Ah, the 70′s – they were a magical time, you know. No kidding. Between 1969 and about 1976ish, almost every month produced a seminal piece of rock wonderment, sometime more than one or two, songs and albums which, nearly 40 years on, have stood the test of taste and creativity. I mean, musical experiments which you could listen to and think, ‘I’ve never heard anything like that before!’ Thing is, all those musical creations were inescapable products of their time; context usually dictates flavour and impact and resonance and staying power, but sometimes so does the sheer off-the-wall synthesis of instruments and vocals and words.
My first strong musical influences, the ones which I could take for myself, were Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and the Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, both of which were bought for me on cassette by my folks on my 13th birthday, along with a player to play them on. My best buddy, Stew, was already way ahead of me at the time – damn, but he actually had a STEREO record player and a stack of LPs as well. Heady stuff, too, Tangerine Dream, Neu, Frank Zappa, as well as Oldfield and a bunch of others. Then something came along round about 1975 which opened a number of musical doors which still hold their importance for me; my dad let me use his library card to take LPs out of Clydebank Library.
It was the rapture of the progeek. There weren’t many out and out rock albums there, but three stand out in my memory – Thank Christ For The Bomb by the Groundhogs, the 1st Black Sabbath album, and…Secret Treaties by the Blue Oyster Cult. At the same time I was just getting into reading stories by HP Lovecraft, all that barely-restrained hysteria and cosmic horror, mind-cracking abominations bubbling up from beneath the floorboards of non-euclidean, rat-infested cellars, or leering from the dark, unbalanced vistas painted by former inmates of some creaking Providence institution whose walls are stained with the shrieks of vanished patients….
You get the drift. Now, the 1st Sabs album, with all that organic bass and Iommi’s guitar and Ozzy’s faintly-reverbed vocals, sounded as if it was coming at you from some deconsecrated abbey out in the wilds. The Blue Oyster Cult, on the other hand, were descending from another orbit entirely. In fact, the 1st three albums – Blue Oyster Cult, Tyranny & Mutation, Secret Treaties – all had a spareness to their production that made them feel as if the band was playing from a step removed, rather than the warm, up close, in-your-sitting-room production of more modern recordings. It was the combination of sharp, bleak instrumentation, minor chords and semi-explicable lyrics which made you sit forward and pay attention, just to try and figure out what the hell was going on in their weirdly science fictional sirensongs. For example:
I’m the eyeman of TV / With my ocular TB / I need all the peepers I can find / Inside the barn where you find the hay /
Just last week I took a ride / So high on eyes I almost lost my way / I’m the Harvester of Eyes /
(from Secret Treaties, track Harvester of Eyes)
Yup, there I was, 15 year-old Mikey, listening to a strange-looking album with a ME 262 fighter on the cover, listening and thinking – wow, what the hell is THIS? Well, it was high weirdness, the pure quill, distilled black glamour emanating from the minds of the BOC and those wordsmiths who lent their talent to the group from time to time, their manager, Sandy Pearlman, and a rock critic called Richard Meltzer, and even Patti Smith and later John Shirley. Before becoming the band’s manager, Pearlman had already written pages of weird poetry and prose; in collaboration with the band some of these were refurbished into such gothic musical artefacts as Transmaniacon MC, Before The Kiss A Redcap, Workshop Of The Telescopes, and OD’d On Life Itself.
But bands grow and change, motivations expand and alter, even as recording technology itself developed. After those 1st three albums, and the superb live double, On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, the Blue Oyster Cult took a swerve into higher production values with the Agents of Fortune album, which spawned their mega-eternal rock hit, Dont Fear The Reaper. AOF had a lusher production than previous studio outings; the bleakness was gone, but other strengths came to the for, a wider pallet of musical meaning and allusion became available. You could almost compare the album covers from the 1st three – monochrome B&W illustrations – with the subsequent full colour ones. The band were still exploring the bizarre, Lovecraftian-bikers-from-the-stars mythos, but in subtler ways.
Pretty much the only other album which came close to that earlier full-on, glint-in-the-eye ethos was the Imaginos album, derived from a cycle of songs worked on by Albert Bouchard and Sandy Pearlman. Originally, Bouchard had wanted to put the album out under his own name but the record company said they’d only do so if it were a Blue Oyster Cult album. There’s plenty of references to the album’s story concept online but as a taster here are some song titles – Les Invisibles, In The Presence Of Another World, Magna Of Illusion, and (gloriously) The Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle at Weissaria.
The band is still playing live, although their last studio album was Curse Of The Hidden Mirror, back in 2001. Today, only Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser and Eric Bloom remain from the original lineup; I have seen them play live at the Glasgow Ferry a few times in the last decade, and its always been a great show. Who knows – maybe they’ll venture across the pond once more for a last hurrah? Whatever happens, they built a legacy of high weirdness which will intrigue and inspire for decades to come. In fact, its not impossible that the book I’ll be writing after the third Humanitys Fire novel could be heavily influenced by the BOC. Time will tell.
Slightly after the fact, having just picked up on it via my agents’ website, Zeno, this review at the NextRead site, saying some nice things -
Also, just to remind all of you good people that the competition to win a copy of the paperback of Seeds Of Earth will end tomorrow night at midnight. To get the hot poop on this dynamite giveaway (requiring only that you answer a straightforward question via the magic of Google!), scroll down this page, or click on this link -
Not only but also, I note that the sequel to one of the greatest vid games ever, Bioshock 2, will be released to a salivating public on February 9th, a Tuesday for some reason. Sadly, I will be unable to actually buy one for myself straight away since yours truly has a book to finish and a deadline to somehow meet. But I will be watching and waiting for the gamers of the world to make their judgement, well, that and waiting to see if the game needs patching once its out there in the wild. And even though Ken Levine (the man behind the original game) isn’t involved, the advance teasers etc look very intriguing. Of course, the premise and narrative thus far revealed bear no resemblance to the notions I came up with for the Bioshock sequel…which I might post here. In a few weeks. Maybe.
Oh yeah, and next time out I’m going to tell you a little about a personal, near-lifelong obsession with the band the Blue Oyster Cult.