Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Strange Lemons - Beginning "The Hole"

It was October 1978 when the Lemons completed their arduous tour for their '77 album Dogs and Cats.

Gilnitz:  It was awful, fucking awful.  It was our biggest tour yet and everything that possibly could go wrong did.  George finally became convinced that he was the only "real" band member.  It wasn't intentional, though, but mostly because me, Rick and Avery were so totally burned out by the tour, we all figured, well, let him have it if he wants it.

Q:  What actually went wrong?

Gilnitz:  You name it!  [laughs]  I mean, just everything.  George had insisted on these huge, elaborate set-pieces, which never worked.  We had to go by a click-track to keep in synch with the props so that sucked out a lot of energy right there.  But if the least little thing went wrong, the whole act was ruined.  And go wrong it did.  Mostly, it was the props going wrong.  Half the venues we played weren't rated for the juice the stage was using so there always be shorts and blown fuses.  Other times we'd just miss a cue and George would explode!

Q:  At you?

Gilnitz:  At anybody, really.  He saved the real hard bellowing for everyone else.  I was still considered a significant member of the band so he'd go easy on me.  Rick, Avery and any venue staff that crossed him...

Q:  Wow.

Gilnitz:  Right!  He must have had a good couple of dozen people sacked all over the world.

Q:  Was the tour a financial success?

Gilnitz:  Depends on what you call "success", doesn't it?  We pretty much broke even.

George Gravel, in 1992, remembers it differently.

Gravel:  That tour was crazy!  It was a very rough ride but made it through mostly intact.

Q:  No problems?

Gravel:  [laughs] I wish.  I think the worst incident was in Vancouver when most of our technical equipment went missing.  I don't know who buys stolen mixing boards and wires but it must be good business.  It's a constant in the music biz to have your gear pinched, so we were all kind of used to it.  The equipment that didn't get stolen was the problem.

Q:  How so?

Gravel:  I blame Strange Lemons management.  Half the places they'd crammed into our schedule couldn't handle the equipment we'd brought along.  Me and [engineer] Sam Topaz had very precise specs for power, equipment and lighting and venue after venue kept on saying, "yeah, yeah, no problem".  Only there were problems, lots of them.  And our booking agents never once thought to verify any of this.  So, time and again, we were standing on a dark stage with thousands of booing fans in front of us and burning fuse boxes behind us.

Q:  How was the rest of the band taking this?

Gravel:  Far too calmly.  But it meant less for them.  The writing duties had pretty much fallen to me by the time we recorded Dogs and Cats so they had far less than I did vested in the show.  So when things went wrong they'd just kind of shrug and roll their eyes, I'd try to give a chipper pep talk, and they'd roll their eyes a little harder.  Not Darren, so much, since he did have a little input on the album, but the other two and the roadies, eh?

Avery Knight also remembers the tour.

Knight:  Oh, god, I hated it.  It was pretty much at the end of that tour I'd decided that it would probably be my last one.

Q:  Because of what went wrong on the tour?

Knight:  As the next-to-last-straw, I guess, but it was building up for some time.  The sessions for Dogs and Cats were basically Darren and George going at each others throats for six months.  This had been building up from Last Trip to Mars and Picture Postcard, though.  Last Trip to Mars was not only our breakout album but sold by the millions, as you know.  And since they were the twin fathers of that album both their heads got too big to put in the same studio!  [laughs]  But I got so sick of their bullshit - both of them - that I just figured I'd be along for the ride until something made me say "that's it!"

Q:  Did you think of just walking out mid-tour?

Knight:  No.  Funny thing is is that if the tour had been a bit smoother I might have.  It was so bloody horrible that I just shut off completely.  I went through the rehearsals and shows in trance almost, just shutting out the awfulness.  George's tantrums when he thought I missed a cue barely registered a few weeks in.

Q:  Did he do that a lot?

Knight:  Virtually every night, by the end.  I don't blame him personally, not anymore, anyway.  George liked having things neat and orderly, always did.  He had this elaborate show precisely timed in his head but as reality kept knocking things off kilter he became less and less able to deal with things rationally.  So he took out his increasing frustrations on everyone.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Odyssey of Strange Lemons - Part One

In 1981, the legendary psychedelic band Strange Lemons release their blockbuster, decade-defining, multimedia epic The Hole.  The story behind the scenes of this album is similarly shrouded in legend and myth.  To understand it, it's necessary to understand not only the origins but the fate of the band itself.

First, for those few not aware of the band, let's meet the personnel:

George Gravel - Bassist and co-vocalist, Gravel was the driving force behind the Lemon's output from the early 70's up until the early 80's.  Many of his harshest critics allege that his only topics for songs were his late father, who died in the Normandy landings, and the fate of Strange Lemons' enigmatic first guitarist Simon Babbage.

Darren Gilnitz - Guitarist and lead vocalist, Gilnitz was brought on to the band after the release of the debut album Towards The Misty Mountains, mostly because of Babbage's heavy drug use and declining mental and physical health.

Simon Babbage - First guitarist for the band.  Babbage formed the nucleus of the band with Gravel in 1965 and was the primary visionary for the band's early singles and Towards The Misty Mountains, released in early 1967, riding the wave of psychedelia and shaping the direction that wave was to take.  But his mounting drug problems and the friction it caused led to him being seen as a liability to the bands success - leading ultimately to his dismissal in 1968

Avery Knight - Keyboards and effects.  Knight met up with Gravel and Babbage in 1965.  Eventually, impromptu jam sessions with Babbage and Gravel led to a regular gig as keyboards in the proto-Lemons band The Engineering Eggband.

Rick Moss - Drums.  Moss met up with Knight and Babbage while they were looking for a drummer for The Eggband.  Throughout  his time with the Lemons, Moss played a role of peacekeeper between the growing rivalry between Gilnitz and Gravel.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Remember, Remember

Remember, remember the 11th of September
The airplane terrorist plot
Let us make a pact, that this horrible act
Shall never be forgot

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Forward to the Past

As I was finishing up the previous entry, had a thought.  A question, rather and it was this:  "Could you make a remake of Back To The Future, with the original time being 2015 and have it seem plausible?"  And the more I think about it, the more I think it wouldn't work.  The differences would be too great.

Think about it.  The differences in tech between 85 and 55 are only a matter of scale and complexity - not of form.  Even the most noticeably advanced technology - Camcorders and cassette players - would still be plausibly recognized as such.  Yes, they were extremely advanced models compared to what had been available in 55 but they were based on the same basic principles.  A visitor from 85 would not have too much trouble recognizing and using everyday items in 55.  Heck, Camcorders and Walkmen were still on the low-end of luxury items even in 85.  Touchtone phones were dominant, but barely so.  Cable TV wasn't close to being in a majority of homes yet.

As for a 17-year old from 2015 in 1985?  It would be as if he truly were an alien. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

God Bless The 80's

I heard Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" while waiting for a haircut. You want to know something?  I miss the 80's. I mean, if Swift's tame, schoolyard taunt is what passes for "angry white rock 'n roll girrl" these days then we're all better off hopping into the TARDIS and going back to the Golden Age of kick-ass rock chicks. Heck, let's stop off in the 90's and grab L7 while we're on the way back.

Because I remember when Rock 'n Roll grrls kicked major fucking ass.  And we need that, now more than ever.  It's actually kind of sad that Pat Benatar's sappiest ballad totally crunches Swifts baddest badness.  And then there's Wendy O. Williams.  Not the sassy talk-show host (although, she too would be able to break Swift in two using only her eyelashes) but the late, legendary Plasmatics front-Goddess.  Let's see how Swift's little chant stacks up to jumping off an exploding fucking bus.  For fuck's sake, WoW's make-up and outfit alone would blast Swift off the stage.

The moral of the story is, kids, when your elders tell you your music sucks, sometimes they're right.