Back to the acid-washed roots

A very long time ago — I guess about 20 years (!!) now — a friend tried getting me into the band Hawkwind. It didn’t really take until recently. Remember how I mentioned a few months back that playing The Elder Scrolls made me want to listen to Hawkwind? Yeah, well, that never quite went away. And, as it happens, I came into possession of quite a bit of iTunes Music Store credit around then, so I ended up sinking about $75 imaginary dollars into Hawkwind and listening to albums that I could never quite convince myself to pay megabucks for back in the day. $50 always seemed way too much for ultra-rare triple-CD Levitation, even if it is considered a genuine classic. But 30 space bucks? Sure, why not.

Somewhere in there I picked up the band’s eponymous debut album, and I finally listened to it today. Suddenly, everything fell into place! I’ve never quite known what to make of Hawkwind, but after hearing where they started out, it all makes sense at last.

Yes, I know they’re a “festival” band, a predominantly live act given to playing extended jams; but it wasn’t until today I realized that they basically came from the same gene pool as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin: The UK psychedelic scene.

Hawkwind is a bit deceptive, because its bookend tracks are very bluesy… not that Zeppelin and Floyd didn’t dabble in blues in their early days as well, but I certainly didn’t expect to hear a freakin’ harmonica in a band known for playing trippy space-jams with echoing guitars and sci-fi synthesizers. But “Hurry on Sundown” (which opens the album) and “Mirror of Illusion” (which closes it) are very much in the late ’60s tradition of bluesy rock with just a hint of drug abuse.

Add some flute and I could easily hear some of these tunes on an early Jethro Tull record. Like this one, once the beat kicks in:

In between those tracks, however, the album is basically an extended in-studio improv session, an audience-free take on what was apparently their live act at the time. If MP3s had video tracks, Hawkwind would be accompanied by pinwheeling stripes painted in bold contrasting colors while scantily clad go-go dancers writhe on the floor. And yet, there’s just enough continuity with the band’s later sound — mostly the loose, live-in-the-studio sound and Dave Brock’s vocals and guitar — that I can piece together how they got from covering Pink Floyd’s “Cymbaline” (which is one of the album’s bonus tracks, along with a Willie Dixon cover) to reciting Michael Moorcock verse on-stage as explosions sounded in the background.

It’s a pretty weird band. I think they’re a keeper.

P.S., attentive readers may have noticed certain patterns forming in recent content, which involves fewer postings of material from GameSpite print books and more me trying to write about things that aren’t video games so I don’t go insane. This is not accidental. I’d say it’s an attempt to rebuild the site’s flagging readership, but since I’m stuck posting about things that interest me — amateurish food preparation, rudimentary fashion, and ancient esoteric music — I don’t imagine traffic’s going to be trending upward anytime soon.

19 thoughts on “Back to the acid-washed roots

  1. While I still enjoy reading your posts, the fact that content from three books ago is still not posted is a drag. I guess this is my punishment for not ordering the physical books.

    Are increased book sales an explanation for lower online readership? I know I wouldn’t read the site so often if I had the books.

    • What increased book sales? As of last month, those are down… (checks) uhhhh, let’s just say way down. As in, we’ve only sold four books total in the past four weeks. So, probably not.

  2. I’m late in posting my comment, but I picked up both Invisible Touch and Wurthering Wind last week at my local record store and couldn’t be happier with both extremes. Since music is for the most part cheaper than video games, it’s a lot easier to check out recommendations. Keep ’em coming.

  3. I dig the new direction the site is taking. In fact, I want more musical ruminations. So in that vein, I ask you this; considering your proclivity to 70’s prog, what do you think about Frank Zappa? Especially his early 70’s jazz fusion albums.

    • I’ve tried getting into Zappa without any real luck. Dude had some real musical talent, but it always seems buried beneath really obnoxious, juvenile lyrics.

      • Well, I’d don’t what you’ve heard yet but if you’ve listened to either One Size Fits All or Apostrophe (arguably his most “progressive” albums) and still feel unsure of Zappa, there’s still a few more options. If the lyrical content of the aforementioned albums are still the biggest hurdle, I recommend his largely vocal-less jazz albums (Hot Rats, Waka/Jawaka, and The Grand Wazoo). All five albums I’ve just mentioned are some of my favorites and I feel you’ll dig some stuff on there so i urge you to give Zappa just ONE more try. Start here, with one of FZ’s most achingly beautiful songs:

      • I used to own Hot Rats, and even that was too cutesy for me. Sometimes I take a while to grow into a band (Hawkwind and Van Der Graaf Generator took me almost 20 years, for instance). Maybe I’ll get there eventually.

      • Then perhaps you should check out Gorilla, the album he did with Warren Zevon, ever a man to impart juvenile lyrics with great dignity. Although I am reminded of a headline from The Onion, something like “Area Man Convinced His Friend Just Hasn’t Heard ‘The Right’ Zappa Album.”

  4. I know you’ve been mentioning your plummeting site traffic for a while now but did you notice it start to dip when you got a Twitter account? I get the feeling that a lot of the internet is satisfied with little micro-chunks of your thoughts in lieu of the long-form good stuff here.

    I’m also a cheap-ass who hasn’t ordered a couple of the books yet so I’m still waiting patiently for Curious Case of Andrew Vestal articles and Incredible Crisis ruminations and such, but if there are no plans to post further stuff I guess I need to bite the bullet and order. I just wish there were some better deals!

    • Oh, all the book stuff will go online eventually. I’m just trying to post more things besides material some people have already read.

      The dip in traffic actually coincided almost exactly with my being promoted to EIC of 1UP. I realize it’s just the result of my having less time to write here and feeling self-conscious about posting game-related material outside of work. Thus the push for more non-game-related material.

      • They’re one of the most celibrated acts of the past few years. I see the compared all the time to Crosby, Stills, and Nash but they really are they’re own thing.

        Very harmonious and lyrical. They do seem like something that would fit your tastes.

      • I remember reading an issue of (God help me) Entertainment Weekly that had brief interview with Geddy Lee in which he stated that their first album was his favorite of that year. Fantastic music with an added Geddy Lee seal of approval. How could you say no?

      • As Loki stated, they’re very “harmonious and lyrical.” However, they also have several complexly layered instrumental breaks. Their influences are refreshingly diverse and their material ranges from catchy 3 minute “prog Folk” songs to 7 minute suites.

        Here are a few tracks you might enjoy:

  5. I follow your site on RSS, so I get the first paragraph. I find myself more likely to click through for articles about food, fashion, and music. I’ve been playing video games as long as you have, and share similar tastes. So the game articles are secondary to me. The rest of the stuff is most likely to give me a fresh perspective.

  6. Fun Hawkwind fact: Fantasy author Michael Moorcock has collaborated with the band on many occasions, including writing the lyrics to some of songs and occasionally appearing on stage with them. I learned of the band from some book’s introduction, I think.

Comments are closed.