For many years, I've kept a picture of the singer Lora Logic up on my wall. A full-page portrait sliced from a 1980 issue of Rolling Stone
, this is the furthest thing from your standard glamour shot. It's a washed-out color photo of a plain girl in a heavy coat holding her tenor saxophone. She's standing in a stark British kitchen ? the kind that surely inspired the term "kitchen sink realism." There's a smart, levelheaded reserve in the way she looks back at the camera, but something inscrutable, mysterious, too. That look says: You don't know me. She could be anyone ? a sensible librarian getting ready to make tea, or a troublemaking schoolgirl who escaped from St. Trinians with nothing but the clothes on her back and an old saxophone liberated from the music room. That look says: Listen up, best pay attention, you'll only hear these instructions once.
When I originally picked up the handful of records by Essential Logic, her definitive post-punk group, I fell hard for the corkscrew voice, free-associating language, and sinuous, multi-tiered music. It was everything a young devotee of punk, loopy pop, early Ornette Coleman, and Donald Barthelme could hope for: the experimental and experiential blended in perfect off-the-wall harmony. A mere quarter century or so later (the time flying when you're having fun), I wrote about her (and some of her spiritual sisters) in an essay for The Believer, on occasion of the release of the Essential Logic collection Fanfare in the Garden. (Containing most of Lora's best work with the band and solo, it is an undiscovered country of sheer ebullient bliss. Go! Buy it! Now!)
For my book, I retitled the piece "Fairy Tales from Strangers," in honor of the Raincoats, her swell label mates at Rough Trade. They recorded the indelible "Fairy Tale in the Supermarket," and were aptly evoked by their fan Kurt Cobain: "When I listen to the Raincoats I feel as if I'm a stowaway in an attic...." In the brief window of opportunity after 1970s punk opened up a new anything-goes space, it felt like a revolution in sex roles was taking place in that attic, and rock equality was at hand. Lora Logic was the most unique and strangely self-possessed voice; Poly Styrene, her band mate in punk avatars X-Ray Spex (before giving Logic the boot) was the most striking, unreconstructed punk voice, with a timbre that could cut through a chainsaw. Chrissie Hynde was the most toughly seductive and "Precious." Deborah Iyall of Romeo Void was the most intimate and touchingly cynical; Exene Cervenka of X was the most exhilarating, the woman most likely to make "We're Desperate" sound like an mouth-watering come-on. Lesley Woods of the Au Pairs sounded like Marianne Faithfull fronting the Gang of Four; Faithfull herself came back with Broken English and sounded like Marlene Dietrich in the rubble of a bombed-out disco. We had Penelope Houston of the Avengers, Fay Fife of the Rezillos (brilliantly ridiculous: "I Can't Stand My Baby"), the beehive/lobster gals in the B-52s, almost commercial prospects like Lene Lovich and Rachel Sweet, the student prole models in the Delta 5, Myrna Marcarian of the Human Switchboard, and that's not even mentioning Patti Smith or Deborah Harry or Tina Weymouth playing bass for Talking Heads.
In that moment, the line between realism and abstraction disappeared; suddenly, people were singing about everything, and everything ? sex, politics, the daily grind, the search for a different life or a different sound ? was connected, illuminated. Pop music, or an unreasonable facsimile thereof, caught up with reality and began to outstrip it.
Those were, as the song says, different times. While there's a sense in which Lora Logic paved the way for Laurie Anderson as much as Sleater-Kinney, or at least prepared my ears for them, finally her work stands utterly apart: an emblem of an alternate future. I lifted my book's title from "Born in Flames," the 45 (b/w "The Sword of God") she recorded while moonlighting as the singer for Mayo Thompson's reconstituted Red Crayola (Gina Birch of the Raincoats was the bass player). I trust the meaning ? or the mystery ? is self-evident; so too my enduring philosophic love of Logic.