St. John Green

Released 1968 on Flick Disc
The Seth Man, August 2003ce
“[‘St. John Green’ is] one of the great lost records...Somebody will reissue it someday and people will start crying and jacking off and smoking dope to it. It’s a great record. There’s only a handful of records that I’ve made that are great.”
-Kim Fowley to Mike Stax (“Ugly Things” magazine issue #19, 2001)

Through mutual associations in Topanga Canyon, St. John Green connected with Fowley sometime in 1968, and he in turn spurred them on to outdo or to die all over what would be their sole album. They wound up doing both.

“St. John Green” is by turns frightening, dark, funny and stupid as it reeks of bad trip freak outs in matte black painted rooms with no furniture lit only by a single red bulb and burning cigarette ends. What emanates forth immediately from this darkness are the mystic incantations of vocalist/bassist Ed Bissot who is mean, moody, magnificent AND for his sins is stuck in a garage of sick creep psychedelia for all eternity. His delivery is so full of promises and not threats you begin to feel that this guy exists precariously balanced over a yawning chasm between Jim Morrison and Arthur Brown without trying at all really MEANS IT. And he is shored up all the way by a fine-tuned band in total sync with his visions of the four D’s --death, doom, damnation and dread -- in a weirdly accomplished album that runs a gamut of styles from supernatural ruminations to the cheapest of goofball novelties.

Bissot’s massive intonations open the apocalyptic “7th Generation Mutation,” where his early death god in a garage vibe bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert Calvert’s space age narratives that threaded Hawkwind’s “Space Ritual.” A total lack of drums makes his hypnotic bass line the only percussion as it sways pendulum-like above the restrained and gagged music which has already cut out from one speaker and lurks behind his initial intonation of “In the darkness of my empty cage, a being from Venus speaks to me” which then switches to a massively echoed snotty sneer:

“I have seen your planet suffer seven nuclear wars...
I’ve seen your civilisation rise from its ruin
Only to crumble once more to ash.

Noah’s Ark was a period of time, and not a boat.
It is through such misconceptions
Your beliefs are weakened and your faith lost...

Earth is born of molten lava
Torn from the breast of a violent star.
Man is created
And rises from the dust-fringed edges of the cooling mud
To love...To conquer...To kill...

Tape speed wind chases this insistently freaky track into the fading gloom and late night Booker T & The MG’s outtake from “Gris-Gris” vibe of the Fowley-penned “Canyon Women,” a place where sexually rhythmically percussion hangs in the background like swamp gas silhouetting the band as they respond to Bissot’s vocals with low, bullfrog refraining as over-recorded organ and casual grunts pass by in the shadows. “Devil And The Sea” is the psychic link between The Doors’ “When The Music’s Over” and Alice Cooper’s “Black Juju” as those familiar prominent organ swells cut in, out and all around Bissot’s vocals of truly beacon-in-the-wilderness qualities. “Do You Believe” is all corn-fed and howling harp as Bissot starts vocally delivering in down home, religious revival tones against distinctly Fraternity of Man/Holy Modal Rounders backing. “Go!” commands Fowley from behind the glass for the next gross-out, “Help Me Close The Door” signaling commencement of a somber Bissot narration painting a portrait of a broken man with the paint roller. It’s cheap pathos galore over a lullaby piano rock-a-bye-ing as several species of small furry animals chirp continually along with little girls’ persistent calls of “Daddy?” Tears well up until the surprise final set up line of “If you have any heart at all...You’ll help me close the door!” that causes all studio denizens to erupt in cackling glee at the egg on your face. “Messages From The Dead” follows with a mid-tempo “Mystic Eyes” beat and prominent 2-fingered bass. Bissot has just hooked himself a one-way ticket onto that down bound train to Sheol with ol’ Satan hisself, and with each passing level the flames shoot higher and higher: here represented by hugely recorded organ smears all up and down the keyboard against a backwards hi-hat pattern. After seven levels of Hell have been traversed, Bissot’s finally had enough of those flames licking up his body so he’s now down on his knees pleading right before the organ-led coda, “No, God....don’t burn me down in hea-uh! Please don’t burn me down, God!” So they burn down the track instead: in a way Fowley would later describe as “Vanilla Fudge minus the fucking bubblegum.”

Side two is just as diverse, great and fucked up. “Goddess of Death” is a sleep-walking creep-out supreme with all the eeriness of “You’re Lost Little Girl” by The Doors. Descending organ quietly curls like smoke in the background as electric guitar piano-type notes are plucked as Bissot intones from a waking dream: “And we walked into the endless valley...Looking back in tears while the echoes of life faded from our ears...We walked into the cold silence...being careful not to step on those who had passed out there in previous times...and I ask: ‘Why are we here? Why are we here? Why are we here?’” The band responds only with the swaying chant, “Why? Why? Why? Why?” Neither are graced with an answer. Spookeh!

Leave it to Fowley to compose St. John Green’s own signature tune, entitled (naturally) “St. John Green” and of course sounds like nothing else on the album. Bissot’s vocals now switch to Dylanesque overtones as they spread over a dum-dum re-vamp of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” filling the background with a clutch of piano, tuba-tone bass and heavily sustained organ that clump around great lyrics like: “Just because we’re so young and deadly/Why did we have to lose our light?” Next up is the quicker paces of “Spirit Of Now” that is akin to the later basement psychedelia of The C.A. Quintet. Here, guitarist Bill Kirkland is finally allowed a solo for the first time on the record and it’s fantastic; followed by a sprinting organ solo by Mike Baxter, whose arrangements throughout are strong, fine-tuned and as consistently weird as his neatly-placed organ fills. “Love Of Hate” is an elegiac vocal (what else?) intonation accompanied by organ alone, with Bissot channeling words from and about the world beyond the grave. The Fowley-penned “One Room Cemetery” is the terrifying highlight of side two as elements of free form freak outs scatter behind Bissot’s intonations from a dark and lonely place as tom-tom rolls, solidly plucked bass lines and random, skittering guitar all conspire to creep you out. Over ominously building drums, Bissot hurls out echoed grunts, calls for bo-weevils to meet him in his one room cemetery and calmly free associating all over the place with “We’re playing with the world... We’re playing with the world...When a love song has gone wrong...where does a sad girl go? Where does the sad girl go when her love song is over? We’re playing with the world...We’re playing with the world...” right before all fades to black with a single, jerked musical curtain pull.

But as weirdly dark and epic that “St. John Green” well and truly is, where can it go but sign off with “Shivers Of Pleasure,” a bouncy showbiz coda all jaunty piano, lounge hi-hats and vocal A-Z alphabetical dedications like: “F is for Fowley: is he putting us on?”, “T is for Teenage girls” (accented by a non-too subtle pelvic thrust grunt, “Uuhhh!”) and so on; cracking sophomoric jokes in a manner altogether out of context with the rest of the album. It’s kinda disconcerting in its clean cut kid delivery, but then again, it may be an intentional move in case if too many people got the wrong idea whilst hanging onto each of Bissot’s every word, taking them too far upon the album’s termination by offing themselves outright.

For maximum effect, play in absolute darkness.