Bob Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways —An American Classic

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Rating: 5 out of 5.
The 39th Studio Album from Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan and 42nd overall is a collection inspired by the best of Walt Whitman and William Blake. 77 minutes. Double CD/Digital Streaming.

Juke Joints Sing The Songs Of Self

“Endless unfolding of words of ages!
And mine a word of the modern, the word En-Masse.

Walt Whitman

“I Contain Multitudes” opens the record with a reference to another epic poet whose work, “Song Of Myself”, celebrates every living creature on the planet. The title of this track is a Whitman quote. The ‘I’ is used here inclusively. Evoking the value in all living things.

The songs speaks to the experience of life. Loving and hating in equal measure. Composing, painting, eating, drinking, and our bodies as vessels that contain a universe.

I love Mr. Dylan’s end to this track. You can accept this line as just playing recordings of the classical giants or perhaps it is an expression that his final chapter maybe spent composing classical pieces:

“I’ll play Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s preludes…”

The cover image for this record is important. Presented in a cinematic letter-box format, anonymous couples are dancing. They are people of color. A solitary figure is hunched over the juke trying to decide what to play or in anguish over lost love or any number of reasons you could imagine.

For the first time Bob Dylan’s name does not appear on the cover! We listeners are to focus only on the image of a juke joint interior. The name of the record seems to pop-up from the floor in vivid technicolor. The color scheme applied is simply the best ever used in his catalog of 42 records.

Once again he is creating a mythic eden seeded in the past but brought into our present. A secret place where people of color went to actually express their humanity. The Queer folk also went to these type of places to do the same. Evoking Whitman’s celebration of humanity and non-humanity alike within the dark spaces of the juke joint where all can be free together.

American Folklore’s Rough and Rowdy Ways

His choice of title reference classic folk music by way of Jimmie Rodgers. The adjectives of Rough and Rowdy are masculine in nature. Playful but potentially dangerous like people themselves. A Dylanesque wink to the underlying violence packed within the culture. Dylan loves to use folklore and tall tales for referents to his lyrics. This album is more than worthy of his best works. His mystique is intact; here now his innermost troubles are laid bare.

False Prophet

A 10 stanza poem that could have been a part of Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” In the sixth stanza he invokes the ‘I’ in repetition:

I searched the world over, for the holy grail, I sing songs of love, I sing songs of betrayal. Don’t care what I drink, I don’t care what I eat, I climb the mountain of swords On my bare feet.”

Mr. Dylan is baring his soul like never before throughout this record. In the verse quoted above you here his artistic declaration of mission. He once again invokes his religious beliefs too. Willing to climb a mountain of swords in bare feet is a form of stigmata.

“My Own Version Of You”

Expressing his heart’s desire to create his own Frankenstein—like creature in his image to be able to assign it the qualities he feels are required to balance the world. The lyrics here are macabre yet have a restless play about them:

I’ll take the Scarface Pacino and The Godfather Brando
Mix it up in a tank and get a robot commando

Using fictional toughs from the 1970s in ‘The Godfather’ and 1980s in ‘Scarface’ as his character ingredients expresses the raw masculine imagination at work. A modern American ethos is applied here.

Dylan appeals to Julius Caesar, St. Peter, Mr. Freud, and Mr. Marx. As usual for the Ancients to connect to the Moderns as the basis for a new brain. Politics, Religion, and Philosophy—these are the areas of human endeavor forever swirling around in Mr. Dylan’s grey matter too.

“I wanna bring someone to life, turn back the years
Do it with laughter and do it with tears

The strongest desire of all seems to be the return of older values and ideas. The masks of comedy and tragedy must always balance the equation of reality and fiction.

“I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You

The love poem of the album is addressed to an unknown woman (or perhaps every listener). A nice ballad delivered pretty straight and dry. In contrast to all of the other songs here this track stands out as the least grim.

“I’m giving myself to you, I am
From Salt Lake City to Birmingham
From East L.A. to San Antone
I don’t think I can bear to live my life alone

Mr. Dylan has had two marriages that produced 2 grown sons. His declaration here becomes clear. He wants to give up his lonely wandering.

“Black Rider”

A 5 verse poem that reinforces letting go of youthful recklessness. The doppelganger of violent intent is warned to release its grip or be hacked to pieces. The song is the simplest one here.

“Goodbye Jimmy Reed”

A 6 verse poem expressing Mr. Dylan’s goodbye to the blues. Mr. Reed is the most influential bluesman who passed back in 1976. He is the connective blood and tissue to Mr. Dylan’s other friends, Elvis and The Rolling Stones who covered Mr. Reed’s songs.

Mother of Muses”

A poetic prayer expressed with a selfish desire to have the top muse all to himself.

Mother of Muses, wherever you are
I’ve already outlived my life by far

In seeming desperation he lays his soul out for her to see. That life has now gone on too long. He needs her injection of spirit. Perhaps to fill the void if he lets go of his former life.

“Crossing The Rubicon”

Reinforcing his connection with the Ancients via Julius Caesar again, here to express a dedication to a new and risky course. This is a 9 verse poem that Dylanologists will love parsing among themselves. The densest work in this collection. Great poetic phrasing with just the right dose of abstraction.

“Key West (Pirate Philosopher)”

4 Verses of philosophy; 4 choruses describe Key West. This is the second longest track here. It serves as Prelude to Disc 2’s opus, “Murder Most Foul”.

In such simple verse Mr. Dylan crystallizes his ways. Key West is flat land where he can keep his feet planted firmly and listen closely to a pirate radio signal for inspiration and peace.

My favorite lines make up Chorus 4:

“Key West is the place to be
If you’re looking for immortality
Key West is paradise divine
Key West is fine and fair
If you lost your mind, you’ll find it there
Key West is on the horizon line”

Throughout his years writing songs Bob Dylan embraces places real and imagined as Eden–like. Key West is now his present flashpoint in life. It represents his cohorts: Ginsberg, Corso, and Kerouac; his greatest influencers: Louis, Jimmy, and Buddy.

This song closes out Disc 1. Key West is defined by Dylan as a tonic for life. The epic track on Disc 2 acts as counterpoint to the divine.

Murder Most Foul” is a nation’s fall from grace as well as an individual’s reckoning.

Due to the length and depths of that track I gave an entire blog entry over to it.

Click here for my analysis of the 17 minute track: https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/evan-s-gate.com/1542

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Bob Dylan is that rare artist who continues to be inspired by the myriad roads travelled and the places he has seen. At once worldly and still forever in deep love with his own country, he is able to imbue his work with just the right amount of ambiguity and self—worth. He has become a true Renaissance man. I am a grateful listener.

The City Sleeps

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Another week is done. I have calendars in my apartment. Two in fact. One features puppies in silly outfits and poses to fit the month/season. The other is a New Yorker magazine cartoon-a-day.

The small things that went unnoticed are now prime pins in my mental machinery. They keep me safe. Taking an anti-depressant is the other component in this equation.

Here we are in New York without sitdown service in restaurants. One diner remains with delivery. It’s called Midnite Express after the drug trafficking movie from the 1970s.

Funny to think how the underbelly of society is operating now. Are they wearing masks too? Everyone is required to wear them now.

So with all this time on our hands we come up with projects. My latest was listening to the entire Bob Dylan catalog. I found out I could listen to 9 albums in one day. This infuriated my beloved husband but I was determined to finish in less than a week.

No theater. No baseball. No concerts. Summer will present a challenge. No day trips. May there be no heatwaves nor hurricanes. Oh, the city pools will not open. The last time that happened was the polio pandemic.

We should remind ourselves daily we must allow the health sector to do its best to curtail new illness. We should also keep in mind that all workers are valuable in any economy. Do not scapegoat.

At 7 each evening New Yorkers are banging pots and pans while cheering for nurses and doctors; food deliverers, store clerks; pharmacists, drugstore clerks. Hand in hand those with advanced educations and those with limited resources are working together to keep us all safe.

The city is quiet. You cannot help but feel how fragile society can become when faced with these unusual circumstances. New York pride was once about being open all the time. Things have changed.

Before the pandemic hit Manhattan the complaints to 311 (our city services number) over noise was hitting records. Subway ridership was bursting, and tourism was high.

Now those complaints are not happening and the subways are empty save essential workers. No tourists.

The past 2 administrations created a city for visitors. This has proved to be a shortsighted vision. Without their revenue now what do we do?

The city sleeps. Schools are closed. Life will not return to normal. Our lack of hindsight has proven to be our folly in 2020, funnily enough a year whose numbers literally mean healthy vision.

Last night at twelve Bob Dylan released another single, “I Contain Multitudes”, referencing Walt Whitman, Anne Frank, and the Rolling Stones! Mr. D is doing his part.

See you next week dear readers!

The Great Society

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Change has been forced upon the population. Humanity faces another pandemic. This time it’s global!

The fault is not in the stars but in ourselves. We were sold a bill of goods.

For better or worse, the entire world became a small village. Air travel made it possible to be exposed to all kinds of new experiences.

Ultimately this includes our health. Now we face potential utter collapse.

Once upon a time there was the political idea of a ‘Great Society’. A social safety net in times of need.

Decades were tossed away to never ending corporate gain which has resulted in deep inequality.

Healthcare for profit has been a disaster. Why are we so short on medical supplies?

Why are we still occupying Afghanistan?

Last week I wrote about the consolidation of media power. This week just take a look at how this pandemic is being reported.

Social distance is one thing. Canceling an entire culture is quite another. I tend to see the big picture.

Closing theaters, postponing primaries, and telling a supposed free people to stay home is not a long-term solution.

Democracy means nothing if we do not live up to the ideals of land of the free, home of the brave.

Here in New York City no resident could stay home for a long period of time. The living spaces encourage outdoor activity.

Why are our leaders allowing the economy to drop so rapidly? This crisis can be the pathway to 100% employment.

By hiring and training people to convert malls, armories, and former retail spaces into medical facilities we could employ hundreds of thousands.

This conversion must happen now. Later will be increasing numbers of infected people with no beds in place; no quarantine spaces.

In just a few weeks the nation went from debates over socialism to wondering how they can cover daily expenses.

Our government is going to provide mortgage relief. A little bit of socialism can go a long way in this imperfect system.

We must put public pressure on our officials to sit down to do the hard work of forming a smarter agenda.

The idea of The Great Society was to provide healthcare as a right. Create new pathways to economic stability. And face the original sin of slavery.

Just think for a moment if you can see a brighter future for every citizen if we continue to feed deep inequality.

If we profit off the sick and infirm and ignore the treatment of prisoners as not human can we claim to be moral?

The environment is shared universally around the world. We the people need to step up to demand this issue be taken seriously. Our money means nothing if an entire population is drowned by rising sea levels.

I feel strongly the best we can do for ourselves is to reach out through Skype or Zoom to fellow citizens to debate these ideas. We must challenge our leaders.

I also think less TV news is a must for people. If you have to look at the headlines use factual outlets.

Cable news is probably the worst source for facts.

NPR and WNYC radio are solid outlets in the Big Apple. The New York Times provides updates, just don’t stare too long.

Grassroots organizing is still the best way to bring together the new ideas for galvanizing a culture that has been taught for generations how to be non-political and compliant with the worst possible agenda.

Take your daily walks/exercise, read a lot, and learn to think for yourself how we can better this now literally sick society.

L.B.J. introduced The Great Society during his presidency in response to poverty.

Album Cover Art In Our Digital Age

Since the 1960s the covers of long-playing records have undergone many changes.

Before the Beatles and Stones most records were just simple photographic images of the band leaders or crooners of the period.

During the 1960s when the counter-culture movement arrived albums underwent a major alteration.

The new artists had album covers that were more than just their mugs in close-up.

Before I continue let me be clear about what the cover of a record means to me.

I think covers are a canvas to be used to draw in would be listeners. It does not have to be literal or easy to understand.

After decades of releases before the internet we have thousands of covers to gawk at in pleasure and disgust.

The images can excite, enlighten, and become stand alone pieces of art.

In some cases they can also offend certain sensibilities.

The Beatles’ infamous butcher cover was censored by their record company upon release.

Capitol records pulled this album from circulation after distributors complained the cover image was revolting. If you can find this album with the offending picture it’s worth a lot today.

Guns N Roses biggest seller, “Appetite For Destruction” had its cover banned.

It featured a cartoon image of a flower girl being raped by a robot.

Guns N Rose’s original art got banned by their label. The cross and skull art is the cover now.

The aforementioned covers became highly valued on the market for collectors.

Their rarity increased the value of original prints. Digital representation of album art will never be valuable.

Many classic (old) rock groups hired artists to paint, photograph, and collage their cover art.

Roger Dean, Derek Riggs, and the firm Hipgnosis are good examples of why artists commission painters, graphic designers and illustrators.

The progressive rock group Yes compiled a catalog of music along with covers by Roger Dean.

His dreamscapes were colorful, fantastic, and surreal. This fit well with Yes’ music.

Fragile by Yes features the above art by Roger Dean to promote a greener planet.

Derek Riggs painted the first 8 Iron Maiden album covers.

His art became instantly part of the band’s image.

Each cover features the mascot Eddie, a decaying corpse reanimated back to life.

The art collective Hipgnosis was hired by British art rock icons Pink Floyd.

The indelible photographic elements are imprinted on the memory of any classic rock fan forever.

Their cover images include a cow for Atom Mother, a flying pig for Animals, and a prism for Dark Side of the Moon.

The records pictured above included extras you cannot enjoy digitally.

Styx and Pink Floyd had posters within their sleeves.

One more artist I want to mention is Michael Doret a designer, lettering artist, and illustrator based in Los Angeles, California.

He has created logos, album covers, magazine covers, and art for various brands in media, advertising, and sports.

The illustration he created for Kiss in 1978 was so eye catching the band worked with him again in the 21st Century!

Rock N Roll Over by Kiss was the last album in which all four original members performed. Ace Frehley had no writing credit.

Sonic Boom was released in 2009. The art is sort of a follow up to its 1970s predecessor.

On vinyl the album was issued with vinyl platters in six different colors.

The Rock N Roll Over album was reissued in 2015, complete with a sheet of full color stickers replicating the cover art.

The art is the original size meant for public view when it’s on a physical item.

Digital cannot transmit how vivid these covers actually appear.

Many albums have gatefold sleeves. This means they open up to show a two panel artwork.

Queen used an image by scifi illustrator Frank Kelly for News of the World in 1977. A two panel gatefold is featured.

Today album frames are sold as a means to display album cover art.

There are many examples of art for record covers. I have covered a few of my favorites for this article.

Keep in mind none of this art looks great in digital form. In physical presence you must stop and stare.

Record albums are cherished items. The extra goodies inside like posters are really cool too.

To be fair, digital music files can show the art. It’s tiny and trapped under the glass of your smart device.

MP3 files can become corrupted. I have had to stop my PC many times due to bad playback.

Records force you to take better care of your music.

It is much more of an experience to play an album on a turntable. You value it more. And the art is for keeps!

Defenders Of The Faith

Rocka Rolla

Their debut release in 1969 on indie label Gull was a bluesy hard rock affair that went unnoticed by most.

Naming the band for a Bob Dylan song seemed off. “The Ballad Of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” is a crossroads tale of two strangers meeting on a road in the forest.

Only in hindsight does this become an ingenious origin for their moniker. If you listen to the song the idea is really cool. Judas Priest is a dark figure. Embued with a mystique that fits the band’s image.

Black Sabbath are widely acclaimed as the fathers of heavy metal music. The formative period for Judas Priest were spent in the shadows cast by the bigger acts of the time.

Until Deep Purple’s Roger Glover produced their major label debut, “Sin After Sin” on Columbia.

Sin After Sin released in 1976.

Covering Joan Baez’s “Diamonds & Rust” would broaden their sound. Their composition, “Vicitm of Changes” became a live staple during this era.

Early Priest at their best. The Ripper was revived as a live track in the 1990s.

Killing Machine

The late 1970’s was quite exciting for heavy music. Van Halen debut. Queen’s ‘News Of The World’ album goes multi-platinum in America. Judas Priest were about to unveil two metal masterworks.

Hell Bent For Leather became the band’s signature.

Judas Priest unveil their best work to date. The name of the record is changed to ‘Hell Bent For Leather’ in America (‘Killing Machine’ in the rest of the world). The band present a new image wearing leather and studs.

L-R: Glenn Tipton, Rob Halford, K.K. Downing, and founding member Ian Hill.
Concerts feature Rob Halford on a Harley-Davidson bike.

Songs celebrating the biker lifestyle incorporate new guitar techniques that would become part of the heavy metal art form.

“Rock Forever”, “Take On The World”, and the title track formed a trio of anthems. “Before The Dawn” is a power ballad that I think tops them all.

Stained Class introduces the now famous logo associated with the band.

The record brought a sound that would continue to develop over the next three decades.

The band’s cover of the haunting ‘Better By You, Better Than Me” by Spooky Tooth became a fan favorite. The song was at the center of a trial years later.

Proving Their Steel

The dawn of the 1980’s would bring Judas Priest into the long out of reach limelight.

The album ‘British Steel’ stripped down the music to a lean muscular form. “Living After Midnight” became a rock radio hit. The song began their music video history.

British Steel heralded heavy metal’s rise in pop culture.

Priest continued to evolve using different sounds on each album. “Point Of Entry” followed in 1981.

Three singles with videos: ‘Headin’ Out To The Highway’, ‘Don’t Go’, and ‘Hot Rockin’ were all catchy songs that took pop melodies into metal.

Visions of motorcycle rides in the desert was the overall feel of the work.

‘Desert Plains’ was part of the current Firepower tour playlist.

“Screaming For Vengeance” became the defining statement that Priest were the metal band. The anthem ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ hit radio rising to the top. The band toured extensively. American rockers fell in love.

Their best selling album in America.

The album featured the first in what became a series of mythic metallic monsters on their covers.

The Hellion is a metal Eagle soaring above looking for justice for those who have been wronged. ‘Fever’ , ‘Devil’s Child’ , and ‘Ridin’ On The Wind’ are stellar songs often overlooked.

By 1984 heavy metal music was a primary force in the American rock scene. Small towns/suburbia felt besieged by the culture. Long haired kids in denim and leather; patches of bands decorated their jackets.

“Defenders of the Faith” in my opinion is still the modern most influential metal record. Every fan owns this record. The Metallion is the beast of choice on its cover.

It’s a take no prisoners anthemic, macho declaration of heavy metal glory.

The radio smash ‘Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” followed by the sex driven ‘Eat Me Alive’ and ‘Love Bites’ alarmed conservatives.

Defenders of the Faith laid down the metal gauntlet.

The band rose to the top. Then hysteria in the form of local teen suicide being blamed on the music. Judas Priest were blamed for a fan death. They were acquitted in court.

Pushing the art form of metal into new directions was part of the band’s mission. Their records always incorporated the latest technologies.

The Turbo Age

Then in the summer of 1986 the Priest changed direction. ‘Turbo’ featured guitar synths. Giving their sound a much more pop friendly polish. There was a decidedly mixed reaction.

Singles like ‘Turbo Lover’ and ‘Locked In’ gave the band great top 40 success. A lot of kids at the time listened to Priest for the first time.

The record was envisioned as a double record by the band. Columbia records would decline to allow such an ambitious project despite the band’s popularity.

Bound For Glory

“Ram It Down” was the second half of “Turbo” released separately. No metal beasts on their covers; anthems & ballads. I love both albums. Some fans became disgruntled by the new sounds.

The band even recorded a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’ for a movie soundtrack. Quite a commercial move for a metal group. This track appears on ‘Ram It Down’.

The ups and downs are inevitable in the music business. Opinions change over time. Some of the more pop oriented moves are now seen as a blip in a history full of mostly metal glories.

After leaving the band for solo albums in the early 1990’s, Rob Halford returned as lead vocalist for an album that would once again raise the bar for metal music.

Ripper Owen’s Era

Things change. When their iconic frontman left the band the future became foggy.

A singer in a Judas Priest tribute band by the name of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owen’s became their vocalist. His nickname from a classic Priest song.

Two albums are released. It’s the 1990’s. “Jugulator” features a metallic beast on its cover. The music is solid metal. Fans were indifferent.

I had the opportunity to meet them after a show at Roseland ballroom here in New York. It was gratifying to tell them how much I loved their music and concerts. I gave Tim Owens a pat on the back. No one could fill Rob Halford’s boots.

Back On Top

“Painkiller” is arguably the best metal record ever made. The metallic biker on the cover is a winged hero. Every song is heavy. Halford’s voice was never better. The twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing are at their peak.

The best of all their albums.

I got to see them in their peak years. Never a disappointment. The songs were always representative of their entire career.

“Angel of Retribution” was Rob Halford’s return to the band. A solid effort. During this time the band’s albums showed a marked return to their late 70’s early 80’s sound.

“Redeemer of Souls” was a great follow-up album to “Painkiller”; “Nostradamus” was a double album that returned the band to their roots. A decidedly non-commercial epic aimed at their most dedicated fans.

Today the band enjoys their fame. Rob Halford has the nickname, Metal God, for the song and his amazing voice. Always proud to be metal, the community loves Judas Priest.

“Firepower” was their 18th studio album released in 2018 and the tour is still going strong. Well received by critics and topping the charts the group is poised to celebrate their 50th Anniversary in 2020.

Firepower was a solid comeback album.

They are nominated for induction into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame in 2020.

Colorado/Neil Young & Crazy Horse/ Review

Neil Young’s 38th album, “Colorado”, released on October 25, 2019.

This is the first studio offering from Crazy Horse since 2012’s “Psychedelic Pill”.

The sounds you get these days are often produced so meticulously it’s miraculous there are any musicians left with real soul.

Crazy Horse have soul in spades. This latest offering is about climate change.

More to the point it’s a raw jammy statement of love for the planet; a pro-immigration, pluralistic mission from perhaps rock’s last angry man.

Crazy Horse are:

Neil Young (guitars, vocals, piano, vibes, harmonica), Nils Lofgren (guitars, vocals, pump organ), Ralph Molina (drums, vocals), and Billy Talbot (bass, vocals). They recorded Colorado mostly live in studio in the titular state. Neil Young produced the album with John Hanlon.

Recording a Crazy Horse album in Colorado.
  • 01 Think of Me
  • 02 She Showed Me Love
  • 03 Olden Days
  • 04 Help Me Lose My Mind
  • 05 Green Is Blue
  • 06 Shut It Down
  • 07 Milky Way
  • 08 Eternity
  • 09 Rainbow of Colors
  • 10 I Do

While none of these new compositions will strike a novice listener as anything hip or catchy they are not meant to be commercial.

These are brilliant musicians laying down jams that are recorded well.

In each piece is expressed wishes, hopes, and dreams of a world that cares about the eternal.

“She Showed Me Love” is an epic jam of 13:36 mins secs in duration.

On vinyl this album is a 3 record set. There is a 7 inch single of ‘Milky Way’ included.

Mr. Young wanted to make an album of lasting value; high quality playback was key.

The musicianship on display here is superlative. “Milky Way” is the first single; “Rainbow Of Colors” will be the second.

Frustration over the lack of universal understanding of the epic problems we face with a climate in decline is resolved in the scorching anger of “Shut It Down”.

The song’s second verse:

Have to shut the whole system down
All around the planet
There’s a blindness that just can’t see
Have to shut the whole system down
They’re all wearing climate change
As cool as they can be

The arrangements are not heavy handed. The delivery is what longtime listeners of this band would expect. A slow churn of political dissent that threatens to boil over.

By the record’s end you want more. In reality you must do your part so there can be more. An eternity of more.

Mr. Young has been recording since 1969. Now in his 50th year as a recording artist he shows no sign of slowing down; not giving in to an apathetic status quo.

He cares deeply for the songs he creates as an artist. His contributions to groups like Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, and Nash are untouchable rock milestones.

Sometimes his solo works have been difficult to translate on first listen. Regardless, you must listen with a close ear, expecting to not get all the meaning within right away.

This album has those qualities. If you do the work you will get the picture. Much more transparent than some of his other works with insightful poetic lyrics in every song.

“Milky Way” is a poem. Universal themes of lost love, longing for connection, and cockeyed optimism are long held hallmarks of musical art. This track embodies all of it.

The repeating verse:

I was sailing in the Milky Way
Losing track of memories
That weren’t that day
Right by her side
As the stars flew by I did collide
With memory but somehow

I survived
And became free

A transient moment in time. Getting lost in the daze of lost/recalled memories and somehow able to move forward stronger.

As the lead single I felt strongly this track represented what the album as a whole says of Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s work.

When a legendary artist releases new music there is a huge weight attached—memory of past glory.

“Colorado” just plainly states that we cannot collide with our past because we risk negating the present; become blind to our future.

According to SPIN magazine there will not be a concert tour this Fall to support the new record. Mr. Young is finishing up editing 15 films!

https://www.spin.com/2019/08/neil-young-crazy-horse-no-tour-15-films/

A companion documentary, Mountaintop Sessions, will be released soon, directed by C.K. Vollick.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse will play Winnipeg in February 2020. More dates to follow.

Woodstock At 50

Searching For The Garden

For thousands of years humanity has been seeking methods to restore a sense of peace among peoples.

Despite my non-belief, I think religion is still the source of our greatest imagined narrative. Despite the reality of suffering on a terrible scale people still strive for universal peace.

I think to understand why Woodstock is important today we must look at the culture that preceded the hippie youth movement.

Let’s begin with a rough review of the 1950’s and 1960’s as they relate to the rise of a New Left and Hippie rebellion in America.

The American Experiment

The seeds of a new nation were planted on soil enriched by slaves. A democratic system evolved to include, to assimilate, and to uplift.

The democratic model of Ancient Greece led the founders to forge a centralized government. There was immense suffering and bloodshed to make this happen. Many were excluded from the possibilities of America.

North America’s native population was decimated. Minority peoples were outsiders. Women could not vote; seek higher education.

A fractured society led to our civil war. Following the Lincoln Era, the newly freed slaves were murdered on a regular basis. Cultural resentment continued in America through WWII.

Americans of every race, creed, and class fought alongside their allies to defeat anti-democratic forces. Unfortunately, the strains of hateful ideology that threatened the world continued to infect our democracy.

The aftermath would bring an era of conservative value making. Discrimination was visible in segregation. Queers of any type were invisible. Any deviation from the straight and narrow was mocked and punished.

If you were white there were many rewards. Good jobs, new homes, and college educations were granted to this newly minted modern middle-class.

Father Knows Best

The 1950’s reinforced a culture where straight white males were the dominant cultural force.

Children were to be seen and not heard. Adults were the authority. Obey rules. Listen to your parents, go to school, and always work hard.

This separate and unequal society had a post-war baby boom that produced 70 million teenagers.

The new technology of TV provided people with a new way of viewing the world .

Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley reflected a new musical expression.

A strata of white middle-class kids rejected the materialistic path they were educated to value. The silver screen rebel arrived in the form of Marlon Brando & James Dean.

White kids started to hang with black kids outside of the Jim Crow Codes. Black leather jackets, rock n roll music, and drugs punched a hole in the wall of conservative white male hierarchy.

Then the 1960’s dawned with America at a cultural divide. The Korean War was followed by Vietnam.

Our politicians put the Cold War with Russia above our domestic problems. Communism was cast as the great threat.

Then a new generation helped elect our youngest President. The Civil Rights movement pressured elected officials to take apart systemic racism.

Amidst all of this cultural change came a youth quake seen and heard around the world.

The Beatles arrival in America in 1964 changed everything. Teenagers wanted to gather in large numbers. The message was heard in stereophonic sound: All You Need Is Love.

Tune In. Turn On. Drop Out.

In contrast to the previous decade in which the teenage rebel was portrayed as aimless, the Vietnam War gave the kids a cause.

The great disillusionment arrived with young people organizing against registering for war. Vietnam was televised every night.

American teenagers did not want to obey. The war was immoral. Racism was immoral. Promoting hate was immoral.

Rebels with a cause. America’s youth did not accept Vietnam as a just war.

The Woodstock Festival became the visible embodiment of what the kids had fought for all decade long. This generation had a style, moral code, and vision that rejected the path of inequality, racism, and war their elders had enacted.

Harvard Prof Timothy Leary told kids to tune in, turn on and drop out. Forget the crap you were told; a new way is needed.

Kids dressed in jeans, colorful vests, and sandals. They took drugs to open their minds and dropped out of straight society to protest the government.

Boys grew their hair long, went shirtless and/or barefoot. Girls went bra less and joined with boys to form new communities beyond the white picket fence.

Many burned draft cards. They marched in solidarity with blacks. The authorities were quite shaken by the rebellion. Then at decade’s end came the big event.

Billed as 3 days of Peace, Music…and Love. On farm land in upstate New York where the Bethel Woods concert pavilion now stands, the festival took place.

The organizers of the Woodstock Festival were four young men: John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Mike Lang. The oldest of the four was only 27 years old at the time of the Woodstock Festival.

The concert was envisioned to be a fundraiser for a proposed recording studio in Woodstock where many musicians lived at the time. Mr. Roberts was heir to the Polydent fortune. He bankrolled Woodstock.

The original proposed site in Watkill, NY was rejected. The town’s people passed a law against mass concerts. The hippies were not desirable to their town.

The hippie movement was influenced by Eastern religion, rock music, and experimentation with drugs. The youth of this era rose up in mass to protest the Vietnam War.

The Farm

Those American values formed in the 1950’s resulted in Michael Lang scrambling to find a new place for his festival. The township of the first proposal did not want hippies overtaking their community. Several towns declined to host.

He discovered a tract of land on the farm of Max Yasgur that had the right sort of shape for his concert vision.

Michael Lang, seen here on his bike, was the principal organizer of Woodstock.

The logistics got messy.

Tickets were $7 for one day and $18 for 3 days ($26 today) per day.

Fences surrounding the concert were not completed in time.

The promoters expected around 30,000 people. Over 400,000 came on the day closing down the NY state Thruway.

Instead of charging people the festival turned into a free “be in” the size and scale nobody could have predicted. Attendees created a community including makeshift playgrounds and camping areas.

On Day 2 of the festival thunderstorms shut down the music for hours. Chip Monck, the master of ceremonies for the fest, told people to come down from the towers. The monsoon like rains that came forced people to improvise sheltering in place.

Some of the concert goers stripped down, placing their clothes under tarps, and made the best of a tough situation. The temperature dropped quite a bit after the storms. Keeping clothes dry was essential to prevent hypothermia.

Goldmine magazine’s coverage of Woodstock provided an excerpt from Chapter 8 of the book “Back To Yasgur’s Farm” by Mike Greenblatt (Krause Books). Local police made a statement about the festival. Sullivan County Sheriff Louis Ratner said “I never met a nicer bunch of kids in my life.”

Goldmine Magazine’s Woodstock Issue and Mike Greenblatt’s Woodstock 50 book proved invaluable to this blog.

Main Event

Ritchie Havens performed his song, “Freedom”, to open the show. On Monday morning, with only about 30,000 people left, Jimi Hendrix took the stage with his new band, Gypsy Sun & Rainbows. His rendition of our National Anthem is now rock culture’s preferred version.

In between there were The Who, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Joe Cocker, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Country Joe MacDonald, and Sha Na Na.

Poster advert for the Woodstock Festival.

Aftermath

Day 3. Wet sleeping bags, utensils, and the footprints of 400,000 plus souls.

The concert on a hill became an expression of hope for millions of people around the US and the world. Unfortunately the backlash against freedom (free love) followed.

When I was a kid people used to say if you remember Woodstock then you were not there. The wink and nod was due to the use of drugs.

However, in 1969 only 4% of Americans were smoking marijuana. Today more than 50% of people support legalization of the drug.

Woodstock’s organizers had debt of $1 million and faced many lawsuits following the festival.

The documentary film released by Warner Brothers was a hit. The box office receipts helped pay their debts down.

Opposing the war in Vietnam, the hippie counterculture changed our body politic in 1969.
The movie “Easyrider” was in theaters. The modern Gay Rights movement began. America’s unjust war continued through 1975.

1969 was an exceptional year. Stonewall, The Moon Landing, Civil Rights Law, and nearly half a million teenagers/young adults gathered on a farm upstate to express their joys, sorrows, and hopes for a peaceful tomorrow.

50 Year Anniversary

Here in New York City a photographic exhibition will celebrate this milestone at The Morrison Hotel gallery.

https://www.morrisonhotelgallery.com/blog/VBHT7G/WOODSTOCK-50TH-ANNIVERSARY—Join-The-Celebration-in-New-York-City

The Oscar-winning Documentary film is being screened in theaters across the USA on August 15th at 7 p.m. Check Fathom Events for details: https://www.fathomevents.com/events/woodstock-1970-50th-anniversary-directors-cut

The first nationwide screening of the Oscar winning Documentary in theaters since its original release in 1970.

To commemorate the performances at the festival there are some notable records being issued. The original triple LP Woodstock soundtrack album has been re-issued on vinyl.

Rhino, a subsidiary of Warner, will release Woodstock 50: Back To The Garden in separate vinyl and CD box sets.

Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane’s Woodstock sets have been released on vinyl.

History should not repeat. The proposed Anniversary Festival was cancelled. I think people need to live in the present. Dwelling too much in the past is not only depressing but bears no fruit.

What I do know about the 1969 festival and the culture that fostered it is you cannot copy the past.

We can remember why this event became important to us; there is no repeating it. The emergence of the hippie movement for peace was a flash point in America’s story.

In Mike Greenblatt’s book “Woodstock” he notes a press conference following the festival in which Max Yasgur stated:

“The kids were wonderful, honest, sincere, good kids who said, ‘here we are. This is what we are. This is the way we dress. These are our morals.’ There wasn’t one incident the whole time. The kids were polite, shared everything with everyone, and they forced me to open my eyes.

In my opinion, we must remember that Woodstock remains in the social fabric because it was a successful event.

Nobody was patted down to enter the grounds. The promise of music, peace, and love was fulfilled.

In the ensuing 50 years we have grown militant, selfish, and distracted.

Unkind Millenium

Uncertainty is the word we hear a lot today to describe how people are feeling about society.

The five decades since the Aquarian cultural awakening of free love has seen horrors we could not have imagined.

Cultural shifts have moved our society far away from those of the counterculture. We lost the surplus; Gained record debt.

The ruling political class has been more representative of a shrinking geographical minority than of the actual new demographic reality of 21st century America.

Without a military draft the country has become disconnected in the face of unending wars in Syria and Afghanistan.

Advanced technology allows our government to strike targets a world away. The population suffers under crumbling infrastructure; the military gets billions.

Smart phones enable never ending surveillance. We have become more paranoid as a people. Heads are bent down to the perpetual glow of a portable screen.

I know it all sounds dire. Today we face a lot of adversity. We must overcome…again.

Several movements have started to respond to this litany of potential disaster. The issues today include: Gun Reform, Women’s Equality, Prison Reform, LGBTQ Rights, and Election Reforms.

We serve each other. The people are more powerful than any group or political party. We can assemble and make something positive happen.

Always keep in mind that something special blossomed over 3 days in those grassroots on a farm in upstate New York.

This blog is dedicated to all of the people who made Woodstock happen in 1969.

Birdseye view of the over 400,000 people at Woodstock in 1969.
Evan’s Gate
A Music Blog for Misfits.

Misfits Rising

NYC Public Library had a free exhibit documenting the Stonewall Inn in 1969. NYC lights the Empire State Building in rainbow colors. #LGBTPRIDE uses social media to promote the celebrations. STONEWALL 50 has been branded with its own logo.

There is a lot of attention when a milestone anniversary is reached in America. This year marks 50 years since the Stonewall Inn, a dive bar in Greenwich Village, became the epicenter of the modern Gay Rights movement.

Despite the importance of this moment in history it is not taught in public schools. Until this moment in time all homosexuals were thought to be deviant, perverse, and mentally ill.

A history not taught is a history made invisible to the mainstream.

Today many groups that include Women, African-Americans, Latin-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Bi, Questioning peoples are struggling to have their stories told. To be rendered visible begins the process of becoming equal under the law.

Following World War II in which many homosexual and lesbian people gave their lives the straight white politics of America reinforced its culture by driving homosexuality into closeted oblivion. No visibility allows demonization. For hundreds of years homosexuals have been murdered and outcast without legal recourse.

Nazi Germany murdered countless homosexuals. Paragraph 175 was a law written when Kaiser Wilhelm was in power. Re-written by the Nazi regime to outlaw homosexuality. A clear example of the danger of letting hate become enshrined in law.

America’s laws have been cruel to minority people since its inception. Only straight white property owners were fully recognized as equal under our laws.

The hard struggle for the emancipation of slaves led to their being set free from their brutal owners. Freedom meant that white men were free to murder them. Their civil rights were not fully recognized until the 1960’s. Their struggle continues to this day. Not allowed to build wealth of any kind, African-Americans have never been able to catch up with whites.

Gay/Lesbian/Transgender/Bi/Queer/Questioning black people are for this reason not even on par with their white queer brothers and sisters. This must be stated because Stonewall happened in the crucible of the civil rights movement. Collectively our struggles must help each other.

The Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement enabled the moment when homosexual and lesbian people could collectively rise together against their oppressors.

In the 1960’s the law proscribed that nobody was allowed to wear three or more articles of clothing that were not gender conforming. Men could not wear any clothing deemed feminine and women could not dress as men. Homosexuality was illegal in many states. You could be fired if you were out. Our culture thought it normal to make fun of homosexuality; violence against our community was deemed legally fit.

Stereotypes of the homosexual as less masculine were reinforced in movies, television shows, and music. Then one fateful day the patrons of Stonewall stood up for themselves.

Keep in mind that many homosexuals were closeted for decades due to the shaming of our queerness for generations. Loss of family, work, and potentially lives were the reason so many remained silent.

This was the reason organized crime took ownership of The Stonewall Inn. Gay bars were not allowed to serve alcohol; dancing was not legal in many establishments.

Before the raids took place someone was usually tipped off that the cops were coming. The liquor would get stashed away. Anyone who was not gender conforming could escape before the patrons were taken away to jail.

On June 28, 1969 the police raided the Stonewall without warning. Several of the patrons in the bar that night refused to take the ill treatment of the police anymore.

Police raids on gay bars was common during the 1950s and 1960s. Patrons would get lined up, names taken, and some officers took it upon themselves to degrade trans people, people of color, lesbians, and gays. The newspapers would publish their pictures. Forcing gays out of the closet without any legal standing happened daily.

The Stonewall Inn’s patrons backed out of the bar leaving the cops inside. They filed out into the narrow streets. They rose up to resist the police. Despite many being dispersed after that first night many people gathered in the following days and nights that resulted in several confrontations with law enforcement.

There were peaceful protests too. Kick lines formed to mock the stereotype used to define and defile the gay community. Judy Garland had just passed away. The myth that her death fueled the riots is pure nonsense. The uprising took place because not being treated as human finally reached the breaking point.

Rocks, bottles, and fists were used to fight back the brutal opposition. Stonewall burned in the ensuing riots. The aftermath would result in other cities taking notice of the new visibility of homosexual and lesbian people. A movement began. San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and L.A. soon followed with new groups to defend the rights of LGBTQ people.

The first year anniversary of the riots were marked by the first Gay Rights March in Manhattan. It was titled Liberation Day.

In just a few years hundreds of groups would form to defend the rights of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered people. The Human Rights Campaign and GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) are two of the groups I have supported for years.

The first march took place on the first anniversary of the uprising.
Anti-war, Anti-Fascism, and Pro Gay Rights in 1970.

The marches have promoted themes of equality, protest against Presidents who stood against LGBTQ people, and called out policies that hurt our community.

There are still many people in power who choose to oppress rather than lift up minority people.

For the millions who stand up for equality we are not claiming special rights. We want equal rights under the law. To love, marry, raise kids, and live together in a peaceful world. Displaying our bodies in the public square allows us to claim our person hood, bond with others, and be ourselves.

Gay Pride Day has evolved over the decades since the Stonewall Uprising. Today, the march down 5th Avenue to that bar in The Village represents tens of millions of people around the world. Holland, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Russia, Israel, Poland, France, Netherlands, Thailand, Hong Kong, England, Ireland, Chile, and on and on celebrate LGBTQ pride.

The image gallery below shows expressions of pride: Top Left: 3 gay couples kiss. Middle Left: Gay Leather men march. Bottom left: Trans youth celebrate. Top right: A young man celebrates pride, perhaps coming out for the first time. Bottom right: a lesbian couple embrace.

Despite the ongoing threats of ignorant policy makers, hate groups, and others the LGBTQ community includes everyone in our celebrations. Our democratic ideals cannot otherwise be realized.

Thank you reader for taking time to read my blog! Evan’s Gate continues throughout the summer. Feel free to follow this page.

Yours Truly, a couple of years ago.
Showing leather pride in New Haven, CT for Queen’s jukebox musical, “We Will Rock You”.

Zappa The…

strange or extraordinary character ODDFANTASTIC

synonyms for weird

Synonyms: Adjective

bizarrebizarrocrankycrazycuriouseccentricerraticfar-outfunkyfunnykinky, kooky (also kookie), oddoff-kilter,  offbeat, , outlandish, outrépeculiarquaintqueerqueerishquirkyremarkablescrewyspaced-outstrangewacky , way-outweirdowild.

The above comes from the Merriam—Webster dictionary definition of Weird. For myself this was the word that always popped into my head when I thought about Frank Zappa. Not surprising that a single word could then be translated in many colorful ways. Much like the sonic experiments Mr. Zappa created, his listeners would receive a bounty that would never get exhausted.

This entry is happening now because on Friday May 31, 2019 for the first time on vinyl since 1976 comes a re-issue of “Zappa In New York” on 3 Lps. Recorded during a 4 show stint at The Palladium in New York City. Originally a double LP, the third record is a bonus!

Before I delve into my thoughts about the work, how did it come to be?

In 1964 Frank Zappa took over leadership of the American band The Soul Giants. He renamed the band The Mothers, referring to the jazz compliment of mother for a great musician. However, their record company, Verve Records , objected to the insinuation (i.e., “motherfuckers”) and by necessity Zappa had to change the name, creating (and defining) The Mothers Of Invention.

Necessity is the mother of invention” is an English-language proverb. It means, roughly, that the primary driving force for most new inventions is a need.

Mr. Zappa’s need drove him to create music that would provide new pathways for musicians and listeners.

As a music lover I am relieved that my appreciation of his work comes after my obsessions with mainstream groups. Music is exploratory by nature. As a listener I need to be challenged. Following the former years of passive media consumption I want to be more actively engaged. Music does this for me. But like many of my fellow countrymen I listened to what was put before me, not what I actually made an effort to get. In an age where over produced pop is drowning us in simplicity I need complexity.

Now, in this age of information, the legacy of his vast body of work can be understood as a rigorous expression of subjects Mr. Zappa cared deeply about. Nothing to do with easy access or top 40 popularity. This music is label free. Fusion is the word used to describe what is the core of his output. He puts styles together to form a new sound.

Remaining outside the mainstream culture of mass consumer popularity Mr. Zappa is being reached for the first time by people like myself who remained in a fractured mindset. Applying self-made restrictions on what to hear or think about prevented finding this revolutionary sound.

Tellingly, Mr. Zappa spoke openly about the damaging effects of television that enable a crippling passivity. People become narrow and confused, bogged down in just one form of expression. Taught to consume without much thought. Creativity becomes necessity in such a culture. In his lifetime he released 60 albums of original work. The Zappa Family Trust, since his death in 1993, has put out 62 more works.

For a complete list of the 112 studio albums and 40 tribute albums use this link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Zappa_discography

Even back in the late 1960s the idea of free thought was constrained by profit. His albums beginning with the debut, “Freak Out!”, sought to obliterate this filter. Without a filter he put out a record titled, “We’re Only In It For The Money”, with cover art that mocked the lionized “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. The rock era is filled to overflowing with artists that sought nothing more than commercial acceptance. Nothing wrong with it. There is more to art than just profit.

I admit that my first impression of him was typical of a kid too young to understand anything more than top 40 drivel. Here was a guy with looks I found peculiar playing music that had sounds I could not readily decipher or pigeonhole. My prejudices were taught. Today there are more people with Zappa’s looks of otherness. I think this is encouraging. He brought humor into forms considered serious like jazz and blues.

Way-out experiments are not the commercial fruit bearing endeavors record companies want from their talent. Frank Zappa did it because there was within him a strong need to invent sounds that could not exist otherwise. He sought out musicians that could play this no boundaries music.

On YouTube there are several hours worth of interviews from different countries and years. His opinions were direct, smart, and well thought out. Knowing full well that America’s self-deception was the thing hurting the nation from era to era, Zappa spoke about our deep backwardness regarding sexuality and free expression.

“The American dream is to always be young, always be rich, and always be cute”— Frank Zappa

Sexuality was the pressing issue. He felt strongly that sex is as natural a function as going to the bathroom. In American culture many are taught to repress sexual expression. Look at what the result of this has been. Zappa did not believe in pornography or dirty words. Filters like religion and television have done damage in dictating that there is something wrong with sex. Notice how absent most expressions of sexuality are from our media. He recognized most license holders in television are right-wing.

I admire his tenacity when expressing these things. I agree with a lot of it. To fix the economy he stated that churches should be taxed. Then legalize prostitution and drugs. Both should be highly taxed and regulated. Make sure our politicians get what they need, especially sex.

Everyone in the country would have better jobs because America would be manufacturing goods. The economy would then be quite strong. And stop overfunding the military. I think this is why so many wanted him to run for President during the 1980s. Boldly put, do you really want sexually repressed people in places of power?

Speaking of power nobody was more aware of television’s deliberate consumer mission: to sell products. His 1978 appearance on Saturday Night Live was my first exposure to his music and personality. “Dancin’ Fool” was the catchy number I remember most. Re-watching it I discovered how relevant the other two pieces were in presenting his ideas. Click here to see it: https://youtu.be/PGWE7t3qO1I

Actually, after seeing it again now as an adult I think of Frank Zappa on the simple level of a George Carlin type with musical talent. Intellectual, probing, and skeptical of what we as a society think culture should be.

Mr. Zappa was a champion of First Amendment rights. In the 1980s when the Parent’s Music Resource Center, a group made up of politician’s wifes including Tipper Gore tried to censor rock music, Mr. Zappa testified before Congress. He defended the rights of all. He knew an attack on any form of music was an attack on him as well.

I think he would find the current state of things typical. We are still fighting over race, sexuality, gender, censorship, and inequality. The continuing legalization of marijuana would be progress, slow, but a forward step he might have been happy to see. Just imagine the Zappa response to ‘reality’ TV and ‘social’ media that do the opposite of what they pretend to be. Zappa was quite real and social. A real mother.

Searing instrumentals.
“Hot Rats” is a must listen. The second solo album.
Don Van Viliet (Captain Beefheart) featured on the only vocal track, “Willie The Pimp”.
The 112th release in the ever expanding Zappa Catalog.

Details of the 40th Anniversary release of Zappa In New York set (seen above) are here:

https://www.zappa.com/news/frank-zappas-beloved-live-double-album-zappa-new-york-celebrated-suite-40th-anniversary

In April a new concert experience played 9 sold out dates in America. A hologram of Frank Zappa performs alongside 6 musicians. The European dates are coming up.

According to Mr. Zappa’s family he hoped there would be a hologram tour after his life.

Getting back to how I started this entry. Can we define Zappa? I think we cannot. Fluidity is the main thing in art. Zappa the musician. That’s enough for me.

I have started listening from the beginning with the first 4 albums by The Mothers Of Invention. The first two solo albums were added too.

There may be more entries about Frank Zappa in the future. Although I still need to write about the albums and artists that were at the core of my love of music, the boundaries are ever expanding. The gate is always open.

June is Pride Month.

Coming Up: Stonewall At 50.

Thakn you for reading and following Evan’s Gate!

Sneak Peak Of The Future

I love music. My parent’s had records and a victrola when I was a kid. There was a piano in our house. It’s still there. I should have been more vocal about wanting lessons on piano and guitar. I was the youngest of three boys. I wanted to be a rock musician.

In my childhood anything expressed in an artful way or generally non-conformist method was simply called weird. Unfortunately this allowed truly visionary artists like Lou Reed, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Pattie Smith to slip past me. Then there was Devo.

A group who dressed alike to make a point about conformity, consumerism, and politics. I saw them on Saturday Night Live. I was not buying records yet. In matching jumpsuits with the name of the group in bold block letters they seemed so….weird. There is that blanket word of dismissal again!

Following decades where I listened to every major rock group on the planet I re-discovered the aforementioned artists like they were new. I found out why their look and sound seemed so outside the norms.

After decades of dominance by the guitar then electric guitar Devo’s music placed the guitar outside the groove. Replacing it with the new technology of the synthesizer. The synth would be at the core of this music. The recording industry labeled this sound New Wave or Post-Punk. I do not think Devo were ever really pigeonholed by their fans.

Thanks to David Bowie and Iggy Pop, the group from Akron, Ohio who met at Kent State University where they were students got signed by Warner Brothers records.

In early 1970, Bob Lewis and Gerald Casale formed the idea of the “devolution” of the human race after Casale’s friend Jeffrey Miller was killed by Ohio National Guardsmen firing on a student demonstration.[1].

They believed that succumbing to a group think mentality the culture was de-evolving. Hence the name Devo.

Devo consisted of two sets of brothers, the Mothersbaughs (Mark and Bob) and the Casales (Gerald and Bob), along with drummer Alan Myers.”

I began listening to the 6 records the band made with Warners because of Record Store Day 2019. Each year the music industry’s record labels put out a list of titles to feature as exclusives to celebrate independent record stores around the world.

Warner Bros decided to issue a box set of all 6 Devo albums on color vinyl. I have been listening to the digital versions of each release. These are new records to me. I must admit after being such a static listener of guitar oriented music the sounds made by this group were fresh. I literally fell back in love with the pure joy of finding something that excitited my ears, my mind, and my heart.

The first 2 records have been my focus for now. I think it stood out with their approach to their art. Appearing like aliens from The Twilight Zone sent to observe life on earth, the music of Devo satirized our conception of gender, power, and work. I argue they were presenting a sneak peak of the future.

If you missed it like I did you were doomed to just go along with the crowd. Arguably most of us did just that in the 1980s. Punk or Metalhead? Freedom of Choice or conformity of a new tradition? Each record raised these questions of what direction society might take.

The title of their debut had the audacity to be a Q & A. Seen below are the first 4 albums on the Warner Bros label. A fem but masculine male framed in the whiteness of golf, a straight laced image. The answer was a defiant No, We Are DEVO.

Challenging our norms right from the start with songs like “Mongoloid” and “Jocko Homo”. The first of these two songs was about a man with Downs Syndrome who fit into society because he “wore a hat, had a job, and brought home the bacon”. A theoretical critique describing how those who might be perceived as different must find a way to fit into the proscribed norms of the day.

The latter song title refers to de-evolution. Humans are ape men. The call and response track is anthemic. The band’s artful delivery back in the 1970s were often seen as a new form of fascism or clowning or both. But I think Devo was being clever in presenting their satire and opinions as a new form of music that a listener could find on their own terms. The questions are interesting. We may never have all the answers. But we have in our hands this unique artform.

On “Freedom Of Choice”, seen below the third record from left to right included “Whip It” which became their biggest hit, peaking at #14 in America. The song is a sincere cynical laugh at the cockeyed optimism of Americans. All our problems can be solved if we just simply whip them. The whip is a loaded symbol of repression and brutality used here as the over simplification of universal problem solver.

Making fun of all the self-help tropes of the day (still in use today) are the lyrics:

Get straight
Go forward
Move ahead
Try to detect it

Listening to their music for the first time (except “Whip It”) I could understand what they were trying to say. In a lot of ways we were getting the future in preview. A world where a selected group would make the majority feel like the world is beautiful and we just need to conform to be happy.

Confronting the ideals of gender on its debut.
What is tradition?
Freedom. No.
Freedom of Choice.
Duty Now.








The hats were called Energy Domes. It became a trademark of sorts. This was their Freedom Of Choice attire.

Devo made videos at a time before the launch of MTV. Their clip for “Mongoloid” made use of stock footage to create the first video that used the art technique of collage. I would argue that this is part of what makes Devo a worthy candidate for the Museum Of Modern Art as well as the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame. The latter institution failed to induct them again this past year.

To see Devo’s videos go to their Official YouTube Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP9nU4BsAXsr8mQ1PIZVScg

Devo in my opinion were a kind of prologue to our new century. Their theory of Devolution is seen in the ‘smart’ screens that have us in their grip daily. Societal behaviors are changing. We have regressed into a culture of looking down, sticking to the tribe, and thinking we just have to be optimistic all the time.

  1. Paul Vermeersch: A brief history of Devo, Part 1, October 21, 2014, retrieved August 4, 2015