Better Living Through Robert Quine

Robert Quine and I have the same birthday, December 30, though he was born many years before me. He was a Velvet Underground fanatic, like me, and he changed the way people play guitar solos, something I have not done. He died on a May 31, so even if our life’s paths detached at that whole guitar innovation thing, maybe I’ll die on a May 31 too. Robert Quine plays guitar a little bit like Thelonious Monk plays the piano. They slam notes others would never think of slamming. They pull and poke and surprise you moments after they just surprised you. They jerk around melodies like they are tugging at the neck of a disobedient dog. And yet, their madness is divinest sense. Organized guitar solos like all your Jimmy Pages and Eric Claptons can suck it.

I try to play bass like Robert Quine plays guitar.

Playing bass like that is hard because it doesn’t make those sweet QUINE QUINE QUINE SQWEEEK SQUAWK SQUINE noises, but I can make it do some pretty interesting BIDA BRIM REEEEERS BRIDA BOOOM ROOVOOMs.

I try to live like Robert Quine play guitar. That’s a much trickier thing.

You have to think against common logic. You have to live along with a whole lot of people who are doing things very sensical, but you yourself are doing things absolutely nonsenical and backwards. You are doing and saying things no one has ever said before. And you have to do it without standing out too much, because then you’d just be some fucking hobo frothing at the mouth screaming nonsense. For instance, on Lou Reed’s Blue Mask. Track 8. “Waves of Fear.” It’s a Lou Reed song, a grandiose, melodramatic Lou Reed song that is typical 1980s Lou Reed. But at about 2 minutes and 25 seconds, something is not right. Someone is tap dancing, drunk, on a hot guitar. The catchy lead guitar riff has turned into this foolish jibberjabber. The Lou Reed band keeps on playing like they don’t hear what’s going on, while Quine, standing alone in a dark room (as I imagine him) wearing sunglasses and drinking cigarette smoke, builds to a fantastic climax of noise. Quine successfully flies one of the freakiest freak flags imaginable, and nobody seems to raise an eyebrow, because he’s so good at fitting in for most of the song. The song ends and the dreadful “Day John Kennedy Died” starts up.

Try listening to Blue Mask listening only for Robert Quine guitar. Do the same with every Richard Hell and the Voidoids albums, though those are much more in your face and its impossible to miss him. Still, he does the same goddamn trick. Sure the verses and chorus riffs are menacing and genius, but what he’s playing in the gaps, when he’s given a chance to solo, he tears apart galaxies. Listen for Quine and Quine alone on Rain Dogs, the OK “Blind Love” and the interstellar “Downtown Train.” Get John Zorn’s spaghetti western tribute album The Big Gundown and listen to “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Get Matthew Sweet, yes him, and listen for Quine. Once you have done this, you will realize he is one of the greatest humans to ever pick away at a six-string.

5 thoughts on “Better Living Through Robert Quine

  1. Great post, Adam! 100% agree on everything you said. Quine was an under-appreciated god. He really worked with Matthew Sweet?

  2. Yea, Matthew Sweet I couldn’t believe it either. He’s on FIVE Sweet albums. I don’t even have them all yet.

  3. Neat post. Besides Matthew Sweet (my fav being Altered Beast, which Sweet himself called ‘The Quine Album’ because of the solos) he played on a lot of Lloyd Cole albums as well and did quite a bit of work with John Zorn. has a complete list, though I’m sure you’ve probably been there. Painted Desert is a gorgeous instrumental album, IMO. Quine and Marc Ribot on that one.

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