Archives for category: 70s

Guinevere Turner writes in the May 6, 2019 New Yorker about growing up in a commune and discusses the differences between communes and cults. ‘(Leader Mel) Lyman never ordered his followers to kill anyone the way Charles Manson did, but if Lyman had asked, I’m pretty sure that they would have complied.’ (The Others)

That said, I spent some formative years in a commune/cult and not long after my family left, the leader of this cult did ask two of his followers to attempt murder.

Lance Kenton was about 21 (and the one thing said about him in every article on this subject is that he was the son of big band leader Stan Kenton) and Joe Musico, a damaged Vietnam war veteran aged about 28, under the direction of Synanon’s leader, Charles Diederich, used the rather ingenious method of cutting the rattles off of a rattlesnake before putting the snake into the mailbox of attorney Paul Morantz. They were found guilty and each served a prison sentence and probation time.

My family had all left Synanon by the close of 1977 and the snake incident didn’t occur until about a year later. (I should verify, but in my memory the Morantz attack, the People’s Temple mass suicide and the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone all ran together in the news. So perhaps by this definition, Synanon counts as a cult, or at least it did by that point. I have vague memories of an increased focus on self defense while I was still there, but that might be an amalgam of readings and memories and discussions that happened later.

From certain points of view, there might be objective assessments of the whole situation but 40 plus years later, I’m generally unwilling to dig into them. I don’t get much out of the subjective assessment either, given that it took me 25 of those 40 years to get to the other side of my own Synanon experience.

The death of Paul Morantz in 1978 would only have benefitted Chuck Diederich. Morantz had made something of a name representing individuals who had cases against Synanon and other such places based on mistreatment. And he’d won some pricey verdicts as well. It’s not as though there weren’t other lawyers going up against Synanon at the time, but Morantz had been successful and was showing no signs of stopping.

CED, according to one very biased account that insists on referring to Synanon members as ‘Synanites’ (a term we never would have used), spent a lot of time on the Wire, the closed-circuit radio network demonizing Morantz and calling on followers to do something about him.

Anyway, this brings me to the cult at the heart of the executive branch of the US government. The president’s fixer has just started a prison term for crimes that only benefitted the president. Diederich’s call for someone inside to to his dirty work sounds eerily like what we’ve heard from Trump and specifically from Cohen’s defense of his own actions. (Fall Guy – Michael Cohen’s Last Days of Freedom by Jeffrey Toobin in the same issue of the New Yorker.)

Mel Lyman’s Family organization – the cult to which Guinevere Turner belonged from birth to the age of about 12 afforded her a great deal of security and was home in a way that Synanon wasn’t really for me. Noting that I have friends who were there much longer than I was and who saw the other end of a period of distinct cruelty against those of us in the school. Their attitudes about the place are very different than mine or my parents’. For a period, the school was run by a guy who had no pedagogical background. This wasn’t uncommon – most people worked jobs inside that had no relationship to whatever training they may have brought in. Unless it was lucrative. My father was a patent lawyer and he continued doing the same work and gave most of his income back to the community. If not all. The fact that the person in charge of the school, Chris Benton, had not educational background didn’t set him apart from anyone else teaching us. His background however was as a drill sergeant. And corporal punishment wasn’t outside of his remit. (This despite the fact that Synanon had strict policies against physical violence, threatening physical violence, not to mention swearing and drug, alcohol, and tobacco use.)

I left at the age of 10 1/2 when my father and stepmother left in September of 1977 (my mother and stepfather had left in mid-‘76. The story behind all of the relationships is complex and for another blog entry), almost three years after entering. It took a long time for me to come to terms with the place. Psychoanalysis in the wake of my divorce helped, I suppose. And simply getting to middle age and that point where there’s no longer any profit to be had from carrying the baggage.

Turner made a certain kind of peace with her experiences on a return visit at the age of 18 – the casual sexism with which the men their expected to be waited on put paid to her longing to return to The Family’s way of life. She makes an interesting point about the probable profusion of cults in America:

If you haven’t heard of a cult, it’s because it didn’t go down in flames. Its members are just quietly doing what they do, which means that there are many more active cults today than we are aware of.

Manson and David Koresh’s group in the 90s (for another example) and Synanon went down in flames. Folks like Lyman’s group laid low. I’d suggest that the probability a cult will go down in flames is directly proportional to the degree it goes head to head with existing power structures. Synanon got under the skins of nearby residents no matter where it set up (for a variety of reasons – the fact that it sold itself as a drug rehab organization harking back to its roots is one) and there was a certain amount of that antagonism built into Chuck’s messiah complex.

The issue we’re running into here is that Manson, Koresh and Diederich, and let’s add Philadelphia’s MOVE commune to the list, all in their own ways got the goat of the power structures (and the media). Outright murder got Manson on the map. The others? Different in their different ways.

What do we get, though, with the Cult of Trump in which the leader is the power structure? Increasingly there seems to be no way of stopping him short of something that turns the rest of the structure against him. That has historically taken a long and very difficult time.

This past weekend included a listen to Joy Division’s Substance (1988) and continued reading of bassist Peter Hook’s Joy Division memoir Unknown Pleasures. I first heard Joy Division in 1987 when I went out record shopping with my friend Natalie. She and I had a lot of overlapping tastes, but she was a proper goth and I was just into the music. I knew a lot of Joy Division-adjacent stuff, but hadn’t heard anything by them. She recommended their second album, Closer. I was 20, living in San Francisco, and (as I would for several years) spent a lot of my time not processing my father’s death the previous year. I was hard to reach and generally hard to communicate with. The thing Joy_Division_Closerabout Closer, and JD in general for me at the time – I knew a little of the history – I’d even seen New Order (the band formed out of the remains of Joy Division) perform. That would have been in 1985 at the Santa Monica Civic – hadn’t heard any of their music prior and the show was boring – listening to live recordings from that period now – yeah, they were a dull live act). I recall playing this album a lot that year, and feeling all kinds of despair associated with it, primarily because I knew of the untimely death of lead singer Ian Curtis. One of my flatmates at the time told me it was familiar and asked if he would have heard something else by the band. It’s possible, I probably told him, but this tastes and mine were quite different. Yeah, I listened intently to Closer, but I didn’t know (yet) their biggest hit, Love Will Tear Us Apart, which was a little weird. But this was before someone could send you an email saying ‘you’ll like this song’ and before you even read the next sentence, you could be listening to the song.

So, yeah, Lawrence probably had heard Joy Division before me, though hipster that I was, I was loath to admit it.

Anyway, Closer threw me into a funk that was hard to escape but I was compelled to listen to it more and more. I bought Substance the following year and found that I especially liked the post-punk stuff (Atmosphere, Love, Dead Souls, These Days), but really didn’t know what to make of the earlier, punkier tracks. Later I’d buy the Short Circuit compilation (which includes At a Later Date recorded when they were still a punk band called Warsaw) on the same day I purchased Iggy and the Stooges’ Metallic KO. The following week, a friend told me the apocryphal tale of Ian Curtis committing suicide on the eve of Joy Division’s first American tour because he believed they’d never make a record as good as Metallic KO. A cursory search indicates that Curtis played Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and watched a Herzog film before taking his own life at the age of 23. His epilepsy wasn’t a secret to those nearest him, though in the late 70s, people didn’t know so well how to be supportive of an epileptic friend.

Hook notes that everything Joy Division recorded was classic – something he credits to band chemistry, youth, and Curtis’ lyrical brilliance. With this in mind, I can probably say that everything JD recorded , especially after An Ideal For Living, supersedes everything on Metallic KO (much as that document of two late shows from the original incarnation of the Stooges, including their last show in 1974, is brilliant in its own twisted way). Whether JD’s work supersedes The Idiot, well that’s a bit subjective.

Later I would have a huge poster of the cover of Closer on my wall, next to a huge poster of the cover of Aladdin Sane. As usual, there’s no real conclusion to this story. Even the fact that I’m reading Hook’s memoir right now is a little random. I purchased it for the kindle months ago when it was probably on offer for 99p, about what it cost to see Joy Division open for the Buzzcocks in 1979. It simply came up when I was scrolling through to find what next to read.

In this review, I look at the 40th Anniversary editions of two King Crimson live albums. I’ve been a fan of the USA album since before I knew where it stood in the KC canon. Earthbound, however, was never high on my listening list. Having launched into this adventure of rambling through the King Crimson discography, however, I was inclined to give it another go, especially as the notoriously lo-fi recordings are accompanied by an (expectedly cleaner) radio session, Live at Summit Studios, in this release. More on Summit later.

My favourite thing about Earthbound, recorded on the Islands tour in early 1972, is Boz Burrell’s voice. Being a fan of the classic mid-70s lineup that produced USA, Red, Starless and Bible Black, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, the limitations of Wetton’s voice always grated on me. With this in mind, however, these recordings also reveal in stark relief why leader Robert Fripp gave the Islands lineup the boot. Fripp himself had already moved on before they went on the road to meet contractual obligations. The other three members, Mel Collins on flutes and saxophones, Burrell on bass/vocals, and Ian Wallace on drums, are very loose in their playing and seem to want to be more of a boogie band than a progressive rock outfit. The original release consisted of 21st Century Schizoid Man, two improvs, a particularly sloppy Sailor’s Tale, and an extended jam on Groon, the instrumental b-side of the very jazzy Cat Food from 1970. The initial release of Groon was only about four minutes (four different takes can be found on the 40th Anniversary Edition of In the Wake of Poseidon), but on this tour, it was regularly extended past fifteen.

The CD portion of this release extends the initial album with Pictures of a City, Formentera Lady, and Cirkus. The DVD portion extends it further with Ladies of the Road, The Letters, and full versions of The Sailor’s Tale and Groon.

kc-eb-usa-back-smThe opening Schizoid man pushes the needle to the red in terms of both saturation and energy. While the structure remains the same, the improvisations in the middle exceed what is expected. Mel Collins’ sax work is intense, and marred somewhat by drumming that seems to be, possibly, part of a different song. Fripp ropes everyone back in with some searing runs. Boz’s treated vocals are more menacing that we hear in later versions, which is somehow appropriate.

Peoria lets us in with some bass/horn/drum interplay, but if Fripp’s guitar is in there, it’s very low in the mix. Sailor’s Tale fades in and closes out side 1. It’s the only song on Earthbound’s original release that also appears on the album they were touring, Islands. It’s a bit sloppy – and perhaps it’s this tendency to sloppiness that frustrated Fripp, but on its own terms it works.

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I’d not read Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in at least twenty years and I’m not sure if before this week I’d ever actually finished the thing. Now I have, and on a certain level, I think I might be too old for it. It’s one of those books like Catcher in the Rye and possibly On the Road that are best enjoyed before the sheer irresponsibility of the story in the telling is too obvious. In the heart of Thompson’s drug-addled tale of not reporting on two events for which his alter ego Raoul Duke is paid, he makes a stunning indictment of what has become of the American Dream™.

In one of the novel’s more cogent paragraphs, Thompson spells out the moment when Hell’s Angels faced off on the Oakland/Berkeley border with anti-war protesters in 1965, somewhat to the detriment of the nascent anti-war movement and to the greater detriment of the American Left in general. Later, he starts discussing those Timothy Leary took down with him, followers ‘who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit’ , certain that some one or some thing was ‘tending the light at the end of the tunnel’ (p. 178).

He goes on to gather several leaders together who followed in the failure of Leary to unite the movement: Jesus, Manson, Hell’s Angels leader Sonny Barger, and concludes with the book’s most potent idea, ‘…no point in looking back. The question, as always, is now…?’ Whatever we’re going to do, we have to do it, rather than bemoaning that we haven’t.

While I put Duke and Dr. Gonzo’s tales of their American nightmare in an unfavourable bucket with Kerouac and Salinger (both of whom wrote some brilliant, long-lasting work, just not those novels for which they’re best remembered), another comparison that comes to mind is Sterne’s Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. In a similar way to Sterne, Thompson invites us into a series of vignettes that insist to the reader that they’re actually going somewhere, but don’t ever really make it there. Whereas Sterne’s volume ends without ever getting to Italy (as promised in the title), and possibly in the middle of a sentence, Thompson ends his without ever producing (as far as the reader can tell) the articles his character promised. The expectation from a book that is at least tangentially about writing is that there will be a submission and maybe even a reaction to it. Thompson subverts this by his alter ego barely attending or participating in the events he goes to Las Vegas to cover. To be fair, there is one extended sequence in which Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, attend one of the presentations of the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (thoroughly ripped, as the two characters are for the entirety of the book), so our expectations are only partially subverted.

FandLinLVSubtitled A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, what strikes the reader (or at least this reader) about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the savagery with which Thompson/ Duke treats primarily the female characters and really most of the book’s secondary characters. One way of looking at the nastiness of the interactions with the waitress in the chapter ‘Back Door Beauty & Finally a Bit of Serious Drag Racing on the Strip’ is that Thompson wants to implicate all of us in the nastiness that America became after the “Main Era” ended. The Main Era is what he names that time in the 60s when ‘You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning’ (p. 68). He continues, ‘We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.’ (I love the idea of a ‘steep hill in Las Vegas,’ a place in the middle of a desert and nearly as flat as The Netherlands.)

So that moment of mind-altered optimism was undone, or undid itself through subverted protest, Nixon’s treachery, an unwinnable war, and the crackdown of the original war on drugs that Nixon instigated with the help of Elvis Presley. But in the retelling, Thompson says, yes, it all fell apart and to a one, even me, we became nasty and crass.

Thompson shares that, beyond the Strip, you find ‘the shoddy limbo of North Vegas…out there with the gunsels, the hustlers, the drug cripples and all the other losers,’ and here Duke and Gonzo drop into the North Star Coffee Lounge for late night eats. Their waitress, extensively described as, ‘large in every way, long sinewy arms, and a brawler’s jawbone…A burned out caricature of Jane Russell: big head of dark hair, face slashed with lipstick and a 48 Double-E chest that was probably spectacular about twenty years ago…but now she was strapped up in a giant pink elastic brassiere that showed like a bandage through the sweaty rayon of her uniform, (p. 158)’ finds herself on the receiving end of a pass from Gonzo, a napkin with ‘Back Door Beauty’ scrawled on it. On receipt, she lays into our heroes with vitriol. Duke just watches while Gonzo deflects the waitress’ accusations and cuts the receiver off the pay phone with a switchblade when she threatens to call the cops.

Duke understands that Gonzo has struck a nerve, ‘The glazed look in her eyes said her throat had been cut. She was still in the grip of paralysis when we left,’ but doesn’t comment or dissuade Gonzo from his behaviour. We as readers follow along, but Thompson not only lets his narrator off the hook, he relates the events that follow as being drawn verbatim from a tape recording transcribed by the editor. He doesn’t give Duke the opportunity to respond and lets himself off the hook at the same time.

From a wider perspective, Thompson’s after roping the reader into some kind of complicity. The more you enter the heads and the behaviours of the main characters the less you can say that you’re not part of the great destruction being wrought. Thompson attempts, through the excess of his protagonists, to separate the freaks – the ones who stepped out of the mainstream before that wave receded – from the normals who flock for whatever reason to Las Vegas’s casinos from the rest of the country. However, through that excess, he implicates all who see themselves on some version of the correct side of that divide. To what we now call coastal elites as well as those citizens of flyover states, Thompson seems to say: ‘You’re all in on this. We’re all in on this. Through silence or engagement. And I’m in on it as well.’

I’m not sure that this is what the man who famously asserted, ‘I wouldn’t advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me’ meant to imply.

I wanted to add something about how Thompson’s anti-Nixon stance (against all hypocrisy propounded and promoted by the Nixon White House) had come back to taunt him when George W. Bush was selected for a second time, and might have contributed to his suicide a month into Shrub’s second term, but this doesn’t seem to be borne out by a suicide note which indicated that 67 was ‘17 years more than [he] needed or wanted.’ On the other hand, In October 2004, Thompson wrote: ‘Nixon was a professional politician, and I despised everything he stood for—but if he were running for president this year against the evil Bush–Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him.’ Six months after Thompson’s death, there was a hell of a memorial.

Island / Atlantic Records, 1974

Released just six months after Starless and Bible Black and right on the heels of Fripp dissolving the group (again), Red has been identified as King Crimson’s apotheosis. It is indeed damn fine stuff. Violinist David Cross was expelled from the band during sessions for basically not being able to keep up with the hardness of the sound they were creating, and indeed he’s only evident on two tracks. Former members Ian MacDonald and Mel Collins were brought in to round things out.

Side 1 consists of the instrumental title track; the album’s ballad, Fallen Angel; and the aptly named proto-metal One More Red Nightmare. Side 2 consists of the the improvisation Providence, recorded on the previous tour, and the album’s closing epic, Starless.

Red is, interestingly, the only song from this album that later incarnations of band continued to play into the 80s and 90s (and still). This is possibly because the album as a whole relies on a lot of overdubbing. With its multiple time signatures and sections, and its relative brevity, this one track sums up everything the band had been working on up to that point.

Fallen Angel, which recounts the death of the narrator’s brother in a knife fight, is strangely beautiful. I love how John Wetton holds the vocals together, never letting his range falter. The cornet and oboe (contributed by session musicians, not Collins and MacDonald who both contribute to Starless and MacDonald to One More Red Nightmare) give the track a special poignancy. (In terms of theme, location, and arrangement, it wouldn’t have been out of place somewhere on Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, released the same year.)

The beauty of Fallen Angel leads to the the oddness of One More Red Nightmare in which the narrator recounts the horror of being aboard a falling airplane (Pan American nightmare / Ten thousand feet funfair) only in the last lines to awaken ‘safe and sound / Asleep on the Greyhound’. Last weekend my wife and I visited New York and from the Empire State Building’s observation deck could see the Met Life building which was still the Pan Am building the last time I was on that deck in about 1984.

Side two mirrors the second side of Starless and Bible Black, consisting of an instrumental improvisation and an epic. Providence (named for the city in which it was recorded, much like Asbury Park on USA) is a weird interweaving of noises that I’m mostly unsure what to make of. At times it doesn’t sound as though the band were playing in the same room, but then it pulls together before breaking apart again. I’m sure in these write-ups I’ve used variations of that same sentence. That sort of thing is very much in the nature of KCs improvisational experience. I find it more intriguing than many of the band’s other live improvs and it seems to make sense in context.

Finally, there’s the album’s longest track, Starless. What started as a Wetton composition rejected for the previous album ended up as this stupendous beast with parts written by each member (including Cross), contributions from Collins and MacDonald and words composed by Palmer-James. Like some of the best pieces of the Pete Sinfield era, this track combines relatively depressing lyrics (Cruel twisted smile / And the smile signals emptiness for me) with music that is by turns mad and manic.

Robert Fripp, commenting on both the size of the current KC lineup and amount of studio complexity that went into Red suggested that the band could now play all of this album without extra trickery. I don’t have the quote to hand, but KC Mark VIII have indeed performed all of the tracks save for Providence on recent tours. For many of the dates the last couple of years, the dgmlive website offers one track for free (with registration, natch). So:

  1. Red – https://www.dgmlive.com/tour-dates/2020
  2. Fallen Angel – https://www.dgmlive.com/tour-dates/2065
  3. One More Red Nightmare – https://www.dgmlive.com/tour-dates/1907
  4. Starless – https://www.dgmlive.com/tour-dates/2038

THE NEXT STEP IS DISCIPLINE.