All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Book Excerpts

Concepts of Pain: The Stuff of the Sixties

By Published: February 11, 2012
With their electric jug blooping all over the place, The 13th Floor Elevators can be polarizing. Their 1966 debut, The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators (Sunspots), is dark, light, spontaneous and desperate all at once. From Texas, singer and leader Roky Erikson had a tough, frontier-like abandon, while at the same time he sang simply and sweetly. Erikson went on to become a martyr for pleading insanity. Busted for pot, he opted for placement in an institute for the criminally insane and received shock treatment that changed him forever. He would go on producing music into the next century, broken though he was, exemplar and mentor to youngsters seeking the flavor of the '60s. Their 1967 follow-up, Easter Everywhere (Sunspots), would step it up a notch, the band riding golden wires of intensity. There is a way to look at Erikson as a call to action, so no one is ever treated that way again. That is indeed part of the message. But the message changes. As we come to explore the conflict through Erikson's own music, we see the primordial beauty there, and realize that he achieved this, and this was a glory in itself to transcend whatever the future was to bring him.

Faust was a German band organized in 1971 by producer Uwi Nettelbeck. In the atmosphere of anomy while the memory of the holocaust was still fresh, Faust's music is fragmentary, featuring bursts like something out of The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus," with shocking onslaughts out of Stockhausen and jazz. "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl" is simple and typical. The lyrics consist of two lines—"It's a rainy day, sunshine baby. It's a rainy day, sunshine girl"—breaking precedent with sense, forgetting the past, discombobulating the present for a better future. Other works were more serious, and became haunting. Faust never made much of a splash in the commercial world, but they have become legends. It would not do to call them pioneers, though in a way they are. Their abrasive style laid down the template for later industrial music, but their greatness lay in their role as transmitter; they were on the outside looking in. First students of the stumbling of their fathers, they could see the complexities of the American political situation, and knew it took some humor and psychic absurdity to set things straight on the global scene.

The psychedelic revolution spread everywhere, from Latin America to Thailand and Japan. Young bands found a fusion, or a continuum, between the uneasiness of their position in the world, embracing yet shedding folk traditions. Psychedelic rock showed a way of crossing these currents with the ones drifting over from the American counterculture. Tropicalia in Brazil was one such movement, bringing together indigenous music with the wildness of Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
1942 - 1970
guitar, electric
. The electric guitar was shocking in such a state, and even the left resisted it at first, seeing it as a sign of American encroachment. The Tropicalia movement, featuring such artists as Gal Costa
Gal Costa
Gal Costa
b.1946
vocalist
, Gilberto Gil
Gilberto Gil
Gilberto Gil
b.1942
guitar
and Os Mutantes, went on to enrich the hippie atmosphere they brought into their culture with the type of native folk sounds that complemented them artistically, philosophically and politically. Singers embraced direct targets at the establishment and paid the price. Again, we can look at this as a tragedy, or we can see the songs as new seeds planted in the rain forest, upsetting the cash crops and reestablishing a new equilibrium.

Magma was formed in France in 1970 by mercurial drummer and singer—and radical John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
disciple—Christian Vander. Magma's albums constitute a serial science fiction epic, but in a different language. Supposed to be from the planet Kobiah, this language, Zeul, was invented by Vander and spoken by everyone in his commune, consisting of the many band members. Magma mixed Bach, Coltrane and hippie musicals like Hair to achieve a soaring passion the likes of which have rarely been seen before or since. Vander never explains the words. He says that the music should get the message across itself. The hermetic nature of the group and their habits, whether intentionally or not, provided a kind of solution for the danger many groups of the time got into by being so open politically. The group could go on cogitating in Zeul, tackling the most heated issues of the time, but in a code language protected from the State. And, indeed, the group has stayed together into the first decades of the current century, inspiring a whole cult movement of international underground bands.


comments powered by Disqus