Terrastock '97, by Byron Coley


This review was originally intended to appear in the special Terrastock issue of the Ptolemiac Terrascope. For reasons absolutely unconnected to drugs, it did not.

Many years ago the artist Robert Williams told me a story about the first time that he and Robert Crumb attended a convention of underground comix fans. They had both been working in isolation from their audience and had imagined them in all sorts of romanticized ways. Williams said that he expected to find a ballroom full of long-haired, tough ass radical guys and an equal number of (pardon the expression) buxom hippie mamas. When he and Crumb actually made the scene, however, they found it to be a disturbing morass of inarticulate, doughy fanboys of the sort later associated with Star Trek fandom. Both artists were sorely disappointed and neither of them deigned to attend a similar event afterwards.

Anyone who has engaged in extensive long distance correspondance, especially as it relates to fanzine writing has experienced something similar. Quite often the image that people present of themselves via long distance non-video-aided communication has less than dick to do w/reality. People who seemed normal in their letters turn out to be quite a bit stranger than they'd let on. Others, whose opinions seemed to be grounded in knowledge, reveal themselves to be little more than pimps and shills for some imaginary board of ultimate hipsterism, in whose service they have stopped thinking for themselves. Having run into a lot of these goddamn monkeys over the years, it is always with trepidation that I approach an event such as Terrastock -- one at which I will be forced to finally put faces to at least a few long distance "friends".

But the lure of Providence, RI is such that no one who has ever tasted its charms can resist another opportunity to sup of its goodness. So I pitched a sleeping bag in the back of the van, kissed my family goodbye, and began trying to follow the meager directions I'd been given. Actually, the festival's allure had nothing to do w/ the sad siren song of Providence. The primary reasons to attend the event were to see a few of the vaunted contemporary bands that'd be there and, even more, to catch wind of a few of the geezerly artists who'd escaped me previously. As a cadet-geezer myself, it seemed entirely likely that this might be my last chance to catch some of these codgers in actual motion. Once I arrived it became clear from the assembled t-shirts, however, that most of the youngsters who braved the rickety stairs leading to the festival hall were on hand to see their peers. But that's okay. Fuck 'em.

For me, the festival's highpoints were largely geezer-oriented. Silver Apples began the event w/ a gorgeous barrage of syrupy electro-gopped fuh, that was not wildly incongruent w/ what one would have expected of the original duo. Crude, huzzing sequencer nodes thunked through the air whilst Simeon decanted his lyrics w/ the required detachment and the whole room began to glow w/ an ominous radiation. Dan's banjo playing was missed at times, but it was awfully cool to see Simeon doing weird little keyboard filigrees that had less than nothing to do w/ what was going on around him. It seemed like a "move" in the best Silver Apples tradition. The band's reformed status had led to such a confounding and not altogether-complimentary series of reports that I feared the worst when they hit the stage. This made their set an even more extreme pleasure than it might have otherwise been, and set a fine atmosphere for that which would follow.

The second verifiable geezer to make his presence felt was Mick Farren, leading the 73th unit to fly the Deviants banner. Never having had the opportunity to Farren perform before, my expectations for his set were as mixed as they had been for the Silver Apples. For all I knew he could be doing an all-rap show by this point. But jesus, the old bastard delivered all the goods promised and then some. Although it is probaby provocational to mention this in relation to the post-ego torpor that seems to envelope the current psych underground, there are certain gifted performers whose charismatic power is capable of producing a palpable sense of excitement. Mick Farren, long of tooth and gray of temple though he might be, is in full possession of this ineffible "it". Prowling the stage like an amphetamine-drenched cheetah, babbling stories in the uknown tongue, Farren was nothing short of magnificent. Barbara Manning's free-form dance frenzy at the side of the stage all through the Deviants' set was mighty fine too. I had never seen Babara in full-blown San Franscisco ballroom mode before and it was quite becoming.

The final geezer to make an appearance was Tom Rapp, erstwhile animating spirit of Pearls Before Swine. Aided by his son, w/ additional "help" from a couple of besotted gatecrashers at one point, Rapp's short set was a sweet wave of cystalline magic. His new material contains all the melancholy surrealism of his early work and his playing and singing were exquisite. His son also proved to be a valuable foil to his performance, both musically and as a straight man. It is rumored that this appearance is just the start of Rapp's return to live performance. If this is true, the world is a better place for it. As are you. Nobody else on the bill was a true geezer, so I'm sure that others will deal w/ them at length. There were certainly other musical delights: Barbara's beautiful Saturday morning set, Cul de Sac's french-fried rage, the pure-light-zone reached by Azuza Plain, the bombast of Bevis, etc. etc etc. Overall, I preferred the young bands that drew upon the Feelies as unnamed source more than I did those who drew upon Green on Red, but that's a matter of taste.

I will also say that I was not disappointed in the physical and moral qualities of those who I met at this event for the first time. In particular, Phil McMullen and his odious sidekick, Nick Saloman, are as filthy a pair of Kirk and Spock lookalikes as have ever sullied my presence. Both of them spent the entire weekend roaring drunk, verbally and physically abusing anyone unfortunate enough to fall inside their sphere of influence. We are lucky that this sphere rarely moved more than a foot away from the free beer pyramid backstage. When I think that this show might have benefited the pair financially, I can only doff my hat to those doughty members of the Providence Fire Dept. who fleeced the promoters out of most of the money they might have made. If it takes such chicanery to keep our country clear of the likes of McMullen and Saloman -- SO BE IT!