RIP Rowland S. Howard (1959-2009)

Toilet Guppies is dismayed at the news of the passing of one of the all-time greatest guitar players the world has had the pleasure (sometimes terror!) to hear. Besides playing the six-strings like no one else (combining sultry sexiness with urgent violence in a way that'd surely make Georges Bataille gush with admiration), Rowland Howard also possessed a voice and singing style unlike any other—a spitting, almost regurgitating sing-speak full of loathing, dejection or lung-black humour that would've been out of tune, had tune only had anything to do with it, and which perfectly conveyed the intense sincerity he seemed incapable of not channeling while performing. His almost deadpan delivery made him über-cool, while the evident sadness just cutting through the drawl provided substance. Crucially, the humour of his words ensured he never came across—or was—pretentious. His quivering voice and shaking hands (I thought he had Parkinson's, not liver cancer) didn't get in the way of his playing one of the best gigs at All Tomorrow's Parties on Mt. Buller, Australia last January, almost one year ago.

Howard's career was, probably to his detriment (and quite unfairly), overshadowed by his earliest achievements (which were considerable), when he defined the confrontational and completely uncompromising sound of legendary post-punk provocateurs the Birthday Party (go here for a free taste):

After the Birthday Party collapsed, Howard joined Crime & the City Solution, in which he got to display a quite frankly touching melodicism in his playing. (Which people tend to forget, impostors tending to plagiarise the feedback squall of the Birthday Party instead.) Their first few releases are mostly noteworthy because of his guitarslinging, as stand-out track «Six Bells Chime» (from Wim Wenders' overrated cult film Wings of Desire) proves:

He then went on to record some typically urgent stuff with his own outfit, the now largely forgotten These Immortal Souls. One of the high points in his entire back catalogue is surely this single, from Get Lost (Don't Lie!) (still available digitally, though shamefully long-out-of-print on CD):

After disbanding These Immortal Souls and collaborating with Lydia Lunch (check out «What Is Memory», off Shotgun Wedding), Howard recorded a couple of solo albums, the last one—Pop Crimes—just out in October. He produced HTRK's latest album, this year's Marry Me Tonight. (This track of theirs, though not produced by him, bears the obvious mark of his considerable influence.) A cult legend, he never quite got the recognition he was due.

Apparently, Howard's sources of inspiration were «Hanging out with girls, smoking, fraternizing with girls, talking to girls on the telephone while smoking, smoking with girls.» May he be sharing fags with seventy virgins where there's a light…

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