The Wrong Elevator

Recently my friend Sam and I compiled a YouTube playlist of Roky Erickson/13th Floor Elevators (and adjacent) music. I think we found some great stuff so I thought I’d share. Most of them have video as well; for those that don’t, might I suggest some healthy calisthenics, a yoga pose or two, or brewing another pot of mushroom tea?

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Play On, Mr. Music

We’ve lost a lot of legends this year: Charlie Watts, Ed Asner, Toots Hibbert, Bunny Wailer, The Gift of Gab, Biz Markie, and Shock G, just off the top of my head. And Michael K. Williams, fucking Omar, and now Norm, it never ends….

But no departure has mattered to me as much as that of Lee “Scratch” Perry, whom I truly believed to be immortal. In 2011 he told GQ:

I create immortality — never grow old, never get cold, never tired, never weary. I am my music. My music refuse to die, my music refuse to be an adult, my music will be a baby for all the time.

How could you not believe him? All the evidence seemed to back him up.

One of Scratch’s defining characteristics was an insane productivity, especially during the Black Ark period (1975–1979), when he had the tapes rolling day and night. Robert Palmer (yes that Robert Palmer, Power Station Robert Palmer, “Addicted to Love” Robert Palmer, but also “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” Robert Palmer, lest we forget), who recorded at the Black Ark, described the atmosphere this way:

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Peace Like a River

I don’t think I ever heard this song — vintage 1972 — until a few weeks ago. I did a double-take at this part:

Misinformation followed us like a plague
Nobody knew from time to time
If the plans were changed

Trés now, no? Life remains full of surprises.

The Rumor

Continuing on the theme of old songs that seem especially relevant today — this one came up on shuffle in the car recently, and I was struck by how much it resonates with our current climate of misinformation and mistrust. The only part that seems out of step with 2021 is the hopeful tone of the ending. But as music is wont to do, it will make you feel hopeful for a moment, even if you know better.

Five Years

Lately as I gaze out at the shrunken reddish sun trying to insinuate itself through the smoke, I find myself thinking of this song. When Bowie wrote it slightly less than 50 years ago, it was science fiction. But today if news came across the wires that Earth would uninhabitable in five years, would anyone be that surprised? The recent UN climate report wasn’t too far off, but there are no riots in the streets. Cops are not kissing the feet of priests, and no one is vomiting.

Or at least that’s not happening here… though maybe it is in the big cities. From this vantage point it seems more like a quiet, slow-motion apocalypse. There will be plenty of time, at least, to assemble the proper playlist.

O Twingy Baby

Author’s Note: I had already written this before the recent kerfluffle and, being reluctant to see the effort to go waste, I’m going to go ahead and post it. I don’t necessarily plan on continuing the thread from here. Not so much because I want to [cough] cancel Van, as because having seen now the enormity of the task — and given that it’s taken a solid eight months just to get to this point — I am not unhappy to see a graceful way out. The channel will remain open for the time being, but I can’t say for sure what will be coming through it.

In the song he wrote about his time as a windowcleaner, Van Morrison made it sound pretty idyllic. Doing good, honest work as aromas waft by from the bakery down the street; breaking for pastries, lemonade, and cigarettes; listening to Jimmie Rodgers, Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Muddy Waters, and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee; reading Jack Kerouac and Christmas Humphreys; playing sax on the weekends.

I don’t know if he experienced it that way at the time. Maybe he was indeed happy cleaning windows, but when his band the Monarchs got the opportunity to tour Scotland in 1962, he did not hesitate to hang up his squeegee and hit the road.

After beginning as a skiffle band called the Thunderbolts, the Monarchs had evolved into an Irish “showband.” What is a showband, you might well ask? Our friend Wikipedia says:

The Irish showband is a dance band format which was popular in Ireland mid-1950s to the mid-1980s… The showband was based on the internationally popular six- or seven-piece dance band. The band’s basic repertoire included standard dance numbers and covers of pop music hits. The versatile music ranged from rock and roll and country and western songs to traditional dixieland jazz and even Irish Céilí dance, Newfie stomps, folk music and waltzes. Key to a showband’s popular success was the ability to perform songs currently in the record charts…. The line-up usually featured a rhythm section of drums, lead, rhythm and bass guitars, a keyboard instrument, and a brass section of trumpet, saxophone and trombone. The band was fronted by one or two lead singers, who were assisted by other band members on backing vocals. Comedy routines were sometimes featured.

Van was one of the “other band members,” but though he was initially shy on stage, he soon developed a tendency to steal the show with his antics. “Van was a complete nutter on stage,” said his bandmate Roy Kane. “We had one number based on a blues riff called ‘Daddy Cool,’ and during this he used to throw himself on the floor, split his trousers and throw his shirt off.” 1

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