Jesus Is My Girlfriend
And Jehovah is her dad. They both live in outer space. And this makes me glad. Tru Tru Vanilla Luv comes to me from heaven on high. So outward, Godward, I shall fly. Not at death, but right now, in my high frequency dream-skiff. The mansion of bliss is so many light-years away it hurts to think about it. But soon I will stand at the pearly gates of the interstellar secret family funhouse, with flowers in my hand: ultraviolets, asters, and supernova sunflowers.
The Savior from the Stars
Little green men, bighead bug-eyed aliens, shambling grunty blob-things, vast insectoid invaders, robot monsters, clouds of sentient slime, cute TV Martians and sexy Venusian bimbos: I love them all. But they’ve got nothing on the real outer space salvific invader - that’s Mr. Hyper-Virgin, my warp-drive Lord and Savior. “Heaven,” he tells me in his lisping whisper, “is not up there - it’s out there.”
Head of Christ
He’s a pretty strawberry bland, just like a shampoo ad, asking “has your hair been washed in the blood of the lamb?” A billion satisfied customers sing his praises. A billion fans can’t be wrong: he’s everywhere. No picture of Jesus comes near the popularity of Warner Sallman’s 1940 masterpiece. Fair-haired - of course. Blue-eyed - of course. Always glowing and warm, always with that far-away look in his dreamboat eyes. He’s a rose, ere blooming: amber and summery gold, with warm sepias and a rosy glow. Hanging on endless walls, he’s our church-house hunting trophy, except nobody shot this Jesus. He’s got no horns, looking a lot more like a sad-eyed doe than a wild-eyed buck.
The Stolen Bride
But how can Jesus be a girl if he’s the Son of God? Better question: how can Jesus be a prissy white man with gorgeous hair and Hollywood glamor-girl backlighting? Some call it a miracle - the real transfiguration. Heretics and infidels call it theft, saying that Warner Sallman secretly extracted the Head of Christ from an earlier painting called “Friend of the Humble” by Leon Lhermitte. The resemblance is amazing, but that just adds luster to the self-creative miracle. Girl - boy - god - man - cinema star - silky savior: one size fits all of humanity. And if over a billion copies have floated down from heaven, then who can say he owns the sacred J-head?
He took me aside, and whispered all his secret names:
Jesus H. Christ
Christ on a Crutch
Crying Out Loud
Cheese and Crackers
Blood atonement is fine if you don’t mind cleaning up the mess, and the nagging unanswered questions. How does Splatterdad killing his pretty Victimkid make it all right for me and my soul? I understand sacrifice. I know about sympathetic magic and burnt offerings. Sometimes the powers that be and the Big I Am really do want white goat meat, curdled milk and sheaves of barley incinerated on their altars. But the Old One nailing the Young One to a cross so that the rest of us can avoid the eternal celestial broiler - this is the best recipe the creator of the entire universe can come up with? A mix of sanctified torture porn and cosmic high school bullying. Why the cross? Why not an Indian burn, noogie-bar, swirlie or supernal wedgie to cleanse us of our sins?
One Billion x Jesus
He’s no Golgotha Geezasaurus Rex slicing his way through the sky with massive claws and breathing holy napalm fire to purify and rectify the earth. He’s the whitest white man in the universe, fragile as lady fingers, delicate as lemon meringue pie. No space suit like Elvis the Explorer, no armor or ray-gun. No astronaut brushcut or manly stubble on his jaw. He’s my interstellar pinup girlie-god, this creme-filled divine donut covered in powdered sugar, a tasty ice cream clone of a clone. And the tears of a clone, like the tears of a virgin, have far more power than a thousand blazing fists.
O Holy Replicant
His body fluids drip and gleam, rich with reproductive proteins and sky-shine. He is the divine chromolithograph, endlessly self-replicating, making more and more of the same cheesy jeezy mimeo faces. No voice, no body, just the head and shoulders. DNA ditto dandruff flakes down from heaven. Manna - grains of moonlight - confectioner’s sugar - wisps of lamb wool - a powdering of iridescent xerox toner - leukocytes hungry to eat up all imperfection in our blood - stardust.
Now - Sing It
Amazing rays, how hot the heat,
that cooked such wretched meat.
I once was bitter, now I’m sweet.
Oh yeah - it’s time to eat.
Jumpin’ the Gunne
I really want to hate this thing. I want to claim that it’s the worst of the worst. 1973 gave us so much that was so wrong. Hyperbolic bombast - Brain Salad Surgery. Early senility rock - Goat’s Head Soup. Opiated suicidal sump-diver sludge - Lou Reed’s Berlin. And Uriah Heep Live. Against such festering slabs of musical offal, how could a one-hit wonder band achieve such singular status?
JoJo Gunne were not incompetent. That might have provided some amusement, like watching a drunken toddler drive an ambulance full of burn victims. The band was in fact cursed by competence. They can make a passable boozed-up yahoo boogie sound with pseudo-funky slide guitar and LA-rock piano stylings.
What makes Jumpin the Gunne so bafflingly awful is the balance it strikes between minimal ability and drug-addled idiocy. I think this album contains third-rate white boy shoogity-boogity, but I’m not sure. I want to claim it’s the worst, but I don’t think I’ll ever truly know. With song titles such as “Monkey Music” and “High School Drool,” it promises something that will at least be offensive. No such luck. My ear drums register the sound, but a nanosecond later, nothing remains.
No matter how I approach it - headphones in a dark room or as party-noise - I literally can’t listen to this album. I don’t mean I run screaming to yank it off the turntable. I mean my brain truly cannot process the sound. JoJo Gunne manages the amazing feat of creating something so profoundly mediocre that almost nothing sticks in my mind.
Then I gaze at the cover and my hopes rise again. Jumpin’ the Gunne should be truly horrible. Some coke-headed cretin decided that showing a hugely obese buck-naked chick magically flying out of bed (where the four Gunne boy are sitting under the covers) would make for solid sales. Better (or worse) yet is the inside of the fold-out sleeve, where again Ms. Corpulence is displayed, on her belly, making kissy faces to a small happy piglet.
All the album credits are written on her naked pink flesh - including the requisite “Made to be played loud” claim and the mysterious acknowledgment “Cowboy pig courtesy Warren Archer.”
The band ‘s only real hit - “Run Run Run” - was the first single I ever bought. It’s tuneful, rollicking and still tickles the tiny bones in my middle ear. But that’s all. Beyond “Run Run Run” JoJo Gunne’s legacy is just vapor and haze, a ghost that floats in the interzone reaches of popcult nowhereland.
Best? Worst? They’re meaningless words. Aesthetic terms are like bits of crusty burnt food and this album is coated with Super-Teflon. It’s beyond, above, outside any categories of judgment. I’m not even positive that the thing actually exists. I can hold the cover in my hands and put the disc on the turntable. I can gaze at the flying porcine bimbo with the inexplicable white ankle-strap platform shoes. I can try to listen and remember, but it’s like light passing through clear glass, or gamma rays passing through my body: no trace is left behind.
I got the itch, the burnin’ sensation, the midnight twitch and the pelvic gyration. I got a hunch and I’m going back, all the way back to Memphis and the Cathedral of the Celluloid Geeks. I’m doing my devotions, all the way round the Stations of the White Trash Cross, listening to the whang-whang hymns and the croaking toad-man’s self-loading prayers.
Just like the first Quasi gibbered: “Me - want - Esmerelda! We want googoo sly gypsy girl bang-bang.”
Hear me now! Hear this song. Maximum deformo all night long.
After making Clambake, A Change of Habit, and Charro!, where could the King go but straight to Hugo? And so, behold: the great lost cinematic atrocity. Just like the never-seen posters proclaim: “Elvis IS the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Forget the frug. Away with the waltz and the watusi. Electric slide? Let it glide. Funky chicken and mash potato? They’ve both gone to Zero. Peace be upon Polka’s name, but it doesn’t have the same slam-weight as the all night festal freak-out. The minuet and boogaloo are naught and nil when The Human Gargoyle comes roaring out of his jungle room and takes over the dance floor.
Hail, hail, rack and rule! Long live the Lord of Graceland and the Pope of Fools. Breaker, breaker - Sieg heil for Der Elvis, the once and future genetically-pure Spaz-fuehrer, laid out on a platter of crowder peas, corn bread and dixie-fried bacon.
In Paris, they had the Quasi-modo. In Vegas we’ve got the Total-modo: the full-fledged, flat-out, fire-breathing modo dragon in a white astronaut jump suit and a helmet of crow-black hair. We’ve got the Croaking Gizzard and the Wizard of Bloat. We’ve got the Blue Light special at the K-Mart cathedral, where celestial sky-shine haloes our Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Voodoobator.
He reaches apotheosis only three weeks before he dies, wIth his three minutes of solo star-turn “Unchained Melody.” If anyone is the real American H.B. of N.D., it’s Elvis at the lip of the Vegas nightclub grave. Draw back the curtain and see the Big E, almost dead, yet still sexy, bloated like a whale gasping out his last breath on some empty beach. His face, encased in a mask of suet, is beyond confidence, beyond charisma. Here and now, Elvis has reached the point of egomaniac no return.
He takes possession of the piano and a minion grovels close, holding up a mike. The King bangs out the first chord and he’s pure sound and fury, a bulging funk-fuel, a 55 gallon drum of pure monster energy. Gaze upon the fullness of Master E, the vastness beyond good and evil, beyond thought. Behemoth, titan, monstrosity, Elvisaurous Rex with his tiny arms and massive hams spread on the piano bench, he sings the gospel squat-thrust, poisoned tongue lolling out, listening to the tolling bells inside his head.
At the end of this “Unchained Melody” he groans and shakes the sweat off his face, he grunts and twists, utterly possessed. He is the Savior of falsetto sleaze and the Christ of corpulence, crucified before a thousand oozing fans. The song reaches its wild keening climax, the chains break, and he’s free, free, God-almighty free at last.
Here is the ghost in the Top 40 machine, a spectral cry to raise the dead. Here is the gleaming slice of occult vinyl that goes where no song has gone before, and comes back with the prettiest corpse in Hollywood history. Hear the exhortation to some nameless “kid” - and understand why there is a legend that the track was actually cut in James Dean’s tomb.
Pulsing from a million radios in the holy year of 73, David Essex’s “Rock On” is a fulcrum balancing both past and future, one of the crucial songs of this most crucial of years. Echoing in a haze of Jamaican dub (with reverb-soaked bass playing lead, tom-toms and congas giving a jungle vibe, dead stops opening into absolute harrowing silence, and no guitar) it anticipates music that will be supposedly cutting edge ten years later. “Rock On” also harks back to 50s-era poppy dreamland, conjuring up summertime blues and blue suede shoes.
It’s obvious, though, that more than nostalgia animates the singer. This compulsive call to “Rock On” rises years before cretin-metal devil horn handjiving. It doesn’t mean merely to get stupid and loud. This “Rock On” points toward ghosty resurrection. The question “Where do we go from here?” comes from nowhere and finds no answer. Sadness and death linger in the grooves. Multi-tracked vocals add to the opioid reverie. “See her shake on the movie screen.” Who is the “Baby Queen”? We never find out.
The hypnotic bass on “Rock On” is played by the great Herbie Flowers. Creating the brilliant throb-bottoms for 1972’s “Jump Into the Fire” and “Walk On the Wild Side,” anchoring Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album and hundreds of other hits, Herbie Flowers was the primo bass presence of the era.
Disco too lurks in the grooves. The strings on early-70s dance-hits are universally despised by critics and ignored by dance-floor fans. But the pocket-orchestra riffing is exactly what lifts disco from its banality. Disco’s beat is moronically monotonous, and the lyrics idiotic (“boogie oogie oogie” indeed). However, the sleaze of studio strings and quasi-jazz horn intrusions are exactly what brings the devotee back again and again.
As a one-hit wonder who ended up far more successful acting than making music, David Essex here does the cinematic mind-meld. The song veers toward romance (“prettiest girl I ever seen”), then fades into a lost-soul call: hissing slippery sibilants (“sssssssh”) and gospel wails (“oh my soul!”). More trance than dance, more necromantic spell than pop song, “Rock On” still lingers in the ether - tugging at the souls of dead stars and lonely planet kids who remember, or who have convinced themselves that their music-spawned memories are real.
She's back - after 23 years in the shadows. Huge, sexy, a juggernaut of stunning idiocy and murder-glee genius, Big Gurl has returned to conquer all electronic reading devices and human brains. For exactly the same price as the original paperback edition, this underground classic is now available to any who dare enter its turgid and tainted depths.
"Big Gurl is the prose equivalent of R. Crumb and S. Clay Wilson stoned on evil speed and Sterno." - Hakim Bey
Glam rock had two crypto-Mormons: Mick Ronson and Arthur Killer Kane. The Osmond Brothers on the other hand were up front about their religio-sexual orientation. Five squeaky-teen heartthrob guys with gleaming teeth and big hair, they released their Plan in the middle of glam's greatest year.
White and shiny as mayonnaise, the Osmonds had been dominating the charts since 1970. After a run of massively successful albums, though, they wanted to stretch out and to tell the Latter Day Saint story through song. So they retired to their private musical sanctum (Kolob Studies in Los Angeles - named after God's home-planet) and came up with this Great Hetero Mormon Mini-opera Concept Album.
There's a lot less bubble-gum here than on their earlier records, which explains why it did so poorly with the fans. Not many twelve year old non-LDS girls with the hots for Donny wanted to hear about pre-mortal existence and the end of the world.
As a concept album, it starts predictably with the jingle of Asian bells, ancient flutes, mysterioso harp plinking and voices floating from channel to channel. Mostly though, the album is slick radio-friendly pop with a few nods toward glam.
God's mysterious plan keeps coming up, though it's never made explicit. Heaven gets mentioned. Heavenly Father and the Mormon prophet Joe Smith remain in the shadows, or are far above, orbiting around earth. Like Bowie's Aladdin Sane and Jobriath himself, the singer on "Goin' Home" is a "space man from a different land" and he needs to return.
The first track is "War in Heaven" and at the end we learn about "The Last Days." Even in the sappiest love song on the album, "Darlin,'" the Osmonds manage to slide in some LDS theology. Like other songs on this revelation-drenched slab of vinyl, "Darlin'" mixes up romance and revelation. "There's no end if I'm with you," the boys sing with their hormone-hyped voices. Clearly, they're excited about something. But what? True love? True religion? "Let Me In" is the most disturbing track. Twisting together spirituality and sleazy seduction, it's one of the best God-is-my-girlfriend songs ever recorded.
Some songs are so oblique that even Mormon initiates can't pierce their glistening surface. Featuring a funky Jew's harp and squealy harmonica, "Mirror, Mirror" condemns some nameless other-self who'll "step on those who kiss your feet," and ends with the warning "you can't fool me."
For those in the know, the line "as we would be, he once was" is straight out of Mormon theology. If we just accept the teachings of the whitest religion in the world, we all can become gods and have our own planet, as gloriously snazzy as Kolob. There's real endless power waiting for the Mormon faithful. When the Osmonds sing "we control infinity" they mean it as literal truth.
At the center is the symbol - hanging in space, half cross and half meat hook. Some claim it's made up of three exclamation points and an upside down question mark. Those with unfogged minds understand it to be the sign of Saturn, or Kronos, whose metal is lead and whose element is time itself.
In the grim days of Nixon and his carpet-bombing of Vietnam, while the Weather Underground waged its counter-bombing assault on America, during Apollo's last mysteriously abortive missions to the moon, this symbol was the closest a mainstream record label could come to putting a swastika on an album cover. To every teenaged Blue Oyster Cult fan, however, it was no secret. The sign stood unmistakably for outer space rock and roll fascismus.
The band's original name - "Soft White Underbelly" - was coined by Winston Churchill to describe fascist Italy, the vulnerable nether-region of Europe. It suggests too, the unprotected abdomen of the killer dinosaur, or the vastness of some trans-galactic egg-sac floating in the void. Conceived by their producer as America's answer to Black Sabbath, the renamed Blue Oyster Cult later joined forces with these English kings of downer rock on the infamous Black and Blue Tour.
The cover for Blue Oyster Cult's second album, Tyranny and Mutation, features a stark, geometrical black and white landscape like a Nuremberg rally site as conceived and birthed by robots. No humans, no torchlight parades, but the same emptiness and soulless fervor. And a weird celestial glow: the Kronos cross hanging on the horizon like a black, arcane sunrise. A few lurid slices are added to the palette for this album cover, finishing the scheme: black, white and red, the colors of Imperial Germany.
Musically, heavy metal already existed. It's all there on Black Sabbath's Paranoid album. But while Ozzie shrieks like a horror movie demon, the Oyster Boys use a more menacing, breathy whisper-croon. Ozzie's predicable satanic imagery and the lumbering behemoth riffs make a joke of Sabbath's dread-mongering. B-O'Cult are more oblique, more skewed and shrewd.
All gothic goes back to Germany and weird gothic touches lurk in these grooves - "flights of black horsemen" soaring over churches, "a harvest of life, a harvest of death." Even "Lucifer the light" makes an appearance. B-O'Cult is of course Germanic, with their mutant swastika, the very first heavy metal umlaut and hymns of praise to Luftwaffe jet planes. But this is still an American nightmare, not a faked-up olde worlde terror-fest. Yes, strange female presences float in the shadows. We'll never know, though, whether "Baby Ice Dog" is human or canine. Or what exactly the "Teen Archer" is aiming her arrows at. Or why is the "Mistress of the Salmon Salt" also called "The Quicklime Girl?"
On first hearing, "Hot Rails to Hell" might be just another badass heavy metal howl, proclaiming that "the heat from below can burn your eyes out." The world of this song is, however, no lapsed Euro-Catholic's Lake of Fire. The hellbound train is pure America - high tech, huge and heavy, enormous with energy, a smoking, steel-rumbling joyride that ends with a surf guitar bass plummet right out of the Ventures' "Pipeline."
Tyranny and Mutation: is there a better description of the American teenage boy's inner landscape? Tyranny: repression of impulse. Mutation: terrifying biological change. Tyranny and Mutation: are there two words which so well evoke the battle between wildness and control, the convulsive fear and joy at the heart of the adolescent's world?
As the year’s primo slice of pseudo jailbait, Suzi Quatro broke big - sold millions of singles and was helpful in the self-polluting efforts of countless teenaged boys. She wasn’t an adolescent by the time this album came out, but Suzi was marketed as one - a strange mix of sleaze and juvenile vulnerability.
On the back of the album, she poses in a leather jump suit unzipped to her navel, with chains dangling on her bare chest. Hands on hips, staring back at teenaged fan-boys, she’s confident, sexy and young. On the front, she’s wearing a leather jacket and skin tight jeans. Her expression isn’t straight-up come-on. There’s a placid, almost lost, look in her eyes. She’s a pretty girl tarted up for her big career move, surrounded by her band: three shaggy reprobates. One is guzzling beer and sticking his hand down his pants. Another holds a cigarette and a beer and leers at the camera, as though to say, “yeah she’s barely legal and we’ve all done her.”
Suzi Quatro started out as a fifteen year old bass player in a band called The Pleasure Seekers. Going from sex to motherhood, that group evolved into Cradle. Mickey Most, like a music-biz pimp turning out his latest find, saw Suzi in ‘71 and moved her from her native Detroit to London. She had teenaged energy and good looks. But those aren’t that uncommon. The fact that she could really play bass set her apart, but her voice - something just one notch less annoying than a pantheress in heat - was exactly right for the moment. Her combination of androgynous feline yelping and soft-porn breathy whispers hit the record-buying mainline in ‘73. It’s sleaze all the way: “Glycerine Queen,” “Skin Tight Skin,” “Primitive Love,” “Shine My Machine,” and a very odd cross-gender rendition of “I Wanna Be Your Man.” The time was ripe for this kind of titillation. When a teenaged girl in black leather wails that she wants to be somebody’s man, it stirs troubling impulses in many hearts.
Maybe it was just a cheap commercial ploy - glam had broken big the year before, with plenty of rock musicians playing in the shallows of the turbid queer pond. And the hits here, “48 Crash” and “Can the Can” are basically catchy nonsense. There are some oblique bestiality references, but it certainly doesn’t add up to the battle cry for any sexual revolution. Suzi yelps about tigers and a “feline touch,” a boyfriend named Eagle, “evil lovin,’” and then repeats the inane rhymey chorus: “Put your man in the can, get him while you can.” Pushing her voice just beyond her range was supposed to evoke excitement, but Suzi sounds slightly hysterical here, like a cheerleader who’s taken a few too many snorts from her mom’s benzedrine inhaler before the big game.
The album contains an unsurprising mix of the sounds du jour: bluesy riffing, a little prog-rock keyboard noodling, a double-speed guitar solo. There are some T-Rex echoes. Slade and The Sweet too can be heard here, pop fodder teeny glitter. A whiff of rock and roll revival also floats off the disc (Suzi does “Shaking All Over” and “All Shook Up.”) It’s seldom noted, but the glam explosion was as much about the past as it was about the gender-bending gay-lib future. Shiny gold jackets, feathery boas, zoot-suit exaggeration - these come straight out of fifties-era show biz. Nobody ever topped Little Richard for outrageous gay wildness: gobs of makeup, huge hair, batting his eye-lids like neon butterflies. And he got there a whole generation before Bowie and Roxy and Jobriath.
Even the name Suzi Quatro seems to point to the past: “Suzi” from the Cheese-Whiz fifties and “Quatro” from the original Star Trek. So it should come as little surprise that she ended her career in the pseudo-50s nostalgia atrocity “Happy Days,” playing a tough crypto-slut named Leather Tuscadero.
This one is haunted. Lurking in the grooves is the lost and long-forgotten rattlesnake buzz, the rhythm of dry seeds shaken in a gourd, the sound of black-dirt hoodoo. Though mostly overproduced funk and soul, the tracks here still throb with the echoes of Bo Diddley’s wild-man guitar - and the ghost of Jerome Green.
Bo Diddley first went into the studio in 1955. Eighteen years later he was still at it, grinding out product when the money was right. In ‘71, Howling Wolf had gone to London and made a record with half the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and other flickering luminaries. It sold well, so Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry had followed. This album is the fourth in the series, getting white boys to sit at the feet of great black men. Updated, shinier and slicker than his earlier tracks, this is still one-chord primal juju groove. Not really a collection of songs (that word never was right for Bo’s work - implying composition, beginnings, middles and ends), this is better described as nine slices of greasy fried musical fatback.
The greatest maracas-player in the history of American pop music, Jerome Green, died as Bo was flying to London for the sessions. So only the ghost of his sound made it onto the tapes. Though he hadn’t played with Bo for almost a decade, he’s still here, shaking and sputtering like an Afro-Carib tribal medicine man.
“Greatest maracas-player”? Does that seem absurd? Everything about Bo Diddley’s career is absurd, including playing a shag-carpet covered guitar. But that doesn’t take away one iota of greatness. The maracas are hardly a real instrument, more often something to give the chick singer that she can’t mess up too badly. Right? Wrong. Bo Diddley put a loud squalling guitar into the hands of his sexy female partners - first Lady Bo, then The Duchess - and he kept the maracas in the hands of a man, a real man. Their sound usually gets pushed to the back of the mix. On Bo Diddley’s early tracks, they’re up front, as important to the groove as the drums and Bo’s trademarked guitar beat (bam bam bam - pause - bam-bam!). The essence of cool, Jerome Green’s slinky hipster shake is there on ”I’m a Man,” “Diddley Daddy,” “Pretty Thing,” “Diddy Wah Diddy,” “I’m Bad,” and most crucial, on “Who Do You Love?” the strongest hunk of dirty folk magic ever to make the charts.
Not so much a song as a spell, this one makes no rational sense. Bo brags that he’s got a “tombstone hand and a graveyard mind.” He tells us he has a “brand new house on the roadside, made out of rattlesnake hide” and up on top is a chimney “made from a human skull.” He’s just 22 and he “don’t mind dying.” Then he demands of his girl “who do you love?” Or perhaps it’s not a question but a statement of his methods: “Hoodoo you, love.”
Two decades later, Chess Records paid his way to London, gathered up some faceless studio musicians and got the tape rolling. By far the standout cut is “Do the Robot” - a one-chord wah-wah workout. This isn’t the silly-ass 80s robot dance he’s conjuring up. It’s no herky-jerky spaz Star Wars robot, but something a lot closer to the original, like Maria from Metropolis, the sexiest, slinkiest most hyper-cool robot ever captured on film. This is the primitivo Bo Diddley robot - with a titanium bone through his nose and an outer space John the conkaroo making the mojo. Traditional deep south goofer dust was dirt collected in a graveyard under a full moon. But in ‘73, we needed a new kind of hoodoo, so the Apollo priests had brought back lunar goofer dust, powdered moon rock collected under a glowing full Earth. And Bo’s robot knows exactly what to do with it. “Makes no difference if you’re at home,” he growls over the churning funk, “you can do the robot all alone.” Doing this robot is a private rite, with the TV gleaming instead of black magic candles and the sound of this record blasting instead of Mississippi delta drums.
Jerome Green died, almost forgotten, in ‘73. But when we put on the headphones, he’s still here with us, like a rattlesnake buzzing inside our skulls. Bo kept at it for a few more years, the old man who passed on his loudmouth gut-bucket noise, the precursor of the harder, wilder troglodyte beat of American garage bands and then punk rock. But without the maracas, it just wasn’t the same.
Of all the albums that entered our world in the year of ‘73, this is by far the most popular. Of all the discs in the entire history of recorded music, only one has sold more copies worldwide. There should be obvious reasons for such amazing success. But explanations - obvious or oblique - break down in this case.
Charisma? Hardly. Pink Floyd in ‘73 was the paragon of cold-blooded corporate rock - faceless, arrogant and isolated from the world. Devoid of stage presence or interesting life stories, the band consisted of four ordinary-looking men with boring names and no discernible talents that would set them apart from 10,000 other musicians. Virtuosic playing? Originality? Sex appeal? The visceral throb that gets people up and moving their bodies? Pink Floyd had none of these. Early on, when Syd Barrett was their front man, they were charmingly acid-addled, whimseyed and weird. Their “Interstellar Overdrive” sent their fans out through the gleaming stars. After Syd was gone, the band kept some of its cosmic sublime, but headed into more doom-laden terrain, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” being a perfect soundtrack for glorious teenage solar suicide. By ‘73, with Dark Side of the Moon and the hugely profitable tours around it, Pink Floyd had lumbered to the top of the dinosaur food chain, the reigning tyrant lizards of arena-rock. With upwards of 40 million units sold, with literally billions of plays, this music - like no other - flooded the earth with its message, the gospel of self-annihilation that the moon’s hidden side represents.
Golgotha is not just a place in the little Holy Land of the Middle East. The real Golgotha - “the place of the skull” - is in outer space, a quarter million miles away, orbiting around the earth. The moon is our primal, eternal skull-icon. And all of our skulls are tiny versions of the great skull in the sky. What do we see in the moon’s leering face? Eye holes, gaping toothless mouth, nostril slits, the empty stare of the Great Death’s-Head. Calvary is not just a place of ancient torture and obscure sacrifice. Calvary - “the place of the skull” - is out there, night after night. The moon is the universal face of death and also the earth’s primary mirror - shining back the light of the sun, the source of all life. So when this Face of Death stares raptly into itself, of course there is an invisible side of the reflection: the dark side, untouchable, unknowable, real and yet absolutely unseen.
As music, Dark Side of the Moon is a grand mediocrity. With its bloated blues imitations, fake soulful moaning, banal synthesizer squiggles, its utter absence of original melodies, lyrics, or musical hooks, this album should have disappeared into the great cut-out bin of LP oblivion. Instead, it sold in vast numbers and kept selling, spending a total of fifteen years in the charts. Ultimately, it colonized more brains than all of the albums released in ‘73 combined.
The secret of this record’s success is in fact no secret at all. It’s all right there in the title and the last line of the song “Brain Damage.” To the sullen, smug teenagers of the world (young and old) Roger Waters sings “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” His lyrics mention racing “to an early grave,” exploding heads and brutal psycho-surgery. There may be many far better examples of I-want-to-die music. Originality, however, doesn’t sell. Complexity and intelligence don’t make for commercial world domination. The very banality of Dark Side of the Moon works in its favor. If a band is going to create a mass market hymn to self-obliteration, then subtlety is not going to be one of their tools. If Pink Floyd set out to make enormous profits, then playing directly to their audience’s inner deadness was exactly the right technique. Making self-pity into grandeur, numbness into stoned mysticism, stupidity into exaltation, Dark Side of the Moon is the perfect product. Heartless, pompous, blotting out everything like brain-death or an eclipse, whining and empty, this is the sound of cretinous nihilism, the wretched little self screaming “me! me! me!” in a vacuum.
On their previous - unnamed and unnamable - album, Led Zeppelin used four symbols to represent the four members of the band. The symbols all give the impression of secret truth hidden in plain sight. The first, Jimmy Page’s, sign is sometimes read as the magical nonsense word “Zoso.” For many fans this is the name of the fourth album. But the actual glyph itself is far more complex than a childish four letter word. It’s composed of four fused elements: a sleek and slithery Z with a curving tail, an elongated S that might also be a lost musical clef, two O’s with dots in the middle connected by a slender bar, and at the bottom a calligraphic scribble-slash that might be a pot-pipe or perhaps Aladdin’s lamp. All together, they form a sigil of power and bafflement. Nonsense perhaps, a magickal hippie doodle, or an arcana-scrawled doorway waiting to be opened.
Scholars, fan-boys, paranoid religiasts and esoteronauts have assigned a wide array of meanings to the glyph. Does it make reference to some Crowleyite spell? Is it an oblique Nietzschean strategy, the name “Zoroaster” compressed? Or split into the near-palindromes “Zoso” and “Rater”? Does this refer to Zoser, the Egyptian pyramid, or to herpes zoster, the viral pestilence? Benighted christians have seen “666” (the Mark of the Beast) in the emblem. We see the astrological sign for Saturn, the ringed planet, and the alchemical symbol for lead.
This emblem, well beyond the other three, had a life of its own, appearing on Jimmy Page’s amp, his shimmering cape, his silky wizard pants. But none of the symbols were to be seen on the fifth album. In effect, they had done their job - transforming themselves, from symbol to actual ritual. Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin’s next album, contains that ancient rite.
The cover shows the Giant’s Causeway: 37,000 hexagonal basalt columns on the north coast of Ireland. Some are complete, others broken. Some have sharp edges, like huge rusted nuts made to screw onto bolts. Others are like six-sided, lichen-crusted prehistorical wheels tipped on their sides. All of them fit together not as a puzzle but a temple built before mankind had ever come to that place. Dawn, or some baleful astral being, glows at the peak of the stones - sickly orange, crimson, seething yellow.
Opening the gatefold cover reveals a scene of pagan ritual. Is it sacrifice or exaltation? Eleven naked elf-children crawling over the stones, ascending - pale and ghostly - to meet their sunrise god. White-blond hair, powder-white skin. Not pasty subterranean pallor but soft forms dusty with sky-pollen.
They’re faceless, seen from behind. Six years old, maybe eight. Natural forms, not pure but prepubescent, like something Lewis Carroll would hallucinate on laudanum. Some claim they are all the same child, the body reproduced eleven times. But clearly some are boys and some are girls. Others say they are brother and sister, like a childish Siegmund and Sieglinde in The Valkyrie.
One lies on her belly like a mermaid. One squats. Another holds her hands above her head, in awe, expectation, opening herself to the solar crest-glow, making the same Y-shaped salute to the sun that the wandervogel and yogis used to greet and worship their god.
Inside the fold-out cover, a more overtly sacrificial image is revealed. It’s now sunset and a naked man holds a naked child above his head - clearly an offering - before the fungous nightmare ruins of Dunluce Castle. Rotted stumps of stone, a ravine crossed by a decrepit bridge, two towers, all decayed, all bathed in the same arcane radiation: oozy pink and orangey-green. Rich blue in the upper sky. It could be the surface of another planet, earth a million years in the future or the past.
It’s dusk now. The pale children are gone except the chosen one, the sacrificial offering. From the top of the citadel a faint white light gleams. And a milky beam extends downward to consume the naked priest and his offering.
They’re the missing link, the evolutionary lost boys. Not a fossil or a dried-up dinosaur turd but a living, panting, gibbering pack of big city anthropoids, the New York Dolls carried the fool’s gold genes of glam rock and passed them on to the monkey horde of punks who followed close behind.
Glam rock, at first and second glance, was about nothing more than absurd clothes, gobs of makeup and alien aliases. Suburban kids dressed up as outer space drag queens, with feather boas, platform shoes and skintight silver pants. Scrawny white guys with boring names turned themselves into Ziggy Stardust, Eno, Gary Glitter, Jobriath, Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain. Glam is show-biz, and often is shrugged off as a fleeting shock wave from the gay-lib explosion, androgynous and pan-sexual youth gone wild on stage. And there’s no question that straight boys dressed as transsexual hookers are pushing (or at least slouching against) the walls of sexual order. There’s also the druggy halo to consider: heroin, cocaine, and speed were part of the seedy street-chic.
Still, there’s an unspoken, largely unseen element that looms here: something faintly gleaming in the corners of the mind like albino radiation sickness or nacreous moonglow. Glamor, we never forget, is in the oldest sense of the word about bewitchment. “Glamor” meant a magic spell or charm.
David Bowie sang about the “homo superior” in 1971 and about “making the wild mutation” a year later. Deodato put Nietzsche’s Uebermensch into heavy radio rotation. This isn’t progress we’re talking about, but transformation. This isn’t high tech shiny-future optimism, but real teratism - monster making. Mutants usually are highly unadaptive, often flat-out harmful to species survival. The New York Dolls got lost in the gene-jungle, pop culture natural selection making sure there were no direct offspring, no Darwinian success. They were five skinny white boys who mutated into nightmare Ken dolls - five versions of Barbie’s sexless mate dressed up as man-sluts and singing about their “Personality Crisis.” These Kabuki Kens, however, have real bulges in their pants. They’re anatomically correct and when the drugs allow, they’re ready to rut and shoot some bad seed.
Still, they’re both menacing and absurd, with their teased-up hair, gleaming lipstick, scarves, blotches of rouge and pubescent pouts. They never lost their confusion. Were they bad boys or sleazy fashion victims, sexual predators or kids playing dress-up? Later, they’d plumb the depths with too much junkie business, crashed careers, early death and the bass player converting to Mormonism. Always, though, they maintained their unapologetic stance: rude, crude, loud and wild.
There’s a “Lonely Planet Boy” and a “Jet Boy” on this album. Mostly, though, they stay in the street, bumping and grinding through “Bad Girl,” “Pills,” and “Trash.” Two largely overlooked songs point to something far more disturbing that drug-punk bad-assitude. Both are about tainted birth, the genesis of the Baleful Other. They’re not just sex songs, but confused, obsessive leaps into the pit of bio-reproduction.
After “me,” the word “baby” is probably the most common in rock and roll lyrics. In “Vietnamese Baby,” however, the Dolls are talking about about real conception and newborn spawn, the bastard offspring of a U.S. soldier and a nameless, faceless girl on the far side of the globe. The song starts and ends with a cliché Asian gong. In between there’s the standard proto-punk riffs and railing. As music, it’s okay. As a shout of confused dread (“talking ‘bout your overkill!”) it’s definitely not okay. We never know who’s the “you” of the song or why she’s got a Vietnamese baby on her “pretty little mind.” But we do understand that something is very wrong and it’s not going away.
The third Frankenstein song of ‘73 (labeled “original” on the album cover) was the last one of the year. Again we’re in movie-monster land - “shoes too big, jacket too tight.” And again Frankenstein stands for something ill-defined and intolerable. The song starts with an image of war, or biological disaster. “Something must’ve happened over Manhattan.” It quickly gets more personal, a repetitive, far-too-long track built mostly on unanswered questions. “Who could’ve spawned all the children this time?” We never find out. “Do you think you could make it with Frankenstein?” Is this about sex with a monster or is “make” here about literally making a baby, the nameless “it”?
1973 was the year of the American abortion. In January, Roe v. Wade transformed the country’s relationship with its unwanted offspring. Frankenstein’s creature calls himself an “abortion” and here on the Dolls’ first album he returns again: the divine portent of misfortune, the monster-spawn who may be loved, but who must be destroyed.
At the height of American technological triumph, Elvis released this throwback tune, his hymn of praise to 19th century low-tech machinery. He’s no Saturn rocket or lunar module. He’s not even a diesel-driven bulldozer or an 18 wheel Mack truck, but a steamroller, and this is his version of heavy metal.
The picture sleeve from the single makes it even more obvious - this machine (in sepia tone) comes clanking out of the past, with gears, chain-drive and a smokestack like you’d see on a ironclad from the Civil War. Everything about the steamroller here is archaic, weighty and slow. Yet Elvis sings with a surprising amount of swagger. “I’m a steamroller!” and, he declares, he’s going to “roll over you.” The music too - even with the Vegas big band screaming trumpets - is a throwback. The classic Elmore James “Dust My Broom” riff holds the tune together and gives it old fashioned dirty blues energy. There are no references to the moon here. This is Earth-Elvis, the low-tech destroyer Elvis.
It’s all built on a series of ego-declarations. He’s a steamroller, then a cement mixer, a “churnin’ urn of burnin’ funk.” This line harks us back to the previous year’s Big E hit: “Burnin’ Love.” Mostly that tune is built on standard love-is-fever images: rhyming “fire” with “higher and higher” and “the sweet song of a choir.” But with its obsessive chanting chorus (“hunka hunka burnin’ love”) and Elvis’s frantic “my brain is flaming!” it seems to conjure up a victim of spontaneous cerebral combustion.
“Steamroller Blues” moves on to stranger comparisons. Elvis is a “demolition derby,” not one car but the whole gear-grinding white trash apocalypse, leaving him a “hefty hunk of steaming junk.” And then he’s a “napalm bomb, baby.” After ten years of the war in Vietnam, there was hardly a word less tainted than “napalm.” For most Americans, even those who supported the war, it meant uncontrolled fiery death from the skies. And here’s Elvis saying he’s napalm and will “blow your mind.” The minds of his fans were already blown, though seldom did they think of their idol dropping jellied gasoline onto them from a helicopter gunship.
Elvis’s brain, “flaming” or otherwise, is not the frequent subject of in-depth analysis. He was, though, a man given to much thought, especially on such topics as astrology, UFOs, pyramids and reincarnation. Likewise, he was much given to reading. Wherever he traveled, Elvis always had his servants bring along his personal library of over two hundred spiritual books, which included various Bibles, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. He took his occult researches all the way to the end: dying on the toilet reading The Search for the Face of Jesus, a book about the Shroud of Turin.
In short, when he wasn’t thinking about burnt bacon, peanut butter, and “Takin’ Care of Business,” his mind went to the occult. Even his conception had a mystic quality. Vernon Presley told his son that he’d known the exact instant when he’d come into being because at that moment, Vernon had lost consciousness. Though there is a more common explanation for such an event, Elvis took this orgasmic blackout as an absolute sign that at the moment of conception his father had become possessed by a higher power, God himself. Thus exalted, Elvis embraced the notion that Vernon - ex-con and paint factory worker - was not his true “daddy.” On the night Elvis was born, Vernon walked into the backyard and saw the heavens suffused with a divine blue light. Elvis took this story too as part of his mythos, as he’d long associated the color blue with his own supernatural power, and with his fate as the “One.”
The “One” or the “All?” This is the question that truly matters. A singularity or infinity itself? A cryptic emblem featured on his stage costume points toward our answer. Elvis’s jumpsuits came from the moon, but they were adorned with far more arcane emblems than NASA might provide. Elvis had massive belts, reminiscent of those worn by pro wrestlers and boxing champions. The buckles featured Elvis’s most cherished icons of power. One of them became more noticeable and important in his last days on Earth. It was a wide rectangle, outlined in silver and set with 26 rubies. Inside the border were 16 turquoise studs and at the center were two ovals just touching at the tips. UFO fanatics have compared these ovals to two alien eyes or two flying saucers docking. There’s a far more obvious interpretation. This symbol is the lemniscate, the figure 8 lying on its side, the mathematical sign of infinity. And if anyone was going to reach the infinite in ‘73, it would be Der Elvis.
In raw schlock, pure truth is sometimes hidden. In cheap, cheesy, bottom-feeder pop fodder, secret knowledge can be found, if listeners tune their ears to the right frequencies and adjust their inner dials. Where better to conceal astral wisdom than blasting from countless radios? When Deodato’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” hit the air waves, millions knew with their bodies what their minds would never comprehend: after the Apollo-men had been to the moon nothing would ever be the same.
Americans had made their lunar odysseys and were now - in early ‘73 - back for good. It took a Brazilian jazz pianist sleazing his way through a German’s orchestral masterpiece based on an exile-German’s most famous philosophical tract to get the message out. First, however, came the British film, 2001, a Space Odyssey. Deodato’s proto-disco version of Strauss’s tone poem would never have happened if it hadn’t been used as the film’s main fanfare theme, its clarion call to new consciousness. In 2001, it’s orchestral - a straight rendering by the denazified conductors Boehm and Von Karajan. In the top 40 hit, it’s lounge-jazz afro-caribbean funk. Starting with a sub-bass groan, Deodato adds jungle-creature noises, conga drums and shakers, electric piano and chunka-chunka pulse bottom. A swankering guitar solo comes forward, and then the grandiose Teutonic brass fanfare. If this global burst of groove-gnosis weren’t so crucial, it would be hilarious. From Nietzsche and Richard Strauss to Stanley Kubrick’s film. And from there to something that might serve better as the soundtrack for a TV sports special than for the human mind breaking into the translunar beyond and meeting the Unspeakable Cosmic Other.
Nietzsche proclaimed the next step in human development - not the imbecilic Aryan superman who crushes the untermenschen, but the self-overcoming, self-transcending man. A Darwinian post-monkey man looks nothing like Nietzsche’s Uebermensch. Zarathustra tells us: “what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal.” A link, a span across the void, a reach into the past and future (which are the same for Nietzsche): this is what the prophet came to show us.
How much of this did Eumir Deodato understand when he entered the studio and got the Brazilian space-funk cooking? Absolutely none of it. Other orchestral pieces had been retrofitted for American radio. “Bumble Boogie” and “The Nutrocker” had made it onto the charts. In 1972, as the last men on the moon made their final lunar sacrifices, a group called Apollo 100 put “Joy” (based on “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) into the top ten. The year before that, Walter Carlos had made science fiction synthesizer versions of Rossini and Beethoven integral to Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. Only a few years later would come “A Fifth of Beethoven,” a disco-kitsch version of the most important symphony in the history of that form.
It took the American Idiot-Zarathustra - Der Elvis - to truly integrate Nietzsche and Strauss into pop-cosmic consciousness. Once he heard the celestial brass and booming drums, he knew that this would be the perfect sound for his grand entry onto the stage, every concert beginning with Strauss’s theme of exaltation. Elvis may not have been able to pronounce the prophet’s name, but he knew a trans-galactic power riff when he heard it. His jumpsuits too, the emblem of his power and glory, came straight from the moon. He started wearing them the year that Apollo 11 landed and he never gave them up. Weighing close to thirty pounds (with another ten for the massive belt) the jumpsuits are his version of space-wear. Pure white, stiff and cumbersome, with a high napoleonic collar, crusted with arcane symbols and strange patriotic emblems, these are the magic garments needed for his liftoff into the prophetic heavens.
What was Zarathustra’s message that everyone knew with their bodies but couldn’t bear to know with their brains? It’s actually quite simple - all crucial truth is. Something is out there, something vast and far beyond our ability to comprehend. And meeting it, human consciousness is like a fluttering candle flame obliterated in the radiance of a star going nova.
There were two more Frankenstein records that year. The first was actually a re-release, one of those rare cases of a long-dead novelty tune brought back to life. The 1962 “Monster Mash,” by Bobby Boris Pickett - for reasons never revealed - appeared again on the U.S. charts in the summer of ’73. Doing a cheesy imitation of Karloff, Pickett had jumped on the early sixties fad-wagon of Everything Monsters: two hit TV shows (The Munsters and The Addams Family), the Aurora model kits (the first of which was of course Frankenstein’s monster), lunch boxes, stickers, board games and toys. Like the James Bond spy craze and Beatlemania that followed it, the wave of new-old monsters swept over American pop culture. The fad came and went, before the first man had put his boot on the moon. Why did it then return a decade later, as the last Saturn rocket was being prepared to put the last sons of Apollo on the moon?
“Monster Mash” is musically negligible. And the lyrics are barely above the level of a seventh grader’s high concept: “Hey, what if that Frankenstein guy from the movies was the front man for a rock and roll combo?” It has the requisite references to the lab and the undertaker’s slab, ghouls coming to “get a jolt from my electrodes,” chains, graveyards, coffin-bangers and crypt-kickers. But pulling apart the strands of the backstory, we find a far more complex tangle of knots. Here’s a nonentity American singer imitating a British actor who’d changed his name to the Germanic “Karloff” and who played both the berserking monster and the mad scientist maker. The tune comes out at the height of the craze, then disappears for ten years. Clearly, someone’s electrodes were clamped onto this musical corpse. Someone’s life-giving electro-juice ran through it and brought it back to life.
“Frankenstein,” as he first appears, is not the creature but the creator. Plays, films, and knockoff novels blurred the name’s use. Eventually, it’s the monster (a term almost never used in Mary Shelley’s book) that gets the moniker. But we do not forget that the original Frankenstein is a man, not a man-made being. He’s a scientist, a seeker, a wild-eyed Romantic Germanic hero. Shelley’s subtitle - “A Modern Prometheus” - captures the essence of his story. This is now, not the ancient days, and still there are heroes willing to risk all to grasp the torch of secret knowledge. Stealing fire from heaven and bringing it back to earth, Prometheus gained himself the eternal hatred of the gods. For his crime, he was chained to a rock, with an eagle picking out his liver. Celestial fire is for the gods, not humans, and those who dare to think otherwise will be punished forever. Yes indeed, as Neil Armstrong said when Apollo 11 touched down on the moon, “the eagle has landed.”
Perhaps linking this doomy grandeur to idiotic schlock-and-roll is simply too much. But, Shelley’s creature tells us at the end of the novel, “the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at and kicked and trampled on.” Songs are creatures too, with a life and a death, and an afterlife. Recordings live on in the heavens, though there’s nothing much lower in the musical hierarchy than a fad-riding novelty tune. Is the “Monster Mash” an abortion, a divine portent of misfortune, a piece of Top Forty drivel or an Opener of the Way? We are convinced that it can be all of these. Listen then, to the last lines of the song: “For you, the living, this mash was meant too. When you get to my door tell them Boris sent you.”
Edgar Winter’s White Trash came slinking out of the shadows in 1971. Two years later, he rode this cold slab of rock and roll albinism to the top. The Album and the Albino, the high priest’s Alb and Albumen, the lowly white of an egg. They’re all linked, each of them descending from “Albus,” the Latin word for absolute whiteness. Albedo is a bit more complicated. For the astronomer, it’s the reflecting power of a planet or moon. For the physicist, it’s the degree to which a surface reflects back cosmic radiation.
You want more? You need more? We’ve got it - all of the evidence hidden right out in the open. Album covers are magic amulets, containers of pop cult esoterica, squares of throwaway idiocy and at the same time secret maps of the starry regions. They Only Come Out At Night - how much more obvious does it need to be?
The cover features a Francesco Scavullo fashion photo of the whitest rock star on the planet. Naked, Winter poses at a strange oblique angle, as though he’s an astral messenger zooming through space/time. But of course he’s no angel, nor a devil. Winter, here, emerges as a true celestial emanation, neither male nor female, alien nor human, but the next species. His eyes gleam upward - toward the heavens? in drugged ecstasy? dreaming of himself as the next shooting star? Scavullo makes Winter look like a living comet - complete with tail of icy colorless hair streaming behind. A golden beauty mark pulses on his cheek. His lips are painted a vivid red. The only thing covering his naked skin is a multi-tiered diamond necklace. Here is, in short, maximum space-freak: milk-pale skin, midnight black background, and a slash of juicy crimson on his lips.
On the back cover he’s even more transgressively genderless, one half pink satin Barbie and one half Prince Charming. The other members of the band are nowhere near as fetchingly weird, mustering about as much menace as sebaceous sophomores dressed up for the prom. And for the most part, the music they create is banal white-boy schlock, party tunes such as “Hanging Around” and “We All Had a Real Good Time,” and that pinnacle of originality, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Boogie Woogie Blues.”
Then there’s “Frankenstein,” the monster hit off the album, the only cut that matters. Supposedly the track got its name because it was cobbled together out of various unrelated parts. We'll never know if this is true - the scars and seams and stitch-marks aren’t obvious. To these ears, it’s not a hodgepodge of mismatched limbs and organs, but the zap-spark sound of the mad scientist’s lab. Winter’s synthesizer dominates the mix, though there’s less bleeping here and far more squiggle-riff voltaic surges than on other synth-heavy tunes of the time.
In a way, it’s just another blues instrumental, complete with drum solo and sax break. But updated and juiced with the high tech of the day, it’s the aural equivalent of the comet Winter portrays on the cover. At one point he even gives us a perfect buzzy musical sketch of a space craft landing on the moon. Glimmer, glam, glitz - all of these of course are about reflection, not absorption, of light. And this Frankenstein shines like a disintegrating egg of trans-solar ice as it swings around the sun.
Though the entire platform shoe craze of the time can be traced back to Boris Karloff’s huge clunky Frankenstein footwear, there’s little else of him present in this track. No hints of the Thorazine shuffle, neck-bolts, growls or murderous leer. This is the monster as portent, not brainless killer hulk.
Ultimately, the Albedo of this Album, the reflection of cosmic radiation, is about Edgar Winter’s skin, not the movie monster’s. Karloff’s had a greenish cast, as least in the later incarnations. Winter’s is the pure snowy white of the albino. But they are still both monsters in the oldest sense of the word. Before it was the shambling hell-creature of horror stories, The Monster was a baleful warning or sign. In Latin, the word was “monstrum,” meaning a divine portent of misfortune. This term ultimately comes from “monstrare” - which indicates a showing or unveiling. In short, the monster is a revelation. And certainly this tune gives us a glimpse of the soul-light that only comes out of its secret place at night. This is album-as-altar and pop musician as sacrificial priest. This is the white monster as portent, omen and warning.
Is there a more moronic band name than “Iggy and the Stooges?” Looking at the cover of this, their third album, you’d have every reason to think them to be gas-huffing clowns, midnight wankers, mental defectives. To a certain degree, you’d be right. This is a stupid record - however, stupid and smart are not mutually exclusive. Idiocy and genius sometimes travel together, like the ghosts of Siamese twins.
Raw Power is an album about war-as-sex and sex-as-war. And while it’s sloppy, self-indulgent and out of control, it is also the greatest piece of art to emerge from the imaginal jungles of Viet Nam. Was Iggy a vet? Hell no - while the grunts were dying in the mud, Iggy was in high school drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and Romilar. Did he watch the whole war on TV? Everybody did, eating supper as the seven o’clock news gave us body counts, live executions, and endless fire fights in misty rice paddies.
The album’s first track is “Search and Destroy,” and it ends with “My Death Trip.” In between Iggy howls about disease, penetration, “hallucination true romance,” falling deep into the underworld and dancing “to the beat of the living dead.” In “Search and Destroy” he warns every girl in America to look out - because he’s got a “heart full of napalm” and he’s “using technology.” This is a new kind of war with a new kind of casualties. The smoke still hangs over the jungles and bombed-out cities and this “streetwalking chetah” has already become “the world’s forgotten boy.”
In 1972, glam rock had exploded like an antipersonnel mine full of silver confetti and mylar streamers. A year later, Raw Power exploded with a far less glamorous look and sound. Punk rock is all here already: snarling vocals, sludge-guitar riffing, cretin-hop drums, caveman bass, minimalist chord structure and speed freak energy. The gleam of glam is still here too, though already tainted with street-dirt, beer stains and dried body fluids. The mascara is running down Iggy’s face and his silver lizard pants hang loose from his emaciated hips. He pouts on the back cover, trying for a soulful mirror gaze, though he looks more like a brain damaged transvestite hooker than a Glamor Boy. On the front cover he manages a slightly more dignified pose - staring straight into some celestial amphetamine spotlight glare. Still, with his jutting jaw, sloppy lipstick and blond shag he might be the bastard spawn of Mussolini dressed by his alcoholic burlesque-queen mom.
It all ends with his Death Trip. It’s all revealed in the last track, where the “sick boy sick boy going round” wails, hoots, and barks at some slime-flecked moon. He shouts in an incoherent jabber about someone (everyone?) who must “come and be my enemy.” Then as the band jerks back and forth like a shot-up jeep stuck in a swamp-hole, Iggy gives his big proclamation: “We’re going down in history.”
Who is this “we?” The Stooges, who never made another album? Iggy and some nameless girl in a sleazy hotel room? Dead soldiers? Glam rock refugees? Americans staring at their TV sets? Every survivor of the era who remembers, who keeps listening, who knows?
And what is this “history?” The truth about a lost time and place. A ghost story with a punk-buzz soundtrack. A tale told by an idiot-genius. Or maybe all three.
This is the sound of the other Deutschland. This is Krautrock at its most alien and electro-maniacal. Bright globs and gibbering squirts of stellar sound-plasm, chimes from the sublime reaches of outer space, the grandeur and clear-minded trance of Germans who’ve broken free from history’s gravitational pull. This is Vier, the greatest album by Faust.
While Americans and Brits worshipped at the altars of guitar gods, in Germany, Faust was creating its heretic sound. Synthesizers laid out washes of cold aural slime. A buzzing organ moaned, soft and black and slippery as powdered graphite. Drums, tambourine and vacuum tube bleeps joined in a rackety rhythm. Chang-chord fuzz, shouts of a cretin, a girl muttering in Swedish, xylophones, a Teutonic Donovan crooning over muffled wobble-bass and arpeggio guitar, spells gibbered down a tinfoil-covered toilet paper tube, a long elegant sax solo, hurdy-gurdy bowed strings, rattling gear-click pulse, a keyboard ditty that stops dead on an echo and a voice from the studio talks to the void. What makes this kraut? What makes this rock?
The term “Krautrock” is idiotic, an artifact of Britain’s obsession with Germany as Nazi-land. Like so many labels for revolutionary phenomena, this one was created by its enemies. Would a term like Frog-rock have flourished if the French had produced a mutant crop of brilliantly messy, obscure and bizarre albums in the space of ten years? Calling this sound Krautrock is like calling funk “Chitlin music.” (Funk is ultimately of the lower body, the bowels, and chitlins are the bowels.) Or more to the point, it’s like labeling some of the greatest films of the 1960s “Spaghetti Westerns,” as though all a culture has to offer can be summed up by its most basic food.
But there it is: Krautrock. And given that Faust chose to play with the term, claiming it and naming the first track on their greatest album with this nazoid neologism, we use it here. Krautrock: ironic, iconic, blunt as a hammer blow that misses its mark but hits elsewhere and sets the whole world ringing like a gong.
The name of the band is also a complexity. Faust is both the medieval magic-man who makes a deal with the devil for infinite knowledge and it is “fist,” stark and brutish. Panzerfaust is both the mailed fist of the medieval knight and the handheld rocket launcher used to punch holes in the armor of American, British and Soviet tanks as they ground their way into the heart of Germany.
History is supposedly written by the winners. Here, we offer an alternative: the occult history (the hidden, lost, secret story) of the year when it all began. America had won the war and Germany had lost. American Apollo went to the moon in German-built rockets. The Germans stayed back. After seven years of war, they knew what the barren, blasted lunar surface looked like. They already lived on the moon. American music came with the armies and triumphed too. By the early ‘70s, the conquest was almost complete. But a small group of Germans - a kind of esoteric resistance movement - fought back, not with guns and bombs, but brains and synthesizers.
Faust IV is the true V-2 rocket, though it didn’t really go anywhere, at least not through euclidean space. Faust IV is the vengeance weapon out of Deutschland, blasting through the stellar void, secretly reentering the atmosphere and hitting its numinous target. Those who stand victorious claim the right to decide truth and falsehood. Here, we offer the other, the inner, story. We are the celebrants of the dismissed, forgotten, despised soundscape of that miraculous and mysterious post-lunar year - 1973.
What happened then? What happened here? Everything.