Jay Leno could play his man-on-the-street game all night and probably not find anybody able to name even one of Jesse Sublett’s songs. That isn’t to say the Skunks, the most popular band he fronted, lack influence (they played their fair share of shows at CBGB); it’s just that they don’t 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 Sublett’s 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 didn’t spend wrestling
with the horror of what had happened.” Sublett’s 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 LP’s worth of a thank-you note to Lois Richwine for her love and devotion — given her husband’s tireless obsession with former girlfriend Roberts — as it is a testament to the healing power of music. In between Sublett’s two crises are rich anecdotes of an unruly Sex Pistols show in Houston, Patti Smith’s snubbing after an impromptu jam session and attending LBJ’s funeral stoned, which prove this song isn’t entirely a sad one. Actually, Sublett’s 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