New York Dolls

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.

Monster Mash

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.

Raw Power

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.