Sunday, August 3, 2008

bird song on the west highland way

Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider, 1969.

Okay, so I've been away and I'm only now just catching up. Apologies. Brendan from The Rising Storm I see put together an informative piece on one time Fugs co-conspirators, The Holy Modal Rounders over on Bowhowdy's Cover Lay Down. The material under dissection is from their 1964 debut on the Prestige label, reissued on Big Beat.

Just to remind you, we're not long back from a week long camping expedition on the trail of The West Highland Way here in the 'wilds' of Scotland. An arduous hiking route for riddley walkers the world over, the A Roads travelling alongside the off beaten track are a magnet for bikers of all ages looking to rekindle their "Born To Be Wild" rite of passage. Just don't stop off at any of the few shops scattered along the route like so many pigeon droppings hoping to pick up a bargain. 'The World Famous Green Welly Stop" is not only not world famous, I suspect, but resembles a venus fly trap with whitewashed walls to camouflage it from the insect buzz of passing motorists.

Like sheep, the tourists are only there to be fleeced.

"On a BSA with two bald tyres you rode a million miles,
You cut your hair with rusty pliars and you suffer from the pillion piles..."
- John Cooper Clarke, Psycle Sluts (Parts I & II), 1977

With this in mind, I was thinking if we were to field a party in honour of the Modal Rounders the bottle I would unhesitatingly bring would be a Thunderbird in celebration of their "Bird Song" from the soundtrack to Easy Rider. I'd like to raise that bottle in a toast to Löst Jimmy from Me, Myself & Motörhead who also appears to share my fetish for road movies screened in perpetuity on the "Idiot's Lantern", and is a fellow Scot to boot.

Hello too, to Brian & Beth from Newcastle whom we met along the way.

THE HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS: BIRD SONG from "The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders" LP (Elektra) 1968 (US)



Your driver said...

Hey Ib, I've been too busy to listen to, never mind comment, on your post camping trip posts. Part of what has kept me busy, besides the usual, was the arrival of "Bound To Lose" the long rumored Holy Modal Rounders documentary. I've been a Rounders fan since I was 14. As R. Christgau says in the movie, The Rounders, along with Dylan, were the only examples of true genius to emerge from the '60's folk scene. I think I prefer the Rounders to Dylan.
The movie has not exactly allowed me to understand all of the mysteries of The Rounders, but it has presented itself as a sort of Rosetta Stone: The answers are to be found there.
The Rounders, like The Television Personalities, were largely anonymous- some seemingly erratic guys who didn't perform very often in public and released records of wildly varying quality at random intervals.
For years, I had trouble convincing anyone that there had ever been such a band. Their records were out of print and no one but me seemed to remember them.
Like the MC5, they are now more popular than they were in their glory days. The waitress in the place where I eat lunch knows about them. I should say that she and her husband are really smart and knowledgeable music lovers, but still, twenty years ago only a few of the most obsessive of record collectors could recall them.
I had the privilege of catching a glimpse of the last moments of the great New York City folk scare. I was 12 or 13 and my parents grudgingly allowed me to stop and watch some street singers in Washington Square. Among other nameless performers, I got to hear a few songs by David Peel. He went on to form David Peel and The Lower East Side, a perfectly awful hippie band. Peel was a noisy-show-off-no-talent-motherfucker. What's interesting is that lots of people still don't get it when they hear The Rounders. They hear some awful self indulgent mess, like i heard from David Peel. You remember that discussion we had about Jackson Pollock versus the no talent beatnik action painters? I guess some people have a hard time paying attention.
Oh, another glorious treat about "Bound To Lose"- really elderly hepcats restored to their full dignity. There's something undignified and ridiculous about old punks, folks who are our age, shaking their calloused fists at the world and trying to claim some lost mad daddy glory for themselves. The Rounders, I mean Weber and Stampfel, are beyond that. They exist as grand monuments to American weirdness. As one of their band mates says of them at the end of the movie, "Weber and Stampfel have transcended. They are over the hill. They live in a different world from us."
An alarming cautionary note: Weber and Stampfel took more drugs and then any living old fart on earth. Most of the movie footage was shot in 2000. They were only about 5 years older than I am now, but they look really, really old. Weber is toothless and Antonia Stampfel appears to be suffering from dementia. They both look like they're in their late seventies when, in fact they weren't yet sixty. Peter Stampfel quit drugs, left Antonia, remarried and became a daddy. He looks his age. Kids- It's no bullshit. Drugs are bad for you.

ib said...

Fuck, Jon, thanks for the detail!

Astounding stuff. There is definitely a lot to be said for anonymity, even though I always hated that comic book shit where Superman steadfastly refused to let Lois Lane or Jimmy in on the secret. You're right,too, about the dismal spectacle of aging punks expectingly begging kudos. It reminds me of the time way back (just after my son was born) when I was queuing up in the Post Office to collect milk tokens. There were a couple of guys in front straight out of a Sex Pistols tribute show, complete with razor blade earrings and paunches spilling out over PVC trousers. I kid you not. Waiting to cash their benefits and sneering at pensioners scarcely a decade older.

Anyway, I have to go on record as saying I love Dylan, even though he's become such an old money-grabbing fart. He's better these days, mind you, than he was for a long while. That bespoke wooden leg business ?

Yes, the Jackson Pollock syndrome has a lot of people beat. I'm sorry to hear about the decrepitude that Weber & Stampfel succumbed to, but I suppose it's only natural given their appetite for the fast-tracked knowledge of super-acid through DMT.
They should've invested in a portrait of Dorian gray, I feel.

Your driver said...

Oh, Dylan is a truly great man. Don't get me wrong. The Rounders weren't anonymous because of some perverse desire for secrecy. They were too fucked up to bother with a publicist. They were mostly too fucked up write things down. They went through more personnel changes than a chain restaurant. The core of the band was Weber and Stampfel, but those two hardly spoke for something like 15 years. They lived at opposite ends of the continent for most of that time. Time is not noted for bestowing grace, but it does do that sometimes. Weber and Stampfel could look like ridiculous old men, but time has cleared out a space for them and they appear as unique and wonderful individuals.

ib said...

"...too fucked up to write things down."

I remember that one well enough. You figure if it's good enough you will forever have perfect recall. Sadly, we all live to regret.

"ridiculous old men".

Nice. It has an elvish ring to it, which goes a long way towards shoring up the escaping sands of myth. If you continue in this vein, Jon, I shall be forced to dig out some more Incredible String Band before the day is out.

Your driver said...

The Incredible String Band? Dude, you're scaring me. Now that you mention them, they were a sort of Brit version of The Rounders. I liked them long ago and have hardly thought of them since. Their stuff is hard to come by over here.

ib said...

Be afeared.

Löst Jimmy said...

Thank you so much for the honourable mention!

And I salute your wonderful choice of quote from John Cooper Clarke, I remember his appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test - way back when I was an annoying youth at High School.

ib said...

Hey, Löst Jimmy!

It's funny how JCC's lyrics have a way of etching themselves deep into your brain, where the literary quotes
learned by rote in classrooms of yore magically refuse to take root!

Anonymous said...

Just read this piece of 'work'. Pun intended... It is 01-27-12 here on the East Coast.. Just wanted you to know that 'Our Antonia is Alive and Well and Living and Still Writing. She is as Witty and Clever as ever and remembers everything as it happened quite clearly- I love her like a sister and she still has 'Her Style - That Only She Could Pull Off' Her beautiful soft spoken self is intact and her Hair Still Glows White Gray. She is precious to everyone who knows her. Lee Heiden-Schock (She is Quite A Lady In The True Sense of The Word)!!