Queen in 2014, Whatever Would Freddie Have Thought?

Treading on graves is risky business. You may find yourself either stoned by an outraged populace for heretical grave desecration, you may fall into a deeply dug hole that you can’t extricate yourself from. Hence: Queen. Queen has hit the road again for the first time since the Paul Rodgers led version that toured from 2005-2009. A notably gruff voiced singer, the former singer for Bad Company and Free was the antithesis of the operatic Freddie Mercury. (not quite Harvey Fierstein, but you get the idea…) Vocal limitations meant some important songs had to either be reworked or omitted altogether. Results of the collaboration were uneven, and fans were split on whether or not it was actually ‘Queen’. Most fell in the camp of “it’s not Queen”.

Now this year brings us another version of Queen, but more suited for the real old school Queen fan. Adam Lambert, runner up American Idol finalist in 2009 has been handed the golden microphone on a tour that started in June of this year. He had done a short tour of Europe, but this is the first major tour for the newly revamped line up. But why would anyone want to slip into the shoes of literally the most iconic vocalist in the history of rock n roll? His mere presence in the conversation instantly polarized the Queen camp into the curious and supportive vs. the ‘desecrating the legend’ folks. History has shown us that new vocalists in well established bands have a difficult row to hoe. Many hard core fans instantly reject any revamped band while the lead singer is still available elsewhere. The ‘Ripper’ Owens, a tribute vocalist in Judas Priest (which spawned the film Rock Star) while Rob Halford was away, Journey with another tribute singer fronting them to replace Steve Perry, Yes now on their second replacement singer (both from tribute bands) depping for Jon Anderson… but in this case, the lead singer isn’t available. (Mercury passed away in November 1991). After witnessing Queen this week in Boston, it is clear that this collaboration is a totally different animal. Lambert has grasped the reins of the nearly dormant Queen carcass and thrust them once more into the limelight. A difficult job indeed, especially considering the low level of respect that American Idol commands in the real music world. Fans were curious, would this actually work?

From the opening lines of ‘Now I’m Here’ from 1975’s monumental but relatively unknown Sheer Heart Attack, it was clear that this guy had the chops to hang with the material. Hints of Lambert’s near operatic range rang through loud and clear. Stone Cold Crazy, from the same album, followed quickly. Brian May has lost a step or two in the intervening 39 years since writing this barn burner, but accounted himself pretty well throughout the whole show. His lengthy guitar solo spot before Tie Your Mother Down was heavy on echo and distortion and light on actual guitar skills, and could not muster much of the echo tinged magic of his Brighton Rock meltdowns. But he also reproduced a nice David Gilmour influenced instrumental improvisation that was accompanied by laser like effects that filled the arena, mesmerizing the crowd in a syncretic Floyd-like moment.

Song choices were designed to please all Queen fans, from the die hards to the MTV generation-Seven Seas of Rhye, the extremely difficult to sing Killer Queen and In the  Lap of the Gods were delivered with frightening accuracy. In the latter song, Lambert looked directly at the crowd as he sang the lines Mercury penned nearly 40 years ago:

“I can see what you want me to be, But I’m no fool”

Delivered without a hint of irony, you could tell he was well aware of the sacred territory he is treading on, and that no amount of wishcraft can obscure the fact that this lineup straddles the line between tribute band and real band. (Bassist John Deacon has not been heard from in over 15 years). From here Lambert grabbed control, mugging and camping furiously, endeavoring to show that he is perhaps the most openly gay performer in rock. (Aside: when I was in high school, my mother noticed a new Queen poster over my bed. “they are gay” she opined. I was stunned! Just because they dress in satin and feather boas, wear make up, have a logo font that seems to spell out Queer when looked at right and have a song called My Fairy King doesn’t mean they are gay! Right? Jeez…)

 

One of the most unexpected genuine moments came on a Freddie Mercury solo song, Love Kills. The band gathered around a small drum kit on the walkway into the crowd, and played a revamped version of a spotty song and turned it into one of the most heartfelt songs of the night. It was the first time where Queen faced off as equals, the feeling of being an actual real band, not a re-creation of past glories. Another highlight was Under Pressure, where Taylor took on Bowie’s part (two guys who aren’t actually on the original doing a pretty smashing vocal job too)

Other quibbles were the inclusion of the mildly talented son of drummer Roger Taylor on the skins for a couple of tunes and a drum battle solo. The progeny on stage phenomenon is viewed by some as endearing, but many others see this as a cringeworthy admission of surrender not unlike sweatpants in public. (See: Tangerine Dream, Van Halen, Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe as guilty of bringing their kids into the band). While this is fun for dad, it’s not necessarily what the crowd has paid to see.

I was not a fan of latter day Queen, when the magic had all but dried up, and when songs like Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Radio Ga Ga, These Are the Days of Our Lives and even Another One Bites the Dust ruled the airwaves, I had bailed. In concert, though, these were major crowd pleasers, getting the parents of the Idol kids up and dancing along. (Don’t Stop Me Now and The Show Must Go On have been dropped from the set-after 4 and 19 shows respectively)

The show ended with a joyously uproarious Bohemian Rhapsody, and the one two punch of We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions, with Lambert sporting a regal crown. The crowd went fairly mental chanting and stomping along. A fitting end to a fantastic evening. But was it Queen?

Overall, it was an evening of spectacle and remembrance, honoring the creator of some of the most memorable songs in rock history, while passing the torch to a vocalist of the next generation. Within all of the effusive praise Lambert has rightfully garnered, it should be remembered that while Mercury was in the band, he was often pounding out some fairly complicated piano lines while delivering his jaw dropping vocal histrionics. This is an important point to note-Freddie Mercury was a singular talent, never to be seen again. His underrated talent in lyrics, the ability to weave myth, magic and a strongly innate literate sense into a seamless coherent whole was a huge part of the early career of the band, and was only surpassed by his beyond genius ability to use his voice as multiple instruments. It took six musicians (two partially hidden behind a curtained area) to pull off what Queen used to do as a quartet. This is what Freddie could accomplish. No slight to Adam Lambert, but there is more to the tale than just knocking the vocals out of the park.

So what would Freddie have thought? After what I had seen this week, I am fairly certain that I can picture a large buck toothed smile, a head tossed back, and the glorious laughter of delight. Freddie would be beyond pleased with what his legacy hath wrought. Go see for yourselves kids, you need to. Australia is up next.

 

The Best Band You Have Never Heard Of: Unraveling the Cardiacs

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If there is one band that needs translating for Americans, it is the Cardiacs. Too decidedly ‘British’ for most ears on this side of the pond, the Cardiacs are hands down one of the best but most unknown bands for most music fans in America– that they deserve large accolades for a career of unending achievement, creativity and downright absurdity is a huge understatement. Sounding like a an unholy mating of Gentle Giant, Madness, Frank Zappa, Van der Graaf Generator, Marillion, The Stranglers, Devo, the Damned and King Crimson, the Cardiacs created their own mythology and ran with it. Ran far.  Stir in with their self created mythology a theatrical stage show, make up and costumes, heart stopping rhythms, and a whimsical carnival atmosphere and you begin to get close to the edge of their peculiar brand of madness.

The band had its origins in 1977 as Cardiac Arrest, a punky and choppy rhythmed burst of maniacal energy. Founding brothers Tim and Jim Smith were the mainstays. Tim wrote nearly all of the music and lyrics, diabolically complex on both fronts. (sometimes surpassing Frank Zappa’s level of genius in composition). But it wasn’t until the arrival in 1983 of the gifted William Drake on keyboards that the classic lineup of the band took form. With Tim on lead guitar and lead vocals, brother Jim on bass and vocals, William on keyboards, Sarah Cutts (later Smith) on saxophone, Tim Quy on percussion and Dominic Luckman on drums the band took on a new life. Gone were the rougher punk edges, arrangements became more musically spastic, and the insanity quotient was upped considerably.

At first they had a decidedly limited appeal, mainly because they were so utterly unclassifiable. In the early to mid 80’s, bands in the UK were sorted into nice little slots-punk, metal, ska, pop, the occasional anorak progger, but these guys defied description. They were dubbed early on as ‘pronk’, a hybrid of prog and punk, and were the sole member of this unique genre.

coonssultant consultant

They dropped the Arrest in 1981 and became just ‘Cardiacs’, with the self released cassette Toy World showing their pronk style starting to really flower. But by 1983, the pieces were in place to conquer… not the world exactly but pieces of London one step at a time. Their stage show was a maelstrom of uninterrupted madness. Well, sometimes interrupted. Their label, the Alphabet Business Concern (their own creation) sent in a semi fictional ‘suit’ to keep the band in line-The Consultant. Accompanied by his secretary Miss Swift, The Consultant would show up in the middle of a concert to berate band members and generally complain about the band’s lack of commercial appeal and slovenly make up jobs and costumes. Brother Jim was a frequent target for abuse from The Consultant and Tim as well, coming in for a good dressing down at least once a show. Occasionally Jim would burst into tears as a result of the torrent of abuse. What the hell was going on here? Is this real? Is it theater? Audience members not clued in were extremely puzzled and sometimes annoyed at the intrusions during the set by these management types. Others recognized the Dada approach the band had woven so seamlessly into a ‘rock show’. Issues were further clouded when Sarah married Tim. With the last name Smith, she and Tim announced they were brother and sister. Then would make out furiously in front of the startled press corps when interviewed.  Their image in the UK was one of ‘what the hell is going on with these guys?’ on every level, with incest now added to the equation. A late 1984 slot opening for Marillion was met with regular peltings with thrown objects and beer. Apparently their appeal was a bit selective, though Marillion were huge fans.

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My personal favorite is the 1984 self released cassette, The Seaside. Whimsical and unsettling, like being dosed on a merry go round without being told, most of their core tunes are here. Gina Lollabridgida, R.E.S., Nurses Whispering Verses, Gibber and Twitch (that one sums their whole ethos in one tune), A Little Man and a House, and their eventual lone hit, Is This the Life? This is the one to start with, and is the single best encapsulation of their unique sound. I could listen to this album every day for the rest of my life, risking a stoning from anyone in earshot. Try to find the cassette version if possible, as the CD reissue omits 4 key songs. Their first vinyl releases were the Big Ship EP and a rough live album, The Rude Bootleg in 1986. Both are hard to find, but contain strong examples of what they could accomplish in studio and on stage. Jazz, ska, punk, prog rock and music hall stylings collide, usually in the same song. Their first release proper came in 1988 with A Little Man, a House and the Whole World Window. It featured some rerecorded versions of the key songs from The Seaside cassette, and is considered their most famous album. It contains their only single to chart, a blast of un-Cardiac like pop in the vein of the Cure, Is This The Life?

The band began to fracture in 1989 with the departure of of saxophonist Smith. She was replaced by Christian ‘Bic’ Hayes, a guitarist of some renown. Tim Quy left in 1990. The loss of the sax and tuned percussionist altered the band sound significantly. Nevertheless, Tim and Jim soldiered on, until in 1992 their new label Rough Trade folded during the pre release of Heaven Born and Ever Bright, putting the band in significant debt. The future looked dim.

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But the band had some tricks up their sleeve still. 1995’s sprawling double album, Sing to God is considered by some fans to be their finest hour. It certainly is the strongest release of their 90’s era, and contains some classic songs-“Dog Like Sparky”, “Eat It Up Worms Hero” and others resonated with the power of their early 80’s work, deflating the opinion that the band was past its prime. The line up changes continued until the band settled down as a quartet. Guns, released in 1999 was their last studio album proper. A tad more commercial than anything previously released, it still retained the original imprint of the bands trademark sound. The band toured intermittently until 2007.

After releasing a single in 2007, things were picking up. But in 2008 disaster struck. After getting off a bus, Tim Smith was mugged by an assailant. During the mugging, Tim had a heart attack. The aghast mugger called for help on Tim’s phone before departing, likely saving his life. At hospital, Tim had a stroke, further worsening his condition. The long rehab process restored Tim’s mind, but sadly his body has not yet responded. At this point he is immobile and unable to play.

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My first exposure to the band was at the 1984 Stonehenge Free Festival. I had flown over to England with my roommate to witness the starship Hawkwind in all their mighty glory, having given up all hope that they would ever come back to America. After a lengthy Hawkwind set the first night of arrival, the wee hours of the morning beckoned. Taking to the main stage at about 2 am were a band unknown to me. Looking like a twisted Eddie Munster, the leader of the band gyrated, ranted and chanted his way through utter musical insanity. ( a comment heard on site said “this is like that choppy shit your RIO friend likes so much-Art Zoyd, Univers Zero, Zamla Mammaz Manna). And choppy shit it was! Childish poems interrupted songs. “I stepped on a worm and I didn’t care, I picked it up and I said there there”. Saxophones, synth and guitars clashed in what seemed to be almost musical chaos, yet a thread of continuity wove the stops and starts together in some form of recognizable tune. Throughout it all, a repeating mantra was chanted, with every line ending in “but that’s the way we all go…” I was stunned at the end of their show. What the hell had I just witnessed? Were they fighting onstage? Why were they dressed like acid damaged ghouls? Did I even like what I had just seen? So I filed them away. Unfortunately I hadn’t quite caught the band name. Cardi-actors was what I thought someone say. But they had planted a seed in me, waiting for the right time to burst. The line ‘that’s the way we all go’ stuck with me somehow.

I continued to try to find out who I had seen, but clues were few in the pre internet days. A vague space rock influenced band called Levitation on Capitol Records crossed my path in 1992, and someone seemed to know a bit about them and said one of their members was from the Cardiacs. Aha! That was it! I now had the name of the band that had tattooed my brain so permanently and succinctly in 1984. But a search for any of their music in any store in the New England area was fruitless. Fast forward to this past year: I had the privilege of attending several My Bloody Valentine shows with backstage passes to all shows. My Magma shirt caught the attention of one of their guitar techs. We had a long chin wag about that bizarre band, Hawkwind and festival life in the 80’s UK. As a parting remark, I asked if he knew of the band the Cardiacs. He paused, rushed over to hug me, pointed to his older guitar tech partner and said “that is Bic, former guitarist of the Cardiacs, my mate and also one of my all time favorite bands in the world!!” Needless to say, we became fast friends as he had never encountered a Yank who had heard of them, never mind actually seen them. His enthusiasm was a catalyst to make me seek out their music.  I finally located most of their long out of print CDs (their albums can go for over 75 bucks on eBay) and started to infect my friends. Their reactions vacillated between consternation and delight when exposed to them. One comment from a first time listener: “their songs are like treasure maps, how do they find their way back to the starting point?” But a three decade long search was finally completed. The seed planted so long ago had bloomed in a spectacular fashion.

In retrospect, the Cardiacs approach updates the Kinks on The Village Green Preservation Society-preserving the long tradition of British Music Hall sounds that rang through every UK generation since World War 1, a sound very peculiar to American ears, but familiar to pretty much every single person in Blighty.

Few bands in my life have had to power to make me openly weep for sheer joy at hearing such music. They can do this to me regularly. To borrow a phrase, this is truly a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. A band this talented and inventive and nobody in America knows about them? Go out and fix that folks!

A final spin around the block with Gina Lollabridgida…

A New Velvet Underground Album We Haven’t Heard? The Scepter Studio Sessions

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It is a rare day in the 21st century when a “lost’ rock album pops up out of nowhere, unheard of up until that point. Sure, some eye opening lost tracks can pop up here and there (see the recent Led Zeppelin reissues), but it is fairly unheard of for a whole album to come to the attention of the world with no notice. Even more remarkably, it is even rarer for a band as heavily chronicled as the Velvet Underground. The story of this album defies credulity, but is heavily documented as true.

The basic facts: In 2002 a record collector found an acetate pressing at a Chelsea garage flea market in New York City. He purchased it for 75 cents. Getting it home, the buyer realized he had found something quite unprecedented. It was a copy of the first Velvet Underground album, yet not. Marked as Scepter Studios Sessions, 4-25-66, it predated the recording of their debut album by a month. What was contained within was a session recorded as a test pressing by engineer Norman Dolph at Scepter Studios in New York at Andy Warhol’s behest(reportedly paying with a painting). Warhol wanted a clear demonstration of what his new charges were capable of in the sonic mayhem category. (Also perhaps to let prospective labels know what they were in for by signing this distinctly non-hippie methedrine soaked proto punk collective). The band were rejected by Atlantic, Columbia and Elektra before the small independent label Verve picked it up. Verve were also the home for the west coast miscreants, the equally uncommercial Mothers of Invention since early 1966.

The acetate languished for a while. Acetates are not like the average test pressing. They are notoriously fragile, and are only good for 20 or so playings before they begin to deteriorate. So there is a short window to decide if one has found a treasure or not. A quick playing ensured the buyer and friends that this was a unique piece of rock history. So he did what most Americans of the 21st century would do-he put it on eBay. Initial auction bids ran up to and over a startling $150,000, but cooler heads prevailed and it was relisted after none of the bidders showed up to pay (wine induced drunk eBaying at its finest). It finally sold in 2006 for a still extravagant $25,200.

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But getting back to the tale, this Velvets album was markedly different that the debut ‘banana cover’ version. Four of the nine tracks are different versions: (I’m) Waiting for the Man, Venus in Furs, All Tomorrow’s Parties and European Son are completely different takes. The other five songs are different mixes, some with differing vocal takes than on the final album, but much of the instrumental background is either identical or a different mix of the same take. European Son is worth the price of admission alone. It bristles with amphetamine anarchy and careens out of control nicely, and at 9:02 has an extra 1:15 of sonic guitar destruction. There is a crispness and spaciousness to the spartan mix on the whole album that strips some of the production away from its denser final version. A very high fidelity and appealing snapshot of the early 1966 peak of the Nico version of the band is what is contained in the nine tracks. Universal Records did a fantastic job once they had their hands on it in cleaning it up. Skips, pops and some areas of general acetate degradation were slickly removed, giving this album a very high quality sound.

Although somewhat known on the bootleg scene, not many had any inkling of this albums existence when it was quietly released on Record Store Day in November 2012.  It was released in a replica of the acetate’s original sleeve, and in a vinyl only format. Many at the time assumed it was yet another cash in of Velvets material. Many lo fi cassette bootlegs had come out in the past 20 years and been presented as expensive archival CD box sets, so folks assumed it was yet more unlistenable outtakes saved by some fan. This had flown under my radar, and I thought it was more dross for the cash cow to feed on. But thank god the guy that bought this sucker for 75 cents had the wisdom to get it out there for us to appreciate, and not hoard it for his own, never to be seen again. Any Velvet Underground fan that does not have this needs to run out immediately, acquire a turntable, and put this into heavy rotation. You will find it might stay on your turntable for a while.

And All the Grownups Will Say, “But Why Are the Kids Crying?’ And the Kids Will Say, ‘Haven’t You Heard? Rick is Dead! The People’s Poet is Dead!”

rik britain rik mayall peoples poet

Rk Mayall passed away yesterday. Not many in America are familiar with him, except for those who were weaned on The Young Ones. I was one of the lucky ones to get clued in early on his work. My first trip to the UK, I had the good fortune to see him in person. In the comic tent of Glastonbury Festival, I prodded my way through the dark and beer soaked muck to see a bit of Rik Mayall’s insane amphetamine stand up. I had only just become aware of him that week as well. I was staying with my roommates friends, and watched what turned out to be the final ever episode of the Young Ones as it aired live. With references to Marillion and Hawkwind, I was fascinated that British TV could reference such obscure ( in America) and cool bands. But it was the humor of the ensemble, which bordered on surrealism, that was the draw. A fading ladies man, a hippie, a metal head and a pseudo punk activist were four college kids living in squalor and poverty. Hilarity ensued. The show was repeated in America on MTV in 1985, and later in the 90’s on Comedy Central.

He also had a stint on Black Adder, with an appearance in the first season as Mad Gerald (with an uncanny resemblance to Hawkwind’s Harvey Bainbridge), and later as the sexually explosive Lord Flashheart. His work with Ade Edmondson (Vyv from the Young Ones) in Bottom continued to push the boundaries of uncomfortable humor. (Sadly this show is little known in America). But it was as the punker Rick, the People’s Poet, that Mayall made his mark on the world.

Mayall’s character, Rick, was the was the punk with the overactive social conscience and a hyperactive need to be liked. Oblivious of his flatmates general disdain for him, Rick plowed through life energetically alienating everyone he encountered, but in a fashion that was uniquely annoying. World’s biggest bottom burp? Rick, Britain. The title of this article comes from one of his most famous quotes on The Young Ones, when he asserts to his flatmates that he will one day be remembered as the voice of the people. And for a while? He was exactly that.

 

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More of his interplay with the full cast of the Young Ones should be looked up immediately on Youtube, if you have not seen him work. Now. Because the children are actually crying. The People’s Poet is actually dead.

I will leave you with a quick youtube clip of his Young One antics. I will be opening a lager for you later, Rik:

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Page, Plant and the Proposed Led Zeppelin Reunion- Don’t Put Another Dime in That Jukebox, I Don’t Want to Hear That Song No More?

 

 

Today, Robert Plant fired back at an itchy Jimmy Page regarding the proposed 2014 Led Zeppelin reunion for 2014. Page reportedly said that he was “fed up” with Plant back stepping from his tacit agreement to do a Zeppelin tour this summer, a tour that would be THE blockbuster summer tour of the decade-hell, the millennium. Folks would climb out from under rocks and don their tattered Van Halen 81 tour shirts to throw the mega parking lot party of the century for this. But rather than showing any enthusiasm, we get this: “I think he needs to go to sleep and have a good rest, and think again,” Plant said. “We have a great history together and like all brothers, we have these moments where we don’t speak on the same page but that’s life.”  This sounds like someone who has been badgered towards a situation they had not shown any interest in. But is this actually true?

Far from it. In 2013, Robert Plant went on 60 minutes and uttered the following statement on the idea of a reunion-Plant said he was waiting on his bandmates Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones in order to kick off the reunion, blaming their silence on the fact that they are Capricorns. Plant said: “They don’t say a word. They’re quite contained in their own worlds and they leave it to me. I’m not the bad guy… You need to see the Capricorns – I’ve got nothing to do in 2014.” Pretty much the only way to interpret this is that once his touring commitments of 2013 were over, the path was clear for a real tour. Well the Capricorns spoke, said they were more than ready, and threw the ball back into Robert’s corner. And Plant kicked it away like a 3rd grader throwing a tantrum on the playground. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Plant angrily declared “I’m not part of a jukebox!”

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It is beyond dispute that Plant pretty much came out and said he was ready to do a tour with Zeppelin, that much is clear. And its not like they hadn’t kicked the rust off recently, as evidenced by the 2007 O2 arena reunion. The band can be heard and seen on the blistering Celebration Day album and DVD.  There is a joy in the performance and power in the music that still sends chills up and down the spine repeatedly. Plant’s vocal powers were undiminished by the decades that separated this incarnation from the source material. The band was a dangerous machine, not just firing on all cylinders, but sometimes infused by a magickal catalyst that took them beyond what anyone would logically expect of them. After the show, the band was raring to go, but Plant hemmed and hawed about a tour, while the band stayed together as a trio for a full year, waiting for Robert to ‘figure it out’. They finally enlisted Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame, but cooler heads prevailed and all involved realized that Tyler was not the answer.

page plant

So what’s the problem? As far as the ‘part of a jukebox’ comment goes, this completely ignores the Page/Plant reunion of 1994-1998 that spawned the eclectic arabesque reimagination of Zeppelin tunes on No Quarter and the fairly pedestrian Walking into Clarksdale four years later. Lots of Zep in their step for the late 90’s. But what about now?

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I saw Robert twice this past summer on the Sensational Space Shifters tour. He kicked ass and took names. He hit all the high notes. All of them. His voice can move mountains. And his set contained about 50% Zeppelin songs. Well that would seem to contradict the jukebox claims, as he never has stopped relying heavily on their material from day one of his solo tours. Again we are left to wonder: what really is the problem? There has to be something deeper to have caused this digging in of heels from the singer, but neither side has offered any explanation. John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Jason Bonham are ready to rock, where is Robert?

I am personally calling out Robert Plant for his disingenuous comments. Your words are your bond, and you led us to believe the zeppelin would be mooring in the States this summer. Now you seem to have forgotten? Like Emile Zola famously said of the Dreyfus case in 1898, “J’accuse…”  I will be waiting for an answer.

Jodorowky’s Dune-The Greatest Film That Was Never Made

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The recent 2013 documentary currently showing across the country, Jorodowsky’s Dune,  is a heart rending masterpiece, a tale of an almost made film that was so visionary, with echoes of power that have resonated throughout the years that followed its two year aborted production. It was a hugely funded production that finally came to an unfruitful end in 1975. As a documentary, it is engaging and takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride. But the possibilities it hints at are more tantalizing than one could ever imagine. And I can imagine a lot. Picture a confluence of the giants and legends of truly mind blowing art: HR Giger, Salvador Dali, Moebius of Metal Hurlant fame (Heavy Metal for Americans). Their work at pushing the boundaries of fine art stretched from the 1920’s to the present, and had the common trait of being considered the top of their individual fields of operation .Giger and Dali were my college roommate and my favorite visual artists at the time. We both had separately loved early Heavy Metal magazine and had collected the art of Moebius for years.  Mick Jagger, Pink Floyd and Magma? Floyd and the extremely iconoclastic Magma were definitely in my top five favorite bands in 1982 (and still are to this day). This is a short list of a group of folks that I worshipped as gods among men circa the early 80’s, and I did not elevate many to this status lightly. How word of this project’s existence has evaded me up til now is something that is beyond troubling. This was a short list of artists and musicians that I saw as uniquely talented, without any contemporaries, and influential beyond belief. Very few in my acquaintance knew all of these personages and the novel itself as essential cogs of an unspoken cosmic ascension, so this list struck me as particularly mystical. Years separated me from the 1975 production, but had I (or my roommate) known what was up with this project in 1982, I know I likely would have sold all of my wordily possessions, and flown to Paris to devote my life to this picture. Some of the art production staff did exactly that.

 

The tale of how this film developed to the point of being at pre production 100% complete, ready to film, yet did not go any further is compelling. It is a tale of magic and madness, two hallmarks or true genius. The assembling of the players is a fairly unbelievable set of syncronicities that ended up echoing through the following decades of film and rock history. No film that was never made has had such a far reaching influence on the world’s culture. What Jodorowsky wanted at the time was to create an experience that simulated a genuine LSD experience. Pretty heady goals for the most liberated artist, yet this was his spoken aim. His unspoken aim was an exponential leap of consciousness: to mirror the film and use this film to inspire a new messiah among us, someone who could lead humanity from its earthly shroud to take us all to the next level. He wanted to do something sacred, he wanted to create a virtual and also tangible mutation in someone, anyone.  Ambitious does not even begin to cover what this man’s aims were. He was thinking about changing the whole planet forever through one single film.

 

Alejandro Jodorowsky was a throwback in art, one of the last true surrealists. Partly brilliant partly insane, he was able to follow an extra terrestrial muse that spoke snippets of disconnected truths of the universe into his ears. HIs two hallucinatory films: 1970’s El Topo and  1973’s Holy Mountain make Satyricon look like a Brady Bunch episode. A riot broke out at the debut screening of his first film, Fando y Lis in 1968, a reaction and honor that two other cutting edge folks debuts also received: Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring both caused riots (in 1896 and 1913 respectively, in Paris). But it is the cast of characters he assembled, all disconnected from each other, and then convinced to be part of what he called ‘my group of spiritual warriors’, that is his greatest achievement.

 

baron harkonnen  pirate baron palace

And who would Jodorowsky grab to make his vision of a book he admittedly never read until after beginning the project(!) easily accessible? Jean Giraud, better know as Moebius. His art almost single handedly carried the first major sic fi magazine, France’s Metal Hurlant in the mid to late 70’s. Its popularity caused a relaunch the next year in America as Heavy Metal. His art is flawless, futuristic, but perfect in perspective and vision in all aspects. He banged out storyboards at a rate that amazed Jodo (his nickname during the production). The complexity of pulling a single shot out of one’s head and translating to storyboard is expansive and expensive. Their ability to not only talk out the whole film quickly and get it on paper, then include camera directions as well? That is a symbiotic relationship that any Hollywood team would openly envy. He was the rock of the production, translating the master’s visions into recognizable form, 3000 pieces of art that told the whole story, with framings, special effects and costumes incorporated. Overworked and honestly under credited  in his talented efforts, Jean Giraud  brought an artistic vision that was the foundation of people believing this thing could actually fly. Jodo said on camera “How can I find this guy? There is not internet yet…” and then walks into a meeting and accidentally runs into Moebius there doing something unrelated. Bang-magic! He is now part of the team.  This happens a couple of more times: Mick Jagger having heard rumors he was cast as Feyd Harkonnen walks through a large crowd towards Jodo at a huge cocktail party and says ‘Yes’ instantly, without anything being asked  Jodo stalks Orson Welles in Paris through his known love of restaurants, and when the robust Orson doesn’t seem interested, Jodo drops the bomb that he has hired the head chef of that very restaurant to follow Welles and cook just for him for the duration of the production. Orson was now on board as Baron Harkonnen.

hr-giger-2 hr-giger-elp

H.R. Giger was the next artistic piece of the puzzle. His work embodies horror on a level that makes some reel out of an exhibition room of his work. The Necronomicon is a perfect example of what many call a dictionary definition of the dark side of the universe. His work was best known at the time as the album cover for Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery. (He later did Debbie Harry’s Koo-Koo). The demonic forces epitomized by Giger’s design of Castle Harkonnen were frightening. (And re-used in 2012’s Prometheus)

dali        Moebius_Shaddam_IV

The tale of the acquisition of Salvador Dali as the Emperor is even better. Dali was known to be what could be termed as  ‘difficult” throughout his life, but was even more prickly in the 1970’s. This was the era when he used to term himself ‘the Divine Dali’ in public. The association of HR Giger with the film had intrigued Dali, and he tentatively agreed to play the part. However, he wanted to be the highest paid actor in the history of film. He wanted $100,000 per hour he worked. A quick meeting with the producer brought back the answer-this was just impossible. But together they came up with an ingenious solution. Calculating that Dali’s actual screen time would be under five minutes, they then went to him and offered a modified pay agreement: $100,000 per MINUTE. Apparently unable to discern what they were up to, Dali instantly agreed. Now they had some important casting pieces in place.

lear dali

Dali demanded that his muse, the androgynous and slightly scandalous Amanda Lear, be included as one of the important cast members, Princess Irulan. In an effort to please the surrealist master, everyone instantly agreed. (Amanda Lear is a whole story unto herself. To this day no one can seem to agree if she is a transsexual or woman. Her dalliances with Brian Ferry and David Bowie were tabloid fodder for years)

David Carradine swallowed a a large and expensive candy dish full of Jodorowsky’s vitamin E pills during his intake interview and won the director over with his spiritual warrior attitude. He was to be the Duke Leto. Jodorowsky had tapped his son to play Paul Atreides, and put him through two full years of martial arts and combat training, seven days a week of physical and scholastic challenges to prep for the role of the messiah.

flouyd

The musical participants were to be chosen to represent each individual planet. Tangerine Dream, Gong and Mike Oldfield were early choices, but the director wasn’t satisfied until Pink Floyd was chosen to be the sonic equivalent of House Atreides. The scene where the producer of the film and Jodorowsky retell the story of trying to get Pink Floyd on board is intercut perfectly as each contradicts the others memories. What they do agree on is that Pink Floyd was convinced by a slammed door, a last ditch impassioned speech from Alejandro “holy anger” he called it, and a viewing of Holy Mountain. The band planned a double album devoted to Dune.

magma magma group

The choice of Magma to represent the musical theme of House Harkonnen made perfect sense at the time. They were from Paris, the base of this production, and if anyone could be called spiritual warriors, it was these guys. They invented their own language, Kobaiian (named after their supposed home planet), sang exclusively in this language that only they spoke, and recorded music that fell somewhere in between John Coltrane, Electric Flag and a mid 1930’s Nuremberg party rally. Nobody on the planet would have been a better choice as the militaristic themed Harkonnens.

Sadly, Hollywood was not ready to make this 12 hour film. Too cutting edge, too hallucinogenic, too visceral, too long….the list was endless. Everyone agreed it was brilliant, but sci fi was considered B movie drive in fare, not something to invest in. Jodorowsky had arrived a couple of years too early. 1977’s Star Wars rewrote what expectations for science fiction would be. (and borrowed bits from Dune quietly to implement into the background) Funding dried up, and as props were being built and sets started construction, the plug was pulled. Two years of hard work by some of the most gifted artists was flushed. Or was it?

The legacy of this film is in several things that happened later. The blockbuster reaction that Star Wars saw made studios actually go looking for sci fi films. This enabled the most important legacy of Dune, the 1979 film Alien, become a reality. With art direction from HR Giger, and the art pair of Chris Foss and Dan O’Bannon, the whole art design and direction team from Dune were in control. It was hugely successful primarily for Giger’s nightmarish set and character designs.

attahk

Other films stole directly from specific scenes in Jodorowsky’s widely circulated storyboard book. From films inane and sublime, many films looted the source: the first Indiana Jones film, Flash Gordon and Contact all lifted exact scene devices and costume designs from Dune. But there were other collaborations as a result. In 1976 Giger did the album cover for Magma’s Attahk, another product of the associations made during the making of the film.

joro

Some of the main players have died very recently. Giger and Moebius; last month and 2012 respectively. Dan O’Bannon died in 2009. But Alejandro Jodorowsky is very much alive today at 85, and still the energetic and questioning visionary he was 40 years ago. The film ends with him staring straight into the camera, avoiding the interviewer. With a fixed stare, he glares out at you challenging his critics and challenging the viewer. “Why will you not have ambition? Try to be immortal! Do it! Try!”

I will take him up on that offer. I think my roommate and I may have unknowingly done it already three decades ago.

Going Postal at Whole Foods: My Battles With Health Food Zombies and PC Fascists

 

ImageOk, before we start here, let me be very clear upfront: I love the employees at Whole Foods and most of their food products as well. I, like many long time customers are taking a new stand: It is the customers I cannot stand, and one quick pass through the inter webs will indicate I am not the only one.

This will be a short-ish rant, but some of the inspiration outside of personal experience for this article comes from a few widely circulated rants on this topic that are easily found on the web. And they all have one theme in common: the customers at Whole Foods are some of the most entitled and objectionable humans on the planet. And completely unaware that the rest of the world sees them this way. Can this be actually true? Lets look deeper.

My actual experience with Whole Foods in our area goes even further back into history, when the location was Bread and Circus, the feed store for all of the veggie/vegan/in your face socially pretentious foodies. The kind of people who know what is good for YOU and are quite willing to let you know. Luckily I am not shy in expressing some curt verbal ripostes that inform them of their transgressions, when appropriate.

The deli is a great source of amusement as many customers are militantly vegetarian, and militantly confrontational. My close friend was the butcher there, and delighted in coming to the deli counter slathered in blood and entrails to ask many a timid and shivering vegetarian if they needed help. Their gasps at his white apron and shirt covered in Manson massacre style blood splattering was more than recompense for the relatively low pay he received. I went to the deli once and asked for a quarter pound of turkey. They weigh it out and look to see 0.27 showing on the dial and ask if that is OK. I say of course it is why wouldn’t it be? The clerk related several tales of customers in the exact situation pointing at the scale saying “That is NOT 0.25, I asked for 0.25!” I express disbelief but three different deli clerks all related similar tales of customers going ballistic at overages of as low as 1/100 of a pound. These are the folks that are considered fair game for a discerning hunter of these shopping miscreants. Instead of weapons, a skillful hunter can use quiet and calm statements, and logic to work these folks into a veritable rabid dog frothing fury. Like the guy in a recent blog who was checking out behind an insufferable overly verbal complaint machine, and suggested he go to the customer service area to vent. Not realizing the guy was trying to just get him the hell out of line, the complaint machine decided to take him up on the suggestion, and dutifully got out of line to give the service area an earful, much to the delight of everyone else in line. They quickly checked out and watched the guy completely lose his shit with glee. The check out line can really be another bottleneck of idiocy, and is worthy of an article all its own.

(Another quick aside: My only real beef with Whole Foods is their alcohol and ID policy. They refuse to sell to anyone without an ID. A woman in front of me, visibly somewhere between 70 and 200 in age, forgot her ID. She wasn’t allowed her dinner wine. They refused to let other customers buy it for her. A rare moment of unconscionable behavior on their part. But lets get back to the evidence.)

 

One year, they tried out mini shopping carts so the socially conscious shopper could bring their munchkin along to help mommy shop. Mind you, the aisles were already so thin that two carts could not pass each other. Adding tiny terrorists pushing tiny carts willy nilly just made it a maddening and nearly impossible chore to grab a few things quickly and go.

(Aside and disclaimer: I am a peaceful person, my one and only fight was in fifth grade. But I have almost gotten in 3 or 4 fights inside of Whole Foods, and with both men and women. Two of my close friends have also said the same thing. “I waited out front for this guy to settle up once” said one, while the other said, “I never talk to strangers, but I have offered to kill some of these morons right in front of their families.”) The fact that these customers can bring normally calm and peaceful people to the edge of GBH is telling.

Anyway, my companion noticed the glut of carts and mumbled under her breath “this is a great idea..”  Super Mom hears this, looks at her urchin rattling off both sides of the aisle like a crack fueled gerbil trying to escape their cage, and hustles off from the deli towards the bakery (leaving the kid behind, btw) to shriek at me “what did you say? what did you say?” Who the hell is this psycho following me? Companion reiterates that she just commented “great idea..” and nodded at the kid trying to push over a stack of canned soup with her mini cart. “They have a suggestion box up front you know!” she yelled and waggled her eyes towards the front. Many things popped to mind, but I calmly and quickly said “I suggest you go fuck yourself, don’t need a box”. Her eyes got big and her demeanor apoplectic, but like many of the PC police that frequent here, couldn’t follow through on her bluster. She turned ten shades of purple, realized her kid was off playing demolition derby in the cookie aisle, and left the scene, unfulfilled. I smiled, I felt great.

Another time I had recently broken my elbow, and was in an inflatable cast and a very visible arm sling. One would suppose that in such a tiny berthed store, a visibly wounded person would be given some leeway. But at Whole Foods? Of course not! I have seen people on crutches pushed out of the way by gluten free gorillas seeking wheat free bread, (and unable to even explain what gluten is when asked, or why they quit wheat bread for overpriced sawdust bread, or how they previously survived on gluten their whole lives without any problems.)

I try to one arm maneuver my cart through the fruit and vegetable area, the only actual open spaced area in the store. I watched a woman come perilously close, and knew she’d hit me. She naturally hit me on the point of the elbow, just where the break was. Lighting bolts of pain crossed my eyelids and I stumbled. She didn’t apologize or even notice. I go from oranges to potatoes, ten feet, and she hurtles towards me, oblivious of anyone in her path. Would she hit me again only two minutes later? Yep. This time I grunt and motion to my highly visible sling. She looks behind me as if I am invisible. I go around her, get to the end of the vegetable section, she wheels around and manages to hit my broken elbow right on the point for the THIRD time in five minutes. Paroxysms of pain ensue. Hitting my limit, I offer her the following advice “Lady, woman or not, if you hit me one more time on my BROKEN elbow, I will fucking deck you.”  She looked genuinely bewildered, clearly not having any idea as to how she could have provoked such an unexplained explosion from me.

It is this kind of obliviousness that many have spoken of as being so maddening. I watched just this month a confrontation in the entrance area between an Armani suited and preening yuppie type with similarly overdressed arm candy girl give a hellacious dressing down to a poor farmer type leaving with a couple of carriages. How a huge conflagration could develop this quickly in the damn entrance of a store encapsulates the fury that some can cause. Was it Armani or the farmer that started it? No one could tell, but they were ready to settle up right there. No other place in America has this kind of customer base. My only hope is that one of these self absorbed permanently irate folks read this, look in the mirror, and say “Oh my God! Am I an asshole?”  That would be a small victory.