Jay Leno could play his man-on-the-street game all night and probably not find anybody able to name even one of Jesse Subletts songs. That isnt to say the Skunks, the most popular band he fronted, lack influence (they played their fair share of shows at CBGB); its just that they dont transcend the late-70s pre post-punk scene in which they thrived. Never the Same Again, an enthralling account of the macabre events that transformed Sublett from rocker to writer to survivor, is a sort of gateway drug for the uninitiated to discover his contribution to the rock & roll canon.
The title refers to Subletts outlook on the future when at the age of 22 and making a go of it in Austin, Texas he returns home from a gig to find his girlfriend, Dianne Roberts, raped and murdered. Although he is decades away from authoring a collection of mystery novels about a bass-playin private dick named Martin Fender, Sublett embodies his yet unrealized protagonist and pieces together clues that help police identify an acquaintance as Roberts killer. He then copes with the ensuing depression by playing in the band. Rock n roll juiced my pulse, my bass guitar became my heartbeat, and every hour onstage was one I didnt spend wrestling with the horror of what had happened. Subletts story gets heavier when years later, married and a father he is diagnosed with an extremely deadly form of cancer (less than 9 percent survival rate) that necessitates removing a hefty chunk of his neck.
Never the Same Again is as much an LPs worth of a thank-you note to Lois Richwine for her love and devotion given her husbands tireless obsession with former girlfriend Roberts as it is a testament to the healing power of music. In between Subletts two crises are rich anecdotes of an unruly Sex Pistols show in Houston, Patti Smiths snubbing after an impromptu jam session and attending LBJs funeral stoned, which prove this song isnt entirely a sad one. Actually, Subletts sense of humor is relatively pervasive, a much-needed counterbalance to the tragedies; and his voice conveys a resiliency known only to those who have stared down death.
NEVER THE SAME AGAIN: A Rock n Roll Gothic | By JESSE SUBLETT | BOAZ Publishing Company | 280 pages | $24 hardcover
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Los Angeles.