submitted' their page to the editors over a BoingBoing a little while ago because the Ubu policy/practice is far at odds with BB content politics. Thus far it doesn't seem to have been picked up.
posted by jdfan at 7:55 AM on March 2, 2007


One important side note: David Thomas never asked Alfred Jarry's permission...
posted by beelzbubba at 8:04 AM on March 2, 2007


You're all either too damn young or too damn old to make a Wendy's joke aren't you?

One important side note: David Thomas never asked Alfred Jarry's permission...

Of course Jarry was dead'n'buried with no heirs and his works in the public domain, and the original character of "Pere Ubu" wasn't created by him in the first place. And if anything, he would save his -no doubt bizarrely expressed- wrath for things like Ubu Rock if he could arise from the dead and defend "his" intellectual property.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:22 AM on March 2, 2007


Your favorite band's protocol sucks.
posted by grouse at 8:22 AM on March 2, 2007


it's probably worth noting that Thomas is a Jehovah's Witness.
posted by Hat Maui at 8:37 AM on March 2, 2007


I find it interesting that people are willing to give a large amount of respect, with regards to intellectual property and the like, but will not give the same respect to financial interests.

Hell, they even use the term "steal". If the RIAA uses that in any of their speeches, it usually mandates a nerdy pedantic rant about how you can't steal intellectual property, and how it shouldn't be called property

Quote from the article, referring to Youtube:

We are not interested in self-promotion if the cost is loss of editorship.

Couldn't the same be said about NBC, Viacom, and countless other organizations that people get angry about for pulling Youtube clips?
posted by zabuni at 8:39 AM on March 2, 2007


One does not expect an "encore" from an artist.

From the protocols, I don't see where it says they won't give encores if they are the headline act, or if they have the permission of the stage manager. It says they won't do it as an opening act without permission.

So if one does not expect an "encore" as an artist, then I guess Ubu can't be artists when they're the headlining act, only when they are opening.
posted by grouse at 8:49 AM on March 2, 2007


This dude must be some sort of financial wizard in regard to the biz, because in 15+ years of music nerdery (and being surrounded by music nerds) I have yet to meet anyone who a) owns a Pere Ubu album, or b) has seen them live. And yet...here they are. Still.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:53 AM on March 2, 2007


and being surrounded by music nerds

Your nerd friends need to work a bit harder. Pere Ubu fits practically anyone's definition of the word seminal. Without them, there arguably is no Talking Heads, Pixies, Yo La Tengo and so on.
posted by psmealey at 8:58 AM on March 2, 2007


You're all either too damn young or too damn old to make a Wendy's joke aren't you?

Nope, I just have a better sense of what's funny I guess.
posted by sleepy pete at 9:12 AM on March 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


I still enjoy listening to "Worlds In Collision." I have no idea if this is regarded as a great PU album by PU aficionados, but to this average music fan it's quite enjoyable after many listens. Imperium, send me your snail mail address offline and I'll be glad to ship it to you. My nick at gmail dot com.
posted by bovious at 9:23 AM on March 2, 2007


If this is serious: no one is this much of a wanker, are they?

If this is humor: Please leave it to the professionals.
posted by maxwelton at 9:33 AM on March 2, 2007


"Hell, they even use the term "steal". If the RIAA uses that in any of their speeches, it usually mandates a nerdy pedantic rant about how you can't steal intellectual property, and how it shouldn't be called property"

I dunno. Maybe the fact that he makes a reasonable point and does so with fairly transparent arguments lead me to respect him more than some RIAA flack who can't help but see every consumer as the sum of their orifices.

"This dude must be some sort of financial wizard in regard to the biz, because in 15+ years of music nerdery (and being surrounded by music nerds) I have yet to meet anyone who a) owns a Pere Ubu album, or b) has seen them live. And yet...here they are. Still."

Canadian music nerds obviously don't count as music nerds. Pere Ubu is one of the few bands that I can say I've bought NEW albums from (instead of used, or swipin' 'em from some other distribution stream). Not only that, but I was surprised after I bought the album at how many of my pals also had it.
Though I will say that I think you only really need Modern Dance and Dub Housing...
posted by klangklangston at 9:51 AM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


So if one does not expect an "encore" as an artist, then I guess Ubu can't be artists when they're the headlining act, only when they are opening.

I knew that would be misinterpreted. Setting aside the artists who have enjoyed the role of public character, one does not normally expect to find an artist on the pages of Seventeen, Teen Beat, Circus, Creem, et cetera, doing cute things or being an idol for mere sake of fan woship.

The vast majority of artists toil away in humble obscurity. A few are elevated to public attention and their product becomes desirable. Public desire for the artist's product places no requirement on the artist to become the public's monkey.
posted by jdfan at 10:33 AM on March 2, 2007


My girlfriend used to not mind Pere Ubu. Then we saw them live, and she found David Thomas to be such a pretentious pompous ass that she couldn't even stand to listen to the music anymore. I told her, "you should see his website".
posted by equalpants at 10:35 AM on March 2, 2007


Couldn't the same be said about NBC, Viacom, and countless other organizations that people get angry about for pulling Youtube clips?

Not really. They are required to defend their copyright, their income generating property. Thomas and Ubu, as stated, are concerned more with loss of editorship: controlling their output. It is an artist's prerogative.
posted by jdfan at 10:41 AM on March 2, 2007


I knew that would be misinterpreted.

Then perhaps you should have said it differently. But really I think it is you who did the misinterpretation when you earlier said:
One does not expect an "encore" from an artist.
You may have thought from your misreading of this web page that Pere Ubu does not give encores. But it seems clear that they do when they are headlining. Given that it is reasonable to expect encores from Pere Ubu, by your logic they are not artists.
posted by grouse at 10:46 AM on March 2, 2007


Let us choose to disagree. I understand Ubu does encores: I have seen them. My point was that the encore as expectation is not extended to other performing artists.

When a ballet troupe performs Swan Lake, there may be a curtain call but there is no fifth act the performers are holding in reservation. I merely used "encore" as an example of an unrealistic expectation.

Let me retract encore and substitute "perform interpretive dance on command."
posted by jdfan at 11:12 AM on March 2, 2007


Yeah, a longstanding business partnership better not act like one because there are guitars involved! Better to leave it all slack and informal, because we know the music industry *never* exploits loopholes, opportunities and kind gestures, right?
posted by mobunited at 11:14 AM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


lentrohamsanin:
Of course Jarry was dead'n'buried with no heirs and his works in the public domain, and the original character of "Pere Ubu" wasn't created by him in the first place.


Go ahead, suck all the air out. In lieu of the obvious Wendy's joke, I thought I'd have a little fun at Pere Ubu's expense. Sorry to wake you. btw, I like Pere Ubu.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:53 AM on March 2, 2007


I too saw Pere Ubu blow away The Pixies. And I had the appropriately requisite awe for Mr. Krokus Behemoth as I saw him sauntering around the hall before the set, looking pretty wasted to me.

After reading these protocols through however, I must admit that, if I ever see him again, I have a strong urge to go bear hug the guy and call him Dave.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:30 PM on March 2, 2007


Pere Ubu rocks.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:03 PM on March 2, 2007


Great band.
posted by Wolof at 4:46 PM on March 2, 2007


It's so, so very sad to see someone so pedantic, so PICKY, who can't spell "discreet."
posted by rikschell at 5:37 PM on March 2, 2007


He spelled it right at least once.
posted by maudlin at 6:52 PM on March 2, 2007


Er... yep. In fact, he got it right every single time.
posted by rhodri at 5:07 AM on March 5, 2007


It's so, so very sad to see someone so pedantic, so PICKY, who can't spell "discreet."
In fact, he got it right every single time.


I guess you'd have to ask rikschell, but somehow I suspect he wouldn't have said such a trivially observable thing if it weren't true. The most recent Wayback Machine archive (albeit a year ago) has it spelled incorrectly many times. Sneaky.
posted by grouse at 6:04 AM on March 5, 2007


He spelled "discreet" right, but he meant "discrete."
posted by rikschell at 2:22 PM on March 6, 2007


Whoa, rikschell, now I'm confused. When I read this the other day, I noticed at least one instance of "discrete" where there should have been "discreet". So when you first commented, I assumed you were talking about the same thing I'd seen. As grouse pointed out, it's all been fixed since then. But where does he mean "discrete"?
posted by equalpants at 6:10 PM on March 6, 2007


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