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THE BEST YEARS II - ESKIMO FRY BY JEREMY GLUCK
I arrived at Terminal 3 in March of 1978 holding a bag containing, amongst few other things, “Raw and Alive: The Seeds In Concert” purchased at Arthur’s Place, Bank Street, Ottawa, and duly handed to Robin Wills, who I had met in London the previous year, bonded and thereafter corresponded with, and finally agreed to start a band with. We got into town (I can still see myself on the rattling Tube train entering London again) and went straight to the flat of our erstwhile drummer Mike, where Robin played me “Clash City Rockers”, my appraisal of which – “It sounds like The Beatles” – caused him much amusement. 

Based on my post-imperial education, the death throes of a world where the map was mostly, stubbornly British-pink – including enormous Canada with its frozen wastes conquered and colonised in principle, if not in practise, all its numerous Nanooks Queen-crunchers to a caribou’ed man – Britain would be smaller, of course, than Canada, but better. My holiday in London in the Jubilee summer of ’77 had hipped me to the truth, exposing a world of oversized coins and notes, underworldly public housing and intermittently infuriating public services deficits, yet when I made the bigger break in ’78 I was in semi-denial.

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Let’s jump. It’s 1979 or 80, and a green Earls Court kebab the worse for it, I am shakily negotiating Kings Cross en route to one of the futile meetings that at the time characterised my daily round. I am Day Four of puking but determined to do “career”. It’s unreal now, because at the time The Barracudas signed to EMI (the biggest record company in the world yada yada and the photo on the “Beatles balcony” and tequila in the afternoon with large-breasted secretaries the whole nine no make that ten yards) I wrote my brother telling him so and he logically thought it was a joke but was deadly serious: a few years before I was still kicking my heels in Ridgemont High, drunk in the exams, wasting my life in advance. Yet the dream had come true and I am in the concourse of the old Kings Cross, post-Victorian-poisoned, dressed in my fancier clothes and even sporting a bloody umbrella – and I hate umbrellas – feeling not-good-weird and then, not far from the escalators down to the Piccadilly Line, I just puke on the floor. And go home. Meeting not. Just as well as a few meetings hence Robin and were tripping the whole time through and missed the point. The walls were moving and so, like detritus dissolving in the taintless stomach of the corporate beast, were we, whirling down the colon.

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The Barracudas three times recorded at Rockfield Studios, Monmouth, Wales, where Dave Edmunds and the Groovies made records that I still listen to constantly, marvelling at the wall of twelve-string sound, Chris Wilson’s vocals (that later in sharp contrast graced my own in The Barracudas, a matter of great pride to this day) and a feel that with psychic surgical reach divines the guts of rock’n’roll, rips ‘em to daylight and lets you go sensurround on its ass.

The first time at Rockfield was, too, the proverbial dream come true: bastard children of the Groovies, we had a Grail thing going about this pilgrimage. EMI let the boys rock’n’roll. And rock’n’roll we did, crudely cutting our surf-punk set-pieces.

The second time down Rockfield was quite different. It was midwinter. I didn’t know then that one day I would live down the road, deeper in Wales, raise kids there, discover a different world of beautiful and sometimes intimidating woods and beaches, eventually bottom out, breakdown and then be resurrected. All I knew was that after a minor hit and two stiffs (or three?) the heat was on from the label to make an album that would take The Barracudas out the ghetto. We hunkered down in the ‘field, conceived and executed the two-sided “Drop Out” – to distinguish our twin obsessions of pop and psych-punk “Up” and “Down”, with the latter in ascendancy  - and did our  best to play true to our school while still paying lip service to the company, even then prioritising Iron Maiden and Duran Duran. And, sure, what did we ever sell?

Three insane weeks. Working hard. The one night I remember best of them all has to be my birthday of that 1980 year. The girlfriends were down to honour me and, given our intense, stressed, chemically compromised conditions (especially Robin and I, Nick and Dave listed to the sensible) this was a humungous mistake.  Whatever. After our supper the girls set to preparing the birthday bonanza, cake etc. Robin lured me away meanwhile to his room and proffered his present. When we emerged some timeless later the glacial collective countenance of the girlfriends gathered there told a story so terrible it was lucky that I was spared it, ironically, by my own telltale numbness. And so the session went and I won’t even get into my calling parents in Canada later that night and, for reasons I’ll keep to myself, upon their answering not being able to remember who they were.

Third time and it was all change. Not long before I had, crucially, gone straightedge. No booze, no drugs, vegetarian, swimming my ass off when home at the old Cally Road pool five mornings a week. This 180 was precipitated by a stark realisation in the Burger King at Victoria where, returning for our truncated first French tour of early 83 to promote Mean Time, I was drugged for bronchial pneumonia caught on the road and very much in tune with my wretched, wrecked mortality. I said to Mark, our beleaguered roadie, that if I kept it up I’d be touring a coffin soon enough. Something in me said, Stop! I did. The last time I ate meat was lamb couscous a stone’s throw from the Kasbah in Algiers, where in ’82 our Parisienne agent made us the first rock’n’roll band to play the place since the revolution. Drinking stopped on the June Banzai tour of the south of France the following June. I was clean. Got to Rockfield III reborn, clear-headed, prepared. I actually saw Monmouth, the surroundings, experienced it. Chris cried when he got there, sentimental to a fault but, hey, with the Groovies he cut some of the greatest rock’n’roll in history: if I’d written and sung “Shake Some Action” I’d cry, too.

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I discovered the Groovies courtesy of Mark Jones. Mark and his older brother Evan were the sons of a high-level Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. They’d been in Iran as kids while Dad briefed the Shah and his secret police on fine points of punishment and landed back (via Hong Kong, too, where the family acquired and adopted daughter, Kim) in a classy part of Ottawa’s Alta Vista just in time for Mark to blow high school and Evan to attempt university. A fellow Ridgemont High alumni, I noticed Mark one day when I passed his open locker and glimpsed within as much at that time as a musical Masonic handshake: pictures of Iggy, the Groovies, The Kinks (Mark loved them) and other bands known to we then marginalised music maniacs. A conversation ensued and I was shortly a regular fixture at the Jones’s weekend shindigs when, their parents ensconced at the proverbial cottage, they would buy bulk beer and spend the weekend with their friends, drinking, blasting great music, crashing parties and running amok in Evan’s small red car. Indeed, along with my older brother, the Jones brothers were my real education, my teachers, mentors and, often in the case of Evan, my tormentors. Many a Sunday dawn was greeted to the strains of “Teenage Head”. I got into “Shake Some Action”, though it would be some years yet and courtesy of Record & Tape Exchange trade-ins before knew the entire Sire canon so that, by the time Chris Wilson joined the band and played and wrote with us, it was as though a god has descended from Olympus to a squat in Fulham to play Robin and I Groovies’ tunes on request on a battered acoustic.

The entire genesis of The Barracudas’ taking into captivity and collaboration with a real-life Flamin’ Groovie remains one of the treasures of my life. The day I received my copy of Mean Time and saw on its label the credit “Gluck-Wilson” I exalted. From the Jones’ living room to my real, intended life, the arc was stark. I had, in my own small way, arrived at myself. Whatever happened to damage my spirits – and finally much did, though never irreparably – nobody could take away from me that I had written, recorded and released a song (and soon more) with Chris Wilson, whose singing and songs seared themselves had seared themselves into me irremovably. And that, to quote the peerless wisdom of the Blue Oyster Cult, is “the way it goes, that’s rock’n’roll”…

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My love affair with the Blue Oyster Cult also has deep, deep roots. In 1973 upon its release my brother purchased their second Columbia release, “Tyranny and Mutation”. Now, don’t get me wrong, “Raw Power” is a mighty title but, come on, “Tyranny and Mutation”? You just knew that, to quote that nameless radio op in “Apocalypse Now”, “it’s gonna be a big one”. Except that “big” doesn’t quite cover “Tyranny and Mutation” and its carpet bombing of the early Seventies senses. Here was a band, New York based, built on bass and drums courtesy of Montreal, boasting in Buck Dharma already in his youth one of the great rock guitarists and in Eric Bloom a vocalist to die for, throwing in lyrics from counterculture vulture Richard Meltzer, with quasi-mystical iconography bordering on the fascistic enough to have the Jewish Defence League up in arms and with song titles like “O.d.’d on Life Itself” and (get this) “Mistress of the Salmon Salts” all welded into a tower of power answering to a self-made brief to merge Black Sabbath and The Beach Boys. “That’s rock’n’roll”, mate, and not just here but on Mars!

Any other band, after a second album of such titanic power, would have simply broken up, pulled up sticks, headed to the country, started another kinda cult, milked and molested wealthy flower children and invested in stocks and shares sufficient to bankroll Mai Tai’s unto a decadent dotage. Not our Cult. They proceeded to make more inscrutable, brilliant albums, one of which included “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, the ultimate anti-pop hit, with its death stats, Gothic morbidity, demi-monde riffola and, even by Buck’s heroic standards, a solo worthy of inscription on an emperor’s tomb. As Mark Jones said, some music is religious; to him this meant the Groovies and to his brother The Stooges. To me, sometimes, it was and still is the Blue Oyster Cult, whose line “It’s the nexus of the crisis and the origin of storms”, from “Astronomy”, remains my all-time fave lyric precisely because after like 36 years I have no real idea what the hell it means! “The nexus of the crisis”? Sounds good, I want me some of that crisis just so I can have its nexus! Please don’t be offended, but much as The Stooges music can be crazy, the Blue Oyster Cult’s is truly insane, with an internal dialogue, logic and lingo of all its own that, at its best, introduces you not just to music but to magic. And, that’s, yeah…you know. Now say “Wings Wetted Down” ten times fast and get outa here!

Did the Blue Oyster Cult influence The Barracudas? The whole question of influence in music is perennially unanswered. I am not ashamed to think in terms of theft. Why prance around it? Yet, there is delicacy to be had. The osmotic world of the evolving music addict is a mysterious one. I never was literally influenced by the Cult in my Barracudas guise. However, on the ‘cudas song “Dead Skin” I do cop a spoken line from their “ETI”: “Wait, there’s more.”But that’s crass theft, no riff has changed hands. You call it. To me it’s homage. In other words, in rock’n’roll terms: theft.

Influence is so organic and holographic that it has more to with mysticism than music. F’r example, certain vocal inflections will suddenly enter my voice precisely imprinted from beloved performances by other singers and be replicated with remarkable precision. It’s not even “influence”. It’s more, um, inference. Their work infers itself into mine. I am influenced most, I suppose, by Alan Vega, singer of Suicide and one the greatest vocalists, lyricists and stylists of his time. It’s Vega’s use of his voice, variously like a shovel to your head all the way across to a caress to your heart that kills me. His Elvis thing is obvious, we don’t even need to touch that; it’s his strange, insinuating, penetrating and often hypnotising voice, trailing from the stars into your head, which is so seductive. His art is perfect.

So that’s a real influence, and the gasps and sighs of Vega became my own. I submerged myself in a tank of Suicide for years and owned that shit. It was a tank inside a tank inside a tank until it was a whole world called “rock’n’roll” and I lived there, I got fat and I bottom fed and I gorged on music. It made working lately with Suicide discoverer Marty Thau a total trip. It want all the way back to pretentious teenage lyrics that became previous twenties lyrics and one day piercing human lyrics, timeless. Now the world calls out to me and I want my art perfect, like Vega’s, like at their peak the Cult, like Van. That’s the bar, the benchmark and there is nothing else worth aiming for. I may never get there, might not cut it, might have to crawl under to get home. Or never get home at all.

Jeremy Gluck 17/03/10

www.myspace.com/jsgluck 

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