RIP Canadian horror-inspired musician Nash the SlashBooks/Art/Culture,News Richard Feren
Once upon a time, I was a 13-year-old horror buff and classically trained violinist who began to explore the realm of electronic music. At that time, it was a new and sparsely populated realm, inhabited primarily by German entities such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, and the inimitable Walter/Wendy Carlos (from the time I was 5, the soundtrack to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was one of my favorite things in my parents’ record collection).
These were the heady and creatively fertile days of new wave/post-punk, and a few revolutionary groups (notably from the UK) were eschewing traditional guitar-based rock for a new frontier of synthesizer-based music. It was an exciting time for someone who also loved classical but chafed at the restrictions of being an orchestral musician, and wanted to experiment with these new space-age devices and recording techniques.
You can imagine the thrill, then, of discovering a new artist (from my hometown of Toronto, no less) who not only played electric violin, but composed whole electronic symphonies and soundtracks, paid tribute to horror, science fiction and surrealist films and presented it all through a vividly costumed, incognito persona. Until then, there had never been a musical act quite like Nash the Slash, and 35 years later, there still has never been anyone else in his league.
Nash’s music was singular, eclectic, sometimes haunting, sometimes soaringly anthemic, sometimes harder than the hardest heavy metal. It was often very dark in character, but infused with a sardonic sense of humour, an aesthetic also reflected in his theatrical performance style and elegantly sinister invisible-man costume. The mere fact that no one knew his real name or even what he looked like was an irresistible part of his allure. I later learned his name, of course (Jeff Plewman), and even had the pleasure of meeting him on a few occasions, but he was unusually successful at keeping the mystery under wraps for much of his career.
And what a career it was: Nash was not only a recording artist, musician, producer and performer. He also had a real love for, and an extensive knowledge of, great cinema, from the silent comedies of Laurel and Hardy (a character in one of their films provided his memorable moniker) to the surrealist shockers of Luis Buñuel (one of his earliest compositions was an original score for the classic UN CHIEN ANDALOU), to the golden age of sci-fi and beyond. He created new scores for many silent films, and also composed music for several Canadian features, including HIGHWAY 61 and THE KIDNAPPING OF THE PRESIDENT. Early albums referenced Ray Bradbury’s THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES—a book that left a deep impression upon my 13-year-old self—and covered the Rolling Stones (his rendition of “19th Nervous Breakdown” might be the definitive one) and Deep Purple, while also including eerie instrumentals that came closer than any other music to evoking the world of dreams…and nightmares.
Even today, a lot of electronic music has yet to catch up with Nash. His work was rich in mood and texture, often so cinematic as to inspire hallucinations, even in a stone-cold sober listener. But it could also be rhythmic, pulsing, throbbing with savage industrial force (like the circular saws he sometimes wielded on stage, showering the crowd with sparks), often challenging yet always respecting the listener.
Nash, who died this past weekend at age 66, was a true artist, and one of my most cherished inspirations; in my own electronic music of the past three decades, I can often perceive his indelible influence and commitment to quality. While I was fortunate to meet him in person, I can’t say I knew him very well, so I cannot speak in detail of the many other wonderful and inspiring aspects of his life. I know others will, and I leave that to them. But on the subject of his musical legacy, I am in a unique position to appreciate, to memorialize, to mourn, and above all to celebrate, the incomparable visionary who was Nash the Slash.