Thalia Zedek and the eternal rock of Come’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”


Thalia Zedek started listing a few names her band Come toured with in the early 1990s. Chaussée. Dinosaur Hole Jr. Swans. Sugar. “We shot with, uh,” she paused, “Nirvana! Uh! I can’t leave this one out. She looked around her bedroom for the answers, as if the relics in her Allston house were whispering clues, her signature Gordo PureSalem egg-robin blue guitar leaning against a dresser behind her, above a three-string balalaika that his mathematician father brought him back from Russia.

“We were in the process of recording our second record when Kurt committed suicide,” she recalls, sweeping her strands of jet black hair behind her ears. “We had toured with them, like, four or six months before that.”

Come’s ruminating and abrasive second album “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” arrived in 1994, at a time when grunge was all over the place, when record companies were crazy to sign the next Nirvana. “After the single Sub Pop came out, tons of people wanted to sign us,” she recalls, referring to Come’s debut single “Car” from their 1992 debut album “11:11”. “‘Nevermind’ had already hit and we had the single on Sub Pop, so that’s when we got a ton of offers.”

And for good reason. Come rocked. The muddy, callous punk of “11:11” mixed the warped palette of the Pacific Northwest with the biting, confessional catharsis of the Northeast. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” went even further in both directions. Pounding and ruthless, Come’s second album ventured further into depths of composition than its predecessor dared, its songs crossing thorny terrain in a sprint across the country. It’s both art-rock and post-hardcore, combining the most fascinating microcosms of the 1970s and 1980s counterculture, led by adventurous guitar playing and Zedek’s crunchy growl.

Now, 27 years after its initial release, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is re-released by Fire Records as a remastered and augmented edition that includes a second record of B-sides, demos, covers, new artwork and uncovered pockets. notes that offer an intimately detailed portrait of Boston’s Grunge Ambassadors in their prime.

The group initially signed with Matador in the early 1990s, the powerful independent label behind groundbreaking groups like Liz Phair and Sonic Youth, to release their first two records. Gerard Cosloy, a Matador partner and native of Massachusetts, brought Come into the fold, along with a number of Boston bands from the thriving indie rock circuit that permeated the 1980s and early 1990s; Bullet LaVolta, Lyres, and Mission of Burma would all call Matador home at some point.

Having started and built his career in Boston, Zedek has an airtight memory when it comes to the annals of the city’s underground music scene. She can tell you all the bands that played The Underground, the short-lived but hard-hitting Allston Club, or what records were coming out of the South End experimental scene in the mid-1980s. She’s a wealth of knowledge about the streets of the town and the comings and goings of buildings as we discuss various rehearsal facilities around Allston and Brighton, highlighting what was where and what is moving in old abandoned storefronts.

Thalia Zedek, second from right, with members of the Come group. (Courtesy of Mark C)

“Allston wasn’t that different,” she recalls the neighborhood in 1982, when she first arrived from outside Washington, DC to briefly attend Boston University. The first group she joined was called White Women, playing the role of the band’s drummer. White women served as a gateway for Zedek to absorb the city’s burgeoning music scene. “I remember when I first moved to town that there was a very interesting performance art, avant-garde and noise scene around Thayer Street,” she notes. , citing post-punk / no-wave New York staples like James Chance and Lydia Lunch, and The Girls and Bound & Gagged from Boston.

Then she was in full swing. She found herself in a flurry of new projects, from bands like Dangerous Birds and Uzi, as well as a collective called Propellor Records, which would help release and distribute albums by local artists. This period gave rise to his friendship with Cosloy, who as a teenager ran a local zine called Conflict. He would later move to New York and take on a role with Homestead Records, where he began to sign Boston bands en masse.

Zedek would also land in New York City for a few years in the late 1980s. She joined avant-noise rock band Live Skull as the lead singer, receiving a crash course in the chaos of the prototypical DIY lifestyle. “I worked like four nights a week – everyone worked nights – and we rehearsed during the day,” she notes, adding that if the band weren’t on tour they were probably recording, circulating a grind. endless and exhausting. .

After several years of cultivating burnout, Zedek, like many of her peers at the time, was overwhelmed by the heroine and darkness of the East Village of the late ’80s. Live Skull took a back seat as it slowly dissipated. “We just imploded,” she said. “I had a lot of drug problems at the time, so I wasn’t the nicest person around. It wasn’t the only reason though, it’s just sort of collapsed.

She reflected on her options: “At that point, I didn’t really have a job, I didn’t really have an apartment, I was pretty drunk on drugs. i had a friend [in Boston] it was like, ‘Come back here and we’ll help you clean up and you can stay with me.’ She wisely seized the opportunity. “It took me a little while to put my s — together, but eventually I did.”

After reuniting in Boston, Zedek reconnected with his old friend and former bandmate Chris Brokaw, who at the time played with drummer Arthur Johnson and bassist Sean O’Brien, both transplanted from Athens, in Georgia. The exploratory guitar jam session that ensued when the quartet first reunited would be the ignition spark for Come, a radical departure from the boisterous art world of New York City. The band’s first written song, “Off To One Side”, beat with a blues spirit. Zedek is reborn.

Come’s early years were greeted with great critical admiration. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” exceeded expectations after the band’s strong debut with “11:11”, showing the depth and integrity of the album’s message. “It’s sort of being silenced,” Zedek says, noting the parallels between the album’s title and the controversial military policy instituted under the Clinton administration. “I was really intrigued by this concept. It sounds so American to me: ‘Don’t ask anyone because you don’t want to know the real answer.’ So these are, in a way, secrets.

When asked for three words she would use to describe “Don’t ask, don’t say,” Zedek says, “It’s really hard”, looking around her room again, listening for clues. whispered. She starts with “islander” and then “angry”, two words I might have used as well. “Tender,” she finished, a half-smile on her face.

The tender spirit that drives “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and its renewed expanded edition rejuvenated what otherwise might have been a crystallized fossil of Boston’s fertile indie rock scene. Perhaps overlooked by some of the most commercialized bands Boston has produced over the years – bands like Pixies and Throwing Muses – Come was a serious, fundamental force behind the great grunge boom; “Don’t Ask, Don’t Say” leaks this story in thunderous detail.

And with a few shows to come with the original lineup, including two nights at Union Pool in Brooklyn, New York on November 5 and 6, Zedek and his company are embarking on a resurgence revitalized by the ruthless and eternal rock of Come. You can also see Zedek live with his band, The Thalia Zedek Band, performing at the Midway Cafe on December 10th with Live Skull.


Corina C. Butler

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