Excavating the Lost Work of Peter Laughner, a Rock ’n’ Roll Tragedy

Pressler also observed that Laughner “was always going in 10 directions at once,” including, it turns out, freelance rock criticism. The Smog Veil team combed research libraries to find his written works, predominantly in underground weeklies from northeast Ohio as well as Creem magazine, many of which are included in a 100-page book accompanying the boxed set (like an on-tour feature story about Rory Gallagher that mostly details how the author ends up hospitalized with hepatitis by the end of the junket).

“This was rock ’n’ roll detective work at its most fun,” said Mauceri. “We even got access to his seven-page handwritten college entrance essay, where he wrote extensively about his desire to become a writer.”

Though the Smog Veil box aims to liberate Laughner’s image from the dark cloud of death-tripping, it’s hard to shake the eerie vibes, particularly on his final recordings on the set’s last disc, “Nocturnal Digressions.” Late at night on June 21, 1977, he taped himself in his bedroom at his parents’ house in an affluent Cleveland suburb, alone except for a six-pack of Genesee beer. Laughner began the session with Television’s “See No Evil,” his hoarse, raspy voice adding extra pathos to the song’s chorus of “I understand all destructive urges, they seem so perfect.” The next morning, when his mother went in to wake him, she found the musician dead.

Even with the absence of readily available recordings, Laughner has remained the object of steady interest. Aaron Lange, a cartoonist from Cleveland, is writing “Ain’t It Fun,” a graphic novel about the 1970s underground scene with Laughner as its central character. In 2013 the singer and writer Adele Bertei self-published “Peter & the Wolves,” a memoir of her time in Cleveland in the band of the same name with Laughner, his final group.

“Peter Laughner was one of the most phenomenal guitar players I’ve ever heard,” said Bertei, who was roommates with Laughner in late 1976 and early 1977 before moving to New York to join the Contortions. “He could play like Eric Clapton or Tom Verlaine or Jimmy Page or Robert Johnson. If he had been able to sober up and shake off the whole Cleveland attitude and stigma that hung around him and just really concentrated on his music and gotten the hell out of there, I think he really would have been one of our major talents in America.”

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