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emcecil on 12/16/2011 at 10:38AM

Art Is Dead: Exploring the Comic and the Cosmic with Phantom Payn

SWScan00029Jürgen Gleue is done with music.  He quit sometime in the mid-'90s.  That's when he gave his instruments and equipment away to local musicians in Hannover, Germany.  He hasn't played a note since.

"And now," Gleue said when I spoke with him on the phone some months ago, "I have the comics for recreational purposes."

Much like the songs he recorded in his various outfits -- most notably, the legendary 39 Clocks, and his solo project, Phantom Payn -- his comics are playful, sardonic and, above all else, hallucinatory.  He self-publishes them in runs of 50 or so, then hands them out to friends, acquaintances and strangers in the streets of Hannover. 

"But why comics?" I asked.

"I like the way small fanzines relate to larger magazines, especially in terms of subversion," he returned.

Subversion's always been a big part of Gleue's life, especially in terms of art.  Or as he calls it, "primitive art, a sort of anti-art."  From the early '70s through most of the '80s, he and co-conspirator Christian Henjes/C.H.-39 took immense pleasure in crafting crude, provocative ditties like "Stupid Art" -- noisy and anthemic tunes that borrowed as much from the monkeyshines of Dada as they did the repetition of the Velvet Underground and the rank confrontation and canned beats of Suicide, whose live show directly influenced the Clocks' antagonism.  They played often, despite -- or because of -- threats from angry crowds, cross words from prestigious artists (Joseph Beuys) and a hefty influx of drink and drug.

Such chaotic creative tension couldn't last long.  Impressively, though, their self-proclaimed "psycho beat" endured until '87 or so.  And when the smoke cleared, J.G.-39 started recording moodier solo efforts under the name Phantom Payn.

While Phantom Payn was decidedly less abrasive than 39 Clocks, Gleue maintained his fascination with the absurd.  So, too, did he hone his sense of spontaneity.  Local artist and friend Job Crogier encouraged him to record his songs quickly, impulsively, urging him to include his mistakes in finished cuts of songs.

"I loved the idea of mistakes on display, whether to keep things interesting or just to fuck things up," he laughed.  "It adds a human element to the music.  Mistakes can lead to different places -- you can come up with different tones, and you can come up with a different musical language."

His musical language was different, to be sure, and his skewed songs were informed by a great deal of LSD, with which he was by now "obsessed."  The lack of a proper rhythm section and the wealth of acid brought an ethereal and occasionally paranoid quality to Phantom Payn, supplanting the combative milieu of the 39 Clocks with a mercurial throb.

The inherently introspective qualities of LSD also brought depth to his songs, both in terms of song structure and the experience of recording.  For example, while Gleue recorded "She's Not Home," a tune from 1994's Bad Vibes, Anyone?: "I felt there was a presence in the room," he said.  "I was on acid, and it was very early in the morning...  The shitty keyboard I had used to record sounded like a harmonizing woman's voice."  The tune was inspired by a magazine article he'd recently read about a woman who went insane.

Gleue's obsession with acid left indelible marks on his music.  It drove him to create what others saw, in his words, as "the most depressing music they'd ever heard."  Many felt it was too dreary.  Some got it.  To Gleue, it didn't matter.  He logged hours, days, weeks putting songs to tape, chewing tabs with abandon.

"I could do a lot with acid," he said.  "I got very much into recording on it.  It questions these middle-class values -- getting the proper job, respecting authority -- and it even destroys these values, but what it doesn't do is replace these destroyed values with new ones.  You just don't take things seriously anymore."

Gleue released a handful of records throughout his run as Phantom Payn, and he even assembled a full band that played his tunes live to varying degrees of success.   "Phantom Payn gigs were very much like the records," he said, "But I was not in good shape live because of the drugs."

His regular trips took their toll, and he cut out LSD and all other drugs in the mid-'90s -- after nearly 20 years of heavy use, and just as many of prolific creativity. 

He quit music shortly thereafter.

In 2010, De Stijl Records released the excellent Phantom Payn Daze, laid to tape nearly fifteen years prior.  It represents some of Gleue's last recorded efforts.  It also represents some of his best.  The album's maturity belies his interest in the primitive and ostensibly inane, as evinced by the video for the heady "Paradox Box," directed by Tara Sinn.

Of course, he does touch upon the mischevious anti-art sentiments he and Henjes explored in 39 Clocks, as illustrated in "Art Is Dead."

Said Gleue, "To call music 'art' during the days of the Clocks was not considered cool; it was not the thing to do.  To call it 'art' would be to take it too seriously."

But, hey: Doesn't matter now.  Serious or not, Gleue's done.  He quit music.  You're out of luck.  You'll have to hunt those Clocks and Payn albums and soak 'em in -- any number of folks will tell you it's worth your time and dough. 

Luckily, we still have his illustrations.  Click the links below for larger images of an English version of Funny Days Comix, and enjoy.

 

Funny Days Comix, Page 1 Funny Days Comix, Page 2 Funny Days Comix, Page 3

Funny Days Comix, Page 4 Funny Days Comix, Page 5

A very big thanks to Jürgen Gleue for everything.

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