I like the writing style of Mr. Bell, making this an excellent report from the frontlines of the BOC tour with added interviews as a bonus. The band are still actively touring in a “tour that never ends” and I hope to get the chance to see them play in Norway at the start of August 2016. You either get it or you don`t with this band. I like them a lot! Enjoy reading the article!
The Triumph of Insanity
It seemed like something was rotten in the State of Georgia. Something that needed checking out. But relax, it`s OK. Violence, rock`n`roll and schizophrenia are reassuringly alive and well. And here`s Max Bell`s report from Klu Klux Klan Kuntry on the BLUE OYSTER CULT on the eve of their long-awaited British visit.
The last time I saw Sandy Pearlman he was sitting on the floor of an Atlanta hotel room having just guzzled several bags of takeaway ribs from Ma Hall`s Southern Fried porched diner. Maybe he ate himself to death, I don`t know, but he certainly wasn`t there in the morning; just a heap of charred and chewed bones plus a few fragments of tomato-stained meat smeared over the counterpane.
Pearlman likes eating. Buck Dharma says he likes it even more than the Blue Oyster Cult, which is where we come in.
Atlanta, Georgia is adopted Blue Oyster Cult territory, the home of Coca Cola, the city with the highest cancer rate in the U.S.; it`s also Ku Klux Klan Kuntry which fits in neatly with BOC`s underskin of Colonial influence nurtured from the dusty archives on Providence, Rhode Island and Lovecraft`s rotting manuscripts in Brown University.
The exclusively white, “snob”, end of Atlanta`s famed Peachtree Street boasts some of the finest English settlement buildings in the world on Colony Square. But despite this Anglo ambience, the standard conversation still consists of three questions: “How ya doin` today? Take care d`ya hear? Have a nice day y`all, okay?”
Such mechanical good manners make it tempting to answer with the inanities: “Rotten. Shan`t. Get lost.” But since a lot of people wear guns next to their smile badges, it`s easier to settle for a deft grunt.
However, enough of this. What we`re here for is to witness the heaviest band in the States (in terms of subject matter if not sound) at a time when it seems increasingly important to see them vindicate the championship belt of twilight insanity.
The Blue Oyster Cult have already cancelled three British tours (although now they`re due here in a few days` time) for no other apparent reason than that their live album was selling like hot cakes in the U.S. – 20 with a missile on Billboard and Pearlman predicts that the next album will break seven nationally.
Why should it be necessary to see them vindicate the championship belt? Because that live album was almost universally panned in America, often by their staunchest supporters. Someone, somewhere along the line had to be wrong and I wasn`t keen on the idea that it was me.
Critics who should know, Cognoscenti, Mike Saunders and Lester Bangs, both self-elected doyens of the heavy metal afterworld, were getting the knives nice and hot. The Cult had blown their bolt,, become stagnant tools in the hands of power-crazed Oberfüehrer Pearlman, and yes we would let these guys carry our girlfriends` satchels.
Too bad for a band with an umlaut and a reputation for coming on like a concrete fix in the afterglow of Hiroshima. It may be fine administering clever albums, but only cutting it live up there on stage gives the mystique any real credibility.
So I was worried. Georgia is a long bus ride if you`re gonna see your favourites go under in disgrace. On the eve of the BOC`s major European tour I was hoping for at least a sliver of solace, just so the folks back home wouldn`t end up thinking they`d wasted October`s beer money on reckless pursuits.
Well, someone was holding out. But it wasn`t the Cult. Because I saw with my very own eyes the most positive rebuke possible to any number of snide untruths.
Yes, the Cult won.
Yes, this is one of the most infallible live shows ever devised for getting an audience off by the shortest sensible route… in through the ears and out the soles of the feet.
Outside the Stones Who league, a particularly English syndrome anyhow, I cannot imagine any other band promoting such a spontaneous response as the one I saw at the end of aforesaid bus ride. Moreover, the above mentioned are forefathers of a movement that won`t last for ever, whereas BOC are aimed at a different generation.
The Cult`s formula works in the heat of the moment; there`s none of the expectancy that you get waiting for “My Generation” or “Brown Sugar” to come up because they don`t have hits as such. There are preferences, obviously, but the show is balanced destruction.
The proof was in the auditorium where 15,000 teen archers were blitzed, digested, devastated and all the other things BOC are presumed to inflict via their base metallic arsenal. Not since the arrival of General Sherman had the Peach State been so effectively turned over.
Forget all the cliches about cooking, boogie and “This is a track off our last album.” The Cult are simply dirty, explosive urban league operators out to dazzle and by the time they`ve finished everyone is on his feet, no-one is on his knees.
As a venue the Omni Sports Theatre is horrible, fine for baseball acoustics and not much else. At first the sound problems nullify any enjoyment in what`s going down on stage.
“Stairway To The Stars” implodes, a slow motion replay with the volume off. Sandy Pearlman paces around the console muttering blue murder while mixers mix furiously for a reasonable balance and the rest of us twiddle our thumbs.
During “Harvester Of Eyes” it`s apparent that the synthesiser opening fails to get much past Eric Bloom`s fingertips. Allan Lanier spits out his fag in disgust and gives the equipment a good boot. Wham. Must have worked, `cos the audience rise as one at the wave of aggression channelled off that stage.
Bloom, resplendent in jet black hari kari costume straps on his stun guitar… “Just last week I took a ride. So high on eyes I almost lost my way”… and Dharma escalates the solo into open mouths. The crowd are drained and elated, and this is the second number.
Pearlman stomps time on his right foot and smirks through the compulsory shades. His whole attention is fixed on watching the 24-hour adrenalin flow seeping off the platform and making sure it stays that way.
Now the juice is on and “Dominance And Submission” gets into some real Cult fantasy. Bloom strikes a neon leather Rodin pose and sings about that unfortunate car ride. The Bouchard brothers, Albert and Joe, notch onto a neat, sullen beat, buzzing the song to death throes with all the vicious love of a gang war chainfight in a Brooklyn car lot.
Of course the aura is a joke, no-one but an imbecile would build a lifestyle round this kind of sickness, but then only an imbecile could fail to respond to the invention.
A poisonous “Flaming Telepaths” manufactures equal overkill but half the kick is laughing with the Cult. They are tactless, no argument, but they are also extremely funny in a nasty kind of way. When Bloom reaches the line “And the joke`s on you” the stage darkens. A hideous answering chuckle reverberates through the entire hall and sparks cartwheel from his fingers.
The effects used throughout are surprisingly few; sparse but effective.
If you think you know what to expect from a rock `n` roll concert, think again. That was just the chaser. During “Cities On Flame” Bouchard takes lead vocal at an agonisingly slow melting pace, his voice resembling a berserk buzz-saw eating dinner.
The pocket version white-suited Dharma steps out for their re-tuned Yardbirds tribute, “Maserati GT,” once known as “I Ain`t Got You” and then slots straight into ten minutes of unbearable riff magic – “Buck`s Boogie” – which is all right by me because he may well be the best hard rock guitarist functioning today. He has none of Townshend`s athleticism or Jimmy Page`s flash frisson but he burns the hell out of every precise lick and he`s only five foot two.
Just as the audience is at breaking point the Cult all file off stage, leaving one spotlit Bouchard storming his kit for the original amusing drum solo. Albert laughs his head off as well he might because he looks ridiculous; leather hot pants, top hat, striped socks like a perverted Hamburg Scoutmaster indulging the dumbest stately battle on throbbing skins.
Once the Mutron synthesiser is turned on he really fools about, skimming rolls off the wall in some gruesome imitation of a sheet metal worker banging rivets into your head.
Just when the crescendo is at the level where the band left off they race back and kick into “ME 262″… “Hitler`s on the phone from Berlin, says I`m gonna make you a star.” The audience is delirious and the riot cops are nervous. Off goes the bomber warning, Lanier switches from keyboards to rhythm, and suddenly all five of them are in a line playing guitar. Five screaming dizbusters switched into the ultimate rock fantasy and the new definition of heavy metal.
Bloom slides over the piano Minnelli style, smoke engulfing the stage and flames jut into the pit setting fire to the lap of some unfortunate in the 20th row. The fire marshal races towards the exit but he can`t get there because Bloom is growling “See these English planes go burn” and they won`t let him through.
There`s more murky excitement generated in this one moment than we in Britain have seen from a visiting band in a long time. It makes “On Your Feet” look insipid. It`s irresistible.
Off stage, the Cult are the very antithesis of their projected heavy duty image. For starters there`s their height, or lack of it. Eric Bloom is potentially the toughest, punk stare and grounded air ace junk jacket. Actually, even he is friendly and small: “I often have to apologise to fans for not fulfilling my reputation. Sometimes I think we ought to bust a few heads and rape the chicks who hang around.”
It becomes obvious during the next two days that constant touring is wearing down the band considerably. After one publicity visit to a local record store where they have to sneer to order and autograph records menacingly, Bloom corners me on the way out to the car: “See how mundane all this bullshit is, doing the same thing day in, day out.”
Albert Bouchard is even more emphatic: “You just wouldn`t believe how bored I get playing the same songs every night. I want it to change all the time.”
All this puts my impressions badly out of synch. On the Sunday Cult share the bill with Uriah Heep in Knoxville, Tennessee, to a smaller crowd of 3,000 and it`s possible to ascertain traces of a group going through the motions.
After that gig we hold an interview in the hotel with a cavalcade of groupies frothing outside the door. Eric Bloom slumps down crossly:
“Got any Machiavellian questions? Would you guys like to kill your mother? The apocalypse is coming huh! That Lester Bangs is an asshole. He won`t talk to us anymore but if I ever see him again he`s gonna get outta my sight. Asshole.”
What`s eating Eric?
“Those critics who say we`re a tool of Pearlman and Murray Krugman. OK, they got us off the ground…” Cut to Albert Bouchard on the window sill “… and they channelled us towards heavy metal but we still come up with the ideas. We`ve never been their gimmick.”
But if Pearlman walked out now would the Cult continue, bearing in mind that he writes a fair percentage of the lyrics?
Joe Bouchard pours out his Christian Brothers brandy into a tooth mug and takes a stiff snort: “The opposite is Sandy`s big worry. A lot of our popularity has to do with the way we play live. He`s not as necessary as he was.”
Allan Lanier pitches in thoughtfully: “He was a useful exposure to influences, he had this energy… he found us when we were so poor we couldn`t afford to go to the beach. He opened certain doors and he was in the band. Then we didn`t say he was our manager. Now he`s definitely our manager but he`s not in the band. He works in an office and he just isn`t as exposed as before.”
The description of a bureaucratic Pearlman is pretty hard to take and only partially true. In addition to being their manager he also handles Handsome Dick Manitoba`s Dictators and is constantly looking for other creative outlets to vent his madness on.
If Murray Krugman hadn`t said no to The Tubes their names instead of Al Kooper`s would be on the credits. He`s very pissed off about that, I can tell you, though as far as Lanier`s concerned he can do what he likes: “More power to him. His riff is to walk in on raw potential and say `I can give you this, get you that.` Sure it`s a gimmick but so is everything else in rock.”
What`s the gimmick?
“That it`s a business. That we didn`t get to England because of the money… a lot of politics. Columbia wanted their own agency handling us to underwrite expenses.”
And then the Cult are doing so well in America that coming to Europe wasn`t a wise move until now. They have other reasons for wanting to do well here though. Lanier`s Henry James story of the yank who needs to put one over the culture superior renaissance elders over the pond is a real emotion to many thinking Americans:
“On a personal level it is very important to go and do great in England and France. The typical American ego of going back to the roots and impressing. Also it will be such a relief to play for an audience with a different programme of responses. We`re all agreed on that.”
And they are, even Joe Bouchard who so far has been the only one prepared to find some satisfaction in their Stateside mission.
Bloom has the strongest anti-viewpoint: “If we look bored that`s `cos we are bored. I often sleepwalk through a show, I know I`m gonna be good anyway.”
Joe interjects on cue: “I dunno, I kinda enjoyed Atlanta.” “Well, that was different. We hadn`t played there for two years. But Knoxville… what are we doing here? The place is dead, man.” Bouchard hastily: “But the kids are never disappointed. They can`t afford to be.”
Much of the enervation lies in not having produced a studio work since “Secret Treaties” from which to mould an act, hence the fact that there`s nothing new in the equation. They`re not too thrilled with the live album either, despite Pearlman`s assertion that it made “Live At Leeds” look like “weak tea.”
They say they`re fifty per cent satisfied with it, though Albert rates it less: “I`m really pissed off with it… didn`t even want to do it, but they committed us too early. After the last night I was so fed up with the engineers that I threw my guitar into the amp after “ME 262,” which is immature but that`s the way I felt.”
The violent atmosphere they`re supposed to promote is getting them down as well. Ask Eric:
“We all have our chains and mirrored ceiling of course, and swings in the living room.”
Albert: “Well, I do have an extensive comic collection.”
Lanier has the coherent answer: “Being on the road it`s hard to pull through with the image psycholitically (he hates flying for instance). I want calm homely surroundings, like watching Johnny Carson or playing Beach Boys` records. We`re all schizophrenic. I compare it with Brian Wilson. He couldn`t swim and was a lousy hot rod driver but it`s all a hallucination of repressions. America is so redolent with violent images.”
Bloom has another version: “Growing up in New York in `58 there were real hitters at school and I was a little guy. If I wore a leather jacket I got stepped on, now I can do all that without my mother stopping me.”
“Yeah, you`re a cheap snot.”
“OK, but I enjoy it, it`s fun.”
One of the reasons why they have to live up to something false is to do with their own refusal to give out lyric sheets, hence people often fail to understand the acute tongue in cheek content. The Cult don`t believe in the kamikaze Avengers trip themselves and certainly don`t foster it off the boards:
“How can we be our size and be serious about it? What do people get attached to about us? We`re not so into impaling the audience as Black Sabbath so you have to be funny unless you feel possessed by strange spirits. If you were serious you`d just become a massive ego out there.”
Lanier seems anxious to keep the star allure absent from his life:
“Do they think we`re all barbarians over there? Do those stories about Patty Hearst and Manson fascinate people in England?”
Bloom, who is Jewish, sticks his neck out and cuts in with a remark of his own which has nothing to do with the conversation:
“One of the problems is that so many rock writers are Jewish. We were banned from Circus magazine `cos the editor`s Jewish and thinks we`re all Nazis. Then Lester puts that we are all Jewish which is crap.”
Albert slides onto the floor with a loud guffaw:
“I`ll bet Abraham Lincoln was Jewish, he liked negroes and stuff. Yeah, Abe Lincoln.”
Two Southern Belles walk in and plonk themselves at Eric`s feet. I wonder how much the group can grow in terms of popularity? An unfortunate question:
“Well, we`re all past puberty.” Funny guy, eh, Dharma? “Sure I`m planning on it, but the business gets more disgusting the further you go into it. So many rock stars are divorced from real life.”
Lanier agrees that there is a particularly English class syndrome which involves rich rock stars buying mansions in the country and then giving reality the two fingers. He bats around the proposition that the biz is sleazy and in the grip of a definite middle class stranglehold:
“There`s no charm or inspiration left. When you begin you`re naive, y`know. The long haul is just, `Great, will my mum give me some cookies to take on the road?` But then I don`t agree with the people who say rock`n`roll is arrested adolescence and that one day you`ll grow up.
“There aren`t many live phenomena that people go out of their houses to see. Rock is one of the few, and also theatre `cos TV is so awful. But even so the old concept of downtown as a place for meeting in clubs is dead. We`re all stuck in front of television.”
On to new material, of which the Cult have plenty. At present there are two separate plans. I heard snippets from both. One is the new band album yet to be recorded but which should be mixed in England and released in February. This has the working title “Fire Of Unknown Origin” and includes three or four Patti Smith songs which were written with boyfriend Lanier.
The rough cuts I listened to were the title track, “True Confessions” (Patti singing harmonies), and a very heavy Dharma song, “Don`t Fear The Reaper.” They all sounded like something of a departure from usual Oysteroid style and they were all goodies without any softening up on subject matter:
“It`ll be bold, brave, sexy, very sensual, a lot more human than we`ve been before. `Secret Treaties` was a political dissertation but we won`t do any more pamphlets or broadsides. There`s still going to be a lot of good old death songs, though, `cos we like `em and there aren`t many things you can write interesting songs about. It`s hard to get politically involved with Ford in the White House.
“The album will have jagged edges and be like us, evolutionary of course. We will all lose two incisors and one toe.”
Pearlman and Albert Bouchard are working independently on another scheme called “The Soft Doctrines Of Imaginos” which continues in the vein of “Astronomy” and keeps the Lovecraft character Desdanova alive.
Numbers include: “Immaginos,” “I Am The One You Warned Me Of,” “When The Party`s Over,” “Siege And Investiture” and “Del Rio Song.” From initial hearing it sounds like it could be the first important concept album, a new horizon altogether.
“When The Party`s Over (Magna Of Illusion)” is wipeout. A song about a mirror endowed with destructive qualities and the influence to set countries at war, a tyranny and mutation magnum opus that ends with the advent of 1914. Originally the Cult weren`t prepared to tackle the idea. Bloom particularly because he has to cope with Pearlman`s lyrics which are all straight non-rhyming prose, but they`re being won over.
Maybe the biggest compliment you can pay this band is that they`re totally unlike anyone else when it comes to the execution of interesting themes: Lanier`s theory for that is highly tenable:
“We don`t want to be so much ominous as radically different. See, rock is getting very traditional. The 70`s are crazy. In the 60`s poverty was noble until people realised what they were paying for gasoline. Suddenly it isn`t romantic at all to be poor so the music is very conservative.
“You can`t be static though, that`s why we like the polarisation of those who like us or hate us, or just like one album and not the rest. We`d never put out a record similar to the others. We never have done, and we have presentation ideas that lead up to making the stage show appear to be a hallucination, as much like cinema as possible.
“How are we going to do in Europe though? I imagine there`ll be such a big push people will be sick of all the hype.”
Unlikely. There are enough of us over here who`ve waited too long for that to be true. Besides, any band who employs the touring legend “Blue Oyster Cult – On Tour For Ever” and has Nuremberg on the date list must be worth checking out. Then there`s such a hiatus in excitement that we need all the BOCs and Springsteens we can get.
Even as I write the tarmacs are being prepared for the arrival of the 1277 express so go and see for yourselves and let no-one tell you you should have been there. Because you should.
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: The Who, Eric Clapton, The Tubes, David Bowie`s Mum, Thin Lizzy, Bert Jansch, Van McCoy, Budgie, Gerry Johnson.
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