on their hands, another dead star

Nikki Sudden, best known as a member of the Swell Maps and the Jacobites, died last weekend after a show, apparently of a heroin overdose. As usual with such rock-star deaths, I’m torn between sympathy for the presumptive pain that would drive someone to use the number one chumps’ drug, and a sort of anger and betrayal if there was no such pain but instead only an idiot’s disregard for the value of one’s life, not only to oneself but to others. Anyway, outside of his friends and his family (who knew him as Nicholas Godfrey), Sudden will be remembered for his music, so here’s some of that.

I only have a couple of Jacobites songs, so I can’t say much about that band. But I like Swell Maps: they’re in some ways like a more user-friendly Wire, with less of that band’s sometimes imperious intellectuality (and I love Wire) and more off-the-cuff noise-as-fun. Swell Maps’ more experimental side (when it works) sounds a lot like a bunch of guys having a great time; witness the balloon-playing in the lengthy coda to “Gunboats” which, even though it’s a fairly dark song overall, also sounds as if the balloon-player was taking a bit of the piss out of that somberness.

Maybe their best-known song was “Read About Seymour,” which is one of those songs that sound good even while sounding as if it was written at the same time it was recorded. Perhaps my favorite song of theirs was another early single “Let’s Build a Car,” which is a little more polished, a great single (despite all the rebellious posturing around late-seventies British punk, it was also a movement that brought back some of the disposable joy of mid-sixties pop singles).

Nikki Sudden was (and I think you can hear it in these tracks) an acolyte of Keith Richards; unfortunately, his body evidently lacked Richards’ superhuman tolerance for abuse. That’s it – we’re done.

Swell Maps “Read About Seymour”
Swell Maps “Let’s Build a Car” (single version)
Swell Maps “Gunboats”



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5 responses to “on their hands, another dead star

  1. Anonymous

    I passed up the opportunity to see Nikki Sudden in Columbus a week ago tonight. I was having to get up at 3:30 the next morning to catch a flight, and I don’t think I can manage youthful all-nighters anymore. I had never seen him perform, and really never knew all that much about his biography/discography, but several Sudden/Jacobites songs – “Big Store”, “Pin Your Heart to Me”, “The Angels are Calling” – reside in the core of me. Your blog was how I found out he’d died. I feel sad and shivery and I am supposed to be at work, working.

  2. Jens Carstensen

    I was actually tipped off by a friend to a show about three weeks ago at the Knitting Factory (NYC). It was a free show, for starters, and i hadn’t ever seen Nikki Sudden live before. It was just him in a black velvet coat with a garish brooch pinned to the lapel, an acoustic guitar, and a drummer with jet black hair who aimiably tapped along. As far as Saturday Nites in the big city go, this was a pretty low key one, as a crowd of 30 or 40 sipped beers and just kinda hung out. It was like he was playing in our living room or something. He played a 12-bar blues called “Bourgeious Town” which cracked us up. It was that kind of night. I’m really sad he died.

  3. Jens Carstensen

    As for the Swell Maps, i used to have a record of theirs on lavender vinyl. It had two of my favorite songs of thiers on it, “Ammunition Train” and “Real Shocks.” It got stolen. I miss that record, and now Sudden too.

  4. 2fs

    Here’s some more info: http://tinyurl.com/kpynv

  5. jon manyjars

    I wondered, because it seemed like all the initial news reports decorously avoided the topic of the cause of death. I agree with your perspective that heroin abuse and Keith Richards-worship are sad wastes of talent. I like your description of the Swell Maps’ music as “user-friendly Wire”.

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