Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fictional Band Names

Heaven 17 is the best appropriation of a band name from fiction. It was mentioned in "A Clockwork Orange" (both the book and the film).

But the most prolific source of fictional band names comes from a chapter in the Illuminatus trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson, where he tells the story of the greatest rock festival ever held. Here is the relevant section of the book:

For over a week the musicians had been boarding planes and heading for Ingolstadt. As early as April 23, while Simon and Mary Lou listened to Clark Kent and His Supermen and George Dorn wrote about the sound of one eye opening, the Fillet of Soul, finding bookings sparse in London, drove into Ingolstadt in a Volvo painted seventeen Day-Glo colors and flaunting Ken Kesey’s old slogan, “Furthur!” On April 24 a real trickle began, and while Harry Coin looked into Hagbard Celine’s eyes and saw no mercy there (Buckminster Fuller, just then, was explaining “omnidirectional halo” to his seatmate on a TWA Whisper-jet in mid-Pacific), the Wrathful Visions, the Cockroaches, and the Senate and the People of Rome all drove down Rathausolatz in bizarre vehicles, while the Ultra-Violet Hippopotamus and the Thing on the Doorstep both navigated Friedrich-Ebert-Strasse in even more amazing buses. On April 25, while Carmel looted Maldonado’s safe and George Dora repeated “I Am the Robot,” the trickle turned to a stream and in came Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the Glue Sniffers, King Kong and His Skull Island Dinosaurs, the Howard Johnson Hamburger, the Riot in Cell Block Ten, the House of Frankenstein, the Signifying Monkey, the Damned Thing, the Orange Moose, the Indigo Banana, and the Pink Elephant. On April 26 the stream became a flood, and while Saul and Barney Mul-doon tried to reason with Markoff Chaney and he struggled in their grip, Ingolstadters found themselves inundated by Frodo Baggins and His Ring, the Mouse That Roars, the Crew of the Flying Saucer, the Magnificent Ambersons, the House I Live In, the Sound of One Hand, the Territorial Imperative, the Druids of Stonehenge, the Heads of Easter Island, the Lost Continent of Mu, Bugs Bunny and His Fourteen Carrots, the Gospel According to Marx, the Card-Carrying Members, the Sands of Mars, the Erection, the Association, the Amalgamation, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the Climax, the Broad Jumpers, the Pubic Heirs, the Freeks, and the Windows. Mick Jagger and his new group, the Trashers, arrived on April 27, while the FBI was interviewing every whore in Las Vegas, and there quickly followed the Roofs, Moses i and Monotheism, Steppenwolf, Civilization and Its Discontents, Poor Richard and His Rosicrucian Secrets, the Wrist Watch, the Nova Express, the Father of Waters, the Human Beings, the Washington Monument, the Thalidomide Babies, the Strangers in a Strange Land, Dr. John the Night Tripper, Joan Baez, the Dead Man’s Hand, Joker and the One-Eyed Jacks, Peyote Woman, the Heavenly Blues, the Golems, the Supreme Awakening, the Seven Types of Ambiguity, the Cold War, the Street Fighters, the Bank Burners, the Slaves of Satan, the Domino Theory, and Maxwell and His Demons. On April 28, while Dillinger loaded his gun and the kachinas of Orabi began the drum-beating, the Acapulco Gold-Diggers arrived, followed by the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Dracula and His Brides, the Iron Curtain, the Noisy Minority, the International Debt, Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, the Cloud of Unknowing, the Birth of a Nation, the Zombies, Attila and His Huns, Nihilism, the Catatonics the Thorndale Jag Offs, the Haymarket Bomb, the Head of a Dead Cat, the Shadow Out of Time, the Sirens of Titan, the Player Piano, the Streets of Laredo, the Space Odyssey, the Blue Moonies, the Crabs, the Dose, the Grassy Knoll, the Latent Image, the Wheel of Karma, the Communion of Saints, the City of God, General Indefinite Wobble, the Left-Handed Monkey Wrench, the Thorn in the Flesh, the Rising Podge, SHAZAM, the Miniature Sled, the 23rd Appendix, the Other Cheek, the Occidental Ox, Ms and the Chairperson, Cohen Cohen Cohen and Kahn, and the Joint Phenomenon.
On April 29, while Danny Pricefixer listened raptly to Mama Sutra, the deluge descended upon Igolstadt: Buses, trucks, station wagons, special trains, and every manner of transport except dog sleds, brought in the Wonders of the Invisible World, Maule’s Curse, the Jesus Head Trip, Ahab and His Amputation, the Horseless Headsmen, the Leaves of Grass, the Gettysburg Address, the Rosy-Fingered Dawn, the Wine-Dark Sea, Nirvana, the Net of Jewels, Here Comes Everybody, the Pisan Cantos, the Snows of Yesteryear, the Pink Dimension, the Goose in the Bottle, the Incredible Hulk, the Third Bardo, Aversion Therapy, the Irresistible Force, MC Squared, the Enclosure Acts, Perpetual Emotion, the 99-Year Lease, the Immovable Object, Spaceship Earth, the Radiocarbon Method, the Rebel Yell, the Clenched Fist, the Doomsday Machine, the Rand Scenario, the United States Commitment, the Entwives, the Players of Null-A, the Prelude to Space, Thunder and Roses, Armageddon, the Time Machine, the Mason Word, the Monkey Business, the Works, the Eight of Swords, Gorilla Warfare, the Box Lunch, the Primate Kingdom, the New Aeon, the Enola Gay, the Octet Truss, the Stochastic Process, the Fluxions, the Burning House, the Phantom Captain, the Decline of the West, the Duelists, the Call of the Wild, Consciousness III, the Reorganized Church of the Latter-Day Saints, Standard Oil of Ohio, the Zig-Zag Men, the Rubble Risers, the Children of Ra, TNT, Acceptable Radiation, the Pollution Level, the Great Beast, the Whores of Babylon, the Waste Land, the Ugly Truth, the Final Diagnosis, Solution Unsatisfactory, the Heat Death of the Universe, Mere Noise, I Opening, the Nine Unknown Men, the Horse of Another Color, the Falling Rock Zone, the Ascent of the Serpent, Reddy Willing and Unable, the Civic Monster, Hercules and the Tortoise, the Middle Pillar, the Deleted Expletive, Deep Quote, LuCiFeR, the Dog Star, Nuthin’ Sirius, and Preparation H.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Psychedelic musings 1 - The Cowsills

The Cowsills get a chapter in the book I've been reading, "Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth". I'd heard the name before, but they seemed absent from the broader music canon and I wasn't sure why. I began my investigations with their best-known song, "The Rain, the Park, and Other Things".

I couldn't recall exactly when I've heard this song, but it was definitely in my subconscious, especially those ascending backing vocals ("she could make me happy - happy - happy"), just one of its many inescapable hooks. I love sunshine pop and Summer of Love artefacts, and this is clearly one of the best examples of this style and period.

The Cowsills turned out to have a certain fascination. First of all, they were just kids who were captivated by the Beatles, as I was at that age. Like the vast majority of their peers, they wanted to be like the Beatles but extraordinarily, they got their wish, performing on the same stage on the Ed Sullvan Show as their fab idols. They also got to live this fairytale in the late 1960s, surely the most exciting era of modern popular culture. The youngest Cowsill (Susan, who joined after this video was made) is the same age as my oldest brother, so there's a sense that they are emissaries of my generation who were there in the 60s, rather than the somewhat remote pantheonic oldsters like the Stones, the Beatles and the Byrds.

There's also a series of contradictions about the Cowsills. They were young at a time that celebrated youth and youthful independence, but they were just a bit too young, and that meant they were very much under the control of their parents and the industry machine cogs their Mum and Dad locked into. Their Mum even joined the band, and they became the template for the Partridge family. That cemented their uncoolness and perhaps explains their absence from many 60s revivals and recollections. It's pretty unfair because the song's producer and co-writer Artie Kornfeld was a key organiser of the Woodstock Festival, and can be seen in the documentary espousing the values epitomised by this fairytale of the 60s..

Really, all that Woodstock idealism proved to be pretty hollow in the end. Maybe the the Cowsills' flower power comic book appearance is not so bad after all. (By the way, if anyone has scans of this comic I'd love to see it; only the cover is online at the time of writing).

When they branched out and wrote their own songs the results were sometimes bizarre, in particular the Book of Revelation horrorshow "The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine". In fact, the lyrics were provided for them, and Bob Cowsill wrote the music, which makes existence of the song a little less bewildering.

The tragic postscript is the death of Barry Cowsill  in Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a kind of apocalyptic event in itself.  Barry is the one at the front on the left tapping on the guitar case in "The Rain the Park and Other Things" video above.

I hope you like the video I made to go with the song:

The aforementioned Bubblegum book makes a big deal out of the double-entendres songwriters would put in the lyrics of their juvenile ditties, and I have four interpretations of "The Rain, the Park and other Things":

1. The boy meets a young freaky girl in the park, and she turns him on to a hallucnogenic substance, thus "she had made me happy - happy - happy".
2. The boy meets a young freaky girl in the park, and in the spirit of free love, gives him his first sexual experience.
3. The boy sees a young freaky girl and has a masturbation fantasy about her, thus "all I had left was one little flower in my hand".
4. The boy meets a girl in the park, they hold hands and walk; when the sun comes out he loses sight of her, but is left happy by the experience.

Sadly, I haven't found anything else in the Cowsills catalogue which comes close the the ethereal "The Rain, the Park and Other Things". There are some pleasant moments, like the Gibb-esque "I Need a Friend" and their version of "Hair". But for me it's their first big hit that makes them special.

When the Cowsills performed "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" on the Ed Sullivan Show, the performance was ruined because the mics were off for the first part of the song. Now someone has uploaded the rehearsal from that show. The late Barry Cowsill is in the front with the Hofner violin bass. Note that guitarist Billy died in 2006 from a range of illnesses, within a few days of his brother Barry.