Thursday, September 20, 2012


Back from Canada, Montreal to be exact, and finding it nigh on impossible to adapt to this wretched country with its selfish, high and mighty inhabitants who take everything they can and never give. Well, it's like that most places, including England which I've heard plenty about from soldiers who can't live with the changes for the worst in their own beloved country. Imagine joining an Army and then having to fight not just for a cause that doesn't have any value, but for a country you love that is dwindling and needs much more help on the home-front than abroad. Sound familiar?
I've noticed lately that only music, my wonderful family, and a few great conversations a day with Americans who are rare exceptions and Englishmen in the British Army are what is keeping me sane. Despite some rocky, bad lapses on my part my mother has not only been a huge help towards my trip to Montreal she has been much more patient, much more understanding than just about anyone else except my kind doggie like dad. See, I thought I'd get a bit lighter and let some sunshiny talk about a good home life prepare you for more ranting!
     It seems that if someone gets in the way of things that are important to me, in fact nearly essential to my equilibrium, it is always a power hungry stupid woman who decides she is gonna run the show and wreck my relationship with a good friend or it is some stupid record dealer who doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground. I wonder why the record business in the States seems to attract lying, cheating, backstabbing macho male chauvinists and if there were more female record dealers if it would be any better. Not just in America, but in general you get nearly 100 percent male record dealers and almost no females. I never figured that out, but there seems to also be a lack of interest when it comes to female collectors with only a scant few I know of who collect rare 60s/70s/80s music. Damned if I know why that is.
         I don't fit into any category. I'm not someone you can pigeonhole or put into any description that is easy, simple, empty, and trite. And I'm proud of that. I'm glad to be a homosexual, yet I am in no way a "gay" stereotype. I just try to focus on the things that matter the most. Without music I'd be nowhere. This record along with a French band I'll write up soon called Ophiuchus is something that has been giving me a lot of joyfulness and making me feel more connected, more together, less alien and happier when it's just me and music. I don't need to have anything to do with the nonsense people throw at me when it's late at night and I'm spending hours listening to great music.
         -Life: A Canadian Traffic/Procol Harum influenced group who do their own thing too-
  You can't be a rock musician and be a racist. Peter Gabriel said that a long time ago, that the two are a contradiction in terms. All rock stems from African American music mostly and no matter what country you come from that solid foundation of blues, soul, R&B, jazz, and early raw Rock and Roll is essential to getting the music you play right. So you're about to say that Pink Floyd, what about them, a band who don't seem to have much blues or any foundation or grounding at all? Well, Pink Floyd began life with their name stemming from two blues artists and after their all too brief psychedelic masterpiece period which peaked on album 2 A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS their dirgy self-loving self-pitying rubbish was only saved very occasionally by some great emotive blues derived guitar solos from David Gilmour. I bet even arrogant and nasty from his head to his toes Gilmour would agree with Peter Gabriel's philosophy.
    Life are a real statement of truth to what Gabriel and many other great musicians have said. They are playing almost psychedelic soul/jazz/R&B with their two major most obvious influences early Traffic with Steve Winwood's voice and Procol Harum with the magic of Gary Brooker's voice and Mathew Fisher's unmistakable organ sound. It isn't "Whiter Shade Of Pale" Procol much of the time and is more around what that band were getting at on their 2nd and third albums (SHINE ON BRIGHTLY and A SALTY DOG), but the whole bluesy heavy organ and fuzz guitar psychedelic into progressive thing hits its peak on this album with not just the usual Traffic/Procol/bluesy jazzy soulfulness, but some nice little surprises thrown in.
When Life formed bass guitarist Danny Zimmerman's sister Lorri Zimmerman was their singer, but when they reached the typically Canadian singles-into-an-album's stage they numbered the following:
Michael Ship on organs and vocals, J.P Lauzon on lead guitar, Danny Zimmerman on bass, and Marty Simon on drums and vocals. They were all English Montreal musicians with help from another great English Montreal band Freedom North's Frankie Hart who beautifully sings "Strawberry Fields Forever" and some guest appearances from Freedom North's lead guitarist Bill Hill. "Yum Yum" is credited with recorder and that probably also is Frankie and Malcolm Tomlinson guests on flute.
 I have absolutely no idea why I hated Life so much when I first heard them 16 years ago in 1996 except that I was a horrible person then fast on my way to the dreadful period we refer to as "Fat Pig Ben." I was destructive, nasty, narrow minded, violent, and disgustingly fat and it was a really dreadful time to have to remember. At least I can be positive I'll never enter that nightmarish period of my past again- no I try to live as much as possible not even thinking about then.
   This is only my third copy of Life and just to make you envious/tearing your hair out this album is VERY RARE. My guess is that despite a national Canadian hit with the brilliant "Hands Of The Clock" like many of these Canadian albums very few were pressed. Add to that the mysterioso cover look that would make anyone want to grab this and I think you know what's coming- not too many people even know about this and the few who do get turned onto it like me hold onto their copies.
    The vocals are very appealing, if somewhat strange and effeminate sometimes, but thankfully Michael Ship is devoid of macho posturing and sings in a down-to-earth melodic powerful voice obviously influenced by Winwood. There are Neil Sheppard the producer's wonderful songs and great recording job and a lot of great psychedelic fuzz guitar and organ flourishes. The organ and a tight rhythm section are the soulful foundation upon which the scorching fuzz breaks and trippy vocals soar above and there is a lot of variety on the album too. For instance a song like Terry Reid written "Lovin' Time" has a dark yet beautiful vibe like a heavy US band Gandalf meets Traffic/Procol and "Desire" is a raunchy soulful pop rock number with enough psychedelic guitar pyrotechnics to make for an offbeat and fun contrast to the more deep, meaningful sounding material on the record. While there are no weak links or songs on the album Side Two is a little more commercial sounding in a good way with the notable exception of "Strawberry Fields" which is completely given a new life with the jazz/Spanish/pop Female vocal take- one of the most daring Beatles covers ever and Frankie Hart's vocals are beautiful. Also, the horns are used tastefully as they are throughout the album. Neil Sheppard also works some wonders with the strings. "Hands Of The Clock" is a great, stellar, wonderful song and its taking off for high in the charts is only a surprise in the all-too-common sense that America never heard of this band so it couldn't be a hit in the States. Then again, I kind of prefer it that way. Canada is kept separate from America and you have to dig for Canadian rarities like this really deep as Canadian records are imports that never were imported.
  Don't waste your time on British Proto-prog boredom like Harsh Reality and Nite People which both go for way more dough than the consistency of the writing and performances and stay the fucking Hell away from the sick, twisted, unmusical, unlistenable, disgusting, disturbing rubbish of Warm Dust especially, Deep Feeling, and Beggars Opera- it is here on Life's record that the British are beat in the category of transitional jazzy 60s soul beat vibes into progressive rock and late R&B tinged psychedelic rock. The British bands who come close to Life's brilliance are actually plenty you've probably never heard of, but one band who definitely top everything and who are British to the max are, you guessed it, The Koobas. If The Koobas had continued and with a little help from Traffic and Spooky Tooth you're getting a good description of Life. Thing is, this is very Canadian. It's upbeat more than sullen and sounds like a friendly group having a good time. Search everywhere for a copy and when you get it you'll have one of the best ever from anywhere, especially Canada.
   Canada is a country that has produced way more great music and great things than it is given credit for and I think the best Americans behave less like Yanks and more like Canadians, but I love the differences between the two countries. Let's face it- nice people anywhere are refreshing when most people are borderline intolerable or completely untrustworthy bastards. When I listen to Life and the French band I'll get to in good time Ophiuchus or any of the many brilliant records I own I know that music is where it's at and I can fight against the rubbish constantly pissing me off in a big way about most humans. Animals and nature are better, and so are the humans who make this heartfelt great music. Being a hermit can be a nice way of life believe that and try it yourself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I first became aware of Sigmund Snopek III through a book I had called THE INTERNATIONAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HARD ROCK AND HEAVY METAL which mentioned his band Snopek and said they made music as strange as the guy's name. But I never heard Snopek. In fact, I still haven't heard much of this talented musician's work, but it would be hard to top his first appearance as the chief songwriter, keyboard player, and leader of the band Bloomsbury People not from somewhere exotic in England or you may think by his name Germany, but from Wisconsin In America.
The adds for this revolutionary sextet in 1970 Rolling Stone magazines said "They're Not What's Happening They're What's Going To Happen!" and that couldn't be more true but for the fact that what the songs were written about: decay, depression, loss of innocence, the decline of America, and complete oblivion, were hitting America in a big, nasty way back in 1970.
                  -Altamont And Kent State: The Destruction Of A Beautiful Dream-
Two events shook America and made the world scorn us even more in the end of 1969 and in 1970 when this album was released. First there was the slaughter of the 60s counterculture both literally and in the sense of everything it was a dream of by the fat pig white men known as the Hell's Angels at the Altamont Festival in California with one of my least listened to bands of the 1960s (OK, I love the Rolling Stones, but I never listen to them because after Brian Jones died they became pretty boring- or after Mick Taylor started losing interest) held accountable. The 60s were always a turbulent time, remember there were all the assassinations and Vietnam, but before Altamont there had been the victory for the counterculture and flower power at Woodstock and there had always been a ray of hope even when things were dreadful. Altamont closed the decade with the depressing, miserable truth that it had all gone down the tubes- you couldn't even have a peaceful music festival and it demolished the dream of Woodstock for many. I swear that the same thing should be done to the Hell's Angels that should be done to the N.R.A, KKK, and all the right wing Republicans and Tea Party slime bags- take all their power away from them and make them live like the people they are persecuting. Yeah, I'm still sore about it and I wasn't even born yet!
   As if everything going to Hell at Altamont wasn't enough Nixon's America was really getting bad and had just got a whole lot worse when 4 students were killed by the idiotic Ohio National Guard at Kent State in 1970. The dream was decimated. It really had come to an end now, all that was hoped for, all that was a dream, all that was attained by the good people known as the Counterculture and the Hippies. However, soon there were vibes of new and exciting music coming from medium-length to long-haired hordes who weren't gonna give up our fight. They would approach it in a different manner, but like it to be admitted or not Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Uriah Heep, were children of the 60s who just rewrote the way their dream was to be approached. Sure, the lyrics were all full of a lot of depression, fear, and hopelessness, but the music was vibrant, it was alive, and it was something more- it was Progressive. Yes, the 1960s had ended miserably and as I have stated a million times (at least!) the American Music scene was dire in the charts, but this new music that was "underground" was really something to rave about- to be excited for.
The question is could a band possibly straddle the line between Pop and Heavy Progressive? That would be answered by several bands, including Bloomsbury People....
               -Bloomsbury People: A Dark, Menacing, Yet A Very Beautiful Masterpiece-
Bloomsbury People belong to a group of bands at the beginning of the 1970s in America who could both be really heavy and really brilliant melodically, but they more than anybody else I can think of did something few American bands could ever achieve- they were/are Progressive. For some reason proper progressive rock like we know from England and Europe was overlooked or painfully poor by American bands and yet here were a 6 man band who got to the height of creativeness in progressive rock before even many fabled British bands- Bloomsbury People. You can hear Yes in these short songs, but more importantly there is a strange hybrid of Sabbath gloom and doom especially in the crazed lyric writing, late psychedelic flourishes like a cross between Capitol label bands Food and SRC, and pop. Jon Wyderka's voice is very strongly rooted in that genre, but he has such an astonishing ability to go from crooning to snarling to at the end of the record wailing his head off and Dennis Lanting's searing guitar work is so impressively SRC/Iommi esque (and let's pray for Tony Iommi to get cancer free soon) that this album is one of the best ever. Add in great twin keyboards, some really clever arrangements, and 6 guys who play like they have confidence in breaking every rule and taking over the world and even the most frightening moments of this record are made highly, strongly, concocted and very much something I can listen to a lot.
    Sigmund Snopek III is a pretty strange moniker, but I don't see how the band's main songwriter could have concocted this name and what is even stranger is how he perfectly knows how to write lyrics as out there in a doom ladened way as Sabbath's or as abstractly strange as Jon Anderson and how he can create such brilliant songs of stark contrasts. The songs on this album reflect the darkness and despair of 1970 in a much better way than the likes of Coven, Bloodrock (THE WORST!), the most uninspired songs of Black Widow, and a lot of other worthless bands just out there to be a fake shocking sickness. I actually think this is from the heart. There is so much creepiness here and so much beauty combined. You have perfect heavy pop psych in songs like "Witch Helen," "Have You Seen Them Cry?," "The Resurrection," the bizarre Megaphone/fuzztoned vocal led "Lake Of Sand" and the Black Sabbath meets freaky pop of "Golden Lion" which is a terrifying song when the Iommi-esque slow passages come in (think a pop version of the song "Black Sabbath-" yes that one) and then there is all out progressive genius in the closing track "Suite Classical #3" (or the title is something like that).
    Bloomsbury People were just what the Doctor ordered for America, but no one took the prescription. This album bit the dust. It did not sell as they had hoped and so it could be just another dream that was left to rot, but I say no to that. This album has life in its grooves, life you can't take out by poor record sales or the public's ignorance. Most more than likely the distribution and marketing weren't good enough. Many bands in the UK and Europe suffered horrible issues with the record labels and management and those albums are some of the most brilliant and expensive in the world. While our beautiful dream of the 1960s love vibe may have been rotting away music was solving a lot of that pain, consoling us even when it scared us. This record is pretty scary. The lyrics are nihilistic and full of hopelessness, they are questioning and the answers start at the end not the beginning. Quite a few bands tried to merge Progressive with Pop, and strangely some of the American bands were just as good at that game or at least just as interesting as the British and Europeans. You really can't forget the Canadians who took this thing to stellar heights with Life, Madrigal, the Beatles/Uriah Heep hybrid Steel River and their ilk. Yes, music was living! There are cheerier progressive pop psych records out there than this like the ultimate masterpiece RESTLESS NIGHT by Octopus the British band, but for American bands there are 3 bands I know of who got it perfectly done: Blackwell, Blackstone (From New Jersey and featuring future Bruce Springsteen drummer/session genius Max Weinberg), and Bloomsbury People. I hated this record the first few times I heard it, and I can't imagine why I hated it so much. Too much to take in? I wasn't sophisticated enough? Not really able to appreciate a progressive sound from the States? Who knows, but I know one thing for sure: I love this record and no collection is complete without it. Find it, treasure it, and keep your faith in musical magic because it just so happens that when a lot of things died at the end of 1969 beginning of 1970 while the American charts tried to hide it from us music was very much alive. Music got really exciting in the 1970s. It had been wonderful in the 1960s. Music is something that gives me the strength to carry on. So don't even look at what was in the charts which was even worse than before The Beatles- look at what was in the brilliance of progressive, psychedelic, and true finally honed pop- Rock was still fighting and still living. It may have changed a bit, but as long as there are albums as awesome as this out there music will live and so will the dreams we have of a better, more sympathetic world free from cruelty and oppression.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Canada is an amazing country. It is something you have to experience with an open mind to fully appreciate it, but I've had a great time on nearly every trip I've been on to my favourite city in all of what they call "North America"(actually, Canada is completely separate from the USA- and the border that ends the States and begins Canada really does begin an even more New Old World as I call it) Montreal. I find it to be a place where you can go and suddenly be in a whole different country, a whole different state of mind. It's like leaving the USA to enter Europe- very refreshing. The Canadians are usually very polite, very amiable people, but also a bit more reserved than Americans. I had a lot of things to prove when I got there and even though I proved them there, I sadly lost them when I got back to dingy, selfish, polluted, miserable New Jersey and America. Sure, it's beautiful this time of year in Princeton, but the people are a major setback once you've been in the more hospitable Canada. In America politeness is treated like something that shouldn't exist- or maybe I'm paranoid. I just don't like it much here. Maybe it's because I've lived in Princeton all my life and just need a longer period of change, but this time it's been impossible to readjust.
I've cut myself off from society.
I really have no need for it anymore.
I'm heartbroken and in complete disarray.
How did all these rosie things with thorns plant themselves in my garden?
I fell in love up in Montreal and here "love" just doesn't happen. Lust maybe, but love- rarely if ever.
I'll recount some of the highlights of my trip. The day we drove back was the morning of much affection and loving and learning with the Canadian Hussars regiment who gave me the best time of my life so I think you know how hard leaving that for all the trivialities of America feels- yeah, go on tell me again: it sucks.
I only needed two stores to supply me with 100 records of brilliance and horrific side effects this time. I honestly can say that most of the horrible stuff was because of a common Montreal disease- condition. You can look a record over in their poorly lit stores and hotels plenty of times and if it's hard enough to notice it not know you've been completely screwed over with the condition. Like someone in a coma ran it over with their car! It happens every time. And this time it was mainly records in the $25 range! Ouch! However, I must tell you that what I came away with is pretty fantastic all things considered and made it very obvious that when American music slacked off Canada was one to take over just as much as the Northern Europeans.
       The Canadian music scene definitely had some really high points and great bands in the 1960s, but it would take till the year of 1969 and bands as awesome as Vancouver's Mother Tuckers Yellow Duck who you just have to get past the name and Montreal's Life whose album was late 1969/early 1970 (or I could be wrong and it's '71- not sure as there is no date on it) before there really would be a "Canadian Sound." Both these bands have their British and American influences, but it's very differently played, sung, and composed with more of an emphasis on trying for something deeper, something that some American bands had which could almost lead one to say they in turn sounded Canadian. I have listened to Mother Tuckers rare as hens teeth 2nd STARTING A NEW DAY twice and could say it's the best rural psych into soft progressive folkrock ever made. Right up there with the big UK ones like Northwind and The Parlour Band- California Sunshine gone a little bit darker, edgier, more whole sounding. Crazy thing is, I had to go back to the store where I'd left it to buy it- I had fucked up and just ignored it while it was on the previous day and then knew I'd made a potentially fatal error. Denis Lalonde, bless him, owner of Le Pickup which is the best store in the city for used vinyl, gave me a great deal on Mother Tuckers and my much missed copy of Saint Steven which I got back from him and I'm really glad I did it. He also gave me a record out of his own collection by a French band called Le Systeme Crapuchik- which translates into "THE CRYPTIC SYSTEM." This one is a masterpiece, but I need to give it a few more spins than one to know just how high it ranks. He turned me onto it, but I'm a bit surprised he decided against keeping it. Maybe because he collects a lot of female vocal psych more than male vocal. I actually thought it was a girl at first, silly me! Life is one that just has no equal. Not even England where most of their influences are derived from had a band that did it better. Life, formed in the late 1960s in Montreal, were all English Canadians probably from the West Island (as I think it's known as) who definitely liked their Procol Harum and Traffic, but where they begin is where most British jazzy/bluesy heavy prog psych ends- they begin with something that cuts deeper, that is more joyful, less self-serious than many a UK early progressive underground rocker and if you've read here before you know I love British bands in that category/genre. I've gone back several times to this one and I can't believe that upon first hearing it in 1996 I absolutely hated it- very strange. I couldn't even appreciate their brilliantly strange jazz/Spanish/funk/folkpsych take on "Strawberry Fields Forever" where as on the rest of the album the horn arrangements are actually very tasteful.
I got loads of other great ones in Montreal, but also a lot of just dire condition or dire music filth. A lot of the worst ones were American bands I seem to remember, but I got some pretty amazing American discoveries up there too. So how come I'm out over $400 with losing on records. How come after a little over a week I'm ordering more? Because, I'm a natural fool for music and because, well, I just am Ben and that seems to be a major source for miserable here. Also, there's the main issue, the broken heart issue. I had to take off the needle when listening to "Sorrow" by Germany's Lucifer's Friend- a song that has always had a big impact on me when I hear brilliant English singer John Lawton's high pitched screams and waling vocals.
Still, for the whole duration of the trip I felt great. It was on getting back that everything went wrong. I should have known that after having an absolute ball in Canada I was destined for disappointment and a really horrible comedown back in America. I don't hate Americans. I try to love everyone, but it's a very hard adjustment to go from the most polite country there is to the rudest one. I don't like most people in this country because they are stupid and have no soul. Never trust an American, me included! I can't tell you how many promises I've broken and how much of a bad, destructive side I can have. I suppose we all have our bad days....
Now, onto that broken hearted issue- let's see what led me from Heaven all the way down to Hell.
It's simple really. I packed my bags, we left for "home" and it just spiraled out of control when my last meaningful, brilliant, experience of the trip ended. As is so often the case, I became one with soldiers. Perhaps, just maybe my true calling in life was to be one or work for the Armed Forces as most of the better Americans you'll meet are Marines or Soldiers or Sailors or Airmen. This time it was even more of an impact, though. I really had a strong feeling that I belonged with the Hussar boys and they were beyond hospitable to me. They took me in like one of their own- like family. I felt much more true love than just lust which is sometimes the case as I spent 2 hours with French and English Canadians who are about the brightest, most beautiful people in the world. It was horrible when it ended. When a tug of war ensued between who put me in touch with a higher ranker and the higher ranker became a bastard when I got back to America. I don't think I'll get the chance again, not because of anything I said or did, simply because it would have to come at a time when most of them wouldn't remember me. I can really relate to all that screaming, howling, and freaking out in "Sorrow" which is a sort of jazz/progressive drama about lost love. I always had a strange feeling of connecting with that song when I heard it and that could easily be because love turns into sorrow for me. If you don't like horns don't buy BANQUET- the album it's from as on that album Lucifer's Friend went for a full orchestra and got pretty jazzy. When you have two 12 minute long tracks I think that tells you something. John Lawton captured lost love and sorrow even more perfectly in Uriah Heep with the Ken Hensley/Lee Kerslake composition "Come Back To Me" off the FALLEN ANGEL album- a song that is high up there with favourites for me. Yes, once love is gone loneliness and alienation set in. We talked about that in Canada. I felt for the first time like I was home. Here there is too much at stake, so I leave you with a line from that song "Come Back To Me/Can We Try It One More Time?"
I'd love to go for 1 million more times back to beautiful, brilliant, loving, kind, heavenly Montreal and just leave this boring selfish big country full of big business and big deals in the past!
When do I get my one way ticket back to somewhere a lot nicer than here? Couldn't be soon enough!