Keith Levene, founding member of the Clash and PiL, dead at 65
November 12, 2022 5:11 PM   Subscribe

Keith Levene has died of liver cancer at the age of 65 His stint with The Clash was brief. He had a much larger impact on punk and post-punk as one of the original members of Public Image Ltd. His bright, echoing, shimmering guitar, at times lush, at times harsh, influenced generations of bands to come.
posted by Ayn Marx (22 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Simon Reynolds, whose book Rip It Up and Start Again covers post-punk, has a nice eulogy with a number of videos.
posted by Ayn Marx at 5:17 PM on November 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

I wrote a bit about him while theoretically reviewing an EP he released a while back:

"Keith Levene is a man erased. His career manages to stand continually in the mere periphery of rock history, a man seemingly doomed to never fully realize the standing he could have in the rock world...

Keith Levene went from being a Yes roadie to one of the founding members of the Clash, making him one of the few* connecting figures between the prog world and the punk world. Following his departure from the Clash, before the band began releasing albums, he formed the legendary and unrecorded Flowers of Romance along with Sid Vicious and future members of the Slits. Despite these high profile associations, Levene made his recording debut with Public Image Ltd. Although John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) was the voice and the selling point of PiL, Levene’s experimental atonal guitars and keyboards helped to define “post-punk”. Where the Sex Pistols pretended to destroy rock and roll music and the rock and roll mythos, while really only embracing both at their greatest extreme, Levene’s influence helped actually to create a jumpy, disturbing, and thoroughly un-pop alternative to 'rock and roll.'

Of course, the lure of the rock and roll myth, for good or for ill, always seems to prevail. John Lydon slowly started creeping back into the pop mainstream, in the all-too familiar guise of the “Antichrist” attempting to destroy the pop mainstream. With Lydon AWOL in the show biz world, Levene took control of the masters of PiL’s fourth album and attempted to wrest artistic control of the band. Lydon, upon hearing the masters, erased most of Levene’s work and released his own version, and proceeded in the next twenty years to destroy all credibility that PiL had given him with money-making reunions and embarrassing forays into reality TV."

Here's a brief Apple Music playlist of the highlights from those first three PiL albums.

* This turned out to be Young Me's ignorance. There are a lot of connections, actually!
posted by HunterFelt at 5:42 PM on November 12, 2022 [8 favorites]

He was a helluva musician who was needed at the beginning of post-rock.
I'm thankful for his work.
posted by Chocomog at 5:42 PM on November 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

posted by doctornemo at 6:34 PM on November 12, 2022

posted by inexorably_forward at 6:54 PM on November 12, 2022

Two good interviews ...

From 2016
From 2001

which cover a lot of ground. From being a roadie for Yes at age fifteen, to forming the Clash ... and onward.

From the second link:

PSF: What kind of stuff were you playing then (age sixteen)?

Levine: Ever heard a PiL record? That kind of stuff. Even back then. I was playing with the Allman Brothers (records) and I was playing with Yes records. You do that to get good. Then you play with one another to jam and be good. What happened to me was once I got good enough to know the rules, I didn't want to be like any other guitarist. I didn't go out of my way to be different. I just had an ear for what was wrong. So if I did something that was wrong, i.e. made a mistake or did something that wasn't in key, I was open-minded enough to listen to it again. I call it the James 'Blood' Ulmer Effect. Aside from Steve Howe, he is God. He is everything that I'll end up being as a guitarist. I'm not there yet.

Also this from ten years ago:

Metal Box In Dub - Poptones - Jah Wobble & Keith levene
posted by philip-random at 7:22 PM on November 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Next to his (immaculate) PIL stuff I also love the work he did with Creation Rebel and other On-U sound projects/bands.

Last Sane Dream
posted by Kosmob0t at 7:24 PM on November 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

posted by gentlyepigrams at 8:09 PM on November 12, 2022

posted by tarantula at 9:00 PM on November 12, 2022

posted by Carillon at 9:33 PM on November 12, 2022

posted by potrzebie at 10:26 PM on November 12, 2022

Many guitarists stand on the shoulders of Levine, Tom Verlaine, Edge, and Andy Gill. Such a creative time in music.
posted by artdrectr at 10:27 PM on November 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

May the road rise with you.

posted by riverlife at 11:25 PM on November 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

posted by Bottlecap at 3:08 AM on November 13, 2022

We were just talking about U2 and The Edge the other day. Diving into Keith Levene's playing is like finding a decoder ring showing you where many of those sounds are drawn from.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:09 AM on November 13, 2022 [8 favorites]

posted by talking leaf at 8:29 AM on November 13, 2022

posted by zengargoyle at 9:04 AM on November 13, 2022

posted by Splunge at 12:29 PM on November 13, 2022

posted by evilDoug at 12:35 PM on November 13, 2022

posted by Gelatin at 5:48 AM on November 14, 2022

posted by adekllny at 6:45 AM on November 14, 2022

posted by Gotanda at 8:30 PM on November 14, 2022

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