The Hudsons, still making music and knocking over beers
Jeff and Jane Hudson playing it up at MASS MoCA. Jeff is in his 60s and Jane in her 70s, and their music passion hasn’t diminished from their early punk years.
Photo by Scott Barrow
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, Jeff and Jane Hudson opened for a number of famous bands—the B-52s, the Clash, Duran Duran, Siouxsie and the Banshees. But their most notorious gig was on May 15, 1981, opening for Public Image Limited at the Ritz in New York City that began with a rowdy audience demanding the headliners, which featured former Sex Pistols front man, Johnny Rotten (John Lydon). The scene erupted into a full riot when Public Image Limited performed behind a white screen in a bid to transform a rock show into an art performance.
“We’ve had some weird gigs,” Jeff says. “That was the weirdest one.”
“We thought our careers were over,” adds Jane.
Their current life in Williamstown is a lot more placid for the couple, but that hasn’t stopped them from making music. Their latest release, an album called The Middle, is their first together in 30 years. Their last album, Flesh, has since become an obscure synth classic, capturing the legendary minimalist No Wave scene in New York City of the 1980s, and had an expanded reissue in 2011.
Their new release (available on iTunes, BandCamp, and CD Baby) might be a surprise to some older fans—it’s bouncier and has, as Jeff puts it, “swagger”—and barely reflects their minimalist synth past. The Middle is more indicative of the couple’s current passion for creating music. It is buoyant in its delivery, the result of what Jeff says is the reason he gets up in the morning—an inner fire that forces the couple to create.
“People are wedded to those early recordings. And like any band, you have your original thing, and that’s what people know you by, and that’s it,” Jane says. “But at a certain point, you can’t do it again that way. So this allows us to go back to our punk roots a little bit and have fun with the guitars.”
Their punk roots go back to Boston, 1977, when along with drummer Pseudo Carol, they were known as the Rentals. In 1979, the Rentals opened for The Clash on that band’s first-ever concert in America in Harvard Square in Cambridge. Legendary Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau attended, and the Hudsons were shocked when his review of The Clash show featured huge praise of the Rentals, and even quoting lyrics from their song “Gertrude Stein.”
“We moved to New York City because of ‘Gertrude Stein,’” Jeff says.
Two and a half years later, Pseudo Carol moved on. The couple’s next band, the Manhattan Project, lasted six months and soon they began to perform as a duo. They ended up back in Boston, sticking with music alongside their own careers.
Jeff and Jane arrived in North Adams in 2005 after decades teaching at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where they founded and ran the video-art program. They have run art galleries together as well, and Jane has worked as a video artist, while Jeff had a successful career in music-video production. Their antique business in the Berkshires, Hudson Art, has been around for more than a decade, and recently relocated from the MASS MoCA campus to Williamstown.
The couple has kept performing over the years, too, most notably at MASS MoCA in 2012 to celebrate the re-release of Flesh with a full multimedia performance that was their trademark in the old days. Now they’re preparing for some shows in support of The Middle, with daily rehearsals that delve into their punk roots—making music they hope jolts the Berkshires out of its folk music lull. They’re only half-teasing.
“With the guitar, you get to be a little fiercer and wander around the stage and knock over some beers,” says Jeff. “I just think the ‘knock over the beer’ part is what’s missing in the Berkshires.”
With Jeff in his 60s and Jane in her 70s, their passion is the same as when they were younger, and that’s what gets them up every morning to create new work.
“It’s about what we can do, what we have time left to do, how we did it together for all those years,” Jane says. “That’s important to me.”
“The older you get, you really want to chop wood or leave,” Jeff says.
Jeff and Jane Hudson, photographed here during the 1980s new-wave music scene in New York. Catch them Nov 19, when they perform at the New Wave Dance Party at Williams Inn.