Rock ’n’ Freak

By Ed Denson

The Berkeley Barb, June 24, 1966


The attention of the press during the last 10 years has given the bohemians a heightened awareness of their group image, and as some from each generation have made it, going uptown and becoming suits, the remainder have chosen a new label to distinguish them from the sellouts. Today the really far outs live semi-consciously like pop art anarchistic slum dwellers, and, taking at term from the acid heads, call themselves freaks. The pejorative and split self-awareness which produced that label runs, like a neurosis, thru all their public manifestations.

Beat expression tended to be obscure, either jazz or poetry for the most part, and even their prose rarely reached many people. Today the whole bohemian scene has turned to rock as a means of communication and expression and its messages are reaching more people than ever before, although in a somewhat distorted form. For the most part commercial pressures have cut the meat out of the message, leaving it suited for the mass market. The freaks’ expression is distorted by exaggeration and overstatement of precisely those elements which turn people off – like the denigration in Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” (Mr. Jones), the crudeness of the Fugs, the perversion in Warhol’s show.

Despite or because of this exaggeration, and the intensity which the far out can generate, their music has succeeded commercially and has a wide audience. The Fugs record is attracting attention in the trade papers, and when Warhol played the Fillmore the Chronicle society section covered it, and Chronicle society mixed with Haight-Ashbury to watch and listen.

For reasons which are quite various, concerning healthy climate, radical politics, and size of the liberated forces, Frisco has had few freak bands among its acid rockers, and those have lacked the intensity to have balls. Even our commercial rockers, the Airplane, are not very good – I’ve heard NYC arrangements of Other Side of This Life, a phony song anyhow, that would blow them away from the charts ... back to our story, gang. Sorry about that.

So it was left to the West Coast’s own New York City on its side, the center of the musical exploitation industry out here, the tasteless Mecca, Los Angeles, to produce the only West Coast freak band considered good enough to second act Warhol, and the first to record – the Mothers. Next to Warhol they really looked fine. For one thing they appeared real, while he is just a suit that looks dirty.

Dressed in Salvation Army rejects their go-go girls really looked like freaks, and before the evening was thru they had two renta-fuzz on the stage dancing with them while the group put down some incredible music. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear the words, so I was happy to get their two record lp on Verve.

Now that I’ve heard it, I’m not so happy. Commercialism is the great destroyer, and it lowered the Fugs’ power but it really got gross with the Mothers. To begin with the lp cover is terrible, a mixture of commercial pop art and the bad side of ESP covers. Heavy handed, the whole production.

Production, that’s the other problem. This record was designed to sell, to be teenie-bopper hip from the publicity man from MGM who wrote the letter trying to squarely explain what a Freakout was to the “Freak Map” which the record company will sell you.

The music itself is played by good musicians, when they can get out from under the studio help called in to jazz it up, and this is evident even from the inside spread of the lp where among the hundreds of names of people who have affected the music are included not only the two most famous LA underground guitarists, Vestine and Mann, but some of the most obscure 50’s r&b people – Sims, McNeely, Woods, Thornton ..

The first lp in the set is primarily “pop” r&b – it duplicates vocal and instrumental effects from older rhythm & blues with occasional asides involving a root beer stand, hair processing, and repairs to some car, to let you know about the band’s conception of the reality underlying the music.

Mixed in are some social comment songs – two self-consciously addressed to live audiences (“You’re A Probably Wondering Why I’m Here”) and one which gives definition (“Hungry Freaks Daddy”). There are some nice parts on this record, like the brilliant use of echo in “Who are the Brain Police” and some of the vocal parts, occasional phrases, but for the most part even high this would be a second rate lp. Perhaps bound by a concept of blandness being social parody, not enough interesting things are done by the group. Their boringness is as shocking as their visibility to an audience, I suspect.

The second lp is at least divided into good and bad. “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet” which is the entire 12:17 minutes (talk about exploitation) of side 4 is all bad. Side 3 which has “Help I’m a Rock" and “Trouble Every Day” (one for tripsters; one, protest) on it is generally good with a few nice things like “you can cool it, you can heat it, cause baby I don’t need it, take your tv tube and eat it” or the stereotyped Negro who “watches the rats go across the floor and makes up songs about being poor.”

But the best, most outspoken thing on the record is in the notes. If all of the protest had been as strong if not as true as the closer they used for the tourists at the Whiskey A Go-Go (LA) it would have been a first rate record. “If your children ever find out how LAME you really are, they’ll murder you in your sleep.”

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)