BLACK OAK ARKANSAS
KEEP THE FAITH
When Black Oak Arkansas’ first album was released, I made the mistake of listening to it one time and writing a fulsomely imagistic review while under the influence of amphetamines, praising it to the skies. About two months later a very good friend called me up long distance and said: “Well, Lester, I just bought the Black Oak Arkansas album on the basis of that review you wrote, and I just wanted to tell you that they suck!”
A few months ago I saw them on tour with Grand Funk, and while I felt that the lead singer’s twerpy attempts at Dr. Johnish mumbo-jumbo in a wretched pseudo-Captain Beefheart voice were godawful, the three guitarists and rhythm section were full, exciting, dense and driving all the way. By the time this album came out, however, I had become so sick of this wimp dubbed Dandy’s growly pullulations that I could hardly stand to listen to it and only half-jokingly suggested to somebody that “I wish somebody would shoot that fuckin’ lead singer in that group.”
Okay. Record reviews start to get precious and self-aggrandizing when they become too autobiographical, but the point of all this is that I have listened to the record some more, and while I still think Dandy is just about as obnoxious as he can be, I’m starting to like it, and not just for the instrumental work either. I read a story once in the Atlantic Monthly where the faculty at Yale or someplace was meeting up with this bunch of student radicals led by Mark Rudd, and one professor was heard to remark, “Why, that Mark Rudd is so obnoxious I can’t stand to be in the same room with him,” and another professor, who sympathized a bit more with Rudd and the Ruddniki, said, “Yes, but you could have said the same thing about Tom Paine.” So I say the same thing about Dandy. There is a point where some things can become so obnoxious that they stop being mere dreck and become interesting, even enjoyable, and maybe totally because they are so obnoxious.
Eric Burdon is (was?) a good example of this. Certainly Eric has been, since he switched from the straight blues of the early Animals to art rock, one of the most pretentious, mawkish, ballooned burlesques of a singer-songwriter in human history, not to mention being incredibly racist. But, with the exception of his merely bar-band boring work with War, he has always managed to put together good bands, write interesting songs and, more than that, be infinitely entertaining for precisely the bozo that he is.
Dandy doesn’t have Eric’s gift for brilliantly gauche social commentary, but he comes damn close. Keep the Faith (subtitled The Teachings of Black Oak Arkansas) continues and amplifies his juju-hosannah riff, and comes complete with ancient leather volumes of the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, The Teachings of Buddha and Hesse’s Siddhartha depicted-on the cover, and if the music didn’t sound so much like the raunchier side of Springfield-Grape folk-rock shot full of crank and turned into a crazy mechanical guitar loop, the lyrics would almost make you think it was 1967 again, what with lines like: “We’re just what you need/Good solid wood/We’re your power to make evil curl/Together we’ll make and shape our new world/We’re God’s children so don’t forget/Paradise is just around the corner and we’ll get there yet/Then we’ll give ya all our love; we’ll try our best/For after all, our love is what we want to give.”
But it’s not 1967 at all, it’s, uh, it’s a new day so let a soul man come in and do the popcorn, I mean something new is blowing in the wind: “We’re your freedom, we’re your son/We shine a light for everyone/We’re your happiness, we’re your joy/Your Revolutionary All American Boys!”
Yes, the times they have a-changed. At the Free John Sinclair rally in Ann Arbor last December, John Lennon said, “So flower power didn’t work, so let’s try something new,” and when big John says it you know something’s going on. Black Oak Arkansas certainly don’t sing about dipple-dappled crystal leaf-vein patterns in the dewy spiderwebs of your mind -- they sing about “Fever in My Mind,” and about earthquakes. In “The Big One’s Still Coming,” the hot shot of this album, which has so much strychnine in it it’s like an acid flashback all by itself, Dandy takes the apocalyptic motif running through all of the songs here and turns it into a vision of imminent natural catastrophe: “We’re havin’ an earthquake/We’re goin’ insane/A California earthquake/Has been shakin’ our brains.” Fortunately, however, he also recognizes that all these seemingly horrific cataclysms and disasters can be turned around into something resembling a real cool time, if you think about it and exercise the proper karmic manipulations (“But mystic thoughts can only fly to another plane”), can be harnessed and ridden ‘cross the crumbling spires of Babylon to glory: “California earthquake/ Shakin’ our heads/Yeah, we’re havin’ an earthquake/On our waterbeds.”
And that’s kind of how I feel about this album. It reminds me of the scene in Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three where the Commies in East Berlin torture and brainwash a captured spy by strapping him in a chair and forcing him to listen to Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” 789 times played at 78 RPM with the spindle through a hole punched in the record just a half-inch from the center, so it gives out with a mind-destroying back-and-forth whine, sort of like a wah-wah in fact. After listening to all the psychedelic, studio-artistic, electronic, filtered, altered, phased and played-backwards music of the past six or seven years, with Black Oak Arkansas and Dandy’s tattered tonsils capping it all, I think that I could tell my old high school civics teacher that I would be immune to at least this form of Communist brainwashing. I would probably tap my foot.
Nick Drake sails and sings, says “Sorry,” smiles (but slyly), poses shyly. Rustling, rippling, resonant, thick and sweet with atmosphere like one of Balthus’ rooms, his music whispers, then ensnares, like a shared confidence. The short songs are sometimes grand riddles, obscure, unanswerable propositions. The title song, in its entirety, says, “Saw it written and I saw it say/Pink moon is on its way/ None of you will stand so tall/ Pink moon gonna get you all/ And it’s a pink moon.” Can that be dealt with as poetry? As pretentious profundity? Or only as some sort of schoolboy’s disquieting secret vision (is he possessed)?
Another says, again in its entirety, “Know that I love you/Know that I don’t care/Know that I see you/Know I’m not there.” Who writes songs like that? Is it the ghost inside the boy? The boy’s spirit deep inside the grizzled wizard? The longer songs do less with more words. They’re not awfully good as songs, most of them. There’s a lulling repetitiousness to a lot of what he sings. But no matter. That’s the point, in fact. His music is a triumph of style over sententiousness, of sound over sense. It’s not what he sings, or even -- for that matter -- how he sings. It’s that he sings at all, that he opens up this world to us at all.
His first two albums (Bryter Layter and Five Leaves Left, both on Island in England, and cannibalized into a single LP, Nick Drake for American release on the same label), presented him in a more complex context -- some orchestrations, some impressively personal guest stars (John Cale, Ray Warleigh, Dave Pegg, Richard Thompson, Chris McGregor, et al.), a wider range of mood and craft. Here, it’s simply Drake and his own guitar and piano. He’s accurate and workmanlike with it; he never fails, he never really flashes. But he knows precisely what emotional limits to impose upon his self-accompaniment.
It’s seductive music. The voice is deep, firm, covert, and binding. He very nearly croons, God save us. (If Robert Plant is the Al Jolson of the rock generation, Drake is the Bing Crosby.) He very nearly croons his enigmatic, endearingly weak little songs, and always with the smirk of the all-seeing “I.” He knows more about us than we know about him.
THEY ONLY COME OUT
My, my, who pushed dear, dear Edgar and the boys into the closet? Now, really. Do you expect me to believe it was THEIR idea? What? You say they have donned those delightful disguises because they were embarrassed. Embarrassed? Whatever for? Oh, you have got to be kidding! Just because they wanted to try their hand at the AM circuit and they thought we would be upset. Oh, that’s priceless. Well ... I’ll buy that. In fact I’ll buy it all, everything, that is, except that ghastly putty beauty mark on Edgar’s Max Factor face. Beastly taste.
And how fortunate to have THE Francesco Scavullo consent to do the photos. You know he doesn’t take pictures of just anyone, darling. You know, with his Cosmopolitan covers and all.
I agree, the band does look terribly stunning. Oh, Chuck, you say you “blow dry” your hair to get that wonderful fluff. I must try it next time. And Edgar, that lavender eyeshadow goes so well with red eyes. Oh, and this is Linda. No, I don’t think I remember you. Wait a minute, weren’t you at Max’s last Easter? You were the one with the fluorescent tits? No? Sorry. Now that you mention it, Ronnie does have fantastically gorgeous green eyes. As big as your fist, you say. How interesting.
Now, this all happened since you fellows moved to Connecticut. It couldn’t be that your wonderfully strange neighbors, the Coopers, had anything to do with this utterly, utterly unusual metamorphosis?
Do play us your new album. Catchy tunes. May I sing along? Thank you. Yes, your last album was a touch too heavy-handed. You say you learned to boogie from Savoy Brown? But, not one single solitary “hootchie-koo?” How disappointing. Oh, well, I didn’t realize that was out this year. Wait a minute. I heard that. Play it back: “Thought I was cool when I dropped out of school, it was great ... Driving along with my radio on, feeling good ... I’m just hangin’ around.” Oh yes, yes, you still are the high, wide and nasty Texan. Aren’t you, Edgar? Edgar? Edgar ... “The Yellow Rose of Texas is the only girl for me ...” Don’t you remember?
“I don’t remember how I got this way/I don’t recall what happened yesterday/I don’t remember what I did last night/But I know I was feelin’ alright.”
IGGY & THE STOOGES
Raw Power is the best high-energy album since Kick Out the Jams, and it sometimes makes me think that Iggy and the Stooges could kick their ex-Big Brothers’ butts in the right kind of alley.
I can’t believe this is the same Stooges. No longer the group you love because they put out so much despite their limitations, this band is tremendously powerful and, with the aid of skillful production, the noise-raunch power tremble of complete ecstasy that Kick Out the Jams hitherto represented all by itself is finally fully realized IN THE STUDIO. Consider that, boob-a-la -- it’s like staging an air raid on Hanoi in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
Iggy kicks it loose from the beginning. The guitar charge is just like the old Five guitar work, tremendous bursts of apocalyptic interstellar energy, limited only by contemporary technology, harnessed to a strong, if unsteady backbeat. Bassist Ron Asheton pulls down the sound, melding it into something almost earthly, just like a great jazz bass player does, while the rest of the band accelerates beyond anything that’s been recorded, or played live or even dreamed of, in years, so hard and so fast that if Iggy wasn’t the singer you’d wonder whose record this was. It’s like they o.d.’d Pete Townshend on Quaalude and acid, forced him into a 1965 time warp and made him keep all the promises he made in “Can’t Explain.”
By the time the second song, “Raw Power,” comes on, you’re startled, so busy trying to figure out what this meta-meta-morphosis portends you can’t quite believe that the record is doing it all by itself, so you look around the floor but no, not there, and then Iggy screams:
“Raw power got a healin’ hand/Raw power can de-stroy a man/Raw power is a boilin’ soul/Got a son called rock ‘n’ roll,” which for once isn’t some kind of call to the demiurges who guard rock ‘n’ roll to come out and visit us but a simple statement of irrefutable, pristine fact. Like the songs on the first Stooges record, which had titles like “No Fun,” “Real Cool Time,” “Little Doll,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “Raw Power” is just the eye of the Ig roving around the street, putting down what he sees, not mincing words or trying for fluidity but letting it ooze, rough and uh, raw, splat, screeeeeeeee:
“Look in the eyes of the seventh girl/Fall deep in love in the underworld/You’re alone and you’ve got the shakes/So’ve I baby, but I got what it takes.”
And “Raw Power,” so help me god, begins with an authentic belch, a true-to-life burp -- which is, like farting, a form of truly RAW POWER and it goes like this: urgggllllppppPp. I swear.
Now comes the part for people who never liked the Stooges. Whatever Stooges fans think about them, they are almost legion. “Give Me Danger” is the real Iggy ballad, the one El Pop kept threatening us with when he did tunes like “Ann, My Ann” and “Dirt.” But this Iggy ballad is one where you can’t make out the lyrics, because of the guitars, which is OK because these guitars are like Jimi Hendrix jamming with John Fahey. You are absolutely not gonna believe this song, or some of the other guitar here (by James Williamson, who switched places with Ron) until you hear it, and then it might take you a week; that’s how long it took me, and I heard ‘em in London only last summer. Now, this is the part that you won’t believe at all, as if you’re gonna believe me when I tell you how great this record is anyway, but after a while you look at the titles and you begin to wonder what the fuck is this record about? Now, I am not saying that Iggy has made the first dementoid concept album, or some avuncular nonsense like that, I’m just going to tell you what this album is about and you can believe it or not:
Raw Power is what happens if you watch the Vietnam war live on TV every night, and that is the central fact of the culture you live in, for 10 years (or more).
Look at these titles: “Hard to Beat” (Kissinger’d buy that, even); “Search and Destroy,” for which no explanation is necessary; “Death Trip,” ditto; “Penetration,” a sort of behind-the-lines excursion ...
Maybe Iggy was imagining -- it’s a big maybe, but what the fuck -- that he didn’t beat the draft, after all; in fact, he went to Vietnam and got his legs and arms shot off and came back a crippled, quadriplegic junkie who got himself atomic-powered limbs and set out to avenge the destruction he had to endure. And the way he does it is to write this song about how he got fucked up, see, with these lines:
“I’m the world’s most forgotten boy/The one who searches and destroys.”
And then singing about his fantasy after he got shot, his dream while he was bleeding almost to death, which is that Madame Diem showed up and sucked him off and then fucked him in ways he hadn’t thought possible: “Love in the middle of a fire fight.”
Now you might think this is totally ridiculous, and you’re absolutely right, but that’s what this album makes me think about and I ain’t even told you about the long songs yet.
Everyone talks about how we need a band that can hold the decade in the palm of their hand and spitshine and polish it, but the Stooges just come out and do that, and with their feet they dance a merry little gallows jig, too. Raw Power is like a great James Bond book that never got written, but its concepts are all here. Like when the Stooges play their own version of “St. James Infirmary,” called “I Need Somebody,” where Iggy is bad as Howlin’ Wolf pounding Mick Jagger on the head with a 40-pound stack of Yma Sumac records.
And all the while Iggy just keeps singing, in his best Frank Sinatra voice (the one used to sing “Shadow of Your Smile” when the amps blow up in the middle of a set): “I need somebody bab-uh/I need somebody to/ ... I need somebody bab-uh/Just like you.”
He ain’t singing about “I need somebody, too,” like every dorkoid in the world could sing about how we’re all lonely and shit, he’s singing about how he needs somebody to do something so unapproachable you couldn’t -- he couldn’t -- imagine what it even is or how to do it, if you knew.
Then “Death Trip.” “Baby want to take you out with me, came along on my death trip.” Real-ly. Death to the death culture and all that rot, as David Bowie taught him to say. Iggy immerses himself in all the rage of being fucked up, and more appropriately, fucking YOURSELF up that anyone can imagine and then he sings, like a love song: “I’m with you and you with me/We’re goin’ down in history.”
And he ain’t talking about no blow job, neither. He’s talking about going down in history, like Hitler, like Rasputin, like every mangled dictator and dog-eared mass murderer there ever was, if you’ll just come right along on his little death trip -- here, step inside. Stab, stab.
I’m tempted myself. Only a truly diabolical mind could have made the best album of the ‘70s, of course, and Iggy apparently has it because he’s summed everything up and it took him only nine songs to do it. And he didn’t have to write any songs about being/not being/wishing he was cosmic, or a star or some bullshit.
Step inside the Fun House, home of the 0 Mind, and we will all have a real cool time, AC/DC and Raw Power alike.
When the Move were smashing helicopters and burning telephone booths onstage, my heart was thumping to the beat of “I Can Hear the Grass Grow,” and I knew that this was the group for me. Thaey were exotic and inaccessible and penetrating, and they even hid in holes. You couldn’t ask for anything more.
About the time of Looking On, though, I just gave up on ‘em. I never thought they’d go the singles route, so I glued ‘em all into their respective wheelchairs. But you all know the story, and you’ve all heard the promotion - THE MOVE ARE BACK! And they’re better than ever. I really can’t go down the list of cuts and explain which are my favorites, because I’ve favored a different one each of the last 400 listenings. Every cut is a masterpiece.
Certainly, however, you can accuse the Move of mimicry. Sometimes they go for the Beatles or Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis or even the Beau Brummels. But not with any sense of versatility. Not like Kaleidoscope. More like gorillas stomping on a chain gang. Yeah, raw throats and soggy pricks.
But to really appreciate the Move you need to know about their clobber technique. That’s the way they toss ya around when a song begins to reach its peak. Like all of a sudden maybe some sorta new weirdo instrument trinkles outa your speakers and then everything begins to clash. You follow one vein but it only leads ya into a tangle, so ya blow your stack ‘cause you can’t keep up and plow into the closest thing available. Maybe it’s your TV or your wife or your pet piranhas, but you gotta destroy something! That’s why the Move got such a reputation for wrecking things onstage.
Their music is frustrating; everything goes everywhere, and all instruments explode at once.
Don’t let any bullshitter convince ya that that means it’s classical, though. That’s mittens. These guys know how to rock. They’d play havoc with a snapping turtle. That’s the musical reason that I like them. The nonmusical ones are:
1. They breathe hard on record, and you can hear it.
2. They look like shadows.
3. They’ve got elitist appeal only.
4. My dog howls when he hears ‘em.
5. Their song titles are forgettable.
6. All four previous albums have had great covers.
7. They never went mod.
8. I like tigers.
9. They sling Slade and spin tops.
10. They’re spooky.
Now they’re all split into pieces, which is great for promotional purposes, but I’m a little skeptical. It may just be like punching out. Until they do, though, there’s this monstrous collection, which’Il skyrocket the world to a kapow tribal festival, banging your box and crushing your castles with tons of volume and fistfuls of energy!