It hasn’t been easy for Penelope Houston — who appears with her proto-punk 1970s combo The Avengers in The City this week — to confront her own artistic legacy.
On Dec. 24, Jimmy Wilsey, the bassist in The Avengers, who later played guitar with Chris Isaak, died. But there were boons, too. In January, she opened for Chris D’s all-star 1980s combo The Flesh Eaters; seated and playing a lugubrious autoharp, she tapped into her later Jim Carroll-ish solo catalog, including “On Market Street.”
Backstage, she reconnected with old punk-scene pals John Doe, the Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison and Julie Christiansen, who reminded her of how they met at the Fillmore years earlier, when Christiansen sang with Leonard Cohen and Houston performed between his sets. Cohen insisted she keep serenading he and his lunching crew through her afternoon sound check. Good times.
But the brightest moment — again at the Fillmore — came two weeks ago, when Patti Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye stopped the shows on two consecutive nights to offer touching tributes to Wilsey, and Houston, too. He called The Avengers “San Francisco’s greatest punk band,” then launched into a cover of its signature “The American in Me.”
“Lenny Kaye also talked about Jimmy, and he played the lick from ‘Wicked Game,’ and I was really touched,” says Houston, who was flooded with congratulatory tweets and emails. She didn’t attend the Smith concerts, though. She was at home in the East Bay, caring for her live-in ailing mother.
“So legacy, yeah, it’s here, and if you don’t die, it just happens,” says Houston, who finally reacquired the rights to The Avengers’ sole, self-titled album.” She adds, “We were all teenagers, and we didn’t think about long careers, recording albums, or that we might still be playing these songs 40 years later. And we were only around for, like, two years. But punk’s anger still resonates with young people because there’s so much to be angry about these days.”
Houston, who works in the Book Arts & Special Collections department of the San Francisco Public Library, is methodically amassing her ultimate testimony, the San Francisco Punk Archive, from local industry-veteran donations. She says, “We have fliers, photographs, zines, setlists, all kinds of ephemera. It’s the kind of stuff that, when people pass away, their families all go, ‘What’s this junk?’ And then throw it away. We’re trying to prevent that from happening.”
IF YOU GO
Mudhoney, with The Avengers
Where: The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Feb. 8
Tickets: $27 to $30
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com