Rock’n’Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution [Mixtapes]

jimi

Voodoo Child!

Hey there, cyber wanderers, here’s a bunch of compilations I’ve put together, High Fidelity style, which gathers in digital musical boxes some of my favorite Rock’n’Roll songs ever. Pump up the volume and enjoy these several proofs that AC/DC was damn right by shouting, at the end of Back in Black, that rock’n’roll ain’t noise pollution! I’ve mixed together oldies/classics and contemporary stuff, both for the sake of diversity and to highlight how alive and kicking rock music, in its panoply of forms, still is nowadays. For more than 60 cyber-selections of music I cherish and usually play around with – including Jazz, Blues, Classical, Brazilian and so on and so forth… – check my 8 tracks profile. Cheers!

01) LED ZEPPELIN, “Communication Breakdown”
02) THE BEATLES, “Revolution”
03) BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD, “For What It’s Worth”
04) RIVAL SONS, “All The Way”
05) TREAT HER RIGHT, “I Think She Likes Me”
06) RANCID, “The 11th Hour”
07) TEENAGE FANCLUB, “I Don’t Want Control Of You”
08) JANIS JOPLIN, “Me and Bobby McGee”
09) THE WALLFLOWERS, “Passenger”
10) THE DISTILLERS, “The Hunger”

01. THE BEATLES, “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End”
02. THE WHO, “The Seeker”
03. LED ZEPPELIN, “Gallows Pole”
04. THE KNICKERBOXERS, “Lies”
05. THE SONICS, “Strychnine”
06. THE REMAINS, “Don’t Look Back”
07. CHOCOLATE WATCHBAND, “Are You Gonna Be There”
08. THE STANDELLS, “Dirty Water”
09. THE COUNT FIVE, “Psychotic Reactions”
10. LOVE, “7 and 7 Is”
11. ELECTRIC PRUNES, “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Nite”
12. THE STRANGELOVES, “Night Time”
13. JIMI HENDRIX, “Foxy Lady”

01) BLACK CROWES, “Hard to Handle”
02) SUSAN TEDESCHI & DOUBLE TROUBLE, “Rock and Roll” (Led Zeppelin Cover)
03) AC/DC, “Shot Down in Flames”
04) THE CLASH, “Brand New Cadillac”
05) DEEP PURPLE, “Strange Kind of Woman”
06) BIG STAR, “Don’t Lie to Me”
07) PATTI SMITH, “Rock and Roll Nigger”
08) BLACK MOUNTAIN, “Hair Song”
09) THE BEATLES, “Can’t Buy Me Love”
10) WILCO, “Casino Queen”
11) STROKES, “Reptilia”
12) T REX, “Rock On”

01) THEM CROOKED VULTURES, “New Fang”
02) JAPANDROIDS, “The Nights of Wine and Roses”
03) BEN HARPER, “Black Rain”
04) BLACK MOUNTAIN, “Rollercoaster”
05) JULIETTE & THE LICKS, “Hot Kiss”
06) PEARL JAM, “State of Love and Trust”
07) ARCADE FIRE, “Keep the Car Running”
08) BLITZEN TRAPPER, “Gold for Bread”
09) BORIS, “Dyna-Soar”
10) YEAH YEAH YEAHS, “Date With The Night”

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George Harrison visits Frisco’s Summer of Love #1967

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In 1967, the Summer of Love was blossoming. North American counterculture was at its peak, with beatnik writers, folk singers and psychedelic rockers trippin’ with their doors of percepton wide open and producing awesome art. In 1967 were born, to quote just a few era-defining masterspieces, The Beatles’ Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, Velvet Underground’s V.U. & Nico, Cream’s Disraeli GearsJefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic PillowLove’s Forever ChangesThe Door’s self-titled debut, Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Amidst this creative effervescence, a British lad, one of the Fabulous Four From Liverpool, decided to go visit Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, the epicenter of Hippieland, the shrine of Merry Pranksterism. This was in August 7, 1967, and this is how George’s girlfriend Patti Boyd tells the tale:

“…we thought it would be fun to go and have a look at Haight-Ashbury, the district that had been taken over by hippies. Musicians like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin lived there, and it was the LSD capital of America. On the way, Derek produced a tab. Would we like some? Since we were going to Haight-Ashbury, it seemed silly not to.

The area is named after the intersection of two streets, Haight and Ashbury, and as we approached, the driver said he wouldn’t drive down the street itself, he’d park among the side-streets. It seemed a little odd but we didn’t argue. We got out of the car, the acid kicked in and everything was just whoah, psychedelic and very… I mean, it was just completely fine. We went into a shop and noticed that all these people were following us. They had recognised George as we walked past them in the street, then turned to follow us. One minute there were five, then ten, twenty, thirty and forty people behind us. I could hear them saying, ‘The Beatles are here, the Beatles are in town!’

3 We were expecting Haight-Ashbury to be special, a creative and artistic place, filled with Beautiful People, but it was horrible – full of ghastly drop-outs, bums and spotty youths, all out of their brains. Everybody looked stoned – even mothers and babies – and they were so close behind us they were treading on the backs of our heels. It got to the point where we couldn’t stop for fear of being trampled. Then somebody said, ‘Let’s go to Hippie Hill,’ and we crossed the grass, our retinue facing us, as if we were on stage. They looked as us expectantly – as if George was some kind of Messiah.

We were so high, and then the inevitable happened: a guitar emerged from the crowd and I could see it being passed to the front by outstretched arms. I thought, Oh, God, poor George, this is a nightmare. Finally the guitar was handed to him. I had the feeling that they’d listened to the Beatles’ records, analysed them, learnt what they’d thought they should learn, and taken every drug they’d thought the Beatles were singing about. Now they wanted to know where to go next. And George was there, obviously, to give them the answer. Pressure.

George was so cool. He said, ‘This is G, this is E, this is D,’ and showed them a few chords, then handed back the guitar and said, ‘Sorry, man, we’ve got to go now.’ He didn’t sing – he couldn’t have: he was flying. We all were. I was surprised he could even do that.

Anyway, we got up and walked back towards our limo, at which point I heard a little voice say, ‘Hey, George, do you want some STP?’

George turned around and said, ‘No, thanks, I’m cool, man.’

Then the bloke turned round and said to the others, ‘George Harrison turned me down.’

And they went, ‘No!’

And then the crowd became faintly hostile. We sensed it because when you’re that high you’re very aware of vibes, and we were walking faster and faster, and they were following.

When we saw the limo, we ran across the road and jumped in, and they ran after us and started to rock the car, and the windows were full of these faces, flattened against the glass, looking at us.”

Pattie Boyd, Wonderful Tonight

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“It’s better to burn out than to fade away” – 20 Years Without Kurt Cobain (1967-1994)

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It seems to me quite ironic and ambiguous that a band named Nirvana was actually the living and struggling embodiment of what Buddhists call Samsara. As if he was bound to the wheel of craving and suffering, Kurt Cobain screamed his guts out just like I imagine Prometheus (so beautifully depicted in Rubens’ painting) screamed day after day as the eagle devoured his liver. Nirvana is perhaps the most tragic rock and roll band there was, seen from the perspective of Cobain’s death, but it ‘s also one of the most exciting pages of rock history in the 1990s. It inspired us, with its punkish courage, to take mainstream culture by assault. Off with commercial shitty kitsch! He wanted art to be undiluted expression of raw and true emotion, communicated through the means of songs bursting with juvenile energy, suicidal tendencies, drug experiences, Beatlemania, and an up-bringing in what he called “a punk rock world”.

 He violently departed from us, 20 years ago, in April 1994, by blowing his brains out with a shotgun on his 1-million-dollar mansion, chez lui on Trigger-Happy America. When he chose suicide as a way-out-of-the-Samsarian-mess, his daughter Frances was 20 months old and couldn’t possibly understand anything about the struggles of a heroin addict with his condition as an international pop-superstar. Singing as if he was a tree rooted in dark angry soil, his voice seemed to arise from an abyss of suffering, especially located in an intense point of pain inside his belly. That invisible wound made tremendously audible by his music rang so true and filled with authenticity, in an era of poseurs and fakers and hair-metal yuppie cowshit. Lester Bangs once wrote that “expression of passion was why music was invented in the first place”, and Cobain also seemed to believe in this – and he wasn’t ashamed to put his “dark” emotional side, from depression and paranoia to sociophobia and alienation, to craft the punk-rock hymns that turned him unwillingly into The Spokesman Of A Generation. Extraordinarily capable of expressing his feelings, Cobain’s heart poured out of himself like lava from a volcano, letting us peek through a sonic keyhole into the labyrinths of an anguished life seeking release and craving for pain to end.

Cobain’s musicianship was spectacularly exciting and innovative – even though he borrowed a lot from a similar heavy, distorted and fast guitar-sound, similar to the one invented and mastered in previous decades by Johnny Ramones and Mick Joneses – he created out of that something that was distinguishable his own. Cherishing intensity rather than complexity, and emotional catharsis more than rational self-controlness, Nirvana’s music carried within it some much power that the whole thing mushroomed into one of those rares episode in music history when a band becomes History, defines an Era, before burning-out instead of fading-away. I call them “The Exploding Stars”. I would argue, If you permit me to trip a little bit on some stoned hypotheses, that Cobain’s voice spoke to millions, and his music stirred up such an intense commotion, because of the authentic and desperate artistical expression that he was able to create out of his Samsarian suffering. In 1991, the kitsch of American pop culture – from Michael Jackson to Guns’N’Roses – was suddenly kicked in the butt by the 1990s equivalent to MC5’s Kick Out The Jams to the 1960s and Nevermind The Bollocks, Here’ The Sex Pistols to the 1970s.  

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And here we are, 20 years after he took a shortcut into that land which no voyager ever comes back from (like Shakespeare’s Hamlet said), discussing his legacy and trying to understand his life and his death. Violent deaths occur every day and all the time, of course, and why should the death of a rock star be made so much fuzz about? The thing is: American Culture is deeply influenced by the realm of Pop, which is a money-making-machine mainly, of course, but sometimes explodes out of control and becomes a cultural force that manages to transcend the markets. It becomes something to be dealt with by Art History, by Sociology, by Philosophy, by Anthropology, by Existential Psychology etc. Or do you perhaps think that the more than 60 people who committed copycat suicides after Cobain’s demise in 1994 related to Cobain only as consumers do with manufacturers of products? Could we possibly say that the more than 5.000 people who went to his funeral, and joined in a candlelight vigil, were merely mourning because they had lost one of their hired entertainers? What about more than 50 million records sold (how many billions of downloads, I wonder?): did all these listeners heard Cobain just as a manufactured commodity? No! Cobain had an authenticity arising from the trueness of feeling underlying his music, and this set him apart from everything that was going on in “Mainstream American Culture” in that era.

Nirvana kicked the door to the ground for Underground America to step into the spotlight in 1991, “The Year that Punk Broke” (when Sonic Youth signed to a major; when Pearl Jam and Soundgarden skyrocketed to the top of charts; when Seattle’s scene became “The Big Thing” in a process juicily conveyed by Hype! , the documentary). Violent and untimely deaths happened all around Cobain while he experienced and interacted with people from the music scenes of Aberdeen, Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle. Prior to Cobain’s suicide, there had been other tragedies in Seattle Rock City: for example, Mia Zapata‘s cold-blooded murder in July 1993, when the singer-songwriter of The Gits (one of the awesomest “grunge” bands that never made it to the Mass Media…) was raped and killed after leaving a bar in Seattle. Or the fatal-OD that took to an early grave Andrew Wood, singer in Mother Love Bone (whose remaining members went on to build Temple of The Dog and then Pearl Jam).

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TWO GRUNGY TRAGEDIES BEFORE COBAIN:  MIA ZAPATA’s murder (watch below the full The Gits doc) and ANDREW WOOD’s fatal OD (listen below to the tribute album by Temple Of The Dog, wich contains the grungy-hymn in which Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell share vocal duties, “Hunger Strike”).

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Suicide is common currency in rock’n’roll mythology. The Who had screamed in the 1960s, for a whole generation to hear: “I hope I die before I get old”. Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My” stated that “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” – a phrase later to become one of the most quoted from Cobain’ suicide letter. The Dead-at-27 Club had already a plentiful of members – Hendrix, Morrison, Janis… – when Nirvana’s lead singer joined them on this fraternity of bones. His originality was in his means-of-death: he was the first of them to have commited suicide. But did he really choose to leave life in order to become myth? Or such ambitions were not the case for someone craving to escape a labyrinth of angst, rage, stomach-aches, annoying fame, never-ending tours and chronical dissatisfaction? To get back to my point in the beggining of this trip: isn’t suicide, in Cobain’s case, an succesfull attempt simply to blow to smithereens the whole damned Samsara? After all, this man was an extremist not only in art but also in life, and it’s quite possible he entertained extreme notions about what Nirvana was all about.

 Nirvana’s music was not Zen at all – it was the sound of fury delivered in packages of Beatlesque melody and punkish attitude. When, 20 years ago today, he chose utter self-destruction, this was hardly a surprising ending for someone who had talked openly about suicide for years and years, and who had previously attempted it some times before, and who almost named the follow-up to Nevermind with the phrase I Hate Mysef And I Want To Die… Not surprising, but still mysterious and fascinating and hard to fully understand. Some writers and interpreters see Cobain’s suicide as something despicable, and criticize him for being a sell-out who couldn’t enjoy his success, or a kid who couldn’t stand his “tummy-ache” and chose some dumb radical medicine. In his article “An Icon of Alienation”, Jonathan Freedland writes, for example, about Cobain’s Last Days (also portrayed in cinema by Gus Van Sant):

“Generation X-ers are meant to be the slacker generation, yet here was the slacker-in-chief living the yuppie dream: married, padding around a $1.1 million luxury mansion with a garden for his baby daughter to play in, and Microsoft and Boeing executives for neighbours. It proved to be no refuge for Kurt Cobain, the boy who had come from blue-collar nowhere and made himself an international star and millionaire. Holed up inside the house overlooking the perfume-scented lake, he pumped his veins full of heroin, wrote his rambling suicide note, and did so much damage to his head that police could only identify his body through fingerprints. Dental records were no use, because nothing was left of his mouth.” – JONATHAN FREEDLAND, An Icon Of Alienation.

Some say some sort of suicide gene or tragic curse ran in the Cobain family: three of Kurt’s uncles had killed themselves. But the picture, of course, is much more complex than the “family tree” explanations wants to admit. It’s well known that Kurt Cobain was deeply pained both by stomach-aches and by childhood traumas (he was, every journalist repeated to exhaustion, the “son of a broken home”). His heroin-addiction, which he justified as a means of self-medication, it seems to relate also to some frantic need to numb his existential discomfort and disgust, to reach periodically some “artificial paradises” similar to the ones experienced by Baudelaire, De Quincey, Burroughs, Ken Kesey and tons of other artists and mystics. But no explanation of his bloody choice of escape from life can be convincing without a discussion about Celebrity, Fame, Success. As Will Hermes wrote in Rolling Stone magazine: “The singer-songwriter, who wrestled with medical problems and the drugs he took to keep them at bay,  was also deeply conflicted about his fame, craving and rejecting it.”

That’s what makes Nirvana so interesting: a punk band kicking out the jams in Sub Pop records turns into the highest-selling band in the world and becomes rich on the payroll of a major record company – Geffen. I would like to attempt to reflect briefly upon some of the reasons that explain Cobain’s suicide, but without venturing to give a comprehensive biography of the man or his band – a job already done brilliantly by Charles Cross’s Louder Than Heaven, by the Nirvana bio written by Everett True, or by the documentary About a Son by A. J. Schnack.

Let’s head back to 1991, when Nevermind exploded into the mainstream pop arena and became a cultural phenomenon of huge proportions. This landmark album wasn’t only a big commercial hit, destined to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide. It wasn’t only one of the greatest rock’n’roll albums ever made, with songs so powerful that Simon Williams describes them as “savage indictments of the rock ethos, eye-bulging, larynx-blistering screamalongs”. It wasn’t only a passing fancy of youngsters who would completely forget about the band when the next wave of pop novelties came along. Nevermind was an era-defining masterpiece of epic proportions, the most important album of the whole grunge era, the record that stands out in the 1990s as something unique and unsurpassed. It kicked out the jams with its raw power and heartfelt catharsis, and finally punk rock aesthetics and ethics became common currency and were delivered to the astonished masses. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, a song named jokingly after a deodorant, and in which Cobain said he was merely ripping off The Pixies, took MTV by storm in 1991 and buried for awhile the Disco-Yuppie-Crap and the Hair-Metal-Bullshit. It kick-started the Grunge Era and opened the gates wide open for the Seattle scene to become immensely influential through Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, The Screaming Trees, and many others. For the first time ever in the U.S., it seemed like Punk Rock was gonna win its battle and inject rebelliousness and dissent into the veins of American suffering from a hangover after the Reagan-years in Shopping Centerish Yuppie America.

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 “Nirvana have also been seen in sociological terms: as defining a new generation, the twentysomething ‘slackers’ who have retreated from life; as telling unattractive home truths about a country losing its empire and hit by recession; as representing the final, delayed impact of British punk on America. They have also shocked people by trashing male gender codes: kissing each other on the national network show Saturday Night Live, appearing in dresses in the video for their single ‘In Bloom’, doing pro-gay benefits. We may be more used to this in Britain, but America is a country with much more machismo in its popular culture. A sensational appearance on last year’s globally broadcast MTV Awards, where they smashed their equipment and mocked rock competitors Guns N’Roses, sealed their status as America’s bad boys…” JON SAVAGE, Sounds Dirty – The Truth About Nirvana

 Nirvana wasn’t political like The Clash, but yet they certainly did a political statement with their career. Kurt Cobain shoots himself in the head and his brains get splattered all over the American Dream – that thing that, George Carlin said, “you have to be asleep to believe in”. Nirvana was much more about a provocation, à la William Burroughs (Cobain’s favorite writer), on the despised Square Society of White America. It’s punkish agression against Yuppie bullshit. It states that music shouldn’t be seen only as product or merchandise, and that it can convey emotions that can “infect” large portions of society with its groove, its stamina, its mind-expansion and energy-raising powers.

Kurt Cobain could be described by psychopathologists as clinically depressed or bi-polar – it’s known he had familiarity with Ritalins and Lithiums and other creations of the Pharmacological Industries in Capitalist America. But Nirvana’s music is not only a downer – on the contrary, Nevermind cointained so much power that it seemed like it was capable of awakening a whole generation out of its lethargy and inaction. But Cobain couldn’t and wouldn’t be the “leader of a generation”, the preacher telling in the microfone for the converted masses which way to follow. He wouldn’t become a parody of himself (“I hope I die before I turn into Pete Townsend”, he said), he wouldn’t be a happy millionaire smiling for the papparazzis, he simply wouldn’t conform to letting Nirvana become a sell-out act of merely market-wise relevance. With his death, he turned Nirvana into a symbol for decades to come, a band never to be forgotten.

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 “The sleeve of Nevermind shows a baby swimming underwater towards a dollar bill on a fish hook. The intended meaning is clear: the loss of innocence, the Faustian contract that usually comes with money. Take it, but if you do, you’re hooked for life. It’s a parable of Nirvana’s current dilemma: they’ve taken the bait, but the contradictions of their success are threatening to tear them apart. How can the members of Nirvana retain their integrity, which is very important to them, in a situation which demands constant compromise? How can they sing from the point of view of an outsider now that they’re in a privileged position? How can they suffer relentless worldwide media exposure and still retain, in Grohl’s words, ‘the spontaneity and the energy of something fresh and new’ that has marked their career?” – JON SAVAGE

“Teenage angst paid off well, now I’m bored all old”: that was the statement that began In Utero’s sonic ride. In it, Cobain wants to take us with him on his downward spiral, never afraid to let the songs show his inner confusion and Samsarian suffering. He didn’t believe in a loving God acting as a Daddy up above on the clouds, looking out for their pet-children, but rather was seduced by Buddhist notions, for example that of Karma. Nirvana’s music seems like some sort of ritual of Karmic cleansing, in which Cobain attempts, through a visceral outpouring of emotions, especially the ones that are burdensome, to attain some release.

But he didn’t arrive at no Enlightnenment – not even plain and simple piece of mind. In Rome, March 1994, he attempts suicide with more than 50 pills of Roipnol. He couldn’t stand the never-ending tours, the stupid interviews, the persecution by papparazis, the fans acting like Neanderthals, the need to repeat for the thousandth time “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – even in those nights when we didn’t felt like doing it. He simply wasn’t able to “enjoy” the ride of popstardom inside the Commercial Machinery of Profit Seeking Corporate America. When Rolling Stone did a cover issue with Nirvana, Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt that read: ‘CORPORATE MAGAZINES STILL SUCK’. Even tough he hated Corporate America, he was immersed in it, and it had the means for him to take his message to larger audiences instead of limiting himself to the narrow world of punk-rock and indie concerts where you only preach to the converted. Nirvana never did corporate rock, but instead they did dangerous music that the industry soon discovered that resounded with millions of people worldwide. To call them “sell-outs” is narrow-mindedness. They tried instead to deeply transform Mainstream culture by taking it by storm. This is one of the most influential bands in the history of rock because it inspired us to reclaim the airwaves out of the hands of those fuckers Terence McKenna talks about in “Reclaim Your Mind”:

He never felt at ease or at home under the spotlight of mass media, gossip magazines, commercial TV shows. Always a punkish outsider and underdog that never quite fitted into the mainstream’s machinery of popstardom, he identified himself with feminists, oddballs, weirdos and other non-conformist and eccentric individuals and urban tribes. He despised pop icons like M. Jackson or Axl Rose, and loved The Pixies, The Raincoats, Young Marble Giants, all sorts of lo-fi and low-budget underground “indie” stuff. Even tough proto-grungers such as Husker Du’s Bob Mould, Black Flag’s Henry Rollins or The Replacements’ Paul Weterberg done something similar to Cobain both musically and lyrically, neither exploded internationally like Nirvana to wide-spread impact on thousands of lives.

I remember him as punk rock kid from a fucked-up town filled with macho-men rednecks, and who expressed his rage against mainstream American culture with extraordinary talent. I remember him as an aesthetic extremist who loved William Burroughs’ stoned literature, and who entertained himself in his Aberdeen years with peculiar fun such as watching Faces of Death after eating hallucinogenic mushrooms. I remember him also as a sometimes sensitive and tender guy who had pet-turtles in his bathtub and hated in his guts all sorts of homophobia, misoginy and Neanderthal stupidity. I remember him as a music geek that loved underground music and did everything in his power to invite his audience to listen to his favorite “indie” artists (like Pixies, Breeders, Meat Puppets, Vaselines, Daniel Johnston, Beat Happening, Flipper, Bikini Kill, Half Japanese, Billy Childish, Butthole Surfers…).

David Stubbs, in his article “I Hate Myself And I Want to Die”, writes:

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“Rock’n’roll mythology is fed and defined by its occasional deaths. Usually, these are due to some excess or other – driving too fast, getting too high, taking too much, going too far, the romantic pushing back of life’s envelope, testing the limits, wanting too much, wanting it now, forfeiting tomorrow in the bargain. Rock’n’roll mythology dictates that its heroes die because they wanted to live too much. Kurt Cobain, however, didn’t want to live. He wanted to die.”

It can be said that he’s the most perfect embodiment in rock music of  Nihilism, that cultural phenomenon which Nietzsche predicted, in the 19th century, that would become wide-spread. Cobain radically acted upon his nihilism, towards his self-destruction, what sets him apart from other famous nihilists, like Emil Cioran or Arthur Schopenhauer, who died of old age and so-called “natural causes”.

The man died, but his deeds are still with us, haunting us like Prometheu’s scream as he’s being eaten by an eagle, inspiring us like a Punk Monument to raw power in an age of slumber, provoking us like a tragic character which awakens us to a life that ain’t no picnic. There’s reason to mourn and get the paralysing blues when we considerer Cobain’s suicide, but there’s also reason to cherish and celebrate a life that has left a legacy that millions of us feel that have enriched our lives. Cobain struggled in Samsara and that makes him a member of a brotherhood called Humanity. Nirvana always sounded to me like the music of a brother, expressing what we, his brothers in suffering, also experienced but were unable to express so powerfully and unforgettably as he did.

[By Awestruck Wanderer]

NUGGETS: Original Artyfacts of the 1st Psychedelic Era (1965-1968) – One of the greatest compilations of 1960s’s rock

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“Turn on, tune in, and drop out”: Timothy Leary’s famous slogan may serve as a good motto to keep in mind while listening to this box of precious artyfacts from the first psychedelic era. So turn on the volume, tune in to the music coming out of your headphones or speakers, and drop-out for a while from the square-world’s grayness – because with Nuggets we are taken on a trip through the sounds of the 1960s in all their exuberance. Compiled by Lenny Kaye, music critic and guitar player in Patti Smith’s Group, this 1972 compilation does an excellent job offering a condensed experience of some the greatest underground rock songs recorded between 1965 and 1968.  Listening to these 4 CDs is similar to embarking on a train down memory lane, to a journey through the 1960s musical landscape, especially all that happened below the surface, in the underground currents of an age that was being massively inspired and shaped by the music of The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Kinks, Cream, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, The Doors – and many others.

Kaye’s collection offers an historical document of some of the best music being made by then. Most of these bands didn’t quite make it to the top, or ended up being just one-hit-wonders. But, in the efervescent years leading up to Woodstock and the Summer of Love, when hippies and LSD became widespread cultural phenomena, many of these groups were pioneering fields later to be fully explored by future artists: The Sonics and The 13th Floor Elevators, for example, were somewhat proto-punk and also precursors of what will emerge decades later, the garage rock à la The Cramps and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Many bands in the mid-sixties are already doing what the Stooges or the MC5 will soon start attempting: kicking out the jams with raw power. But here there’s also a lot of pop-inclined and melody-ridden groups trying to sound like The Beach Boys; trippy and hippy folk-rock sounding like electrified-Dylan; and some examples of noisy experimentalism with no particular regard for commercial interests. Influential and cult figures – like Love or Captain Beefheart – contribute with great tracks to this amazing collection. I’ve been listening to it for years and keep coming back to this fountain of the 1960s exuberant lyricism and enthusiastic rock’n’rolling. 

Enjoy the music! You can listen to three quarters of the whole collection in the videos below, or download HERE the whole bunch (torrent at Pirate Bay).

“Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down and Out)” sung by Bessie Smith, Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, and Carla Bruni…

The Unhappy Endings Of The Sixties – Or The Doors according to Greil Marcus

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“In 1968 dread was the currency. It was what kept you up all night, and not just the night Bobby Kennedy was shot… Dread was why every day could feel like a trap. (…) The feeling that the country was coming apart – that, for what looked and felt like a casually genocidal war in Vietnam, the country had commited crimes so great they could not be paid, that the country deserved to live out its time in its own ruins – was so visceral that the presidential election felt like a sideshow. In this setting, the Doors were a presence. They were a band people felt they had to see – not to learn, to find out, to hear the message, to get the truth, but to be in the presence of a group of people who appeared to accept the present moment at face value. In their whole demeanor – unsmiling, no rock’n’roll sneer but a performance of mistrust and doubt – they didn’t promise happy endings. Their best songs said happy endings weren’t interesting, and they weren’t deserved.” (GREIL MARCUS, The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to 5 Mean Years, pgs. 95-96)

greil marcusThe least I can say in praise of the writings of Mr Greil Marcus is this: they expanded my horizons on music, they made me understand music’s presence inside culture, its historical significance, or, to sum things up, the context in which music arises and acts. I wouldn’t call Greil Marcus only a music critic, the one who judges aesthetically upon the merits or vices of certain musical productions. Greil Marcus is also some sort of bold trans-disciplinary intellectual maverick, who knows no fixed boundaries or forbidden signs keeping him from moving all around between different “fields” – like History, Sociology, Psychology, Literature. I’d call him an historian of culture, someone who writes about our present as a culture from an historical perspective, and also a gifted “painter of cultural landscapes”. He’s certainly among the most well-informed and intelligent music critics I’ve read, and he’s certainly – together with guys such as Lester Bangs, Simon Reynolds and Nick Kent – one of the greatest thinkers of pop music and its underground currents. With his prose, Greil Marcus seems to paint portraits of our Western civilization much more than merely commenting on artists – such as Bob Dylan or Van Morrisson – we has written so much about. To paint the big picture, he doesn’t shy away from discussing movies – like Wild in The Streets or Pump Up The Volume – or to quote Thomas Pynchon’s novels in order to set the mood for his musings on  Jim Morrison.

My appreciation of The Doors has been greatly improved, and my horizons about them have been radically expanded, after I’ve read Greil Marcus impressive book about them. It’s incredibly tought-provoking. Suddenly The Doors were not only a rock and roll band (and a damn good one!), but also a symptom of an historical epoch. A symbol of the dark side of the Sixties. A “dystopic” band, outstranged in an era of Utopia was also an important part of the cultural landscape.  The Doors were like a psycho who stabs in the heart the flowery dreams of the peace-and-lovin’, tree-hugging, pot-smoking acid-heads known as “Hippies”. The Doors were more like dark flowers bursting out of a swampy, bleak age: that of the napalm bombing and other techniques of genocide used against Vietnam (and later Cambodia); of Charles Manson’s cult killing frenzy that sent the whole Los Angeles drowning in dread; and, as “The Other Side Of Woodstock”, the deaths of Altamont

After reading this book by Marcus, I began wondering: perhaps the task of the music critic isn’t merely passing judgement – either cherishing or condemning the artists he’s writing about – but instead attempting to share with his readers the big picture, the cultural context in which some musical phenomenon emerges. That’s what Marcus accomplishes when he paints the whole Zeitgeist that surrounded The Doors: we are reminded of some of the tragedies of those times in Los Angeles (like the bloodshed caused by Charles Mansonites), which appear as the dark side of the Flower Power utopia. The Door are “riders on the storm”, like “dogs without a bone”, and there are killers on the roads (and also inside the White House and the Pentagon…).

In Marcus’ pages, we journey through some of Jim Morrison’s most extreme behavioural excesses. Like that fateful night in Miami when he was arrested for his use of obscene language and offensive nudity (some say he only pretended to jerk off… not a big deal, and certainly not a thing that should get anyone in jail!). He’s certainly not the first rock’n’roller, nor will the last, to be caged like a wild beast by authorities who felt their sacred institutions had been mocked and debunked by these subversive artists that needed to be spanked into silence.

Marcus also makes the reader imagine Jim Morrison in the process of drinking himself to death, while he struggles to write the soundtrack for the agony of a drunken swan who has consumed too much booze and too much Rimbaud. We are taken in a roller-coaster ride on the wings of The Doors’ poetry and music, where one can sense a celebration of Dyonisian eroticism mixed with an obssession with Death and Psychosis. We are invited to understand the band as an occurrence in the history of culture that continues on a path treaded not only in rock’n’roll, but within a broader cultural landscape that includes poets, playwriters and mystics:

“The Doors saw themselves as much in the tradition of fine art – a tradition within the tradition, the stream of art maudit that carried Blake, Poe, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Nietzsche, Jarry, Buñuel, Artaud, and Céline to their doorsteps – as in the tradition of rock’n’roll. For them rock’n’roll itself was already a tradition, full of heroes and martyrs…” – GREIL MARCUS, A lifetime of listening to five mean years – The Doors (New York: Public Affairs, 2011, Pg. 132)

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The Doors were surely innovators in the sixties, both musically and lyrically, and Greil Marcus points out some of the elements that made Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzakek and John Densmore an outstanding cultural phenomenon. When “Light My Fire” exploded, skyrocketing to the top of the charts, and the band’s debut album was released to wide-spread impact on the U.S. rock scene, most people knew that this guys weren’t deemed to become a one hit wonder to be forgotten in the next summer. They sounded more subversive (“Break on Through” antecipates The Sex Pistols) and less optimistic than most “hippie bands” that celebrated Peace & Love. Even tough The Doors also celebrated consciouness expansion psychedelics (starting with the name of the band, a tribute  to Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception), there was also a quite bleak and scary mood in some of the groups’ songs, like the nightmarish explorations of the darkest corners of the human mind in “The End” (a song about, among other things, a psycho who acts out Freud’s Oedipus Complex, kills his father, and… you know what!). In the following words, Marcus describes a moment in the The Doors’ path where darkness was closing in and the band was falling apart:

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 “When The Doors recorded ‘Roadhouse Blues’ in November 1969, Morrison’s arrest in Miami the previous March, the three months of concerts cancelled everywhere in the country that followed, the felony trial looming in the next year, the likelihood of prison, and after that the end of the band, were only the most obvious demons. The specter of the Manson slaughter hung over every Hollywood icon, hanger-on, or rock’n’roll musician as if it were L.A.’s Vietnam. Everyone – people who had been in Manson’s orbit, like Neil Young, or anyone who knew someone who knew someone who had, which was everyone – believed there was a hit list, held by those Mansonites waiting patiently, on the outside, for the word of the messiah. There were reasons to believe that the Manson bands were just a first brigade – a lumpen avant-garde, you could say – for a web of cults biding their time for years, since the late 1940s, some said, when the British sex-magick maven Aleister Crowley, John Parsons, the founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and L. Ron Hubbard practiced Satanist rituals in Pasadena, determined to summon the whore of Babylon and conceive a living Antichrist.” (MARCUS, 2011, pg. 156-57)

We all know that The Doors’ career has no happy ending: the music is over when Jim Morrison, 27 years old, is found dead in a bathtub in Paris. To understand what went wrong, Greil Marcus explores the lyrics and poems of The Doors’ lead-singer, revealing there what may be called an epic battle, within a human heart, between Eros and Thanatos. It’s always hard, when dealing with Jim Morrison’s poetry, to separate the life-affirming from the self-destructive tendencies. When he invites the listener to a shared experience of “setting the night on fire”, he might be simply talking about of heated and sweaty sex encounter, some rock and rolling in the carnal sense of the expression, but the same song, as you may remember, evokes the images of a “funeral pyre” and of “wallowing in the mire”. The desire for the flame of life to burn with more intensity, with a brighter fire, seems to always have an anguish, arising from consciousness of mortality, underlying it, setting a “mood” for it. As tough the Doors music wanted to hint at the fact that, similarly to the stars that we witness burning in the dark of space, life’s light shines in a backdrop of mortality and finiteness.

 “Before you slip into unconsciousness I’d like to have a another kiss. Another flashing chance at bliss Another kiss, another kiss…”

As Greil Marcus points out, these verses from “The Crystal Ship” can be interpreted simply as a celebration of love’s blisses and thrills, but it also can mean something way darker – like a suicide pact. “To slip into unconsciousness” can mean simply falling asleep, but it also can be read as death approaching, the desire for a farewell-kiss. Even tough the lyrical content can be felt by the listener as a beautiful statement about the delights of lovers, it also can be read as a sympton of painful and  insatiable desire, of Eros’ unquenchable thirst. Greil Marcus’ interpretations got me thinking about this paradox that can be perceived in many of The Doors’ songs: the celebration of Eros as a life-force side-by-side with the painful striving that seems never to lead to full satisfaction (a theme also explicitly adressed by well-known songs by The Rolling Stones and The Replacements, among many others). The “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” motto, the feeling of being always singing the “Unsatisfied Man Blues”, may well be one of most powerful and reocurring themes of popular music, an enduring element that unites the musical productions of several different epochs.

Greil Marcus book provides an interesting journey for everyone willing to explore the mysteries of Jim Morrison and The Doors, but its merits transcends this: he wrote almost a treatise about the Sixties whole cultural landscape. In his attempt to understand Youth Culture in the 60s, he refrains from a simple-minded and naive praise-singing for the so-called “Woodstock Era”. He invites us to recognize gratefully its merits, but also to question those years with critical eyes. In Greil Marcus’ understanding, rock’n’roll is obviously a powerful cultural force because its greatest artists are considered by the masses as heroes and role-models, whose behaviour thousands (or even millions) of people cherish, admire and attempt to reproduce. Figures like Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon or Janis Joplin act as well-known cultural icons whose lifestyle and creativity inspire large portions of mortals to transcend their own limitations. They act like magnets summoning us to be more like them: creative, autonomous, rebellious, innovative, awe-inspiring, beautifully expressive and emotionally engaging. But – as Greil Marcus argues – one of the dangers we face in this process is this: the apathy and inaction of the masses, who are satisfied with a role of passive spectators and consumers. Marcus points out, for example:

“The Sixties are most generously described as a time when people took part – when they stepped out of themselves and acted in public, as people who didn’t know what would happen next, but were sure that acts of true risk and fear would produce something different from what they had been raised to take for granted. You can find that spirit in the early years of the Civil Rights movement, where some people paid for their wish to act with their lives, and you can find it in certain songs. But the Sixties were also a time when people who could have acted, and even those who did, or believed they did, formed themselves into an audience that most of all wanted to watch. ‘The Whole World Is Watching’ was a stupid irony: people went into the streets, they shouted, gave speeches, surrounded buildings, blocked the police, and then rushed home to watch themselves on the evening news, to be an audience for their own actions…” (p. 56)

For some decades we have been conditioned by the Entertainment Industry, the whole Show Business pervasive environment, that we, “the masses”, shouldn’t think of ourselves as nothing but passive consumers, buying products that enrich stars that are already millionaires. Unfortunately, that’s the way things usually happen: when an artist of outstanding talent and powerful skills of expression arises – like Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison – they tend to get destroyed by the “economical-commercial” environment where they see themselves thrown into. They tend to die at 27 (or at little bit earlier or later), tragically quiting from their pop-star positions. It happened to Janis, Jimi, Jim – and then to Cobain, an then to Amy, and so on and so on… I’m tempted to say, especulating mentally about it, that to die at 27 is not only a re-ocurring event for pop stars, but it says something important about pop-stardom itself. The cultural sickness that, it seems to me, Greil Marcus’s book is aiming to denounce, is the process of idolatry that goes on between we, “the masses”, and those we very sintomatically call “our idols”. 

Once again, The Doors is an excellent example: Jim Morrison died young, but then became a myth, an idol, a sex symbol. His physical body began decomposing in a Paris bathtub when the young musician and poet was 27, but even today – much more than 27 years have gone by after his death… – he’s still an object of some collective adoration (it might be shrinking, but it survives). He left life to enter History, one might say, but I’d rather say he’s voice still echoes among us – and his demise scares us, still, because we can’t fully understand it. Nor can we fully understand the process that lead another 27-year-old international popstar to blow his brains out with a shotgun in 1994. Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain, it appears to me, got crushed by the machinery of popstardom. When you become a popstar (I suppose, never having been one!), you might get the spotlights, the paparazzis, the magazine covers, the fancy cars to drive to the sold-out concerts, but what comes along, as its downside, is often underestimated. You get sick and tired of hearing stupid and futile gossip about you in the newspapers “social columns”. You get sick and tired of being asked to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Light My Fire” for the thousandth time… And most people of the aptly titled “Audience” don’t care to be nothing but audience – nothing but passive receivers of a message, a flock of sheep beneath the idolized figure of the musical messiah, who rains down his dictates from the pulpit of the stage.

Instead of autonomy, idolatry breeds passivity. Instead of the independence and willingfulness stated in the Punk ethics of “do it yourself!”, idolatry and popstardom tend to condition us to passively consume messages provided by people we pay so they can express themselves, while we remain without expression – and thus without real significance. Or, to sum things up, as Greil Marcus puts its: many people payed for tickets and went to see The Doors live because they wanted to watch someone being freer and more expressive than themselves. But after the concert ended, and they returned to their day-to-day life, they continued in a passive position, that of consumers of art made by others, they didn’t become artists themselves,  lighting up their own fires inspired by that fire the artist had tried to spread around him like an incendiary!…

This whole business of idolatry and popstardom is obviously breeding disasters – and of the re-ocurring kind. When we transform a flesh-and-blood human being into an idol, and expect him or her to act for us, to express ourselves in our place, and most of all to tell us what to do and how to live, we’re rennouncing autonomy and responsability, making ourselves puppets that place their fates in the hands of the idol. He become an audience that can only receive, or mimic, but that doesn’t get truly transformed in agents.

Thrown into this bizarre hall of deforming mirrors called the Commercial Media, artists hailed to popstardom have this strange reocurring tendency to freak out and die young. I wouldn’t claim to understand all the complex reasons why this happens, but an episode of Jim Morrison’s life appears to me to contain one of the answers to our riddle: in one of those moments on stage when he gets possessed by rage, Jim Morrison begins to attack his audience verbally, with a viperish and misanthropic discourse, showing how he despises those beneath him. He drunkely shouts to his audience (to us all, really): “Why do you let people push you around? How long do you think it’s gonna last? How long will you let it go on? How long will you let ’em push you around? Well, maybe you like it, maybe you like it been pushed around! And love getting your face getting stuck in the shit! You love it, don’t ya? YOU’RE ALL A BUNCH OF SLAVES!”

Maybe he meant that people were doing less than they could, that they weren’t acting out as much as they should, for example to stop the Vietnam War or the Latin American military dictartorships (like the one who started out in Brazil, 1964, sponsored by the U.S.). Maybe he meant that people were too shy and well-behaved to really revolt against authoritarian elements in society – like the whole Police and Prison complex, or the Army, or presidents and politicians who were also war criminals and mass murderes. Maybe he meant that we, a “bunch of slaves”, hadn’t yet proclaimed our own independence: there we were, the masses of idolatry, powerless and disconnected, watching someone acting out and struggling to create freedom and beauty – and yet we ourselves weren’t acting collectively so powerfully and widely as we could towards the collective building of freedom and beauty. Most of the people who constituted the masses were watchers and not agents, consumers and not creators, followers and not leaders. And lots of people were certainly apolitical, individualistic, disengaged, and mostly indifferent to the destinies of the dispossed, the murdered, the peryphery of the so-called First World. Many of us have bought the obscene slogan and ideologies summed up by “better dead than red” or “kill a gook for god”.

At the unhappy ending of the Sixties – when nobody knew yet how many thousands of dead bodies had resulted from Vietnam, nor anyone knew how many Charlies Mansons the future held in store, nor how many Black Panther Party activists would be murdered… – a band opened a door through which the decade could see itself as an utopia unfulfilled, a failed attempt at freedom and justice, a nightmare stinking of napalm and Agent Orange. Sometime before dying at 27 in a Paris bathtub, Jim Morrison’s screamed on the speakers for his audience (for all of us, really): “You’re all a bunch of slaves!” The provocation still echoes and lingers on.

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THE DOORS – FULL DISCOGRAPHY:

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WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE [FULL DOCUMENTARY]

Narrated by Johnny Depp

For high-quality stream of the film, please join
La Revolucion Es Ahora (free membership for thousands of docs).

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WOMEN singing the BLUES: a mixtape to honour the birthday of Janis Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970)

The phenomenal human-hurricane Janis Joplin was born 71 years ago, and as a tribute to her music here’s a mixtape that starts with her awesome song “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder”. In this digital music-box shared above, Janis is joined with lots of great female voices singing the blues: Bessie Smith, “After You’ve Gone”; Big Mama Thornton, “Willie Mae’s Trouble”; Nina Simone, “I Wish I Knew How It Felt to be Free”; Susan Tedeschi, “It Hurt So Bad”; Aretha Franklin, “The Thrill is Gone”; Beth Gibbons of Portishead, “Numb”; Eleni Mandell, “Moonglow, Lamp Low”; Lisa Germano, “Red Thread”; and Os Mutantes (With Rita Lee), “Meu Refrigerador Não Funciona”. Enjoy the ride! And trip on with some of Janis’ classics: