Whenever I am in London, I always think of this band when I`m travelling with public transport. You see, I have a so-called Blue Oyster Card (a smartcard for public transport) and it is impossible for me to NOT link these two together. I don`t know the reason why they named it so, maybe B.Ö.C. have a massive fan in the public transportation system of London (The P.R. department) or maybe it is their alternative career (hopefully not one of evil as in their song “Career of Evil”).
Have a nice, intellectual read.
“We`re pain, we`re steel, we`re a plot of knives…we`re obsessed with the technology of matter…our symbol is a swastika substitute…”
That`s right, another bunch of neo-fascist heavies.
Actually, they`re BLUE ÖYSTER CULT, who claim to be THE heavy metal band.
That`s a boast?
Max Bell thinks so
To understand Blue Oyster Cult you`ve first got to know about Sandy Pearlman, who, together with Murray Krugman, manages the group. Pearlman wasn`t always a manager. Before he carved a name for himself writing for Crawdaddy (acid gook and all that) he`d been in a group called The Fount. Nothing too hot and he knew it. So, seeing as how management grabbed his fancy more, he signed a squad of local brats, fresh from college, and christened them The Cows, a name they weren`t that in love with:
“It was in summer `67 and I walked into Stoneybrook University. Some of the, uh, weirder students were jamming and, wow, they were incredible.”
They were also right about The Cows so he changed it to Soft White Underbelly (“I thought of that in the car, and everyone was happier”). Everyone happened to be Donald Roeser, Albert Bouchard, Andrew Winters and Allan `Dutch` Lanier. They peddled whatever they were up to in places as lucrative as the Cafe A Go Go and one day R. Meltzer (another journalist) was allowed to come on stage and scream obscenities at the audience, whether they`d paid or not.
That was the beginning of another beautiful relationship.
On keyboards the S.W.U. had a guy called John Wiesenthal who`d taught Jackson Browne how to play guitar. No one held that against him but they didn`t like his organ-playing much and turned off his amp to prove it.
As they`d played some Crawdaddy gigs alongside C.J. Fish, it was decided that a singer wouldn`t be a bad idea. Choice fell on Les Braunstein.
“A complete dork whose big advantage lay in owning a van,” claims Pearlman. “When we got into the studios he couldn`t sing `cos he was too scared.” He did have a van, though.
Meanwhile Lanier was doing time in the U.S. army. He couldn`t queer out and eventually had to overdose to persuade the medics he was a sick man. Of course he wasn`t. The only thing wrong with Dutch was a sight fondness for the women but usually none of the group did too much of anything illegal. Ordinary folk really, and small.
Braunstein was rapidly getting on everybody`s nerves, lording it over the rest. His ego boosted several bonus points when Jac Holzman (then head of Elektra) came to see them play at The Electric Circus and The Hotel Diplomat. Seems like terminal psychosis had set in because he actually thought Les was the new Morrison. “At that time The Doors were the biggest American band and Elektra was the most avant-garde label. But they were getting worried cos The Doors weren`t writing enough songs. Holzman thought Braunstein was a quasi Jim Morrison.”
Braunstein fancied he could write cosmo poetry and yelled out some nonsense about poking his eyes out at the end of every set. It was all drivel of course. Not that that was much excuse, who needed another Jim when Elektra were furious the old one hadn`t snuffed it yet?
“First time they tried to cut an album,” claims Pearlman, “Braunstein cocked up the deal by adding miscellaneous instruments that he figured would jolt along the proceedings.” Producer Pete Siegel despaired and they called it off for a time.
“The album was absolutely unreleasable so that was it.”
Ironically, things looked up when Les introduced his old high school buddy Eric “Manny” Bloom to them. “Bloom became the road manager. He was called the `Rock King Of The Finger Lakes`, which is upstate New York.” He ran illicit pills and stills for the Long Island mob and thus had proper punk credentials. One night while onion-head was asleep they auditioned Eric and that was curtains for Holzman`s prodigal.
The best regular gig around this time for this bunch was at the House On The Hill, where they maintained a staunch following. In `69 they played the 4th July date at the Fillmore, bottom to Jethro Tull and Jeff Beck. Not too much applause. Due to the atrocious reviews Circus and others graced them with, Pearlman decided it might be name-changing time again, so he pulled on his sleeping cap and went into a daze. After a week they`d come up with dozens of goodies like: The Santos Sisters, The Knife-wielding Scumbag and, best of all, Eric`s 1-2-3 Black Light. In a moment of extreme dumbness they decided on Oaxaca, after the town in Mexico, which nobody could spell let alone pronounce. “That was no good but eventually I decided on Stalk-Forrest, after a plate of mushrooms I saw in a Chinese restaurant.”
Andrew Winters, the bassist left in disgust but lived up to the derogation by shuffling back when they got to do the second album. Jay Lee produced not too successfully but the band were dynamite and the session was superb by all accounts.
“Yeah, that second album is an absolute highlight of the whole psychedelic era but Holzman was still sulking about Les, therefore no release.” Only a single came out, “What Is Quicksand?/Arthur Comics” – and a mere 200 copies at that.
By now Eric didn`t answer to “Manny” anymore and Donald Roeser preferred Buck Dharma, or Donald Buck on account of his protruding teeth. Winter`s “Green” had become extended to “St. Cecilia”.
Meltzer says: “It`s sort of like Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead and all that acid, touches of the `fifties too, really good. Should have been the new national anthem but it`s still in the vaults.”
Pearlman finally decided that maybe he ought to put his rock mentor reputation to work. He was getting fed up, what with most of the musicians stuffing themselves stupid on all manner of psychedelic sweeties and boring the pants off their audiences to boot. So guess what he does? Changes the name and the group. Winters got the bullet and Joe Bouchard (Albert`s brother) was brought in to hump bass, sing, whatever gets him off. Sandy hit on The Blue Oyster Cult after a song he`d written. “They didn`t like it much but it stuck.”
So the Cult was born and they are looking for a kind company. Columbia hummed and ha`d about signing them before staff member Murray “the K” Krugman insisted. Actually Murray is quite a character and he`d just brought out a bootleg of their third live concert.
Pearlman had worked a new image on them, tough `n` nasty, and had branded them the original heavy metal group (which is true). The first album got released and critics creamed with delight. The thrills and frills were in the right place and there wasn`t a track that didn`t send your Dansette haywire (C.B.S., in their infinite wisdom contrived to get a few names and titles wrong – but no matter).
Pearlman says of the first album: “It`s better than `Killer` but not as good as `Master Of Reality`.” His own writing obsessions, they show fixations with dogs and roses (as motifs of death or brooding sexuality), sea-creatures with anthropomorphic tendencies and a space populated by unnatural zombies. These elements are mixed in with characters who act as catalysts. Predominant amongst these is Susy who starts off getting gangbanged in “Before The Kiss A Redcap” and never looks back.
No lyric sheet and there never will be: “I`m fascinated by the accidental discovery Black Sabbath have made of their audience`s consciousness. We`re more self-conscious. Our literary influences couldn`t be much less naive. Rimbaud, Dada, H.P. Lovecraft and yer standard assortment of doomo writers i.e. turn-of-the-century Russian and German. Our songs are a Fantasy Distillation Of Reality.”
He`s pretty pleased with this phrase and repeats it several times.
“Our next studio album is built around a song cycle. It`s about a child who grew up in New Hampshire and discovers he has the ability to reconcile the imagined with reality. There`s no gap between his imagination and his ability to realise it. He can accomplish what he imagines and imagine what he`s going to accomplish.
“`Secret Treaties` began the concept with the Desdanova theme. The new thing is called `The Soft Doctrines Of Imaginos`. See, I like to use naive, densely stupid terms. It`s a trick of some Russia literature to totally obliterate metaphors. Anyway, Desdanova is a student at Braun University in Providence who lives there to be close to Lovecraft. He`s a Frankenstein figure who achieves through research what Imaginos understood instinctively, he forms the axiom. Desdanova appears in `Astronomy` and some of the songs yet to come out.”
That last mentioned track is the stunningly beautiful number that closes “Secret Treaties”. Sandy explains the story and some of those already mentioned symbols: “It`s New Year`s Eve and Desdanova walks into the Four Winds Bar” (an actual joint on Atlantic Beach). “He plays this game with two girls which has to be completed in the six hours from midnight to dawn cos he can`t stand the light.
“It`s so sort of…corrosive.
“There`s a parallel with the rose which is similarly overfulfilled, a symbol of over-ripeness and decadence. The dog is Susy`s familiar and the carrier of starry wisdom from the actual dogstar. Lovecraft had this term `starry wisdom cult` which was so apt I had to use it.”
On “Dominance and Submission” some of these interrelated themes resurface: “In 1963 I was being driven back from a New Year`s Eve party when The Beatles came over the airwaves for the first time. It seemed so revolutionary in terms of consciousness that what is represented was a new factor in mass culture and `63 was the watershed. The song reflects the parallelism between revolutionary consciousness in the mass and how it affects the individual. The sublimated heat of rock `n` roll, so long suppressed and driven underground, was being revealed and no one could stop it.”
The offspring of this rising phenomenon were traced by Pearlman`s intimate knowledge of the Altamont scene in which he grafted the lowdown on the local bike boys. Hells Angels, y`know. The Forbidden Chapter. Bloom fits the part perfectly, so it`s “Clear the road m`bully boys and let some thunder pass” – all into leather togs with great shots of them posing (slouching) in their gear, flexing chains and peering thru` satanic shades. The first properly-recorded testament to that is “Transmaniacon M.C.” – the motor cycle club that crosses the threshold of sanity. It`s the nearest any song could get to a stab in the back:
“We`re pain, we`re steel, a plot of knives, we`re Transmaniacon M.C.”
Certain sensitive souls started taking exception to their stage act and accusations of fascist overtones and Nazi deification were bandied around like flies on a cow pat. Sandy was secretly delighted but the group weren`t too thrilled.
Eric Bloom: “Well I gotta admit we don`t write no love songs. There`s too many of them. Everybody is doing love songs. I mean we like `em, I sing them to my girlfriend! But they`ve been overdone. We like to go beyond emotional realms. Almost into the state of space-age shock, ya know? Some of the real sickies may take them to heart, I suppose they should. I mean there`s a primal paranoia in the air and we`re aware of it so we do and can`t help but reflect it in our work.” He means it too.
Their pet sign isn`t to do with fylfots or swastikas, which are lucky symbols of eternity. No. Their logo is the Greek symbol for chaos and their colours are stark and stripped of all extraneous sentiment. “Nazism is a style of art that just happened to flower in Germany after the Weimar Republic. Of course we`re appealing to that as a source of imagery but it existed before. People see what they want to see.
“We mine the vein created by Nazi artists. The Doors, did that, The Velvet Underground certainly did and it`ll be done again. We`re more obsessed with the technology of the matter. We utilise the symbols in alchemy like lead, the most debased metal. Saturn and the Greek symbol also have the same chaotic associations. It`s become a swastika substitute, not as old but old enough to have a venerable history.
“We`re just come up with successful visual summations of the concept. Too successful for some people.”
In America right now The Oyster Cult are on the verge of becoming the monster band they ought to be. “We`re not that big in New York. Nothing new happens here cos they`re overkilled. We`re huge everywhere else, particularly California where we get most airplay.”
After pulling out of two European tours it now looks like they have pulled out of their third, yet reaction to their live shows is beyond compare. A Blue Oyster Cult audience is like no other: “Hysteria. Never fails. It is the most foolproof show I`ve ever seen. It`s incredible to contemplate. The albums are nothing compared to the shows.”
To correlate the two a live double album is soon to be released. Tying in with their sado-masochistic aura it`s entitled “On Yer Feet Or On Yer Knees”.
“We wanted to outdo `Live At Leeds` and we did. It makes that look like weak tea. It includes The Yardbirds` `Ain`t Got You` which we call `Maserati G.T.`, a nine minute version. Also `Born To Be Wild` and `M.E. 262` with the five guitars. That`s twice as loud as anything ever put on record. It`s as loud as you can get without losing trackability. Each member of the group has a rebuilt guitar. Like Eric`s Stun Guitar has literally a ton of gadgets.”
People trying to denigrate them tend to point to their all being on the physically short side. Most of them clock in at around five six and one of them (I won`t tell you who) is a mere five two. When you`re that small you have to be hard, or a good talker. A rival described them as “gremlin rock” but he`ll be out of hospital soon.
Buck Dharma is the guitarist, his white suit standing out in direct contrast to the others` studied and studded greaser flash. As axeman he`s unique, master of any style from soft shoe “Redeemed” to the dripping venom of “Cagey Cretins” or “Harvester Of Eyes”. Sometimes he shows off his speed fingering but when you`re that good who cares?
You don`t have to accept Pearlman`s interpretations as blueprints for action. They are fascinating, crazed and intellectual but in a spectacular sense. Quite an effective marriage of SF paperback mythology and obscurist Eastern European metaphysics. Maybe it is reactionary but I wouldn`t let that give you too many sleepless nights.
At their best, the Blue Oyster Cult define the meaning of rock `n` roll better than any other band in the ring. On your feet or on your knees?
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Led Zeppelin, Pete Kleinow, Caravan, Paul Kossoff (Free), Peter Hammill, Montrose, Alice Cooper, Lenny Bruce, Eric Clapton, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, Millie Jackson, Richard Digance, Bev Bevan (ELO), Gene Vincent, Charley Pride.
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