Pushin' too hard...

Lost amidst the authentic public grief and confusion over the death of Michael Jackson that seems to be shaping the zeitgeist of this summer is the death of Sky Saxon. His mid-sixties hard edge and demanding music - he fronted and played bass for the The Seeds - brought an important balancing toughness to the sweet sounds that defined popular culture. In fact, in the middle of the British Invasion - the Beatles' released, "Help," Petula Clark was singing "Downtown" and groups like Sonny and Cher were trying to mimic the Mersey beat thing - four US bands were charting another direction with verve and energy.

The Seeds - from LA - scored a brief but important hit with "Pushin' Too Hard." It was a stern warning NOT to try to smooth down any of our rough edges. It was soulful, powerful and unlike anything else on the radio at the time. Yeah, there was a Rolling Stones look to the band, but also a uniquely American edge...

Three other bands were mining a similar vein during 1965. Bob Dylan said he had been reinvigorated by the Beatles' music after nearly being smothered to death by the pc demands of the culturally irrelevant New York leftist elite. Driving towards New Orleans, he heard the Beatles and fell in love with music all over again - and wanted to claim this joy in his own way. But he refused to become a clone of the British Invasion - in fact, he wanted to discover a truly American way of unlocking this wisdom - so he got together with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and started an exploration.

His first experiment can be heard on "Subterranean Homesick Blues" - and the near riot he caused at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 - but the heart and soul of his work matured on both Highway 61 Revisited and the double album Blonde on Blonde. This music, too, was raw, rough and taking no prisoners.

Then there was the Music Machine - a total garage band with a rougher edge than most - who played with our minds and hearts with "Talk, Talk" and "The People in Me." Without trying to belabor the point, these guys were tapping into a growing awareness that not all was right with the world. Like the Velvets a few years later, they prefigured the sad underbelly of pop culture that would erupt into addiction, sexual excess and hedonism confused with spirituality. And damn if they weren't insistent! The Beatles may have gently whispered (about Brian Epstien's homosexuality) "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" but the Machine screamed: "my social life's a dud, my name is really mud... can't seem to talk about the things that bother me" and a whole lot more in just under two minutes. And WHERE the hell did that fuzz guitar come from: MARS!?

And shame on me if we forget the Count Five's gift: "Psychotic Reaction." Like the Seeds, the Machine and Dylan, this song exploded on the radio with a sound and message that was unnerving. Sure they put on slick suits for TV and smiled at the screaming girls. Who wouldn't? Of course they were influenced by the Yardbirds - who were charting their own alternative course from the sweet sounds of the British Invasion by this time with songs like "I'm a Man" and "Over Under Sideways Down" (my personal favorite) - but this song captured the truth of the grunt on the ground in Vietnam. It also suggested that the era's innocence and beauty were coming unglued and ungrounded.

So, I want to give thanks to God for Sky Saxon and all your buds. You took your finger out of the crack in the dam before it was popular -and helped keep it real. There would be no Clash or Elvis Costello - no Springsteen or Television or U2 - without your gfts. So rest in peace brother man, rest in peace.

(picture: "The Scream" by Eduard Munch, public domain clip art)


Black Pete said…
Electric Prunes? Actually, I hereby publicly confess that I Like Mass in F Minor, even though the Prunes did less than half of it, and Canuck band The Collectors finished the project for them. (Trivia, The Collectors became Chilliwack)
RJ said…
I LOVE those guys.. and the F Minor Mass, too! (I may still have it downstairs.) Thanks for this one, too!

Popular Posts