Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sometime Ago

Sometime Ago

Dedicated to an honored friend, Jim K. A member of the 60s garage band the Traits.

One night last November I was sitting in a drinking establishment at some distance from my home. I had just finished watching a psychedelic band of no small merit finish off a (very short) set with a blaze of glory. When the house lights went up a friend who had joined me on the sojourn followed me to the stage and we met the band with congratulations and the necessary kudos and applause. As the venue emptied we realized we'd have to go and none of us seemed to want the evening to end so my friend and I were invited to the above-mentioned establishment to continue the evening's celebration.

Upon arrival it seems we'd just missed a band-though where they'd have fit in the place is beyond the powers of my imagination. (Hmm, "the ceiling is bending up"?!) A local DJ was about to begin his first set and I procured a round for all in our group to prevent oncoming thirst, a method I've learned works well as preventative. The libations and the conversation flowed and then the DJ overtook us: the moment he played the Blues Magoos "There She Goes" stands out as forever etched in the gray matter. The whoosh and panning, speaker-to-speaker, side-to-side. Three songs stand out for me from that night and was the genesis of this idea to create a mix built to recreate a '60s psychedelic dance party. (At least one I'd like to have attended.) The tracks were the already-stated Magoos, Paul Revere & the Raiders "Great Airplane Strike", and the Cords "Ghost Power." (A track I didn't manage to fit on this. Ah well.) Those tracks provided the backbone of this mix, along with a desire to honor a great friend of mine who has been so generous with his time and the sharing of thoughts, ideas, well-wishes, etc. Jim K. is a man who was there in this period of time and actively in the scene. His band's only track, "High On A Cloud" has been covered-at the urging of none other than Greg Shaw, by the Pandoras, on their It's About Time LP. (Oddly enough the track gives composer credit to Paula Pierce.) The track has also appeared on a Relics, Pebbles, & Garage Punk Unknowns volumes. I ran a few questions by Jim K. regarding the track and the times in which it was made, here is the back-and-forth:

Me: Before we get to the track itself, could you give some insights into your own changing notions and the upheaval of the times..? Was there one band or song which "illuminated" you suddenly and compelled you to seek out like-minded persons to be a part of a band?

JK: Being a kind of a eccentric kid for the time, I'd hang out at the public library trying to find the freakiest ethnic music I could find, like New Guinea funeral chants, Tibetan long horns, Chinese opera, anything exotic and outside of the rigid framework of Western music. I became deeply interested in classical Indian music in 1963 and when George Harrison used a sitar on "Norwegian Wood" in '65, I actually felt somewhat jaded about it (I was quite opinionated about how trite it's usage had been). I was, however, knocked for a parenthetical loop by the effect it had on "Tomorrow Never Knows" and I was ecstatic about this synthesis of Eastern and Western music, something that had grown into a shimmering dream of mine.

It's very difficult for people who lived through that era to point to a single record or a lone band as being the marker that pointed the way to one's absorption of the psychedelic music meme. If you weren't there (I know, it's a despicable cliche), you can't truly appreciate the epochal jump that took place when Dylan scribed the lyrics to "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" or to have the existing guitar lexicon taken into an inarticulateable dimension by Hendrix's "Are You Experienced" and this, concomitantly with the release of "Sgt. Pepper" (which disassembled pop music and rebuilt it like a sonic Phoenix). There has never been another time that contained so many intersections, so much shape-shifting and so many integral concepts that were born, like Venus, fully formed. As we view these thing today, it's from the oversparkling context of seeing all of these original artistic concepts nearly obliterated by the long progression of music that stemmed from them, which, in turn, spawned generations of other works. We can no longer appreciate the shock that these productions produced in those of us who heard them fresh, startling and psychically electrifying, capable of pulling us directly into a psychedelic vortex. So, although I could point to highlights in the "groups and songs" area that led me further, it was the phenomenon en masse that kicked my legs out from under me and left me floating in this living dreamland that was/is psychedelic music.

Me:Can you share some of the history of the band's name and the title of the track you're known for?

JK: We initially started just throwing names out via a sort of stream-of-consciousness method that most groups use but eventually we decided that we wanted something elemental, something conveying a stripped-down form of all that was basic. "The Traits" won by majority vote but truthfully, I was never satisfied with it. As to the title "High on a Cloud", I'd rather not get into the story behind it. I've come to understand that people look back to that era with a fondness for the innocence of the time and the stories of high school groups. "High on a Cloud" is obviously about smoking marijuana, which was quite risque for the time.... but it was re-written from a vastly more decadent song. We were a group of exceedingly troubled and quite self-destructive kids. Our story would be far too disturbing to relate to those of your readers who are investigating the histories of what were generally very sweet kids who had a blast creating the raw, creative thing we call "garage rock". I would much rather that listeners grin at this primeval song about pot rather than reveal just how dark it was until we completely rewrote it.

Me: If you could go back in time, for a few minutes, to the you which existed then, the morning of the recording, what would you tell yourself?<p>

JK: That's a very deep concept, imagining what one would do given a few minutes of the past. I suppose, if I was locked into the parameters that you seem to want me to be locked into, I would tell myself that we were doing the right thing. Right up to (virtually) the last minute, we were in conflict about whether to do the "cleaned-up" version of the song, or just go ahead and do it the way we had written it. I think we ultimately made the right choice as a song about smoking weed was really comparatively "safe" for audiences, then and now. Had we gone ahead with the original song, we'd have carried some very heavy "karma", if you'll permit me that hackneyed concept. As regards the actually recording, I played keyboards and had decided that I wanted my part to be almost seamlessly dense, oppressive to the point of being claustrophobic. I felt that if I could create this sonic wall, that the brilliant lead guitar riff in the middle would fly like an embellishment, like a long, light flag on top of the wall, an identifier. At least that's what I thought at the time...

Me:What were the band's-and your own, expectations for the track and beyond?<p>

JK: To be honest, we regarded the whole "Battle of the Bands" thing to be a scam (it was a common con for promoters at the time), so we didn't really expect anything to come of it. As I've said, we weren't the same kind of innocents that most high school bands at the time were. We had a coterie who arranged things for us, shifted us from one place to another, put contracts in front of us, saying "sign this" and we were so, well......out of touch (as it were) that we mostly just viewed it all as being quite unreal. I haven't been in touch with any of the guys for decades so I don't want to talk about things that they might not want talked about. However, I think I can safely say that we had NO expectations with regards to this recording and I'm sure the rest of them are as stunned as I am that it has seen the kind of replication that it has through the years.

Me:I know the track has been comp'd a few times, as well as covered, (I think at the nudging of Greg Shaw), by the Pandoras. The residuals must allow for an extravagant lifestyle, right?

JK: Heh! Yeah, we're all living a solid gold highlife! The sarcasm aside, I think most people would be just a little surprised that none of us were ever contacted by any of the companies that "lifted" the song for their own use, no attempt was made to get permission and needless to say, not a penny of royalties has ever come through. I'm sure that most of the people who were behind these compilations are music fans first and wanted to keep these tunes alive and saved beyond fragile vinyl copies. I'm sure that some of them are really "stand-up" guys. But suffice it to say, they continue to profit off of us without any concern for making sure that we are/were properly compensated (past, present or future). With regards to the Pandora's cover of "High on a Cloud", I'm devastated that I was completely unaware of it at the time and that I missed out on meeting the late (and very great) Paula Pierce. It was profoundly humbling to hear their letter perfect version of it, they clearly had a beautiful sense of what raw garage rock was and ironically, they outperformed most of the male bands that tried to emulate it (and who felt that they "owned" it).

Me:Any bands working today which get you excited musically? Are we in a "psychedelic revival"?<p>

JK:Oh yeah! The Squires of the Subterrain (pick any album) can land on any era/mode/style and have it down pat, like natives. I'm a Mega-Mega fan of theirs and I drive myself a little nuts waiting for every new release! My one grievance concerns their reluctance to tour...music that fine needs to be produced live, in front of a wildly live audience. I wish they'd give in to one of the Psychapalooza type tours and blow every mind that catches their exotically gorgeous soundwaves!

As to whether we're in a psych revival, well, it all depends on how you define that. For example, Nick Drake (who I consider to be very psychedelic) has been dead for over 30 years and people are still discovering him. Is that a revival or is it brand new? Is it old and passe? I don't know. I consider trance and electronica to be deeply of the psych vein (doing things that Hawkwind and Sid Barrett would've done if they'd had the technology back in the '60's) and it's all new! Or is it? I think we can tag things "psychedelic revival" but personally, I look at that as a flaw in our thinking. Psychedelic things, be they music, art, literature, film or spiritual practices all stand outside of time. They live in a place that you can peek into with drugs or yoga or the simple power of an open heart and you'll be looking at the same things that a hunter gatherer saw 8000 years ago when he ate a few unfamiliar mushrooms or drank the sap of the medicine man's vine. Some musical groups will perform studied, stylistic mimicry of "psychedelic" music but just wont get it, won't understand what's behind the music (and beneath and inside of it) so, is that revival? There's certainly a renewed interest in the genre, but to me, it's part of a continuum, people plugging into something that's always there, waiting for us to listen to it and to participate in it.

Me:Thank you, my friend. Anything else you'd like to share with all two of our subscriber/readers?

JK:Yes, I'd like to thank them for their participation in the musical process, whether it's making music, listening to it, making mixtapes or putting your iPod on "random play". In doing so, you enrich yourself and by doing that, you raise up our civilization, make it more viable, you make ME better and internally richer. You may not understand what you're doing, or how important it is but in your own way, you're doing something heroic every time you tap your toes to some song that moves you or clap your hands in time to gospel music that causes your spirit to ascend. Be involved in music, in whatever way you can and you will make you and me and everyone better people and in deeper communication with the forces of beauty around us. Keep it up!

Tracklist for the mix is here:http://www.artofthemix.org/FindAMix/Getcontents.asp?strMixId=108106

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