The Repository #12: Slip It to the Android – G.K. Spain on Chrome

I am the black sheep: I love not the flowers,

I love the green of grass and forest firs.

Take back your pillars and your mighty towers:

Give me a tree, that bends when a breeze stirs.

Mother was a fine piano accompanist and substitute organist who also played harp, clarinet, bassoon, and gave me my first violin lessons. She (and my karma) bequeathed me a good sense of rhythm, accurate relative pitch, two years of piano, and character, though this last didn’t completely ‘take’ till I was half a century old (and she a quarter-century gone). My dad was into amateur stage since college and an accomplished Shakespeare scholar by the time he passed on in 2000 (he wrote Shakespeare Sounded Soundly).

I don’t remember when I started piano exactly, but I guess I was seven or eight. A year later I was so keen on starting violin that I promised mom I would keep up piano too, but that only lasted one more year. I was driven to violin by two toy ones of increasing efficiency and my own destiny. Poetry started a little later.

Upon going east to college, hair long to be like the Vikings, I fell in with the heads and started listening to acid rock, accompanying them to at least two sit-ins, at one of which they raised a huge (I later found out from looking it up) North Vietnamese flag, at which point I vowed to take my political guidance elsewhere but remained barefooted and long-haired. I put down violin for a year to learn electric bass and rock/blues from the bottom up but soon fell in with a Cuban-Basque fellow who played congas and knew the real stuff: traditional Afrocuban. When I took up violin again I could improvise, and I play a mean blues to this day (and rock given a little refreshing), though my forte (which rimes with tort, by the way) is old Gaelic airs with the drones added back in, and jigs. (I’m learning reels, but only gradually – they pass by so fast!)

Actually, my true forte is explaining ancient bardo-Qabbalistic Hermetic science (and its superiority to modern theory) to unbelievers, having dug up and reassembled its pieces… but that’s another story.

Met Yonsk (John Lambdin) in ’72-ish: he was playin’ the best rock rhythm-lead I ever heard (at a jam at a party). He and I did some stuff I don’t even remember, then in the spring of ’76 he called from S.F. and said they needed a bass player, so I chanted Namyohorengekyo for a day and managed to snag one for twenty bucks. (Later, at Demon Edge’s insistence, I had to do better, so I hit my dad up for cash.)

John and I lived on city welfare and got donuts for our work in Chrome. His rhythm guitar on The Visitation was absolute dynamite, but in the process of bandying it back and forth on a four-track to add the rest of the parts, it got muffled and subdued. Pity. (Needs someone to go in with a digital surgeon’s knife and boost its presence.) Our heaviest influence was English rock.

Tom (Damon), thin-dark-hair almost to his shoulders, lived in Berkley Heights, drove a little blue MG squareback, was heavy set, eccentric, and theoretically liked a blitzkrieg approach to stage production, but we never got close to a stage. He took us to meet the Residents, who hid their faces in animal masks and did all their own promotion, marketing, and so on.

The people who liked The Visitation were the New Wavies, so we turned in that direction. I was drawn to suddenly start writing two songs a week instead of one every two months, since New Wave was simpler, more upbeat – right up my alley. John and I later (80s) put the fruits of this labor to work in the band The Bent, which went nowhere but produced one distilled-down-a-few-years-ago tape (of rehearsals and gigs) called Urban Mythograph (which if I can get a copy of to the DJ who interviewed me in the Midwest can be burned into a CD). It had songs like one about the guy who invented (or rather refined) blitzkrieg (Guderian), to which John played synthesizer guitar that sounded like the devil would sound if he played fiddle, as well as two that Tom Edge had first created words to for me to make into music (he couldn’t carry a tune when I knew him, being a percussionist only). I liked Tom sort of, but John, who had known him for years by then and been in the band Ba Ka Da with him, does not remember him fondly. Of course once Tom discovered Acid Punk was the latest rebellion in Europe and took things in that direction (third album), I’d not have been comfortable with him for long anyway.

The singer on the first one was Mike Lowe, a clean cut, nice, intelligent guy with a huge white German shepherd (Bozo) – smartest dog I ever met – with whom he later lived in a VW bug (!). He evaporated during the second album (we used to discuss Dune together).

The second (Alien Soundtracks) began, ostensibly, as background music for Marilyn Chambers to frig herself to in a glass booth in a theatre belonging to the Mitchell Brothers (friends of Tom in whose empty warehouse in the Tenderloin me, John, and Mike lived for a while, Chrome rehearsing on the top floor where the murals still were from the movie Sodom and Gomorrah ), but they couldn’t get a permit for it, so it ‘morphed’. Personally, I think John’s fiddle on ‘Slip It To The Android’ is inspired Stravinskyesque musings of the first order. I sang ‘ST37’ (which to me was the name of a gargle but to Tom was the name of a star), to which I made up the words, as I recall.

By the time of the third, John had gone a bit over the edge (in an upward direction) so I brought Helios in to ‘replace’ him, with whom I had played acoustically at Gulliver’s Pub, the place in North Beach for free beer and passing the hat if you were a local musician: great place. I lived in Helios’s van in Berkeley and later in Fairfield. Then, having clung to existence two summers as a street musician and lost my mother in the interim, I departed for L.A., to later become a programmer (and burn out on that too). Now I drive a taxi (over a dozen years, since ’87) and listen to classical on the radio till it gets stuck in the 19th century (I like baroque and modern), whereupon I switch to alternative rock (till it degenerates into rap, which I hate) or jazz (especially Latin). Unfortunately, there is no Irish station, or fortunately, as I then would probably listen to little else… or medieval and Renaissance, if they only had one that played that!

After we left Chrome, John and I never gave it a second thought (we ‘lost touch’). Two decades later or so we found out it had gone on to produce a legacy and that there were actually people around who had HEARD of it, and we were flabbergasted: we never expected it would go anywhere. We HAD noticed at the time that two Scorpios (Tom and Helios) were a powerful mix into which little else could intrude. I have since listened to a bit of Helios, some of which I like, but am not familiar with much, though I would like to hear more of both Tom and Helios, the former out of curiosity, the latter because I think he has talent, even if somewhat mis-spent. I’ve heard nothing of later Chrome (neither has John, I believe).

I love: Pink Floyd, early Traffic, early Jethro Tull, EARLY Steve Miller (albums most have never heard of: Children of the Future and Sailor), Roxy Music, Police (and Sting), Go-Gos Blondie Devo Ramones Patty Smith X, and Cars, Poncho Sanchez and Willie Bobo and Jo Cuba and Mongo Santa Maria (whose timbali player I used to jam with) and Eddie Palmyeri and Cal Jader, and of course Prokofiev-Shostakovitch-Barber-Bartok-Stravinsky-and-Vaughan-Williams, and Bach-Teleman-Scarlati… I’m tired.

(Sorry to be so long-winded.)

Till later,

G. K. Spain


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