Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sky Saxon, 1937(?)-2009

Sky Saxon died on June 25th. If you’re not familiar, he was the singer of the Seeds, the great 60s garage punk band probably best known for the song “Pushin’ Too Hard.” Saxon’s eulogizers tend to dismiss the Seeds as “rudimentary” (as if the best rock’n’roll isn’t), and even in their day they were sometimes considered disposable. But if you actually listen to them with fresh ears you see that this isn’t the full story. Listen to the guitar solo in “Pushin’ Too Hard.” It might be easy enough to play the notes, but how many people actually get that sound, especially now, and who would use it? Listen to the singing on “Painted Doll.” That’s a great voice, and actually kind of reminiscent of 50s doo wop, in an ostensibly “limited” 60s psychedelic milieu.

Not long ago, when Ron Asheton died, critics were coming out of the woodwork describing the Stooges too as a “rudimentary” group. I've got news for you — that’s the point; that’s a good thing. In the Stooges’ case, a basic song structure provided the foundation for some pretty amazing and intense playing, especially by Ron Asheton. I’m not saying that the Seeds were as good as the Stooges, but for anyone who likes rock’n’roll, the Seeds have their place in the pantheon of 60s punk, the often overlooked genre perhaps best anthologized on the Nuggets compilation albums.

Punk as we conceive of it today of course originated with the CBGBs scene in mid-70s New York City (the Sex Pistols, as great as they were, and that whole British scene, were slightly later aspirants). But in the 60s, while the Beatles et al. ruled the charts, there were kids picking up guitars and putting bands together whether or not they were fully “trained” musicians. Oftentimes the very lack of training made for a good result, and the Seeds encapsulated much of that sound, adding their own nuances to it. In the early 80s, American hardcore punk bands were doing something of the same thing. It was about sound and intensity (and speed), not about virtuoso playing. After a few years, when hardcore bands had learned to play better, the scene went in a different direction because people wanted to be more intricate. Some good stuff was still happening, but it wasn’t the same as that initial wave of Minor Threat, etc.

The idea being that at various points in time there must always be a return to the basics of rock’n’roll, which is volume and intensity and soul, and a handful of chords, without a lot of artifice. When the Seeds were at their best, that is what they represented.

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