Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Blue Cheer—
Vincebus Eruptum


Released 1968 on Philips
The Seth Man, June 2003ce
A crazy singularity, Blue Cheer’s debut album flows with a relentless feeling and attitude from the guts thrown as hard as possible against the studio wall and was captured as the double vulgar non sequitur tripped-out, biker Pig Latin-entitled vinyl slab, “Vincebus Eruptum.”

This album shows Blue Cheer as much out of their time as they were ahead of it as they set down a bedrock hard representation of the earliest power trio to disregard the then-current vogue of electric blues and just concentrate on going for broke while slamming together truly groundbreaking noise in an approach null and void of everything except power, energy and a collective sense of defiance funneled through a truly unique barrage that makes “Vincebus Eruptum” an orgy of heaviosity and unanimous proponent of Rock music at one of it’s boldest heights. For its entirety, Blue Cheer keeps their snotty noses to the grindstone while kicking a bigger ass all the time: The overall strafing and forced landings of Leigh Stephens’ staccato-ed, running-pus blister burning guitar, Paul Whaley’s engine-room sweating and wholesale walloping of drums/cymbals/your head and Dick Peterson’s low-slung bass jabs while gruff strutting vocalising combine into a three-tiered crown of powerdrive so forceful and stripped down that the title of a single by Whaley’s previous band, The Oxford Circle accurately describes this decibellicose rampage: “Mind destruction.”

Stephens’ overbearing, over-recorded and out of control Gibson SG guitar is strung with high tension wires that soar and sail upon successive waves of roaming feedback, surfing sustain and total disdain of the sonically correct as all three members donate a limb to a sonic third rail they piss on and subsequently jolt upwards into the stratosphere, luckily recording this album as it happened.

To discuss “Vincebus Eruptum” in depth without any mention of its amped-up’n’over use of volume as abrasive soul cleanser would be nearly impossible because it defined their sound and set them apart so significantly from the swirling, fading Art Nouveau emanating forth from the majority of their San Franciscan contemporaries of the late sixties (With the possible exception of Shiver, who I’ve yet to hear due to a rare attack of caution I landed recently after checking out the very promising White Lightning, a heavy group formed by Zippy Caplan after his departure from The Litter. By all reports, it was nothing less than MC5-meets-Blue Cheer-meets-The Litter’s own “Emerge” but wound up sounding more molehill than even Mountain, dammit!)

“Vincebus Eruptum” is a summation of a group head steeped in one of the most addled and economical rock albums, ever: six tracks equally split over two sides and although half of them are cover versions it’s all reduced to the unique sonic parallelogram pushing into over-amplitude-ness for its entire 31 and a half minute duration (I kid you not.) And Abe “Voco” Kesh’s production is every bit as gruff, crude and effective as Peterson’s vocals, recording the band at just a measure below their actual playing volume in order to capture its impact so the album itself would be as sonically true as possible. The dynamic range tips over from the introductory, pummeling waves that open the album’s first track, the utterly bent and highly flammable cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” into a pace of intentionally slothful viciousness that continues unabated for the rest of the album. Everything sounds like the aural equivalent of a colour photograph printed off-register by an eighth of an inch so that it vibrates in four separate versions of black, magenta, yellow and blue and although obviously wrong, the sensation is so intriguing it keeps you hooked on gazing at its moiré pattern that suspends perceptional realisation but is such a wonder to behold, anyway. They drop their signal overload through six churning tracks: “Summertime Blues,” “”Rock Me Baby,” “Doctor Please,” “Out Of Focus,” “Parchment Farm,” “Second Time Around” and there’s not a single moment wasted at all.

Equally impossible would be to leave unmentioned the effect The Jimi Hendrix Experience had on Blue Cheer (especially, their live performance at Monterey that began in distortion and ended in flames and topped off with many spins of their “Are You Experienced?” album) only because at first blush everybody thought that their cover of “Summertime Blues” was a little like ‘retarded Jimi’ (well, at least a high school comrade-in-rock and yours truly did upon first impact with “Vincebus Eruptum” for the first time in early 1980 and consequently were nonplussed by it all for ages) and I think I finally figgered out why. The easy answer is because two guitar phrases in “Summertime Blues” are fantastic purple hazed vamps to be sure, but a more detailed exploration relates more to Blue Cheer’s inspiration with which The Experience wielded their equipment so explosively huge. So they did it in an even HUGER way but they did it their own way and then went ALL the way with it -- by throwing caution to the four winds and bleaching out all the finessing Hendrix qualities by throwing their amps up to the highest contrast possible: to the crushing heights of the feedback intro to Hendrix’s encore at Monterey (“Wild Thing”) and subsequently leaving their amps at THAT level while rendering it all into a shit-and barn-storming thing to mess up your mind forevermore; or leave you with tinnitus trying or girlfriend crying for you to shut the fucking stereo off already.

The album closer, “Second Time Around” is truly exceptional. It’s where everything gets thrown into the red/ultra-violet/violent end of the sound spectrum itself: Especially at one point near the end of the album where they finally bring their billowing, rippling sonic parachute down to earth in two clearings of pindrop quietude only for Stephens’ to rend the rare and precious silence with two shrieking guitar lines that run up outta nowhere in swift vengeance as though seeking to erase it forever. He displays all the confidence and recklessness of one who’d re-written the rulebook and then promptly gave it old heave-ho over the shoulder without another thought as his metal-on-metal/gear stripping-ness/fingernails on chalkboard/crosshatching playing hovers just beneath the tempo as it groans and shudders in zig-zags with proto-metal fatigue. The bleeding of the guitar lines into everything else creates a weird lag between the time they’re struck into life and the millisecond it comes coursing outta that heated line of Marshall amplifiers via his distortion stomp box. This in turn creates a further disjuncture with the tempo, tagging onto the delay by slipping in yet another split second of lag time that is subtle but creates a tension that is anything but because this differential interplay has been the surging dynamo powering each and every song on “Vincebus Eruptum” beyond its buckling limits: gathering behind into a momentum that pushes forward unstoppably into a Möbius strip-tease that feeds on itself like a freakin’ electric ouroboros shitting itself through its eyeballs for the rest of eternity.

Despite (or probably because of) this extreme use of volume, there’s something else at play behind that straining wall of amps, and it’s a weird sensation of nearly standing stock still. Of course, there are rhythms, beats and therefore, movement but the tempo is weirdly s-l-l-l-o-o-o-w-w-w: as though groaning under its own weight and that of a protective nitrogen blanket, the result of a messy struggle, against the driving heavy weather of amplitude blowing directly in their faces and rooted to the spot, as though caught in the searchlights of its own power.

Blue Cheer were not just knockin’ on Heavy’s door and they weren’t invited, either: they broke on through it, tore off the hinges, tore up the threshold, took a huge chunk outta each side of the wall and then dropped a huge napalm log in the fireplace and split. Casually inventing a genre as they did so, no less.