“This heaven gives me migraine.”

Gang of Four. The kind of thing I usually say when introducing myself to new people is, “I’m super into music.” It never feels like a sufficient description for how serious and ardent and sometimes a bit weird I am about this. Not making music. Listening to it. Absorbing it into my very soul. Carrying that essence around with me as I move through the world. Communing with it.

What do I do with those feelings though? As someone who draws, what hits me is this urgent and sometimes crazed need to get the feelings out. I’m in awe of writers, poets, lyricists. What a beautiful gift. My own wit is not quick enough for words. So I draw. I pack everything I could possibly have to say into my work; then I cross my fingers that the result can speak for me. In what it says flat out, in what it insinuates, in what it says by omission.

So here is another of my “fiber of my being” bands. Some of my patheon remain firmly back in the day; I love them too. But Gang of Four (like my beloved Beat) are one who have grown with me. They worked their way into my teenaged sponge brain– a bit confusing and almost too intense at times, but persisting until they became the pillar they are now. They’ve seen me through so many evolutions of myself.

I’ve been doing the slow burn with the Gang over the last three or fours years especially. As I finally unveiled my authentic grown-up self. As I set out on a new path, and ditched an existence I thought I’d be trapped in forever. Through the dire alienation and anxiety we all endured together. As I made great strides I’d not even got to imagining for myself. Helping me reinforce a new sense of self. And as I find myself here now, finally beginning to turn a corner after being knocked fully down once again– here they are.

Gang of Four are one of my safe places. Which is funny, I guess. Is “He’d Send in the Army” comforting? There are some bands of the time who were only dissonant, only detached and intellectual. Go4 weren’t that. The noise and the gravity were strategically balanced against negative space and a touch of frivolity. And for as much as they knew how to deconstruct a song, they could also storm right back in with an outrageous hook or a gripping melody. AND what really sets them apart for me is their subtle sense of humor, their obvious love for music for its own sake, their energy and enthusiasm, an undercurrent of passion and humanity, and that they did what they did because they enjoyed it– ON TOP OF that conviction and seriousness. Their work was chock-full of a million different influences and intentions, and I so relate to that. They could have made easy pop music. They could have made austere anti-music. Instead they made something challenging, yet accessible. Andy’s shearing guitar stabs make me feel like I’m eating my vegetables too, and I LIKE it.

The fellas’ unique approach to feminism also factors into my love for them; why I take it so personally. Plenty of other all-male bands of the day called out inequality. Some of them were a bit cringy in their earnestness. Some were a bit misguided and crass. Of course there is a place reserved in my raging heart for women like The Slits, Poly Styrene, Delta 5, LiLiPUT… who wrote and sang about sexism (and simply the female experience) in a ferocious and unapologetic style with which I am already familar (because I am a woman and these impulses are in here already). But the way the Gang took on feminism was so matter of fact and dignified. Hugo’s calmly bitter “It’s Her Factory” is the highest of all these high points for me. (Bless you, Hugo.) And there is something in the way Jon inhabits female points of view in his lyrics and his singing– it’s not self-congratulatory or a caricature. It just exists, on equal footing, with equal respect and attention and effort. And don’t even get me started on Sara Lee; that will require a whole separate glowing essay of its own.

When I started this tribute one year ago, little baby me had no idea I’d soon get to stand in the same room with Jon and Hugo & Co., having my beat-up soul washed clean with this music that means so much to me. Jon King flailing and tumbling around the stage, baseball bat in hand, microwave debris flying, just feet away. Watching Sara Lee bop and grin in real time. The hairs standing up on my arms while David gamely channeled and elevated Andy directly in front of my dang face. That I’d get to meet Hugo Burnham, tell him my name, thank him!?! My love for them and their music has reminded me of who I am, what I love, why I love it, and how to prioritize my important things. It’s a reminder to stay human, keep going, and really mean it.

When I had my chance to say hello to Hugo (the nicest man, good golly), of course I didn’t manage to succinctly sum all this up. (There’s my old nemesis Words again.) But straightaway he noticed my shirt, which I’d hand stenciled with an old Go4 design, a deep cut. This was my exact aim as I was painting it, but I’d certainly not counted on it actually happening. That same intention goes into these illustrated tributes, which I try to load with as much meaning and feeling as I can. To have other thoughtful and creative people (especially the subjects of my work) notice that special effort, well, that’s gratifying as hell. And as for Gang of Four (and all of these other brilliant artists I pay tribute to in this way) I hope they are regularly reminded of how much they mean to their fans and of the amazing impact of the timeless work they put out into the world. It’s a truly beautiful cycle. Fuck yeah!


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