nash the slashBandaged rock violinist Nash the Slash, a.k.a. Jeff Plewman, dead at 66
Mysterious member of the band FM wrote his own farewell upon 2012 retirement.

Jeff Plewman, the Toronto electric violinist and experimental musician who performed as Nash the Slash with his face enveloped in surgical bandages, has died. He was 66.

His death was announced on Facebook by friend and collaborator Robert Vanderhorst, who wrote that Plewman passed away over the weekend. Vanderhorst also confirmed the death in an interview with the Toronto Star.

Plewman co-founded the progressive-rock band FM, who issued their debut “Black Noise” in 1977, and quickly established a long career as an eccentric solo artist whose compositions were nominally new wave but really, impossible to classify in a tidy fashion.

He was secretive about his identity, performing with a tuxedo, top hat and sunglasses as well as the rags on his face, and he was evasive when asked in interviews for his real name.

“It sounded like this huge band and it was this guy sitting there in a tuxedo and a top hat, you know?”

Film and TV producer and director Colin Brunton knew Plewman for more than 40 years, and remembered his friend as a music pioneer only fitfully recognized for his innovations.

“He was so far ahead of his time,” Brunton said Monday in a telephone interview.

“When he performed … you couldn’t even grasp how he was doing it. He would play a couple riffs on his electric mandolin and he would create a loop for it — and people back then didn’t even know what a loop was.

“It sounded like this huge band and it was this guy sitting there in a tuxedo and a top hat, you know?”

Plewman first gained prominence when he formed FM with keyboardist and singer Cameron Hawkins and eventually drummer Martin Deller in 1976 and released the cold, menacing gold-certified “Black Noise” a year later.

He would soon become only an intermittent presence in the band as he focused on his atmospheric solo work. In 1979, he put out the moody “Dreams and Nightmares,” which was intended as a soundtrack for the 1928 surrealist film “Un Chien Andalou — a piece he had been performing live in Toronto for years.

A more accessible work arrived with 1982’s “And You Thought You Were Normal,” which featured production from Daniel Lanois and actual vocal work from Plewman. He fetched a Juno nomination in 1984 for most promising male vocalist of the year, though much of his work was instrumental.

He rejoined with FM for a long stretch in the mid-1980s (and again in the ’90s), contributing to 1985’s “Con-Test” — which featured the popular single “Just Like You” — and 1987’s “Tonight,” though he harshly criticized the production of the former record in its liner notes.

All the while, he found work as a film composer, writing the music for movies including Bruce McDonald’s “Roadkill” and “Highway 61,” “The Kidnapping of the President” starring William Shatner and Hal Holbrook and 1985’s “Blood and Donuts.” He also collaborated with Vanderhorst on a series of works that combined surreal visuals with his unorthodox music.

Plewman announced his retirement from music in 2012, writing on his website that it was “time to roll up the bandages.” In a long posting, he wrote that he “refused to be slick and artificial,” and noted his pride in a “remarkable 40-year career in the music biz with no hit (commercial) records.” He also pointed out that he successfully sued Pepsi for “misappropriation of personality,” but received only bragging rights in exchange.

“He was very fed up with how easy it was for people to access his music and not get paid for it.”

By way of explaining his retirement, he wrote about the way file-sharing had “devastated” an important source of income, a matter that Brunton confirmed bothered his friend.

“I think he just lost the buzz of performing,” said Brunton, whose documentaries “The Last Pogo” and “The Last Pogo Jumps Again” explored the bustling late ’70s Toronto punk scene in which Nash the Slash thrived.

“He was very fed up with how easy it was for people to access his music and not get paid for it.”

Plewman publicly confirmed he was gay in 1998, but was generally reluctant to reveal any details about his real persona, proving coy when asked about his real name.

He first took to the stage in his mask in 1979 after the Three Mile Island disaster, warning of the dangers of the nuclear age.

“I think he loved the mystery,” Brunton mused. “He loved the showbiz thing where he had this really cool persona. … He was quite a character.”

He opened for artists including Gary Numan and Iggy Pop — though, as Plewman pointed out in his own retirement note, famed Rolling Stone scribe Lester Bangs once wrote that “Nash the Slash is the kind of opening act that makes the headliner work twice as hard” — and proclaimed himself the first Canadian artist to use a drum machine on an album. His other innovative works include the album “Decomposing,” which was designed to be listenable when played back at any speed.

Numan was among the many who paid tribute

Brunton, for one, argues that Nash the Slash’s contributions have been unfairly marginalized.

“He was pretty influential,” Brunton said, listing Academy Award nominee Owen Pallett as one of the musicians indebted to Nash the Slash’s influence.

“Nash really had a talent and he knew what he was doing. He was ahead of his time. And he was a very nice guy, very opinionated.”

The full retirement message posted by Nash the Slash in 2012:

It’s time to roll up the bandages. The thrill is gone, it seems for me more than B.B. King.

I’m proud of my remarkable 40-year career in the music biz with no hit (commercial) records. As an independent artist without management, major label support or any grants whatsoever (thank you Canada Council and Factor), I toured internationally and accomplished so much. I was unique on stage and on my recordings. I refused to be slick and artificial. I opened for and toured with some of the best musicians in the world, and was regarded highly by my peers. Rolling Stone journalist Lester Bangs once reported, “Nash the Slash is the kind of opening act that makes the headliner work twice as hard”.

I created one of the first Canadian independent record labels (Cut-Throat Records) in order to release my music and merchandise to the public. I was the first Canadian musician to use a drum machine on an album (1978), at a time when drum machines were outlawed according to the bylaws of the Toronto Musicians’ Association. I was the first to record an album, ‘Decomposing’, which was listen-able at any speed, and miraculously reviewed in Playboy magazine. I composed and produced music for film and television, and for multi-media exhibitions of the surrealist paintings by my friend Robert Vanderhorst.

I hold the distinction of suing the corporate giant Pepsi Cola of Canada for one million dollars (in the Ontario Supreme Court, 1982) for ‘misappropriation of personality’; I won but received no money, just bragging rights.

I travelled across Canada, the US and Europe, and especially adored Newfoundland. I supported Gary Numan and Iggy Pop tours, and was invited to perform in Russia. I received airplay on Polish National Radio in 1979, when Poland was still behind the Iron Curtain. (Years later, a Polish fan explained to me that, because the first LPs were instrumental, there were no lyrics of ‘western decadence’ or ‘punk anarchy’ to grade the musical content as unsafe for communist consumption. Too bad no one in Poland could afford to send away for my records.)

Just heard that Nash The Slash has died. Nash was quite possibly the most unique performer on the planet. Very sad news. GN on twitter

by Nick Patch , o canada


Zappa+BelewO guitarrista, cantor, compositor e multi-instrumentista Adrian Belew foi descoberto por Frank Zappa em 1976, quando tocava numa banda de covers num bar em Nashville.

Belew tem tido uma bela carreira: começou com Zappa, ficando com ele de 1977 a 1978, depois juntou-se a David Bowie, posteriormente aos Talking Head e, com dois dos elementos desta banda, formou os Tom Tom Club.

Também é – desde 1981 até hoje – um elemento importante de uma excelente banda, os King Crimson.

Belew tem um blogue – Elephant Blog – que é um deleite para fãs de Zappa e de música em geral, muito por causa de pequenas histórias – chama-lhes anecdotes – que vai partilhando dos encontros e desencontros com grandes nomes do rock, de Mick Jagger a Jimmy Page, e às vicissitudes de uma vida em turné. E como o próprio Zappa já explicara em 200 Motels e não só, «tour can make you crazy».

Uma das histórias mais divertidas que partilhou relaciona-se com o recrutamento de Belew feito por David Bowie em Berlim, a 15 de fevereiro de 1978, à revelia de Zappa – ou assim julgou. Na noite anterior, em Bona, Brian Eno assistira ao primeiro dos concertos de Zappa na então República Federal Alemã; sabendo que o seu compincha Bowie andava à procura de um guitarrista, recomendou Adrian Belew.

Bowie foi assistir ao segundo concerto e, na companhia de Iggy Pop, dirigiu-se aos bastidores. Adrian Belew estava lá, como normalmente fazia quando o mestre, completamente concentrado, fazia um solo mais extenso de guitarra.

Após os cumprimentos e mútuos elogios, Bowie convidou-o a juntar-se à banda.

«Bem, eu estou a tocar com este tipo agora…» – respondeu Belew, apontando para Zappa.

«Sim, eu sei», continuou Bowie, «mas a vossa turné acaba daqui a duas semanas e a minha só começa duas semanas mais tarde».

Combinaram encontrar-se no hotel depois do concerto, mas Belew recorda o que viveu como se tivesse sido um personagem relutante num filme de espiões: Bowie e o assistente trataram do assunto com o maior secretismo, aos sussurros, nada entusiasmados pela eventualidade de Zappa vir a descobrir que andavam a recrutar-lhe um músico sob as suas barbas – bigode, neste caso.

Bowie mandou um carro esperar Belew à porta do hotel. Dali seguiram para um dos restaurantes berlinenses preferidos do cantor, com a intenção de discutir, em segredo, o futuro do guitarrista na banda.

Mas o destino às vezes prega-nos partidas – uma espécie de Cosmic Debris desabando sobre as cabeças dos «espiões»: quando entraram no restaurante, viram que Frank Zappa e alguns elementos da banda já se encontravam lá a jantar.

«Podem imaginar? Quantos restaurantes há em Berlim?», recorda Belew no blogue, ainda incrédulo após todos estes anos.

Bowie em Cannes, 1978

Tinham sido vistos, pelo que não tiveram outro remédio senão sentar-se na mesma mesa. Dez anos antes, as primeiras duas bandas de Bowie – The Buzz e The Riot Squad – tinham tocado e gravado duas canções de Zappa, «It Can’t Happen Here» e «Who Are The Brain Police?»

Em 1978, contudo, o cantor inglês já estava a caminho de se tornar uma super-estrela capaz de cegar toda a gente à sua volta.

De forma desconfortável, Bowie tentou estabelecer um diálogo amigável com o autor de «Be in My Video»:

«Gostei muito do concerto!»

Zappa limitou-se a responder:

«Fuck you, Captain Tom.»

(não só aludindo a uma das canções-charneira de Bowie, «Space Oddity», como aproveitando para despromovê-lo de «major Tom» para «captain».)

Bowie não desarmou e perguntou, conciliador:

«Então, Frank, podemos lidar com isto como adultos, não?»

«Fuck you, Captain Tom.»

«Não, a sério, gostava mesmo de falar contigo»

«Fuck you, Captain Tom.»

Por mais que Bowie tentasse, Zappa respondia sempre da mesma maneira.

Num restaurante da cidade de Berlim dos tempos da Guerra Fria, Zappa erguera um muro impossível de transpor ou derrubar. Finalmente, Bowie desistiu. Na companhia do assistente e de um atrapalhado Belew, abandonou o restaurante. Quando chegaram lá fora, comentou com fleuma britânica: «Bem, aquilo correu realmente bem, não foi?»
Uma conversa de sonho com Frank Zappa

O próprio Belew só falou com Zappa alguns dias depois, quando o apanhou sentado sozinho no autocarro. Sabendo que nos próximos três ou quatro meses Zappa estaria ocupado a editar o filme «Baby Snakes» e não precisaria dele, Belew explicou-lhe que fazia mais sentido entrar em turné com Bowie do que andar a ser pago para não fazer nada.

Zappa levantou-se, apertou-lhe a mão e desejou-lhe boa sorte – conversa encerrada.

Voltariam a falar muitos anos depois, quando Zappa já estava atacado pelo cancro que o mataria – Belew encontrou-o sem a vivacidade de outrora, demasiado velho e cansado para falar normalmente.

Meses antes deste último encontro, em finais de 1992, «um sonho muito vívido» acordara-o às seis da manhã e já não conseguira adormecer.

No sonho eu e o Frank falávamos e ríamos, conversando sobre música e outras coisas. Era como se fossemos amigos, senti-me bem.

Uma vez que não conseguia dormir, saiu do quarto e desceu para a sala, ainda a pensar no sonho que tivera. Num impulso, enviou um fax a Zappa, contando-lhe o sonho e reconhecendo que nunca agradecera devidamente ao homem que o descobrira num bar em Nashville e lhe dera a sua primeira grande oportunidade: «por isso, queria dizer obrigado»

Zappa telefonou-lhe horas depois, durante a tarde. «That was sweet», começou Zappa, na voz gutural de sempre. Sweet, doce, encantador, «foi mesmo essa a palavra que usou», recorda Belew, «uma palavra que não associaríamos a um satírico amargo e radical.»

Tivemos então uma conversa – amigável e descontraída como a do meu sonho. E é assim que prefiro lembrar o Frank.

Marco Santos-Jornalista