Monday, March 11, 2013

buck dharma

Blue Oyster Cult made music for pimply, burnt-out heschers from Long Oyland.  And this should be taken as high praise… For about a year and a half between the end of 1979 and the middle of 1981, sixth and seventh grade for me, I went to quite a few arena rock shows with my older brother, my aunt, and sometimes even my mom. I saw BOC at Nassau Coliseum, I think around the spring of 1980, and it was by far the freakiest of all the shows I went to.  My brother Billy took me.  We drove out there in my parents’ Chrysler Lebaron wagon, featuring fake wood paneling on the doors and an eight-track tape player in the dash.  I loved the BOC live album (and still do), but it doesn’t even begin to capture the pervading disquietude of the whole scene as soon as we got out of the car.  Lots of screaming and glass breaking is what I remember specifically. I also recall how scared I became when the guy in front of me on our way through the turnstile was frisked by cops and had the knife hidden in his boot confiscated.  But I had my bro to protect me, god bless him…  As we wandered from the rotunda into the main arena, we collided suddenly with an invisible wall of heavy pot smoke.  The place was consumed with the stuff.  This was in the days when drugging could be done much more out in the open.  The dudes sitting in front of us snorted something called Rush, which I recognized from the glass-enclosed counter at my local record shop, and they did what I later found out were whippets, all of it done seemingly with no fear of reprisal.  Reagan wasn’t president yet.  This was only a decade removed from the 60s.  The same behavior today would practically get you detained indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay…  As unsettling as all of this druggy teen rebellion was for me, I also found it exhilarating.  I felt like I was a part of some sort of secret and exclusive club.  I was not viewed as a cool kid in my school, more just a weirdo loner, but being amongst all this forbidden activity made me feel included in something, even if I wasn’t really an active participant.  I’d taken a few puffs of pot at summer camp and felt like the experience gave me credibility.   As confused and unhappy as I may have been during that phase of my life, I look back on my relationship to music and its youthful subcultures with great fondness… When the lights went down, the place erupted in what felt to me like an all-out rampage.  Kids shot bottle rockets across the coliseum and the smell of weed intensified.  BOC are definitely a band that live up to the dark and sinister image of their following.  The music is fucking nasty, stuff that appeals to one’s inner death-obsessed speed freak.  By the time I saw them that night, their best days were behind them.  But the first four studio albums, and especially the live, On Your Feet or on Your Knees,  are all excellently menacing, moving from heavy progressive rock in the early days to more metallic stuff later on.  And while the music has an undeniable drugginess to it, it’s also quite literate and intelligent.  It appeals to the hescher but also to the dorky guy with his nose in The Monster Manual.  I straddled those poles, a little bit geek, a little bit freak, but not really fully at home in either camp, a man without a country, then as now.  So BOC spoke to me on numerous (sometimes contradictory) levels.  ...Buck Dharma was the perfect rock antihero for guys like me.  He never looked at all like a guitar god, but then he’d lean back and play the most stunningly crunchy riffs on his rad white Gibson SG, and you’d do a double take.  Who is this vaguely chubby guy with the feathered hair parted in the middle, who looks more like a cross between Danny Terrio and a dude who works at H&R Block, than a mysteriously dark rock star?  And how does he coax such an unholy sound from that guitar?  It’s beautiful, it’s ugly, and it gives voice to a truly lost generation.  …BOC apparently wanted to be America’s answer to Black Sabbath. But they’re actually so much better than that. I don’t have a whole ‘lotta time for progressive metal these days, but BOC are an exception.  The music still has a freaky-nasty vibe, still rocks with a vengeance, and still gets the imagination running wild through dark mirrored hallways. And if you pay really close attention, you can practically still hear the windows breaking in the parking lot and smell the skunky smoke in the air…

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