Tag Archives: psychedelic

R.I.P. Chris Squire (1948 – 2015)

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I was very sad to learn of the passing of Yes bassist, Chris Squire, who had been fighting leukemia. He was only 67 years old.

Squire was often called the ‘linchpin’ of the band and is the only band member to appear on every album that Yes released. He began his life in music much the same as a lot of British rockers – playing in R&B cover bands, with a few Beatles tunes thrown in for good measure. He joined The Syndicate, which shortened their name to The Syn and released two psychedelic 45s in 1967 called “Created By Clive” and “Flowerman” (which was backed with their hommage to the counter-culture event at Alexandria Palace in 1967, called “The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream“). The band split shortly after and Squire joined another psychedelic outfit, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, in 1968. He soon met Jon Anderson and the two decided to form a new group – which was called Yes, after a suggestion from original guitarist, Peter Banks.

Yes released their first LP in 1969 and showcased a longer-song format, with flourishes of classical music and jazz – what eventually became known as ‘progressive rock’. Squire’s bass-playing was unique in that he played it almost as a lead guitar, with fluid lines and hitting notes in the upper register of the instrument. After a second LP, “Time And A Word“, released in 1970 – Peter Banks was asked to leave, as the sessions for the second LP were frought with tension. Steve Howe, formerly of Tomorrow and Bodast, stepped in for the third album (and the one considered to be the first ‘classic’ Yes record), called “The Yes Album“. It was released in 1971 and placed the band at the forefront of prog rock groups. Jon Anderson managed to poach our Rick from The Strawbs (abandoning Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye) for the fourth Yes LP, “Fragile“, which made them one of the top bands in the UK and even got them attention in the U.S., due to the radio-friendly tune, “Roundabout“.

Close To The Edge“, considered to be the best Yes album in the band’s catalogue, was released in 1972. Original drummer Bill Bruford left during the tour for the album and was replaced by former drummer in John Lennon‘s backing band, Alan White. A live album of the tour was released, called “Yessongs” (along with a film of the same name, directed by Peter Neal, shot at a Yes show in London). Back in the studio, they started recording what they considered to be their magnum opus, “Tales From Topographic Oceans“, based on Shastric scriptures that Anderson and Howe were reading. The final album was a sprwaling two-record set and even longtime fans thought it was too self-indulgent. Rick left after the tour and was replaced by Patrick Moraz, for the follow-up, “Relayer“.

The band took a break in 1975 and a lot of the members released solo albums. Squire’s was “Fish Out Of Water“, referring to his nick-name and to his ‘solo’ piece on “Fragile”, “The Fish (schindleria praematurus)“. It sold well and is reckoned to be one of the better solo outings from members of the group. Yes reconvened in 1976 when Rick re-joined. “Going For The One” was released in 1977 and the band enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, even during the punk explosion. “Tormato” followed in 1978, but was not received as well and Anderson and Wakeman both left the band in 1979. A stop-gap live set, “Yesshows“, was released in late 1979. The band, with Squire, Howe and White soldiered on, adding Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn, from new-wavers The Buggles. They released one album together, “Drama“, before a disastrous tour in 1980. It looked like Yes, like many prog-rock bands of the 1970s, wouldn’t make it into the new decade.

Jon Anderson started to work on some new demos in 1981 with Trevor Horn, original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye and eventually Chris Squire and a new guitarist, Trevor Rabin. They were brought in to help fill out the sound. The new project was to be called Cinema – but was changed to Yes, as it seemed a more sound commercial appeal. This version of the band released the “90125” (after the Atlantic Records catalogue number assigned to it) and had a few hit singles. They toured again, playing some of the ‘classic’ songs alongside the new ones. Another studio LP, “Big Generator“, was released in 1987. The band split once again. Anderson reunited with Steve Howe, Rick and Bill Bruford (who had left the 1980s King Crimson line-up after Robert Fripp split that band once again). Squire owned part of the rights to the “Yes” name, so the collaboration was called “Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe” and released one album in 1989. A year later, it was decided to record an album with both of the 1970s and 1980s line-ups. The result, “Union“, was a bit too much of a mish-mash and contained too many tracks. I did get to see them live in Hartford, Connecticut on that tour in 1991 and I enjoyed the show. I preferred the 70s tunes more, but the ‘in the round’ set-up of the show and the revolving stage were pretty cool, too.

Yes continued to release albums and tour up to now – with the line-ups ever-changing. Anderson finally left in the early 2000s, for what seems to be permanent. Squire was the one main-stay and now that he’s passed on, it seems to me that Yes has as well. They are going to tour with Billy Sherwood on bass duties – but to me, it’s just won’t be the same (it wasn’t the same without Anderson, either). Perhaps the remaining ‘classic’ 1970s line-up will re-form one last time and then call it a day. Rest in peace, Chris – thanks for all the music!

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The Decline Of The Flaming Lips?

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You may or may not know about the latest blunder release from The Flaming Lips – yet another in their (hopefully ending soon) series of re-makes of entire LPs. They first tackled Pink Floyd‘s magnum opus “The Dark Side Of The Moon” in 2009, which featured guest appearances from Stardeath and White Dwarfs (a Lips-ish psych-rock band from their immediate area, Norman, Oklahoma – featuring Wayne Coyne‘s nephew on guitar and vocals, no less), Henry Rollins and a few others. The results seemed mixed, to me anyway – far less satisfying than the genre-hopper rock-to-reggae version by Easy Star All-Stars. The Lips have (or had) their own brand of psychedelic playfulness which didn’t seem to lend itself to Roger Waters‘s mannered observations. They followed that up few years later with a re-make of King Crimson’s classic 1969 progressive rock album, In The Court Of The Crimson King. I’ve not heard it yet, but The Lips were never really known for their dextrous musicianship (aside from Steven Drozd), so I’m guessing a lot of the K.C. flash has been substituted for more of a ‘mood’. They then decided to try their hands on The Stone Roses‘ debut album. I’ve heard parts of that and while some of the covers seem interesting – the youthful exuberance of Ian Brown‘s gang are transformed into melancholy dirges. Coyne and Co. sucked all the funk and swagger out of the tunes.

Now they’re back (after releasing the possible nadir of their studio records, The Terror) with another covers album, a version of one of the most iconic LPs of the rock era, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The question seems to be: does the world need another one of these? Particularly when you consider the disastrous 1978 film, featuring The Bee Gees and the much-better NME 1988 compilation, “Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father“. A bit more obscure are the “Trance Remixes“, created by someone (or collective) called Nasty Little Dog and the mash-up collection “Sgt Pepper’s Mid-Life Crisis“, released for free on the internet for the 40th anniversary of the release of the album.

In any case, The Lips gathered together the usual suspects, along with members of neo-psych bands MGMT and Foxygen and…uh…Miley Cyrus (??!!!). The record was just released this month and is getting middling reviews. A video was made ‘starring’ Cyrus and a nude blonde girl (Coyne seems big on nudity these days), for their version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. It’s…interesting, but lacking in the kind of delirious hope that characterises a lot of their earlier work.

So what’s happened to a really great band? Damned if I know, but it does seem that Coyne’s had a bit of a topsy-turvy existence the past ten years or so. His parents have both passed away now and Coyne was reportedly close to both. His beef with Win Butler tarnished Coyne’s “nicest guy in rock-n-roll” image – though it wasn’t the first time he publicly trashed another front man. Remember the whole Richard Ashcroft thing, back in 1994 (and again in 2006)? He’s also split from his long-time wife, Michelle Martin (though that was first announced in 2012). To be fair to the guy, he’s had a shocker.

Still, it’s probably no surprise that his extra-cirricular activities are affecting the music of the band. Getting his Instagram accounts shut down for nudity and drug use. The whole tiff with Erykah Badu, over filming her sister nude (I see a pattern emerging) in a tub filled with glitter and corn starch for the video, for their cover of Roberta Flack‘s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face“. His cavorting with pop tartlets Ke$ha and Cyrus makes it seem like he’s desperate to ‘keep up with the kids’, or at the very least, courting shallow pop audiences. Luckily, the rumoured ‘Lip$ha‘ album never materialised, as that might’ve been another nail in the coffin of their credibility. Then, of course, the whopper of them all, the very public exit from the band by long-time touring, then officially studio drummer Kliph Scurlock. Scurlock initially claimed Coyne was verbally abusive and that he (Scurlock) was outraged over Coyne’s friend, Christina Fallin (daughter of Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin), wearing a Native American head-dress. Coyne hit back, calling Scurlock a ‘pathological liar’ and dismissing his hatred of a wide spectrum of bands and Lips friends. To be fair on Coyne, despite the vitriol he expressed about the split in the ‘Rolling Stone’ interview, Scurlock did a semi-reversal and issued an apology days after the story broke.

So where does all this leave the music? Well, again, “The Terror” received mixed reviews and the tracks I heard (“You Lust“, particularly) just didn’t seem to have much going on (for thirteen minutes, as well). Maybe not Lips-by-numbers, but sorta lifeless. Sure, they’re trippy – but sometimes that’s not enough to carry the album. There seems to be a lot of recycling from the past few records. The collaboration EPs, released throughout 2011, were also a bit of a disappointment, even the ones that, on paper, should work really well. Some of them were O.K., like the EP with Neon Indian, but even the best track on it, “Alan’s Theremin“, is eight minutes of a synth arpeggio and two guitar chords.

It’s tough to say where they’re going from here. Hopefully, The Flaming Lips will become more of a balanced project and not just the Wayne Coyne Experience. Sure, Steven Drozd does contribute most of the musical ideas (and musicianship), but lately it sounds as though he’s hit a wall. Michael Ivins, there from the very beginning, seems to have been sidelined in a band he co-founded. Perhaps they’ll take a looooooong break after this “Sgt Pepper’s/Fwends (yes, it actually has the word ‘fwends’ in the title)” business. Wayne may be running away from a role (imposed from outside, of course) as one of the elder statesmen of American “alternative rock”, but I don’t know, it seems like the dude needs to chill for a little bit and pull the group back from novelty and gimmicks (gummy foetuses, songs buried in skulls, cover albums, etc.). I hope they can get it together, ‘cos it’d be a shame to lose a really, really great group.

FSOL and The Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble mixes

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The Future Sound Of London, in 1996 and 1997, had reached the height of their popularity with the release of the Dead Cities album. A bleak, yet beautiful, collage of sampled guitar stabs and piano phrases – it seemed the culmination of what FSOL were creating the past six years. The final single from the record, We Have Explosive, was released in the summer of 1997. The fans eagerly awaited the new single from the new full-length album. Then? Well, nothing – for five years.

I’m not sure how many paid attention in August of 1997 (I didn’t) – but a radio mix was played by KISS-FM in Manchester. It was by FSOL, but instead of showcasing their latest tracks, mixed with the newest-of-the-new electronica, it featured classic psychedelic tracks by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, alongside trippy obscurities by The White Noise and Kaptain Kopter (pseudonym of the late Randy California, on a one-off LP, after he left Spirit). New tracks were featured – The Chemical BrothersThe Private Psychedelic Reel, off of the Dig Your Own Hole album, was still very new at the time. Turn On, a side-project of the Stereolab crew, was represented by Triple Cause Of Poetry, a track that was only just released when it was included on the mix.

Even the title of the mix was bound to throw off some of the faithful. A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding In Your Mind was definitely a statement of intention. Gaz Cobain and Brian Dougans, FSOL’s duo, had been listening to quite a bit of classic psych and decided that their music was lacking in sexiness and warmth. Cobain described the “We Have Explosive” single as “mainly a product of male energy”. They started buying loads of LPs from market stalls and boot sales, then listening for hidden gems. Collating these and adding in film dialogue and recordings of poems, the result is both an hommage to psych’s beginnings and a view forward into its future.

Cobain started feeling very ill (as a result of mercury poisoning from his tooth fillings) and thought initially it was to do with being in London. He took his FSOL earnings and jetted off to the west coast of the United States, then on to India. He slowly ran out of funds and eventually returned to the UK. After the fillings were removed, he felt much better and he and Dougans re-convened to work on new music. Cobain turned up at the Big Chill festival in August 2001, to play a DJ set. To anyone still not sure about where FSOL were headed, it was an eye-opener. Fusion-era Miles Davis mixed in with Hariprasad Chaurasia mixed into Ananda Shankar. You can listen to part of the set here.

Shortly after, in October 2001, two mixes appeared on Ammocity and XFM London – called The Mello Hippo Disco Show. These both followed the M.P.B. formula, but appeared to abandon the title. The new name was chosen from a song FSOL were working on at the time. The mixes featured some carry-overs from the first M.P.B., but included The Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra, Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra and Portishead. The following summer, the long-awaited new FSOL album was released – in the guise of The Amorphous Androgynous, the boys’ ambient alter-egos. They had released Tales Of Ephidrina in 1993, presumably as a one-off, but revived the group name for the new record. Two more “Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble” mixes were broadcast in December showing that, ultimately, the “Mello Hippo Disco” moniker would be short lived.

The Isness summed up the new direction: loads of sitars, fully-formed songs, multi-part suites and ambient drones. The electronic element of their music was played-down in favour of ‘real’ instruments. It was almost like The Dukes Of Stratosphear, XTC‘s faux-1960s band they created in 1985. A lot of long-time fans were puzzled, thinking that Cobain and Dougans had finally lost the plot. I reckon most were hoping for “Dead Cities – Part II” and couldn’t fathom this sprawling psychedelic/prog excursion. A new M.P.B. mix surfaced in Deccember 2002, broadcast on James Hyman‘s The Rinse show, from XFM in London. Volume 3 contained a few Frank Zappa tracks, Leon Russell and even….Barbra Streisand (??!!). The entire mix has been uploaded to You Tube and can be found here.

The fourth volume in the series was broadcast in January 2003 on Resonance FM in  London. This one stretched to an hour and a half (much like Vol. 1) and has a decidedly Christian theme. A lot of the spoken-word samples are taken from the Trunk Records Resurrection compilation. There are tracks from “Jesus Christ Superstar“, Les Hombres, When and Magma. There’s also a snippet of “The Strawberry Statement” – the scene in the school gymnasium when the protestors are singing John Lennon‘s Give Peace A Chance. After that – it went quiet again – but in 2005, the next A.A. album, Alice In Ultraland, dropped in August. The record continued the psychedelic prog-rock direction, but the tunes were tightened up and the scope was less sprawling than “The Isness”. They also added a pastoral, folky feel to some of the songs, reminiscent of early-1970s film soundtracks like “The Wicker Man“.

M.P.B. Volume 5 made it’s debut on XFM on 14th September, 2005. Aside from showcasing a load of tunes off of “Alice..”, there are tracks from Silver Apples, Aphrodite’s Child and Vashti Bunyan. Volume 6 followed a week later – this time featuring tracks by Dead Meadow, T. Rex and The Monkees (the delightful “Porpoise Song“). I like these two mixes the most – even more than Volume 1, which is itself a brilliant mix. The song content and the spoken-word clips on Vols. 5 and 6 are blended together expertly. The flow seems fluid and seamless – no clunky moments or ill-fitting segues. Super psychedelic and all-around groovy. You can listen to Volume 5 here. In October, Gaz Cobain and Chris Margery, a member of the A.A. troupe, guested on BBC 6‘s “Six Mix”. The programme became M.P.B. Volume 7. The two mixed in some of the tunes present on past volumes, but added a few far-out new ones in, such as Secret Chiefs 3 and The Earlies. Gaz and Chris provided commentary between the tracks and phoned up their chum Gary Lucas (formerly of Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band and Jeff Buckley collaborator) for an impromptu interview. While not quite as exciting as the others in the series (Gaz & Chris’s chats do break up the flow of the mix), it was a good introduction to the M.P.B. concept for those who weren’t aware of it.

There wouldn’t be another M.P.B. volume (Number 8) until 2009, which was released through FSOL’s digital shop. The duo were quite busy up to that point, releasing several discs of “Archives” compilations  (under the FSOL moniker). They also released The Peppermint Tree & The Seeds Of Superconciousness, the fourth full-length Amorphous Androgynous album, in 2008. The Environments albums, which had been spoken about since the late 90s, was finally available on CD and download as well. In addition to all of that, they started a new mix series, Electric Brain Storms. E.B.S. mixes concentrated more on electronica and less on psychedelia, perhaps as a move to balance out the A.A. stuff with a return to the ‘classic’ FSOL sound.

As if that wasn’t enough – the boys had spent a couple of years getting tracks cleared for use on a compilation. The result was an official Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble 2-CD mix, released in 2008 on Platipus Records. Volume 1 was titled “Cosmic Space Music” and while it didn’t feature any of the film dialogue (which would have had to have been cleared as well) or other spoken-word snippets, the track list stayed true to the radio mixes’ format. Volume 2, subtitled “Pagan Love Vibrations”, followed a year later. “The 3rd Ear”, third in the series, was released in 2010. The first set received a huge publicity boost when, in an inteview, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, said he received it as a gift and really enjoyed it. That led to Amorphous Androgynous re-mixing Oasis’s Falling Down single (off of the ‘final’ Oasis LP, “Dig Out Your Soul”) – turning it into a 20-minute prog suite. There were announcements that A.A. and Gallagher were collaborating on a full album, but in the end, they decided the results weren’t to their liking and the project was scrapped. A.A. did end up remixing a few songs for Noel’s High Flying Birds and tracks by Paul Weller and Pop Levi. In 2012, they released a collaboration with DJ Food, called The Illectric Hoax.

The latest offerings from A.A. are The Cartel albums – sort-of mock blaxploitation/Bollywood/hippie-sploitation soundtracks. They were released last year and are available at the FSOLDigital site. A vinyl remixes LP of the Cartel material was released on Record Store Day in April of this year. There are also hints from Gaz that an Amorphous Androgynous remix EP (or full-length record) of new-ish UK psych-folk band, Syd Arthur, will be released soon.

It’s been very quiet on the Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble mix front – I keep hoping Volume 9 will appear in the Pod Room for sale. They don’t tend to stay there long, due to the involved process of getting the tracks cleared. FSOL tend to operate in the guerilla fashion, in that respect. Maybe they’re getting tracks cleared for a fourth edition of the official mixes. Who can say – in the meantime, I recommend finding both the radio and official M.P.B. sets. Trippy, listenable and will turn you on to bands you hadn’t heard previously – brilliant selections of psychedelic tunes from the 60s to now.

The FSOLDigital site can be found here

Nearly complete track lists of the radio mixes can be found in this thread, at the FSOL message board, courtesy of board member “Pandemonium”.

25 Years On: Beastie Boys – “Paul’s Boutique”

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It occurred to me a few days ago that Paul’s Boutique, the second full length album from the Beastie Boys, was released twenty-five years ago. That seems pretty mind-blowing to me. The fact that it’s still referred to as a breakthrough record and a hip-hop milestone just adds to the brain-busting.

We all know the popular sequence of events – the Boys, three NYC former hardcore punkers, started listening to nascent hip-hop records and switched allegiances to the new scene. They cut a few EPs and got the attention of uber-producer Rick Rubin and Def Jam Records. Rubin helmed the sessions for their debut, Licensed To Ill, and with plenty of radio play and a high-rotation video on MTV (“Fight For Your Right To Party”), they quickly became (in)famous. The tour to support the album was dogged with controversy, though I suppose the trio didn’t do themselves any favours – such as having a giant inflatable penis on-stage (there’s a ‘Spinal Tap’ joke in there somewhere).

After the dust settled, the Boys were somewhat richer, but also viewed as frat-boy goofballs and, as Public Enemy and (in 1988) N.W.A. both claimed hip-hop’s forefront, a bit of a joke.  Tensions rose with the Def Jam honchos over contract obligations and they left Def Jam and New York, which was seen as near-treasonous at the time. Once they were set up in California at their new digs (cheekily called “The G-Spot”), they started creating demos of new jams.

Through the club party scene and hip-hop connections, the Boys met engineer/producers The Dust Brothers and Matt Dike, who would go on to produce “Paul’s Boutique”. Dike convinced them to sign with Capitol Records (which would prove fortuitous – especially with the Beatles samples used on the album). Recording sessions began in summer 1988 and continued sporadically into early 1989 – with the trio bouncing between NYC and L.A.

The tracks themselves are a psychedelic mixture of sound effects, rock/soul/reggae samples and the Boys’ own lyrics, which themselves are filled with pop-culture references, self-deprecating humour and in-jokes. As much as they’d grown since “Licensed”, they hadn’t completely ditched the juvenile hijinks – as evidenced by “59 Chrystie Street” (the first segment of “B Boy Bouillabaisse“, an extended suite which closes the album). There’s also a line in “High Plains Drifter“, “…knuckle-head Delhi tried to gyp me off the price/so I clocked him in the turban with a bag of ice…”, which wouldn’t fly too well in these overheated-PC days, I suspect.

They do balance those out with some more positive quips, like “You make the mistake to judge a man by his race/You go through life with egg on your face“, from “Egg Man” and “…get hip, don’t slip you knuckleheads, racism is schism on the serious tip…”, from “Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun“. Speaking of the latter, it’s the hardest-hitting and most cacophonous track on the record. Combining the beat (though heavily compressed and flanged to throw it into overdrive) from Ocean‘s “Put Your Hand In The Hand” (ironically, a Christian-flavoured pop single from 1971) and a snippet of Pink Floyd‘s “Time” – the Boys shout lyrics about having “homeboys bonanza to beat your ass down” and going on “stolen car missions“. While you could say that they were taking their cues from P.E.’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, “Looking Down…” has it’s own fierce menace and in it’s own way, is just as bad-ass as anything put together by The Bomb Squad or Dr Dre.

The album was released in July 1989, to little fanfare. “Hey Ladies” was released as a single and had an accompanying video shown on MTV, showing the Beasties wearing funky 1970s apparel. The punters who were expecting “Fight For Your Right – Part II” were dumbfounded and were of the opinion that they’d lost the plot. The record tanked shortly after and was dismissed as a misstep.

Some, like myself, thought it was a step in the right direction and indeed, when the Boys returned in 1992 with Check Your Head, a lot of the experimental feel of “Paul’s Boutique” remained (just not as sample-heavy and a bit more stream-lined). Def Jam countered “Paul’s Boutique” with their own Beasties-lite group, 3rd Bass. Ironically, while 3rd Bass dissed the Boys on their debut record, The Cactus Album – the album seemed to be made from the same template – loads of samples interwoven into the mix. The Boys ended up having the last laugh, as 3rd Bass split after two albums and MC Serch‘s (the lead MC) solo record, released in 1992, sank without a trace.

Soon after “Check Your Head”, “Paul’s Boutique” was suddenly looked on as a force to be reckoned with. Re-appraisals appeared from the hipper quarters of rap fandom – cemented in place by the time Ill Communication was released in 1994. Ten years after it’s release date, “Paul’s Boutique” was being called a hip-hop classic and an ingenious re-invention of a group. The record fully deserves its accolades – of the ‘class of ’89’, only it and De La Soul‘s 3 Feet High And Rising showed what could be accomplished through sampling and clever rhymes.

Daft Or Dastardly? The Laurel Canyon Conspiracy

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A short time ago, a FB friend posted a link to a site all about the supposed “Laurel Canyon Conspiracy”. I think the context was a post I shared about Aleister Crowley. I’m not a hard-core Thelemite – but I do enjoy Crowley’s books on magick and the bit of his fiction I’ve read so far.

In any case, the L.C. conspiracy seems to have been first posted online by a bloke called Dave McGowan in 2008. Since then, it’s been reproduced in sections or in it’s entirety on various sites. Usually, I dismiss that kind of thing outright as nonsense, thought up by paranoids who want to blame the shitness of their own lives on some over-arching group (The Bilderbergers, The Rothschilds, The Rockefellers, etc, etc.)

McGowan contends that the 1960s counter-culture began in the Laurel Canyon neighbourhood of Los Angeles. The main characters in the scenario, such as Jim Morrison and David Crosby, were the scions of upper-ranks military commanders and intelligence personnel. They were then indoctrinated into working for the CIA to….well, McGowan never really says. Was the aim to spread the gospel of non-violence and psychedelics, to create a pliable populace easy to manipulate? Was it to create a counter-culture to scare the god-fearing Joe and Jane Six-Packs into voting for a strong conservative government and perpetual warfare?

Maybe both, or neither. There seem to be a couple of glaring errors in his analysis, almost from the outset. He contends that Frank Zappa was ‘pro-war’ and that all of the bands hung out together and were all good pals. According to the testimony in other books, Arthur Lee, of the band Love, liked neither Frank Zappa nor Jim Morrison. David Crosby has gone on record several times about how much he loathed Jim Morrison. Frank Zappa lampooned the ‘hippie scene’ quite a few times on his early albums (especially “We’re Only In It For The Money“, released in 1968). The idea that these disparate personalities were all gelling together for the CIA seems ludicrous…add in Stephen Stills, Charles Manson, Dennis Wilson (of The Beach Boys) and Neil Young and things seem even further far-fetched.

McGowan has done quite a bit of research on the history of Laurel Canyon, especially during the 1920s and 1930, when it’s homes were bought up by some big-name Hollywood folk, as well as stage magician extraordinaire, Harry Houdini (yep, he did some work for the U.S. gubberment too, says McGowan). McGowan impressively does find connections between a lot of the key L.C. players in the 1960s and while it may look like something sinister was happening, I’m not convinced that because a lot of the musicians were ‘army brats’, they automatically were drafted into helping the military/industrial complex. The U.S. military was a big employer immediately after WWII, when a lot of them were born – it doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence to me.

To be fair, there was a lot of weird stuff happening – but it seems L.A. does attract it’s share of chancers and miscreants and has done since the film industry set up there a hundred years ago. Add in psychedelics and sexual liberation and well…you got yourself a freaky scene, man. McGowan does shed light on the infamous Manson murders of 1969, deviating a lot from the ‘official’ story given by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. Apparently, it was the result of a couple of drug deals gone very badly. Manson botched a drug deal with an African-American dealer, which left him (Manson) paranoid and looking for protection. Allegedly, he approached the “Straight Satans”, a biker gang, who were hanging around Manson’s place for the ‘free love’ and drugs. They thought Manson was a joke, but agreed to protect him if he could score some mescaline for a party they were throwing in a couple of weeks’ time.

Manson went to Bobby Beausoleil, who had formed short-lived psychedelic band The Orkustra (who later morphed into It’s A Beautiful Day) and knew a lot of the Laurel Canyon players. Beausoleil then contacted Gary Hinman, an acquaintence and fellow musician. Gary spoke with a couple of chemist friends who said they could get the amount of mescaline together. Money changed hands and that was that. Until, according to the bikers, the mescaline was bunk and they demanded their money back. Beausoleil went to Hinman, who said he’d already spent the money. Manson got involved and Hinman was killed, after being kept in his home by Beausoleil. Hinman was suffocated, still suffering from a wound Manson had given him. To make the murder appear as a political attack, they scrawled “Political Piggy” on Hinman’s wall.

Beausoleil was, of course, the prime suspect for the murder of Gary Hinman and trying to protect him, Manson hatched the idea of a few more murders to make it look like a political gang was on a rampage – hence the “Healter Skelter” (sic) and “Piggies” scrawled on the walls of the Sharon Tate home in blood. Bugliosi thought that Manson was serious with his “race war” talk and run with that story. It seems it’s a lot more mundane. It was all about money and paranoia.

Getting back to the original premise – why would the CIA create the counter-culture, only to destroy it (via Manson and Altamont) a few years later? The Laurel Canyon theory also ignores all the other contemporary scenes in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris and Amsterdam. The S.F. and London scenes were already in action as early as 1964, while Laurel Canyon didn’t really start until 1965 or ’66. While isolated examples like Vito Paulekas and Zappa seemed ahead of the game, most sorta drifted in after the fact.

Aside from the Hinman killing and the Tate-LaBianca murders, the other major tragedy of the era was Paulekas’s two-year-old son, Godot, falling to his death in his father’s studio. There’s also allegations that before he died, he was ‘introduced to sensuality’ by being passed around to adults open mouths. So, yes, there’s alleged child abuse as well. Still, I don’t believe that everything and everyone in the Canyon at that time were CIA agents and connected to the government. None of the conspiracy theorists have offered any sort of official proof – wouldn’t a Freedom Of Information request turn up hard evidence that Crosby et al. were on the payroll? Perhaps I’m naive in that respect.

As with anything – you can read the theory for yourself and make your own decision – it is twenty-one pages long and covers a five decades or so, so it does get meandering. It’s here, if you dare.

Also, as a bonus – McGowan references the film, Mondo Hollywood, several times in the article – you can watch the film in it’s entirety below:

Lou Reed: Farewell To A Rock-N-Roll Animal

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“Maybe only a thousand people bought the record…but they all went out and formed bands…”  –Brian Eno on “The Velvet Underground & Nico”

You may or may not have heard, but Lou Reed has left the planet, at age 71. While ol’ Lou could have been cut from the same cloth as some of the ’27 Club’, he stuck around long enough to have more than a few highs and some really deep troughs. Sure, he coulda pegged out in the early 70s (and probably nearly did), but somehow, it didn’t seem like his style.

The Velvet Underground, the group he formed with John Cale and Sterling Morrison, seemed so outside of the zeitgeist of the late 1960s it was nearly comical. An American band (well, nearly – Cale hailed from Wales (Ha HA!)), they didn’t rely so much on the jazz and blues traditions, but more on European avant-classical stylings. They had a female drummer who looked every bit as snarly as the guys and she wasn’t a flashy player either. No showboating – straight to the beat. Maureen Tucker, the VU drummer, has said that one of her main influences was African drummer Babatunde Olatunji. On the first VU LP, released in 1967, the quartet was joined by German singer Nico. Her Teutonic tones were morose and guttural, nowhere near the higher-pitched warbling of Joan Baez or the icy-breathed shimmer of Grace Slick.

The album hit the racks without much fanfare – 1967 was dominated by the pastoral English sounds of The Beatles and the U.S. West Coast bands – flower-power was in and Reed & Co’s gritty NYC decadence was viewed with suspicion, even hostility. Eventually, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” would become a cultural touchstone, the yin to “Sgt. Pepper”s yang. The VU toured that year as part of Andy Warhol‘s “Plastic Exploding Inevitable” multi-media show. Again, they were largely ignored. First, Nico left for a solo career. Cale departed after the second LP, “White Light/White Heat“, was released. “WL/WH” does seem to owe a bit to the burgeoning acid-rock scene and shows that the VU were listening to their peers somewhat, while still retaining the rough edges of the first album.

Doug Yule replaced Cale and brought more of a pop sensibility to the band. The self-titled third album featured some gentler tunes and even a bit of optimism in the lyrics. They toured and even played a few of the West Coast psychedelic haunts like the Avalon Ballroom. The band carried on for a couple more albums – I don’t even think Lou participated on the final one, “Squeeze”.

He officially went solo in 1972 and from there got involved in the androgynous/glam scene, his “Transformer” LP being produced by David Bowie (who borrowed the VU’s style on a few of his tunes, such as Queen Bitch). “Transformer” gave him his first ‘hit single’ in the form of Take A Walk On The Wild Side, which seems to be still his most well-known song. His 1973 ‘concept’ album, “Berlin“, was a critical hit, but again, didn’t make much of an impact upon it’s release. He confounded even his most ardent fans (including noted rock scribbler Lester Bangs) in 1975 by releasing “Metal Machine Music“, 2 LPs of constructed guitar feedback with no vocals or song structures, possibly a first for a major-label recording artist.

After that, Lou sorta disappeared into the late 70s and 80s miasma. He continued to create records, with diminishing returns – though I note that “The Blue Mask“, released in 1982, did get some accolades at the time. His “New York” album, released in 1989, was a comeback of sorts and in a sense, came full-circle back to the realism of the first VU LP. Eventually, but perhaps not inevitably, the original VU (minus Nico, who had tragically passed away) re-grouped for a tour in 1993. A live album was issued, but some thought that a bit of the old magic was gone. Still, you can’t blame them for capitalising on their now-legendary status. The rest of the world had finally caught up to them and they were being name-checked as an influence left and right.

They split yet again and Lou continued on…well, being Lou. He dated, then married NYC musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson, made some new albums and saw Perfect Day, from “Berlin”, become popular again after appearing on the Trainspotting soundtrack, He was as cantankerous as ever and still made interviewing him a grueling experience for the hapless journos sent to ask about his latest offerings. His final release, a collaboration with metal main-streamers Metallica, called “Lulu“, was poorly received. I myself only heard one track and I found it a chore to get through. Seems a shame he had to go out on that one, but, like Bob Dylan, he probably delighted in side-stepping his fans yet again.

What else can you say, really? Much more, I suspect – but others will say it more eloquently than I’m able. The guy was uncompromising and had little time to explain himself and his music. More popular as an influence than in the commercial realm (“Walk On The Wild Side” seemed more of an anomaly than anything) – a rock-n-roller to the core. Here’s Bangs on why he loved Lou so much: “Lou Reed is my own hero principally because he stands for all the most fucked up things that I could ever possibly conceive of. Which probably only shows the limits of my imagination.”

Mick Farren: A Rock-N-Roller To The End

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I was shocked when I learned, via Facebook, that UK counter-culture legend Mick Farren, had passed away, after collapsing on-stage. He was playing a gig with the re-formed Deviants, the psychedelic-punk band he fronted in the late 1960s, while also working the door at the UFO Club, editing issues of the International Times (the bi-weekly hippie newspaper published in London) and various other activities. Farren had been in ill-health and moved back to England from the U.S., because he couldn’t afford the care he needed.

Thousands of words will be written about Farren’s impact on the UK late-sixties scene and his subsequent work as a sci-fi novelist, NME provocateur and political observer/agitator. I can’t remember how I discovered The Deviants, probably through a book or magazine article. I bought a reissue CD of “Ptooff!“, the first full-length, originally released in 1967. It wasn’t what I expected at all. Raw and rockin’, it’s worlds away from the acid-drenched curios offered by The Beatles and Pink Floyd, as much as I love those. One track in particular, Nothing Man, is a sort-of sound collage that wouldn’t be out of place on a 90s electronic record. Check it out for yourself – almost as radical as The Velvet Underground & Nico, or Kick Out The Jams (itself released nearly two years later):

The second Deviants LP followed in 1968. Called Disposable, it features one of the most blistering attacks on the establishment and calls for a hippie utopia. Somewhere To Go features a bass line that recalls The ZombiesTime Of The Season, only it was released a year before “Time Of..”. To me, it’s one of the best Deviants tracks, and possibly one of the best of the 1960s:

The Deviants folded late in 1969, after releasing one final LP. Farren recorded a solo album, called Mona – The Carnivorous Circus, then left the music scene to concentrate on writing. A series of sci-fi novels, political screeds and music journalism were published throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s. He would re-convene the Deviants every so often, with various line-ups. The latest incarnation of the band featured the original 1967/’68 rhythm section of Duncan Sanderson and Russell Hunter.

You can read Charles Shaar Murray‘s excellent obituary here. R.I.P. to one of the true originals and a beacon for the counter-culture, rock-and-roll spirit!