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Revealing the Other Side of Cleveland Punk Guru Peter Laughner

Smog Veil Records
Adele Bertei has worked with scores of artists including Brian Eno and the Pointer Sisters, which may never have happened if not for her collaboration with Peter Laughner in the mid-1970s. She wrote about that time in 'Peter and the Wolves.'

Peter Laughner was one of the cornerstones of Cleveland’s 1970s punk scene, working with Pere Ubu, Rocket From the Tombs, and influencing numerous other artists. Described in his lifetime as everything from a genius to a fool, his complicated legacy is being re-examined in a book which has finally been given a wide release.

Laughner died in 1977 at age 24, but fans had to wait until 2019 before his music became widely available, thanks to a boxed set from Smog Veil Records.

“Previous to that time, there were all these little bootlegs and things appearing on YouTube. It was a very macabre rendering of who Peter was,” says Adele Bertei, Laughner’s friend and collaborator in the mid-70s. She wrote about their time together in her self-published 2013 memoir, “Peter and the Wolves,” which was available to Kickstarter supporters. This year, Smog Veil published the book, and Bertei appeared with Amanda Rabinowitz on WKSU's "Shuffle" to talk about it:

Her new book “Peter and the Wolves” focuses on her time with the late Peter Laughner of the band Pere Ubu.

“I think I saw both sides of him. He was afraid to show his more vulnerable side. I mean, I heard Peter play a dobro guitar like Robert Johnson, and that's really saying something. He was very sensitive. He liked to listen to Phil Ochs and Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and the folkies, and he had a very socialist heart when it came to songwriting.

Some of the songs Laughner wrote or performed with Bertei include "(My Sister Sold Her Heart to) the Junkman" and "Rock It Down":

Peter Laughner - Rock It Down

“It was the songs that were about the punk ethos of self-destruction which he became the most known for, and people didn't really know the sensitive side of him so much. And I was privy to that, which was very moving.”

After Laughner’s death, Bertei moved to New York and eventually, Los Angeles. She’s currently working on a book about her time growing up in Cleveland and how the era’s homophobia and misogyny shaped her world view and career.

Adele Bertei will be in Northeast Ohio this week to sign copies of ‘Peter and the Wolves’ as well as her second book, about the supergroup Labelle (“Why Labelle Matters”).

Friday, October 15: Bertei will be joined by authors Lucy Sante (‘Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York’) and Mike DeCapite (‘Through the Windshield’) at the Beachland Tavern.

Saturday, October 16: Bertei, Sante, and DeCapite will be at Third Man Records in Detroit.

Wednesday, October 20: Bertei will sign copies of her books at Loganberry Books.

Thursday, October 21: Bertei appears with Vanity Crash at Inferno Lounge.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.