Tag Archives: Magma

Pink Floyd-The Early Years Box Set: Price Check on Aisle One!

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Okay, the Early Years box set is the big kahuna, the whole enchilada-the motherlode of early Pink Floyd/Syd Barrett that fans have been waiting for…waiting so long that many have actually forgotten they were waiting for it in reality. But people were fairly ecstatic that a huge and I mean huge amount of Pink Floyd rarities were seeing the light of day finally. But then…people got a look at the proposed price, one of the eye poppingly highest price tags in the history of rock releases. And everyone drew a long breath. Does this thing have nuggets to tempt even the most jaded Pink Floyd aficionado? Hell yes. Does the content (27 discs) come up equal to the price? (pre release list price- $699.00, Amazon pre-order price $571.36 at the time of this writing). Well lets do the math. 571 divided by 27 is twenty one and change per disc. For a single CD, that’s a pretty hefty entrance fee. But multi disc sets usually discount pretty heavily. Most double CDs clock in at around $19.99. Triple CDs average $25. See there is an industry prescribed sliding scale for multi disc sets. But over twenty one dollars per disc for the full run of 27 discs? (actually with the DVD/BluRay duplicating each other, this is only a 19 disc set, at $36 per disc!!) Mighty strange marketing here. Are they kidding? Did they include something worth this literally obscene outlay of dosh?  Let’s look closer:

First, any Floyd head worth his salt  owns 90% of this stuff already. Vinyl and cassette in the early 80’s, CDs in the 90’s-whatever. But the list of famous bootlegs is long, and folks like the author and his close friends have owned this stuff on vinyl bootleg since 1979 ticked into 1980.

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You get the idea. There is a lot of good stuff here. Among the 10 cds, 8 blu-rays and 9 dvds are plenty of treasures. But we have already heard much of this. The legendary More Furious Madness from the Massed Gadgets of the Auximenes? Mostly here, yet not called that for some reason. Known as ‘The Man’ and ‘the Journey’, it was a 1969 concert slated to be released as a live album, but shelved for some reason. But something Floyd heads have owned for decades. The Stockholm 1967 soundboard recording with Syd Barrett? For many, this is the treasure of the box, yet it has circulated for a while on bootleg forums. 1965 recordings with original guitarist Bob Klose? Ok, that is pretty cool. The long sought after 1967 John Latham soundtrack recording done by the Syd led Floyd? Now we are getting somewhere. That takes care of CD 1 and CD 2.

1968 BBC sessions that have been heavily circulated comprise CD 3. Studio tracks readily available pad out this disc. Outtakes from More and some heavily bootlegged 1969 BBC and Amsterdam stuff comprise CD 4. The aforementioned Massed Gadgets unreleased live album takes up CD 5. 1970 BBC sessions (again, heavily bootlegged and common) make up CD 6. Zabriskie Point outtakes (these somewhat rare compared to the rest) take up CD 7. CD 8 is Meddle era 1971 with an early version of Echoes, again BBC stuff. CD 9 is a clunker-a 2016 remix of Obscured By Clouds. Why? The original is a favorite of many Floyd heads and was the opening section of the first leg of the 1972 US tour. Unnecessary. The final CD is back to BBC 1967 with Syd Barrett, some 1968 BBC stuff and the famed 1969 session they did for the moon landing.

The DVD and Blu-ray stuff is more enigmatic. First-is this set really a mixture of Blu-ray and DVD? Why? Blu-ray folks will put their noses in the air at DVDs. And DVD people will not be able to play Blu-rays. Puzzling in the extreme. (a closer look reveals that the DVDs and Blu-Ray duplicate each other-so it is really a 19 disc set, which puts this at a gagging price of over $36.00 per disc!) Yet this stuff is where most of the unreleased material resides. A compendium of exactly what is on the set can be found here.

A video of the unboxing with some close ups of the extra memorabilia is here.

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Five original facsimile picture sleeve 45s are included, as well as facsimile memorabilia (a la Who Live at Leeds lp) in a nod to the vinyl collectors (very few of who actually still spin 45s, as they are a royal pain in the ass to change every 3 minutes).

So the main underlying question remains: Is this thing worth it? Could I spend the same amount of money on something else?

So what could a budding rock aficionado get for $699? Let’s put together a comparably priced fantasy space/prog/classic rock new CD essential collection with seven hundred bucks to spend (using Amazon prices for new CDs), and see what we can come up with:

Pink Floyd -Dark Side of the Moon $7  A prism refracting white light into a rainbow on a black background

Pink Floyd – Meddle $7.50  Related image

Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother $7.00 Image result for atom heart mother

Pink Floyd -Piper at the Gates of Dawn $8.00 Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn special edition vinyl replica CD

Pink Floyd – Saucerful of Secrets $4.00 Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd – Obscured by Clouds $8.00 Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd (CD, Mar-1987, Capitol)

Pink Floyd- More $7.oo  Image result for more pink floyd

Pink Floyd – Ummagumma $16 Ummagumma by Pink Floyd (CD, Apr-1994, 2 Discs, Capitol) Remastered w/ Slipcase!

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here $9 PINK FLOYD**WISH YOU WERE HERE**CD

Pink Floyd- Animals $8 Pink Floyd - Animals (Remastered CD 2011) Brand New & Sealed

Pink Floyd -Relics $9 PINK FLOYD**RELICS (GATEFOLD/STEREO)**CD

Hawkwind-the first 8 albums in one box 11 cd  $39

Tangerine Dream- 3 cd 4 lp virgin box $11 The-Virgin-Years-1974-1978-Box-by-Tangerine-Dream-CD-Jan-2011-3-Discs

Ash Ra Tempel – Best of Private Tapes 2 cd $11 Ash Ra Tempel

Klaus Schulze – La Vie Electronique 3 cd  $20 Klaus-Schulze-La-Vie-Electronique-CD-Box-Set-NEW

Faust-Complete 5 cd $39 Product Details

Can-the Lost Tapes 3 cd $30 Can-The-Lost-Tapes-UK-IMPORT-CD-Box-Set-NEW

Ozric Tentacles-Vitamin Enhanced 6 cd $60 Vitamin Enhanced [Box] by Ozric Tentacles

Gong- the Trilogy box 3 cd $49 Gong - Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy [CD New]

Magma – Konzert Zund 12 cd $70 Kohnzert Zund

Grateful Dead-the Golden Road 1965-1973 complete 12 cd $70 The Golden Road (1965 - 1973)

Yes – The Studio Albums 1969-1987 12 cd $40 The Studio Albums 1969-1987

Frank Zappa –  Läther 3 cd $10 Läther

Sensation’s Fix-Music is Painting in the Air 1974-1977 $12 Music Is Painting In The Air (1974 - 1977)

Genesis-Archive 4 cd $57 Genesis Archive, Vol. 1: 1967-1975

King Crimson-21st Century Guide to King Crimson 4 cd $45 21st Century Guide to King Crimson 1: 1969-1974

Okay let’s stop there and figure out what we got with that haul. 16 bands. 25 releases. 95 cds. Roughly six hundred bucks. This would keep anyone pretty busy for….what, a year at least?

In the end, this box isn’t really universally the “unheard” motherlode it appears to be, but is coming from a similar place as Frank Zappa’s Beat the Boots box set, where Frank reissued some of the most important Zappa bootlegs in their original covers. What were they gonna do-sue him? So I hope this last part gives a bit of perspective on where your six hundred dollars could be spent otherwise. If this was at a more reasonable $15 per disc, it would be $285.00 for the box. This begs the larger question: “WHERE DID THE OTHER $400.00 GO? This might be where one could say ‘Can someone charge a record company with fraud?” and actually mean it. A box set that is priced $400 over what it should roll out at is……..friggin’ criminal.

And perhaps, in the spirit of the bootleg origins of most of the material on this Floyd box, and the spirit of the truly ironic, many of us will wait and…you know….see if it will show up somewhere sketchy for download instead? Shhhhhh…

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C’mon, SEVEN HUNDRED bucks for a fucking CD box? Really?

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Update: Warning-Caveat Emptor
Even at $400, this is still overpriced for what you get. On paper, the 10 cd audio content is tantalizing. In reality, the tendency to screw up remixes in sonic quality (which has become a trend lately) hits this package squarely on the nose, and bloodies up the whole thing. Huge clanging treble issues render much of the audio borderline unlistenable. In many songs, cymbals crash with a harshness that cymbals just aren’t supposed to sound like. The Obscured By Clouds disc suffers heavily from a harsh, unnatural and digital sounding mix that makes this particular disc something no one needs. If one is only going to listen to this on mp3 on their computer, perhaps some of the sonic problems would be less noticeable. Can’t say I know of anyone ready to dish out $400-$500 for mp3s though.
More specifically in the complaint department, why some of the BBC stuff I have owned on cassette since the 80’s is superior in sound quality to what shows up here is dumbfounding. It is like the research department spent zero time tracking down better versions that are readily found in the bootleg field.

Pet peeves:
Where is Let’s Roll Another One instead of Candy and a Currant Bun? My friends and I have had this for decades, and they didn’t bother to look for a version of it? Mixing out the chipmunk vocals on Scream Thy Last Scream? To what end I’d ask? The  1967 Advision sessions not included (which had Lets Roll Another One). Remixed Vegetable Man instead of the original mix. Stockholm live 1967. Sigh-vocals from the show are not up in the mix. Nothing to do about that as it was a product of the show at the time, but still, this holy grail bit is slightly underwhelming. In the Beechwoods, something discussed for years as one of the unheard Floyd masterpieces is an intriguing and out of character sounding instrumental, decent quality-is missing the vocal melody, an unfinished eye opener of sorts.
So, 8 of the video discs duplicate each other, the Obscured disc is a listen once throw away, leaving us 18 real discs at a minimum of $400 at this date (12/10/16)—still over twenty dollars per disc. The vinyl 45s suffer from a similar over equalization towards a harsher high end. Throw in defective BluRays that most everybody got and now have to exchange, and you have a product that is nowhere near even a $300 price point.
Some good stuff in there, to be sure, but dodgy sound on more of the live stuff than I expected, overly ‘high end heavy’ equalization yielding harsh treble across so many songs? Peeved. In the end, although this seemed to be the Floyd dream, it’s really not worth a huge financial outlay by a longshot. Fortunately, a friend kicked down to buy one, giving many a chance to hear the great, the good and the disappointing together. Try the $12 two cd condensed version of it first to give it a test run for the sound would be my advice. Separate sets are coming after the New Year to give the subsets of this more manageable release.

 

“There Is No Prog, There Is Only Zeuhl”-The Best Bands You’ve Never Heard of Redux: Unraveling Magma

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Magma. Just the word itself is intimidating. Part rock, part liquid, thousands of degrees in temperature. It can be easily outrun but is able to eat whole roads and towns. It can light the ocean on fire. Not a bad band name for what that can conjure up. And honestly, some of that is not a bad reference point. The fact that this band is so unknown 45 years into their career is criminal, as they are as groundbreaking as any of the legendary rock bands of the sixties. In a continuing series of ‘the best bands you have never heard of’, the monumental French band Magma is next up for unraveling.

When I first encountered Magma in freshman year of college, I was thoroughly intimidated. I was beginning to be drawn to weird bands-Genesis, Yes and King Crimson first, then Gong, Van der Graaf Generator and Hawkwind later. My main source for these bands was the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, a late 70’s publication by Harmony (and highly recommended)

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This book was my best friend and my bible when I was seventeen. I devoured it from cover to cover voraciously. It taught me the wonders of many strange things: Hawkwind, Gong, Gryphon, Can, Henry Cow, Kraftwerk, Mike Oldfield, Caravan, Soft Machine, Amon Duul II, Gentle Giant, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis-a whole world of European rock music that was decidedly strange and were offshoots into territory unlike anything I had ever heard of, some quite unlike rock at all. For a boy weaned on Blue Oyster Cult, Kiss, Boston, Yes, Rush and Derringer, this was mighty unfamiliar territory. One band stood out from the rest: Magma. According to the Encyclopedia, Magma was an early 70’s French progressive band that had essentially created their own form of music. They had planned a ten lp cycle describing colonists in space returning to earth and being viewed as alien conquerors that was to be called Theusz Hamtaahk. To further muddy the waters, the band (or more correctly founder Christian Vander) had created a brand new language to accompany this decidedly weird weltanschauung. The much maligned Rolling Stone Record Guide took Magma to task with one star reviews and described them as “Deep Purple undergoing a bout of colitis’. In retrospect, a more accurate smartass review would be closer to “Electric Flag and Coltrane attend a mid 1930’s Nuremburg rally”.  The language the band speaks, (all of the songs are sung in it), and have given themselves new names in, is called Kobaian. It has a decidedly Germanic guttural feel to it, alien and threatening. Horns and chanting are predominant, and although there is guitar, it lives mostly in the background. Drums and bass (sometimes two bassists) are essentially the lead instruments.

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I ventured into my college town to see if I could locate any Magma albums. I received either blank stares or astonished  splutters- a wee 17 year old chap asking for Magma albums? I located Attahk (a good place to start)  in a cutout bin of a tiny record shop and brought it home. The first thing I noticed was the names of the band members: Klötz Zaspïaahk, Stündëhr, Dë Wëlëss, Kahal Negümüraaht,  Stöht Ürgon, Wurd Gorgo…decidedly strange. Then the band member photos: each one was a skull x-ray. This was definitely a band cut from different cloth. Even their logo was mystically strange and compelling. Magma Live on the Tomato label was the only thing left in print in America (and is another great starting point for newcomers) was put on special order at another store, and took about six months to materialize. This double album, recorded live in France, captures Magma at the height of their powers in mid 1975. Vocalist Klaus Blasquiz wails away in falsetto Kobaian, Janick Top (the only co-composer in the history of the band) frenetically erupts on bass, while from behind the kit, Christian Vander intones some pretty heavy bass chanting to keep the gravitas solid. Here is a snippet of mid 70s Magma, with Klaus as lead vocalist, from their masterpiece Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh:

I became the only Magma fiend in my circle of friends and slowly accumulated all of their LPs in a five year period. Then, the more difficult task of acquiring the CDs came next. Emissaries were sent to Paris to nail down some essential and elusive titles. (As an aside-my second trip to the UK,  I spotted a Mini with a three foot Magma logo painted on the drivers door. I instantly set off in hot pursuit on foot chasing the car, but it eluded me at the second light. What I would have actually done had I caught the car was not really thought out. In the late 70’s, there was a rumor that an article in Playboy said that the headquarters of the US Magma fan club was located at UMass. In the early 80’s, I got off on the wrong floor in Sylvan, and as the elevator doors opened, I was greeted with a seven foot tall Magma logo. Holy shit! It was true!)

The years went on, and Magma remained mostly a European and French area gigging band. The band went through many lineup changes (over 50 by the late 90’s) and had some influential personages float through the band- Pierre Moerlen (Gong), Francis Moze (Gong),  Patrick Gauthier (Heldon), Daniel Denis (Univers Zero), Brian Godding (UK sessions, Kevin Coyne), Sometimes there were horns, sometimes no horns. Sometimes a powerful guitarist (Claude Olmos) and sometimes no guitar at all (Attahk, Udu Wudu). But through it all, they still maintained a fairly consistent and iconoclastic sound, easily identifiable. Below is a segment from 2005 that shows that 35 years into their career, the band can still bend reality and dimensions:

The band returned to the States in 2003 for Nearfest prog festival, and some sporadic shows exposed them to a new audience. I trekked down to Brooklyn in 2007 to a small low ceilinged club. Three female vocalists chanted ancient Kobaian hymns in perfect harmony, crystalline voices supported by the superb drumming of Vander. Part Elvin Jones, part teutonic ritual rhythms-the low ceiling seemed to lift to cathedral heights. My friend said “I get it! This is like opera as rock n roll.” She was exactly right-Magma’s music is a fusion of opera, rock, jazz, classical and a touch of the unknown. No band can touch so many points in one evening. And like German opera, you don’t need to know what they’re saying to enjoy it (there is no Rosetta Stone for Kobaian). In addition, Magma can also conjure up some moments that are very hard to describe-drums and incantations are chanted creating some very large group hallucinatory experience. Rock? Jazz? It’s truly difficult to pin down.

I gathered up a small posse to see them on a short US tour this year (2015). The band delivered two hours of magic-Kohntakorsz, Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh (all forty minutes of it) and Slag Tanz comprised the set. Zombies was the encore. It was a completely devastating and powerful performance, and the packed house was silently stunned at the end. After the show, I watched folks trek upstairs to the backstage room. I took a chance and followed a group of Parisian musicians who were friends with the band and latched on to them into the room. Waiting patiently until they were done, I spoke in halting French to Christian Vander. He was a genuine presence in the room, like Hendrix or Townshend, this guy had created works of music so singularly unique and powerful that I was a bit in awe. He was affable and friendly, signed a CD, graciously listened to my terrible French, and gave me a huge hug. I have never experienced anything in my life like a Magma show. It transcends just a concert into some weird uncharted territory.

In the long run, Magma is so much more than a band. It is closer to a pre Christian pagan ritual-flames reach to the stars, drums thunder polyrhythms that induce trance like states and reality melts away. What is revealed is some inner truth. Part dark, part light but the world is stripped bare for all to see: Zeuhl (which supposedly means celestial in Kobaian) is at the core and pervades all. Much like the Egyptian philosophical idea of “as above, so below”, Magma’s music mirrors the vastness of a universe little understood by humanity, and throws it into the blender of human frailty and the horrors of human cruelty. Somewhere in there lies the superman, ubermensch, that flows through Teutonic mythologies, an ability to synthesize the elements and rise above it all. For all its militaristic underpinnings, Magma is essentially a spiritual release for the human soul, pretty heady stuff for a prog rock band. Their success depends on how far you are willing to immerse yourself into this world and surrender. Let the Kobaian language flow over and through you, let the magical rhythmic pulses of days gone by produce an altered state of reality. Then? You might be able to see over the edge, and glimpse another plane of existence. That is something no band in the history of rock music has been capable of doing at such a level. And the fact that in 2015, they are still capable of doing this live in concert is a testament to an unrecognized musical genius. Christian Vander says he doesn’t really compose so much as go into trances and let the music flow through him. This statement I do believe, for the musical output of Magma is truly otherworldly. Do yourself a favor, and take a dip into another dimension. No rock band can do that anymore.

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. (technically just ‘Cardiacs’ for those in the know).  Too decidedly ‘British’ for most ears on this side of the pond,  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, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, 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, Northern Soul, 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.

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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. (Update 2016: the Seaside cassette is currently on sale from the band in its original form as a 2lp vinyl version, a cd version, and a deluxe version of LP, CD, cassette and raft of memorabilia in a box. Get it now, it won’t last.) 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 as 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…

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 worldly 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.

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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.

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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.