Until September 16th, there was something missing from Vivien Goldman’s musical resume. She’d written a handful of classic songs, recorded with Robert Wyatt and Johnny Rotten, worked as Bob Marley’s publicist, penned books about the 80s punk scene, had her music sampled by Madlib and Massive Attack, and amassed a collection of reggae records of such historical import that it was acquired by NYU, where she also teaches classes on a history of punk and reggae that she witnessed and in some instances even created. In 2016, Pitchfork proclaimed that no one was more punk than her. Still Goldman apparently didn’t share a recurring fantasy common to say, a sometimes-music journalist like myself: Amazingly, her set opening the second day of Basilica Soundscape, a yearly glorification of noise staged under the industrial vaulting of a converted 19th-century factory in Hudson, New York, was her first-ever performance under her own name. “This is an experiment in the Basilica tradition,” she said, as rhomboid bolts of late-afternoon light beamed through the high windows. She performed with backing tracks and two musicians, set against the backdrop of billowing pink canvas hangs that resembled wrecked weather balloons, or swollen gums.
Goldman has worked as a journalist, historian, and television producer. Her late 70s and early 80s career as a recording artist amounts to a half-dozen songs, but nearly all of them are significant: “Laundrette” and “Her Story” are touchstones of punk’s amplification women’s voices and stories; the still-menacing “Private Armies” is a disquieting vision of cops and fascists stalking the streets. Onstage in Hudson, the red-headed and plaid-stockinged Goldman swayed, twirled her hands, and smiled as she hit a series of clean high notes on “Laundrette.” During the chorus to “Private Armies” she ululated and bellowed, throwing her arms out and scowling through the song’s descriptions of bloody streets. Not everything went perfectly; opening nights never do. But she won over a crowd that was primed for louder and heavier fare. After all, we were the first audience ever to experience the blunt hypnotic power of the line “if you can’t get a hard-on, get a gun” together, which Goldman shouted into a swelling and ironically militant chant.
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