In the long, cool wash into the century's turn, the tides shifted and the futurist obsessions flipped to the retro rollercoaster, the valoriziation of the vintage. Suddenly, the old was new again, and nothing was cooler. It's tempting to lay it all at the feet of sampladelia: with everyone digging into piles of old records in search for loops and break, people were bound to start noticing all the great music they were pulling.
But then those currents were there from day one, certainly when hard rock and metal came into being as a supercharged form of the blues. All the British blues bands had their own take on the sound, the best ones getting it slight wrong in the best possible way. Take Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, who'd dig in deep with those large stretches of relatively straight up 12-bar blooze before lightning would strike with tunes like “I Loved Another Woman” and “The Green Manalishi”, or even the proto-Apollo ambience of “Albatross” and Green’s awesome instrumental “The Supernatural” back in The Bluesbreakers days.
And for that matter, what was Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band’s Safe As Milk but a warped take on peak-era Howlin' Wolf spiked with a dash of The Airplane? And no one would accuse The Good Captain of lacking vision. What about Muswell Hillbillies by The Kinks, a retro-reimagining of rootsy pre-rock sounds honed down to perfectly-realized hauntological mirage that practically created its own genre. To take it one step further, The White Album by The Beatles was almost entirely sepia-tinged excursions into rustic blues and country, which in a roundabout way led to the awesome proto-dusted sound of “Cry Baby Cry” and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, music of a shade that nobody would've ever heard before.
I can still remember “Gun” turning up relatively often at the time, more often than you'd expect. There was U2’s Pop-cover of the song turning up as a b-side to the Last Night On Earth single, emphasizing the “hip hop” feel of the original for a big beat extravaganza (there was even a Danny Saber floating around at the time). Even more interesting was “Lazy Divey” by Scott Weiland, which the record company figured was so reminiscent of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” that they left it off the album. I can still remember being crushed when I bought the album only to discover that the song was nowhere to be found! Oh well, it's a great album anyway, squarely in the tradition of Scott Walker, Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, and Peter Gabriel’s first four albums (and now, with the benefit of digital, I've got “Lazy Divey” tacked onto the end as a bonus track — “Yeeaaa boyyyyeeee!” — gives 17-year old me a high five).
And while we're on the subject, isn't “Novocaine For The Soul” by Eels basically a long lost track from The White Album? Is it dusted? Not dusted? ... I think it's dusted. They're basically recreating the “I'm Glad You're Mine” break, after all, aren't they? At any rate, Beck most certainly was dusted, and Odelay was him at his dustiest (and about as Tarantino retrodelic as it gets), with a country current (“Lord Only Knows”, “Ramshackle”, “Sissyneck”, etc.) running right through it that I can't help but think of whenever I hear “The Train Song*” by The Flying Burrito Bros.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the impulse had been there from day one, and was living large in the nineties. Even down to the return of exotica to currency, the lounge contingent, stuff that would've been laughed out of the room at rock hipsters up until then. Ironically enough, it was the suffocating post-Woodstock consensus that led to all this reinvestigation in the first place. Names like Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, 101 Strings, and Juan Garcia Esquivel were suddenly back on the menu. Take a chance on that The Three Suns LP? Well, why not!?
But what about Eden Ahbez? Dwelling at the outskirts, this O.G. L.A. outsider was stretching out into cosmic proto-The Doors territory, mapping California geology including everything from Chet Baker and David Axelrod to David Crosby and The Airplane into the psychogeography, buried in the earth before the fact and waiting to be discovered anew. Things get so far out of hand that before long you're envisioning the kosmische brigades hanging right there on the horizon — Can, Popol Vuh, and Agitation Free, “and that's just my short list” — it's all right there woodblock rhythm boxes (in spirit) and the atmospheric drift, lingering in the magenta haze as the surf crashes on the shore and then rolls back out to sea.
You could pick all this up in something like Alpha or AIR, hear the currents running through, but then there was that strange other side of the coin where the live bands come into play. I'm talking about the way Tortoise went all in with the exotica strain coarsing through their music on TNT, or Red Snapper working the angles between multiple threads on Prince Blimey, the way the surf, the tremolo guitar glides against those rock hard beads and dubbed-out horns beneath a Gainsbourg moon. The breakbeat manalishi, where the cosmic thrust of the sprawling years circulating the kosmische era gets submerged in breakbeat science. The offbeat path's trajectory launching into a thousand directions at once, where even Moonshake, Morphine, and The Jesus Lizard come into play. Tuatara. Peter Buck too? There's no going back now. There's no going back.
Strains of FSOL’s "Carlos" on the airwaves, organs swelling in the mist, the Art Science Technology. Memories of long lost vistas and afternoons sweeping into desert evenings, the cacti and the rock formations, the Joshua Trees and the deep wide sky. Back in the city some 35 years later but you never really leave. There's things they can take away, and other things they can't. Reese records in the white hot El Cajon afternoon, dreams of the airwaves, locked in control of the control room, any station would do. Dreaming of the dreamer, listen to the music through the haze of a waking dream. “Ladies & Gentlemen”. “Little Child Runnin' Wild”. “Black But Sweet”. “Wilmot”. The Sabres Of Paradise on a warm evening breeze, Haunted Dancehall. Eyes close on another day, soon to open on the next. But once you open the gate, there's no going back. There's no going back... there's no going back.