Corrosion of Conformity (Relativity)
An ominous instrumental track like “These Shrouded Temples” could be a frightening initiation for infrequent visitors to the realm of metal-heavy rock unexpurgated by MTV. Yet while misconceptions about this music of a darker nature send so many people running scared, what might strike even greater fear (were they to recognize its presence) here is something far more threatening than any Satanic messages—truth. And few bands cut to the truth more chillingly than COC. This outspoken force of five fuel their brutal Metallica-ish grunge grooves with a radical left-wing fury determined to throttle the masses of an apathetic nation out of their complacent stupor. The cover art by underground comic book artist, Bill Sienkiewicz, presents a disturbing, nightmarish take on the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” dilemma. Blind pleads for America to strip away the blinders shutting out terrifying visions of racism, political corruption, greed, and our ravaged environment. Echoing the activist’s axiom “you are either part of the problem or part of the solution,” COC give further credence to their social conscience by listing the addresses of organizations like Greenpeace, Amnesty International, PETA, etc. No doubt it would be a hard sell convincing the bulk of this country’s disillusioned, fed-up citizens just how much outrage they have in common with—and could learn from—the angry young men of COC, but gone is the naive era that had us believe silence is golden. As lead vocalist Karl Agell warns, “Silence is consent.”
—Loren a Alexander
PANTHER DREAM: A Story of the African Rainforest
Bob & Wendy Weir (Hyperion/Walt Disney)
Grateful Dead fans will already be aware of the band’s concern for rainforests—along with a benefit concert, Jerry Garcia’s Blues for the Rainforest with Meryl Saunders brought home the state of emergency. Now Weir makes his contribution, in collaboration with his sister—financial consultant and painter—Wendy Weir, in the form of a children’s book and accompanying tape of music, sounds and narration.
Weir’s story is both obvious and understated; Lokuli, a village-dwelling African boy decides to help his family during a meat shortage by hunting in the “forbidden” rainforest. On his journey, he encounters a veritable vocabulary list of exotic plants and animals, he’s trailed by a black panther, and is finally discovered and saved by a forest Pygmy. The story is resolved as the panther, seemingly a threatening presence, leads the boy to a duiker (smallish deer) carcass, which prompts Loluki to tell his father “the forest is not full of evil spirits as you say. It is our friend.”
While as a story, Panther Dream hardly rates up there with Kipling’s Jungle Book,
Ms. Weir’s illustrations are colorful and vibrant—a cheerful introduction to some lesser-known species (there is a glossary and key in the back). And the cassette, recorded with the “virtual sound” process, really brings the forest sounds to life (good thing, because without that, Weir’s rather dull reading style would probably put junior to sleep). Side two of the tape features music incorporated with the sounds— probably more interesting to parents.
In fact, it’s hard to figure out just who Panther Dream is intended for. The advanced vocabulary puts it at a level above most tykes, and while the package’s intent is obvious, the moral’s a bit oblique. Deadheads will dig it, but their kids may just scratch their heads.
Alexander & Ann Shulgin
(Transform Press, PO Box 13675, Berkeley,
Alexander Shulgin is a quiet, gentle man who truly loves his work. Is it any wonder? This brave explorer has spent the last 30 years discreetly designing and—along with a small dedicated research group—courageously sampling hundreds of new psychedelic compounds. In the tradition of true science, wedded with the spirit of soul-searching alchemy, Dr. Shulgin, a master research chemist and psychopharmacologist, has legally synthesized hundreds of amazing new psychoactive drugs in his governmentlicensed laboratory. His almost unbelievable adventures are recounted in a recent book, written along with his wife Ann, entitled PIHKAL—the title of which is an acronym for “Phenalthylamines I Have Known and Loved.”
This is a rare magical alchemical text, an extraordinary treasure chest, a historical document, that recaps Alexander and Ann’s sincere spiritual quest and amazing journey. This bold book is divided into two basic parts. The first half is a semi-fictionalized autobiographical account of Alexander and Ann’s experience—which is at once a wild wooly adventure novel, a tear-jerking romance, and a philosophical treatise on the nature of existence. The second half is a cookbook of recipes for recreating 179 of the compounds he experimented with, along with a short description of experiences he and his research group had with each of the different compounds at varying dosage levels.
As a guidebook for exploring alternative realities, a chemistry textbook, or a political cry for the freedom to legalize drug use, research, and the right to experiment with brain-exploration tools, PIHKAL delightfully vibrates with life. This is a landmark book, and there’s never been another quite like it.
—David Jay Brown
BLACKBIRD: The Life and Times of Paul McCartney
Geoffrey Giulian (Dutton)
When handed Blackbird tor review, before even cracking it open, I thought, “Finally, an opportunity to blast a prime example of the gossip-bio genre, a chance to really spew some bile.” I thought it my duty to let every gossip freak out there in on a little secret: Waving the crusty underwear of a celebrity in front of your face causes more brain damage than White House tap water.
While Giuliano’s research is extensive, with an endless string of boring interviews with past schoolmates, ex-girlfriends, exWings bandmembers and groupies (none of whom slam McCartney like the author himself), the book never gets into anything exciting enough to hold one’s interest. Giuliano’s incessant value judgments about the selfcentered Liverpudlian musical genius who grew up into a self-centered, international pop-culture icon are knee-jerk and often betray testimony in the text.
Since the birth of the Beatles,
McCartney’s incredible media presence, popappeal and willingness to sell himself to the public wholesale have made him an easy target for critics. Blackbird is jam-packed with redundant rantings about the Wings’ years with tales of McCartney’s artificial bohemia in Scotland (where he, Linda and the band lived in make-believe poverty to foster that authentic Band on the Run attitude), a more than ample supply of photos of shag-hairdoed Wings bandmembers, and much whimpering over poor, old dejected Denny Laine and how McCartney betrayed him. (McCartney paid the guitarist about two million dollars for his work with Wings. We should all be so fucked over.)
Giuliano then loads up on him for his preference for pot. On his imprisonment (third bust) in Tokyo for pot: “McCartney quickly fell into the jailhouse routine with the seasoned aplomb of an old con.” Did he really? That sleazy pothead. After discussing the fourth of McCartney’s four pot busts in excruciating detail, Giuliano waxes disappointed that the Judge had given the “famous dopeaholic” a “mere slap on the wrist.”
Blackbird is for people with too much time on their hands. Inquiring minds should get their copy at the library.
IN THE SPIRIT OF CRAZY HORSE
Peter Matthiessen (Viking)
It took eight years of federal legal battling to get this book back on the shelves, and you damn well should be asking why. Why have numerous branches of the US Government belabored settlement procedures and prolonged harassment procedure against the Sioux (and other) Indians in the northern Great Plains, labeling the American Indian Movement (AIM) warriors terrorists and instigating illegal COINTELPRO techniques in suppressing any rights resistances? Why, after the FBI spent years and countless dollars to convict one AIM warrior, Leonard Peltier, for the shooting deaths of two FBI agents in 1975, did the agency sue both Viking and Matthiessen immediately upon publication of this book?
Originally published in 1983 after massive hands-on research into the Peltier case, as well as the complex backgrounding, author Matthiessen’s work it seemed had just begun. Having written a convincing and devastatingly thorough indictment of the FBI and the US Justice Department for its role in capturing and imprisoning Peltier, one can’t help but to be aware that Matthiessen, like his subject, was prepared for such recrimination. Fortunately he was backed by a confident, big-bucks publishing house as well as the best first amendment lawyer in the country, Martin Garbus, who provides an afterword to the new edition outlining the final legal success that paved the way for re-publication.
As much as I admire Matthiessen’s honor, tenacity and style here, the day belongs hands down not only to Leonard Peltier—who emerges, after all’s said and done, as a full-blown hero in the tradition of the great Sioux leader Crazy Horse—but to the entire Sioux Nation. Beginning with the infamous 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, up to Wounded Knee II in 1973, and through the continuing struggles with the government over sovereign land rights to, among other areas, the Black Hills in South Dakota (as it turns out, super-rich in uranium deposits, utilized in manufacturing nuclear weaponry. Get the picture?), these Native American peoples have profoundly persevered. Remarkably, despite almost constant outside pressures as well as frequent in-fighting within the tribes, AIM seems to be back on its feet and today has positioned the Peltier case toward the forefront of this country’s consciousness—not to mention its conscience—in time for the celebration of 500 years of benign colonialism.
After you read this vastly important and evocative document, you should still be asking why. Why is Leonard Peltier—behind bars for 14 years now for a crime many believe he did not commit—still in prison?