Glenn Branca: guitarist and composer dies at age 69

The avant-garde musician, who inspired a generation of new wave bands such as Sonic Youth, died from throat cancer, his wife says

Glenn Branca, the celebrated composer and guitarist, has died aged 69. Branca’s wife, the experimental guitarist Reg Bloor, wrote in a Facebook post on Monday that the cause of death was throat cancer.

“Glenn Branca passed away in his sleep last night from throat cancer,” Bloor, a collaborator of Branca’s who frequently performed in his ensemble, wrote. “I feel grateful to have been able to live and work with such an amazing source of ideas and creativity for the past 18 1/2 years. His musical output was a fraction of the ideas he had in a given day. His influence on the music world is incalculable.”

She added: “Despite his gruff exterior, he was a deeply caring and fiercely loyal man. We lived in our own little world together. I love him so much. I’m absolutely devastated.”

Branca, regarded as an avant-garde pioneer since the release of his 1981 experimental album The Ascension, studied theater at Emerson College in Boston before moving to New York City in 1976. Shortly thereafter, Branca and the conceptual artist Jeffrey Lohn formed the band Theoretical Girls, which dissolved in 1981.


— Reg Bloor (@RegBloor) May 14, 2018

“I came to New York to do theater, but I came here to see all my punk heroes, too,” Branca told Noisey in 2016. “As it turned out, everyone was on tour. You couldn’t see Patti Smith, or Television or The Ramones. There was nothing happening. The other punk bands were more like power pop, commercial shit. I wanted to do experimental rock, I mean really experimental. Like long-form performance art rock music. The fact is Theoretical Girls came up in that vacuum.”

In 1982, Branca launched his own record label, Neutral Records, which released the eponymous debut album from Sonic Youth, whose founding members Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo met through Branca and were inspired by the composer’s funk-based, post-punk guitar stylings. David Bowie also counted Branca as an influence, including The Ascension on a list of the artist’s 25 favorite albums, writing: “Over the years, Branca got even louder and more complex than this, but here on the title track his manifesto is already complete.”

Branca also famously conducted a symphony of 100 electric guitars at the base of the World Trade Center just months before the 9/11 attacks. In 2008, he was honored with the prestigious Grants to Artists Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Artists. In a 2009 op-ed for the New York Times, Branca surmised that “new music is just the old music again,” writing: “We seem to be on the edge of a paradigm shift.”

The X Magazine benefit in 1979 was perhaps the most amazing series of concerts that I have ever seen.
Glenn Branca, playing with Theoretical Girls was the best band in the program. It changed my life. Sorry I never had a chance to tell him.

— John Lurie (@lurie_john) May 14, 2018

He continued: “Orchestras are struggling to stay alive, rock has been relegated to the underground, jazz has stopped evolving and become a dead art, the music industry itself has been subsumed by corporate culture and composers are at their wit’s end trying to find something that’s hip but still appeals to an audience mired in a 19th-century sensibility.”

John Lurie, co-founder of the jazz ensemble The Lounge Lizards, honored Branca on Twitter. “The X Magazine benefit in 1979 was perhaps the most amazing series of concerts that I have ever seen,” Lurie wrote. “Glenn Branca, playing with Theoretical Girls was the best band in the program. It changed my life. Sorry I never had a chance to tell him.”


Jake Nevins

The GuardianTramp

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