Julian Cope’s Album of the Month
Blue Oyster CultIn Your Dreams Or In My Hole
IN MY DREAMS OR IN YOUR HOLE was culled from the first three Blue Oyster Cult LPs, in the late summer of 2005CE, by Julian Cope. It has never been released.
- Patti Smith Invocation
- Transmaniacon MC (from BLUE OYSTER CULT)
- Before the Kiss, a Redcap (from BLUE OYSTER CULT)
- Screams (from BLUE OYSTER CULT)
- Subhuman (from SECRET TREATIES)
- Hot Rails to Hell (from TYRANNY & MUTATION)
- M.E. 262 (from SECRET TREATIES)
- OD'd on Life Itself (from BLUE OYSTER CULT)
- The Red & The Black (from TYRANNY & MUTATION)
- Workshop of the Telescopes (from BLUE OYSTER CULT)
- Flaming Telepaths (from SECRET TREATIES)
Note 2: The Patti Smith invocation that opens the album was snipped from the beginning of the Cult’s “The Revenge of Vera Gemini”, which was itself based on Smith’s poem “Vera Gemini” and was released on the band’s LP AGENTS OF FORTUNE.
(L-R) ALLEN LANIER guita/keyboards, ERIC BLOOM vocals/stun guitar, ALBERT BOUCHARD drums/guitar, JOE BOUCHARD bass, BUCK DHARMA lead guitar
That Hideous Strength
Would you be intrigued by five contrary motherfuckers spewing out a hi-amped post-Elevators conspiracist blues whose unrestrained debut LP opened with a ‘Born-to-be-wild’-alike Biker Rock anthem (‘Transmaniacon M.C.’) with Roky Erikson’s Bleib Alien-gone-to-hell lyrics that imagined the movements of the Hell’s Angels in those final hours just prior to their brutal jackboot policing of the Rolling Stones’ Altamont fiasco? Yeah, me too. And how about if track two of that same debut LP was a fetishist’s anthem named ‘I’m on the lamb but I ain’t no sheep’, whose lyrics celebrated the dubious antics of the Canadian Mounties and what they did with their whips in their spare time? Yup, me three. And just suppose that same rock’n’roll band had all opted for the Jimbo Morrison-fronting-Steppenwolf regulation look (black leather’n’shades each one), except for a Jerry Garcia-styled all-white clad guru who opted for the enlightened name of Buck Dharma? Sounds amazing, don’t it, motherfuckers? Even more amazing when you notice that the singer had shamelessly appropriated Jagger’s ’69 dog collar look 12 months AFTER Iggy. And what if all the song titles were just as intriguing as the aforementioned (see above)? In other words all so fucking obvious or so damned cryptic that merely reading them altogether on an LP sleeve caused them to occupy in your head the larger place and further psychedelicized your already melted plastic brain? And wouldn’t all this be somehow even more intriguing if the major lyric writer was perceptive enough to have flexed his Inner Moron with catchy bastard press quotes such as:
“I like to use naïve, densely stupid terms.” (Sandy Pearlman)
Moreover, if that same band of outlaws had had Patti Smith as their muse and co-songwriter, along with a whole slew of other intellectual rock’n’roll and sci-fi writers (Michael Moorcock, Richard Meltzer, Jim Carroll, Helen Wheels) waiting at their beck and call, could these itinerant motherfuckers have really failed? Add to all this the fact that their super astute producer/sometime lyricist Sandy Pearlman (again) was canny enough to admit that he was, with B.O.C., attempting to meld Alice Cooper’s KILLER with Black Sabbath’s MASTER OF REALITY, and you have a pre-punk rock’n’roll band hip enough to have had The Clash’s Mick Jones successfully petition the rest of his band to have Pearlman produce GIVE ‘EM ENOUGH ROPE. And yet B.O.C.’s current place in the rock’n’roll pantheon is right down the rock’n’roll pan.
Why? Because, Brothers and Sisters, Blue Oyster Cult started something they couldn’t finish. You start out as hot as this bunch claimed to be, and yooz destined either to explode by the third album amidst drug problems and suicides, hit the number one spot every release – bang bang bang – or you and your ‘crypto-intellectual lyrics’, as some contemporary rock crits deemed them, ain’t the real deal, ain’t really hard West Coast bikers at all, ain’t really occultists, just fairly heavy readers … so you persist for a further twenny odd years with ever increasing amounts of record company tinkering, gradually substituting Nuremberg Rally-sized shows at aircraft hangars for local clubs as your rock’n’roll temple. Unfortunately for both We The Audience and The Cult themselves, the latter course was the path they chose, or rather that which fate chose for them. It ain’t that there wasn’t mighty music contained somewhere within the grooves of most early B.O.C. records. It’s just that they had no front man of note, and far too little charisma and stage presence between them (my wife saw them three times and said they were faceless), too many contributing songwriters to maintain the focus of their metaphor (which the musicians themselves didn’t have a clear enough grasp of themselves), and not enough genuine weight within their own ranks to tell said contributors when to fuck off occasionally. Oh yeah, and at a time (1972-76) when the double live-LP was God, The Cult’s ON YOUR FEET OR ON YOUR KNEES was rotten to the core. I know, because I bought it for the title and sleeve alone, then howled in protest any time anyone sang their praises. Those guys are the pits, I’d shriek, and never listened again until my memory banks had been well and truly erased.1
And another fucking thing, speaking from personal experience, when you dress your sleeve with such mysterious symbols and sing songs of the kind that the Cult were laying on their audience, you betcha sorry ass you gots to know what the fuck it’s all about, or all those Richard Meltzer and Patti Smith lyric contributions are gonna get short shrift from the journalists who ain’t in on the deal. Lester Bangs especially had it in for the Cult, writing:
“It was only inevitable that groups like Blue Oyster Cult would come along, singing in jive chic about dehumanization while unconsciously fulfilling their own prophecy albeit muddled by performing as nothing more than robots whose buttons were pushed by their producers.”2
Bangs was wrong about the musicians being true puppets because the Cult’s inner circle were all such old friends that all were well used to Sandy’s in-jokes and lyrical wordplay. Besides, who could never have failed to make the connection that they was all Pearlman’s Oyster Boys? Especially when Pearlman’s lyrics for ‘Subhuman’ include the line:
“Oyster boys are swimming for me.”
However, the band members themselves didn’t make the accusations of puppetry any easier with such ‘search me’ comments as drummer Albert Bouchard’s disingenuous:
“Sandy might have believed in some of our image … the rest of us didn’t know enough to believe in all that voodoo and whatnot.”3
You could’ve asked him then, mate, rather than just hoping it was all kosher and above board. But ain’t that always the way with musos? I mean, if Slash didn’t say nothing to Axl about the racist lyrics to ‘One in a Million’ bothering his own Afro-American sensibilities, maybe Albert the drummer was genuinely too intimidated to ask Mr High Falutin’ Pearlman for fear of sounding like a dummy. Besides, such was the hype and wall of secrecy around the Cult that it’s taken me personally 25 years to komprennay where they was a-coming from. It’s for all these reasons mentioned above that I should now ask heavy Cultists to (please) accept that I’ve felt duty bound to appropriate any scrap of evidence from anywhere in the band’s early career in order to further the greater B.O.C. cause (which will in the long run be a great result for rock’n’roll). That Blue Oyster Cult never achieved a wholly great LP should hardly preclude our investigating, excavating and unlocking the greatness from within the grooves of that main sequence of patchy bastard LPs (offsprings all of post-Altamont hard rock), namely the 10” mini-album IN MY MOUTH OR ON THE GROUND, plus THE BLUE OYSTER CULT, TYRANNY & MUTATION, SECRET TREATIES and ON YOUR FEET OR ON YOUR KNEES. Besides, I’ve never personally had a problem with artistic inconsistency, being prone to it myself at times. Unfortunately, whilst B.O.C. certainly sustained their trip for several years, they ultimately snatched defeat from the jaws of victory simply because the bloodletting possibilities of the band’s massive canine overbite were overwhelmed by the psychic plaque and icky residue of their ever-increasing eclecticism. Gorsh!
“I’m after rebellion… I’ll settle for lies”
But who were these be-leathered men, and their strangely monicker’d white clad guitar guru? Perhaps this IN YOUR DREAMS OR IN MY HOLE compilation will work best as an introduction if y’all just listen in, whilst I lay upon ya some hefty historical/chronological fax. Indeed, a quick perusal of their convoluted pre-history soon reveals that Blue Oyster Cult began in crisis, endured in crisis, and celebrated crisis, with a side order of … crisis.
In 1970, after the unexpected success of Black Sabbath’s first two LPs had given the incredulous American music industry apoplexy, Columbia Records’ A&R man and all-purpose folk music expert Murray Krugman let it be known to his CRAWDADDY MAGAZINE rock writer/lyricist friend Samuel ‘Sandy’ Pearlman that Columbia was on the lookout for a home grown Sabbath equivalent. Claiming to have the very band they required, Pearlman convinced Krugman to give him demo time at Columbia’s own studios. What Pearlman didn’t tell Murray Krugman was that his band, known as the Stalk-Forrest Group, was on the verge of splitting up after three fruitless years of courting Elektra Records, where they had made an unreleased LP and a single 45 (‘What is Quicksand?’ b/w ‘Arthur Comics’) that had never got beyond its initial 200 radio promo copies. Neither did Pearlman tell Krugman that the Stalk-Forrest Group had only reluctantly changed their name from their preferred original title Soft White Underbelly after a gig so disastrous that carrying on in that guise would have left them without promoters. Furthermore, Pearlman was careful to make no mention of the fact that Elektra’s executives had signed the otherwise image-less band only because of their singer Les Braunstein’s striking visual similarity to Jim Morrison. Indeed, Elektra had dumped the band when Braunstein had unexpectedly quit, leaving everyone concerned rudderless and unable to promote their album without the vocalist who had sung the songs. However, with Murray Krugman’s insider information resounding in his head, Sandy Pearlman convinced his lyricist/cohort Richard Meltzer and the other members of Stalk-Forrest Group/Soft White Underbelly to pull together to give it one last try and bring Columbia Records what the label required. Okay, you know what’s gonna happen, but this is the Blue Oyster Cult Story, so with these guys it ain’t gonna have any kind of ending until we hit several seams of crisis. So first, we gots to excavate even further into the murky depths of the late 1960s…
Soft White Underbelly had originally been formed on Long Island, in 1967, as a free-form psychedelic band, after two Stoney Brook College students, Richard Meltzer and Samuel ‘Sandy’ Pearlman, hooked up with a group of rock’n’roll musicians who lived in a large house near the college campus. Pearlman it was who’d suggested they call themselves Soft White Underbelly, and Pearlman again who’d introduced Richard Meltzer as lead vocalist and main songwriter. After years of playing seemingly endless cover versions of Beatles, Temptations, Beach Boys and Rolling Stones songs that they were expected to play in bars around the Island, drummer Albert Bouchard and his guitarist friends Donald Roeser and Allen Lanier saw the band as a healthy respite from crowd-pleasing, even more so because Pearlman, their strategist from the off, had insisted on giving them each a wild Captain Beefheart/Frank Zappa-styled nickname to go with their band’s ultra-weird monicker. Lanier was re-named ‘La Verne’, Albert became ‘Prince Omega’, Roeser became ‘Buck Dharma’, with Pearlman himself taking the name ‘Memphis Sam’. When the band recruited bass player Andy Winters, who worked at Pearlman’s father’s drugstore, ‘Memphis Sam’ took over as lead vocalist, but soon realised that he himself was no better than Meltzer had been. Albert Bouchard suggested they invite their poetess friend and sometime lyricist Patti Smith to join, but no one else wanted a female in the band. And so, whilst the lead singer problem remained, Albert as ‘Prince Omega’ and Donald as ‘Buck Dharma’ took over temporarily, during which time Soft White Underbelly successfully supported Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, The Band and Muddy Waters. However, the band’s fortunes rose considerably when singer Les Braunstein jammed with them one night. With his sense of extreme drama, everyone except Meltzer considered Braustein an ideal front man, his Lizard King-style and baritone voice lending authority to the sound, and his stage presence being a welcome change from the others’ anonymity. But when Braunstein demurred from taking a Pearlmanising nickname, everyone but Buck Dharma decided to ditch theirs too.
The new Les Braunstein-fronted version of Soft White Underbelly soon gained the attention of Elektra Records’ president Jac Holzman, who – seeing in Braunstein a possible East Coast version of Morrison – signed Soft White Underbelly in the Autumn of 1968. This was typical of Elektra’s methods at the time, indeed you only gotta listen and look at the packaging of the earlier Clearlight LP to see that the label had already attempted precisely the same move with that band’s singer Cliff De Young. Anyway, when the newly wedged-up Underbelly crossed the bridge to Manhattan with their Elektra dollars to score some new gear at Sam Ash Music on 52nd St., Les Braunstein bumped into Eric Bloom, an old friend from his Hobart College days. Braunstein raved to the others about Bloom’s singing in Manhattan band Lost & Found, who had recently split up leaving Bloom at a loose end. Being himself a Long Islander but three years older than the members of the Underbelly, Bloom accepted the band’s invitation to become their sound engineer and brought with him his own massive PA system, transported in his own van.
Recording their debut LP turned into a traumatic and protracted disaster for the Underbelly, who saw their relationship with Braunstein crumble into dust as song after song caused the singer problems. And soon after the sessions were over, a calamitous gig supporting The Jeff Beck Group and Jethro Tull at the Fillmore East drove Braunstein to quit the band, closely followed by Andy Winters. Elektra flipped out. First they cancelled the band’s contract, then they reluctantly agreed with Pearlman’s pleas to give the band time to find a new singer and bass player. Albert’s kid brother Joe Bouchard now took over on bass, whilst soundman Eric Bloom was given the singer’s gig. But this new configuration of the band would still have to audition for Elektra in order to satisfy the label. Grudgingly, Elektra agreed to keep the Underbelly … but it was to be only temporarily. The first recordings of the Eric Bloom-fronted band, newly renamed Stalk-Forrest Group, were deemed adequate enough for an Elektra single release, but a kind of lethargy now hung over the project. And although Pearlman’s manoeuvring enabled them to cling on to their contract until early 1970, at this time Elektra kicked them off the roster, which is where we came in at the start of the story, with Columbia Records still searching for a Yank Sabbalike.
From the Pearlman to his Oyster Boys, a sign…
Whereas Sandy Pearlman had, during the first two incarnations of the band, mainly concentrated on such managerial tasks as booking shows and song production, the crisis at Elektra made him no longer happy to be leaving the band’s songwriting to Richard Meltzer and drummer Albert Bouchard. As a writer for CRAWDADDY magazine, Pearlman had watched the Heavy Music of 1968/69 transform into the so-called Heavy Metal of 1970, the term being first used by Metal Mike Saunders in his CREEM review of Sir Lord Baltimore’s debut LP KINGDOM COME. Post-Woodstock hippies generally opted for the overly self-reflective singer-songwriter soft balladry of Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Tween & Nash whilst America’s industrial heartlands riposted with such monolithic broadside outcasts as Dust, Bang, Dragonfly and Bloodrock. Ironically, that music industry chasm had destroyed many of the ‘heavy’ originals, first causing ur-pioneers Blue Cheer (amidst heroin and hearing problems) to jump the fence to become a Delaney & Bonnie-styled soul quartet. The other early behemoths Vanilla Fudge soon after exploded into two rival stupor-factions (though the moronic rock of Cactus was no match for the frankly charming ball-bluster of Mark Stein’s short-lived Boomerang). Most mysterious of all the was the high velocity upward ascent of Grand Funk Railroad, whose overly-earnest brothers’n’sisters fodderstomp take on the MC5’s Detroit grudge-grunge soul had catapulted three former backing musicians from Michigan six-times losers The Pack4 past The Beatles to sell out Shea Stadium’s 50,000 seats even faster than John, Paul, George & Gringo.
Studying all of these goings-on whilst seeing his welcome at Elektra Records rapidly diminishing, Sandy Pearlman decided to take the reins of the band and began to write darker songs specifically aimed at fulfilling Murray Krugman’s insider brief. Pearlman harangued the band members for losing focus and playing shows under such random names as The Santos Sisters and Oaxaca. What was the point? Three years of psychedelia and heavy rock had got them nowhere, and the musicians seemed no closer to understanding what they were trying to achieve. As the writer Colin Murray noted in a career over-view of B.O.C.:
“Whereas Sabbath had no idea why they were popular, Pearlman wanted the Cult to be popular and understand why they were.”5
Having just completed a song named ‘The Blue Oyster Cult’, Pearlman suggested it as a possible band name, but initially the musicians unanimously rejected the idea. However, as the Elektra days became a distant dream, and all concerned gradually became interested in becoming a part of Murray Krugman’s ‘dark’ project at Columbia, so the name Blue Oyster Cult was resurrected, and guitarist/organist Allen Lanier suggested adding an umlaut over the ‘O’, as it was in keeping with Sandy Pearlman’s new uber Teutonic lyrics. At Columbia, Murray Krugman thought the new Blue Oyster Cult project ideally-suited for the record company, and decided to produce the band with the help of Pearlman himself. And so, arduous though the 36 months of navigation had been, Sandy Pearlman now knew that the path to the Cult’s first LP statement had finally been cleared of obstacles. Next, Pearlman set about devastating the role of Richard Meltzer in this upcoming adventure by writing a series of rock lyrics that would kick the words of Pearlman’s lyrical foil into the dust. Uh, look out!
The making of BLUE OYSTER CULT
The self-titled BLUE OYSTER CULT first LP was an intriguing package of cryptic song titles, Steppenwolf-meets-Electric Prunes biker rock and geometric John Michellian-styled imagery.
“With Satan's hog no pig at all, and the weather getting dry,
We're heading south from Altamont in a cold-blooded travelled trance,
So clear the road my bully boys and let some thunder pass,
We're pain, we're steel, a plot of knives,
We're Transmaniacon MC.”
The exquisite interplay between each of the guitarists creates a kind of high-amped road poetry, in which each bike takes it in turn to set the pace, gears shifting and rhythms increasing, some falling back as others engage the throttle. 6
“And surely we did offer up behind that stage at dawn
Beers and barracuda, reds and monocaine
Pure nectar of antipathy behind that stage at dawn
To those who would resign their souls
To Transmaniacon MC.
Cry the cable, cry the word, unknown terror's here
And won't you try this tasty snack, behind the scenes or but the back
Which was the stage at Altamont, my humble boys of listless power:
We're pain, we're steel, a plot of knives,
We're Transmaniacon MC.”
If anyone ever found a better description for an errant motorcycle club than that penultimate line (“We’re pain, we’re steel, a plot of knives”), then clue me druids, ‘cause for me they nailed that fucker shut.7 At this point, another Pearlman epic careens across our bows by the stunning name of “I’m on the Lamb (but I ain’t no sheep)”. Herein, the Canadian Mounties ‘a police force that works’ are eulogised for their red & black uniforms and extreme leather whippery. Gay in the modern sense, this song is delivered at an even more breakneck pace, an all Nuge-d out Amboy Dukes balls-to-the-wall guitar trek somewhere in the realms of the Yardbirds’ “Train Kept a-Rolling” and AC/DC’s version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go”. However, the first side of this debut was then rendered patchy firstly by Buck Dharma’s dreary off-metaphor tale “The Last Days of May”, in which college boys get murdered in a drug deal and the singer cares. Wrong, rule-breaking motherfuckers. Better through its sheer pace was Richard Meltzer’s “Stairway to the Stars”, with its facile and uncool wordplay unable to drag the song right down due to the sheer exuberance of the music of Albert Bouchard and Buck Dharma.
IN MY MOUTH OR ON THE GROUND
This 10” mini-album from 1972 was released on the German ‘Ruthless Rhymes’ label, whose logo was a pistol held to a dog’s head. Nice.
“Their lips apart like a swollen rose,
Their tongues extend, and then retract,
A redcap, a redcap, before the kiss, before the kiss.”
As future Cult LPs were often want to do, side two falls to pieces conceptually. Opening with the excellent Electric Prunes-oid dark psychedelia of Joe Bouchard’s “Screams”, the late-60s roots of the Cult show through most effectively, whereas the following song, Richard Meltzer’s ingloriously titled “She’s as beautiful as a Foot”, despite its pulverisingly shit imagery and arduously-sustained metaphor, is a raga of positively royal proportions. But side two again belongs to Pearlman, here with two epics, the Fritz Lang totalitarianism of the self-explanatory “Cities On Flame (with Rock’n’roll)”, and the outrageously-worded “Workshop of the Telescopes” with its Tycho Brahe worldview seemingly refracted through a camera obscura. In order to sing such obtuse lyrics, Eric Bloom adopts the voice and one-eyed scowling personality of an idiot savant-cum -blues mage somewhere between Lord Buckley, Dr John Creaux’s Danse Kalinda da Boom and W.C. Fields:
“By Silverfish Imperetrix, whose incorrupted eye,
Sees through the charms of doctors and their wives,
By salamander, drake, and the power that was undine,
Rise to claim Saturn, ring and sky,
By those who see with their eyes close,
They know me by my black telescope.”
Kinda makes the idea of a Merlin In Black Leather seem like a fairly hefty proposition, don’t it? And although this fairly focussed debut album thereafter petered out with the comparatively light Pearlman-worded “Redeemed”, nevertheless BLUE OYSTER CULT remains a hefty rock event – even the obvious failures being worthy of more than a couple of rotations. However, Sandy Pearlman’s assertion that they eclipsed Alice’s KILLER with this record is way off the mark. KILLER was a hard otherworldly boogie that appropriated the trappings of British prog then zapped those chatchkas with stinging garage guitar riffs and genuinely psychedelic moments; the sonic landscape created therein by the Coop’s original team of Dennis Dunnaway, Neal Smith, Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce revealing a viciously talented bunch of glamorous super-longhairs. And – hey – the primo talents of ‘Toronto’ Bob Ezrin were barely yet kicking in.
TYRANNY & MUTATION
TYRANNY & MUTATION (1973) was raging but still flawed, hopping from proto-Pere Ubu to Who-styled anthems via Detroit. Fucking eh!
Patti Smith’s “Baby Ice Dog” opens side two with the wonderful lyrics: “I had this bitch, you see, she made lies to me.” Strangely, the song itself is a piano-based ballad like something we could find on EASTER or WAVE, and it’s easy to imagine La Smith doing her own versh. Nevertheless, the power of side two dwindles from here on in, particularly the Bouchard brothers’ own “Wings Wetted Down”, with its clichéd prog-rock vision of black horses like something off Wishbone Ash’s ARGUS. Again, the Cult is trying to break open its own tightly drawn metaphor with a nutcracker so big that it can only shatter the entire trip. Richard Meltzer’s sole contribution to this LP was the throw away “Teen Archer”, whose repeated lyrics and lack of moment certainly justify its position in the boneyard.8 But I really feel that even Pearlman shows a lack of stamina with the album closer “Mistress of the Salmon Salt”. This long Todd Rundgrenian-styled tale just never takes off and leaves the album inconclusive and unsatisfying after the first side’s highly orchestrated and technologically superb series of rock moves. Still, this is why the Cult ain’t where they wanted to be, and why we gots to excavate through the cack.
SECRET TREATIES (1974) contained a classic first side, somewhat battered by a highly trash production.
Unfortunately, despite having been written about the 19th-century French author of the same name, whose book LES CHANTS DE MALDOROR was published under the pseudonym Comte de Lautreamont, “Career of Evil” was a fairly pedestrian song, with an even more boring arrangement. Indeed, I’ve even chosen to leave “Career of Evil” off this compilation. However, as this is, after all, an unknown Patti Smith piece, I’ve reproduced the lyrics below:
“I plot your rubric scarab,
I steal your satellite,
I want your wife to be my baby tonight,
I choose to steal what you chose to show,
And you know I will not apologize,
Your mine for the taking,
I'm making a career of evil.
Pay me I'll be your surgeon,
I'd like to pick your brains,
Leave you kneeling in the rain,
I choose to steal what you chose to show,
And you know I will not apologize,
You’re mine for the taking,
I'm making a career of evil.
I'd like your blue-eyed horseshoe,
I'd like your emerald horny toad,
I'd like to do it to your daughter on a dirt road.
And then I'd spend your ransom money, but still I'd keep your sheep,
I'd peel the mask your wearing, and then rob you of your sleep,
I choose to steal what you chose to show,
And you know I will not apologize,
You’re mine for the taking,
I'm making a career of evil.”
“Career of Evil” splices directly into “Subhuman’, which has to be one of the Cult’s greatest and most evocative tunes, showing off the versatility of Eric Bloom’s voice. Over a generic West Coast riff, Bloom adopts a female, almost Helen Reddy vocal style for the Pearlman’s ultra-mysterious libretto:
“I am becalmed, lost to nothing,
Warm weather and a holocaust,
Left to die by two good friends,
Abandoned me, and put to sleep,
Left to die by two good friends,
Tears of God flow as I bleed.”
Yet another Cult classic follows in the form of “Dominance & Submission” (again omitted here). With accusations of his having an obsession with Teutonic and overly-patriarchal imagery, Sandy Pearlman here flexed his lyrical genius by employing S&M imagery to describe the Beatles-led British Invasion of 1964, and the manner in which the American media knelt down before the Anglo’s tidal wave. Like Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll”, Pearlman describes Suzy and her kid brother Charles riding around listening to Little Eva’s “The Locomotion” in 1963, then the cultural change on the radio, as the band chant ‘dominance’ to Eric Bloom’s ever increasingly stuttered: “Sub-mission… sub – mission… sub - mission… sub - mission…”
Side one closes with the power boogie of “M.E. 262”, whose subject matter is that aforementioned twin-engined Messerschmitt turbojet featured on the LP sleeve. It’s late 1944 and the Germans are losing the war, and Goring’s freaking out because, for close to two years, the Luftwaffe’s had this new machine that could bring the RAF to its knees, if only the Fuhrer hadn’t been so hung up about employing the plane as a ‘revenge weapon’.9 Here’s this ME 262 monster waiting to annihilate RAF Bomber Command, yet poor old Herman G.’s still running for cover like every other sucker, because his obstinate Fuhrer remains unconvinced of what a spectacular job Dr. Willie Messerschmitt has done:
“Goring's on the phone to Freiburg,
He says: “Willie's done quite a job”,
Hitler's on the phone from Berlin,
He says: “I'm gonna make you a star”.
Goring looks up at these massive four-engined Allied planes and muses poetically, not believing his bad luck:
“They hang there dependant from the sky like some heavy metal fruit,
These bombers, ripened, ready to tilt,
Must these Englishmen live that I might die?
Must they live that I might die?”
Though the song’s antecedents are clearly Bowie’s “Suffragette City” and Alice’s “Under My Wheels”, “ME 262” is a huge roar of a song with hysterically funny lyrics and a chorus that revolves around chanting the name of the aeroplane’s engine, the Junkers Jumo 004. And so side one closes with the band alternately chanting either the engine serial number or ‘must these Englishmen live that I might die?’ as Eric Bloom wails dispassionately:
“It was dark over Westphalia, in April 1945.”
Now c’mon motherfuckers, who couldn’t boogie to that lyric? No wonder Richard Meltzer thought his erstwhile cohort was consciously bumming him out of the equation. After the megadeth of “ME 262”, Meltzer’s “Cagey Cretins” is ultra-throwaway, an admittedly cute proto-Ramones drivel-on that (mercifully) sods off before it really has a chance to leave an aftertaste. On a higher plain of existence, however, is the superbly titled "Harvester of Eyes", Meltzer’s massive ode to the Grim Reaper as a hopeless drug addict. Suffused with imagery that appears to be an Odinist take on Alice’s epic “Halo of Flies”, this tight-assed caffeine blues straddles that bizarre mid-70s hinterland between Joe Walsh’s delightfully clodhopping “Rocky Mountain Way” and the post-Todd meltdown of The Tubes’ “White Punks On Dope”. It’s one of Eric Bloom’s finest vocal performances and one which he obviously relished, recounting how the Reaper - so ‘high on eyes’ - needs ‘all the peepers’ he can harvest not only as evidence that the donor of those eyes is truly dead, but also to satisfy his hopeless druglust or ‘ocular TB’ as Meltzer terms it. Nailed it this time, motherfucker!
Then comes another real Cult classic in the form of “Flaming Telepaths”, over whose soaring guitar theme and portentous boogie, Bloom sings Pearlman’s words of genuine transformation and alchemy, before summing up the world both of the teenager and the mystic in the brilliant line: “I’m after rebellion, I’ll settle for lies”. I must also note the extreme Be Bop Deluxe qualities of this song. It’s as though Bill Nelson had focussed on this one aspect of the Cult’s muse, one year later taking it up several notches with his own album FUTURAMA .
SECRET TREATIES closes with the delightful piano-based epic ‘Astronomy’, whose Spectoresque orchestra-scapes and self-mythologizing wordplay is even more powerful because of the Helen Reddy-vocal style that Eric Bloom once more adopts. Like “Before the Kiss, A Redcap” and “Dominance & Submission” both, we are again accompanying Pearlman’s Suzy character into some cosmic dreamscape awash with shamanic portals, accessed via a strange cocktail bar when ‘the clock strikes twelve’:
“Two doors locked and windows barred,
One door set to take you in - the other one just mirrors it.”
For those critics who accused the Cult of ‘crypto-intellectual lyrics’, I gotta say they could be mighty specific when they chose to be, and the above lyric sounds like an instruction manual to enlightenment. Unfortunately, no one in the world could get away with such shit as ‘it’s the nexus of a crisis’, so consider my argument totally null’n’voided just several lines later.
But, hell y’all, who really cares if the Cult broke their own rules occasionally? We must always remember that, despite their rock’n’roll being propelled by a savage and occultist Pearlmania, BLUE OYSTER CULT, TYRANNY & MUTATION and SECRET TREATIES were gassed up and driven by sanguine motherfuckers with one eye on the ticking clock and a long career in mind. Yeah, but think how cool they’d have been if Sandy Pearlman’s dad had owned a chain of Long Island drugstores instead of just the one. Mr Pearlman Senior coulda provided his son with enough of a financial safety net to let Memphis Sam really explore the occult properly, and the wider world woulda benefited royally.
All the Voodoo & Whatnot
ON YOUR FEET OR ON YOUR KNEES nevertheless scored majorly with the ‘every band member wielding a guitar’ and the be-hooded Sunn0)))-style audience.
Ironically, however, it was Buck Dharma’s 60s fetish that finally propelled the Cult to stardom the year after the live LP with his Byrds-alike song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. Although this song would have benefited considerably from a RAW POWER-style vocal, it was still a beautiful out-of-time piece somewhat in the same tradition as The Flaming Groovies’ “Shake Some Action” of that same year. But the song’s phenomenal success truly battered B.O.C.’s mission and commenced a series of moves that would eventually sideline Sandy Pearlman as successfully as he had once done to Richard Meltzer. And so, by the 1977 album SPECTRES, dressing up as mages and pretending to be zapping extra-terrestrial cosmic forces was the only way the Cult could maintain even a nominal hold on their original dark metaphor. They just didn’t know enough about what they were claiming to be writing about, and frankly sounded laughable at times. Even throwing in the occasional Patti Smith lyric couldn’t drown out the disco beats and Springsteen beats and achingly trite love songs that spewed out of the Cult’s stable. Indeed, the more occult the LP sleeves became, the less occult was the content.
1975 concert poster for Hammersmith Odeon, supported by Birth Control.
From this re-assessment of Blue Oyster Cult’s early work, it seems now that there were just too many cooks in the Cult’s kitchen. You look at the song credits and everybody’s a fucking writer. Nine people take credits on the debut, with seven writers on the following two LPs. Shit, even their A&R man was writing for them by the 1980s! Perhaps the Cult’s biggest flaw was being overly open-minded about which songwriters should be allowed to represent them. Personally, I believe that when conceptual groups such as Blue Oyster Cult, Kiss, Faust, Neu!, Grand Funk Railroad, etc. can only be enjoyed by their audience’s total acceptance of each group’s tightly-drawn self-imposed metaphor, then that group has an extra tough duty to stay within those guidelines, even if it means less people can reach where they’re coming from. Besides, I ain’t no fucking evangelist – just a Gnostic rock’n’roll dementoid with a demon’s zeal for turning on the few with ears pointy enough to listen. And I most certainly do have a bee in my bonnet about B.O.C. and how faintly they have been praised, compared to just how useful they’ve been down the years. Indeed, some conservative (or just plain hung up) modern rock crits still impede our way into B.O.C. for thee most minor of reasons. America’s Chuck Eddy surely scanned the writing credits of Cult LPs before lazily offering up such facile criticisms as: “How come Eric Bloom sings like he’s reading cue cards?” Hey Motherfucker, says I, how come you perceive that as bad? I mean, Eric is singing Patti Smith for Crissakes, and even Patti delivers her own words like they’re on cue cards. For shit damn sure, half the charm of the Cult’s wordplay was their Tom Lehrer-like struggle to fit the words in. Moreover, surely half the charm of the 13th Floor Elevators was Roky Erikson’s lack of authority as he struggled in vain through their EASTER EVERWHERE and BULL OF THE WOODS albums attempting to turn Tommy Hall’s Gurdjieffian wordplay into bite-size Buddy Holly-isk chunks. Hey Chuck, don’t listen to Andy McCoy’s Hanoi Rocks lyrics or any Krautrock whatsoever, motherfucker, or yooz gonna belly laugh all the way to cardiac arrest.
PATTI SMITH’s poem “Vera Gemini” was the source of the B.O.C. song from AGENTS OF FORTUNE. The invocation for this compilation are extracted from lines 5 and 6 from verse one.VIEW POEM
Humankind is so magically metaphorical that if the moon is hidden behind clouds, you can meditate just as successfully with a glow-in-the-dark-moon. Similarly, if the Christian Church has caned your pagan rituals by burning all the books and the practitioners thereof, you can always substitute it with a degraded form and still get there, albeit in a degraded form. Know what I mean? Rock’n’roll is such a barbarian art form that merely alluding to the underworld can get you to that underworld. So, for want of the genuine article, a substitute will always do nicely if yooz a magical motherfucker. It’s for that very reason that I never had a yen to be authentic – stick your Les Paul copy through the same fuzz and distortion pedals as a real Gibson and, chances are, no sucker’ll win the Pepsi Challenge cause they’ll sound just the same. Which all suggests that the darkest corners of Blue Oyster Cult are portals to the same underworld as darkest Sabbath, darkest Alice, and darkest Jimbo. And so, although they were a very erratic and somewhat Guess Who-like hit’n’miss ensemble, Blue Oyster Cult will, with a little tweaking and a LOT-a-LOT of editing, send your visionary ass precisely where your visionary ass needs to go. Yowzah!
- In order to re-acquaint myself with ON YOUR FEET OR ON YOUR KNEES for the writing of this article, I was determined to cop a double-vinyl example like my first copy. Sure enough, I put the thing on and it all happened again. Except for flashes of genuine brilliance, there’s still nothing down for this 30/70 heap of crap.
- Lester Bangs ‘Kraftwerkfeature’, CREEM magazine, September 1975
- Wayne Jancik & Tad Lathrop, CULT ROCKERS (Simon & Shuster)
- With only one US Top 50 placing to show for their seven singles releases between 1965 and July ’67, singer Terry Knight finally got the message and left his own band! Choosing to manage his former backing musicians, The Pack, it must have been with a strange melancholy that he watched them spring to international fame within 14 months of the first LP.
- ‘Sandy Pearlman & The Blue Oyster Cult’ by Colin Murray, taken from WHITE STUFF Issue 7, February 1978.
- In the summer of 1972, just two months after this LP was released, I was one of two 15-year-old longhairs running the main café on the coast road between Torquay and Teignmouth. One day, twenty-five members of The Wessex Chapter motorcycle club, the meanest Hell’s Angels in the west of England, descended and demanded free food and water. We’d been to see The Edgar Broughton Band the night before, and still wore our Nick Turner mascara thickly the next day to weird out the local tourists. I never took make-up off so quickly as the day the Wessex Chapter arrived without a reservation.
- Verse three’s inventory of drinks and drugs consumed from off the tailgate of an artic trailer is so strikingly vivid that each listen takes me back to several occasions between 1981-88, when crossing the Windsor Bridge, from the US into Canada, where crews and band members would lovingly and tragically dispose of the illegal drugs before delivering ourselves, by now squirming, grimming, bug-eyed & hyperventilating, exhausted, into the rubber-gloved hands of those bastard Canadian Customs men.
- The boneyard is always the term used to describe the penultimate track on side two – the place you put a filler track when it ain’t quite good enough but you don’t gotta better offering to take its place. Of course, I myself never experienced such a problem and have left a trail of boneyard-free records. Hmm…
- William Green, FIGHTERS VOLUME I (Hanover House Publishing 1960)
IN MY MOUTH OR ON THE GROUND (1972)
BLUE OYSTER CULT (May 1972)
TYRANNY & MUTATION (April 1973)
SECRET TREATIES (April 1974)