What Does Love Have To Do With It?

“I think love lyrics have contributed to the general aura of bad mental health in America. Love lyrics create expectations which can never be met in real life, and so the kid who hears these tunes doesn’t realize that that kind of love doesn’t exist. If he goes out looking for it, he’s going to be a kind of love loser all his life…The singer-songwriters who write these lyrics earn their living by pretending to reveal their innermost personal turmoil over the way love has hurt them, which creates a false standard that people use as a guideline on how to behave in interpersonal relationships.”
Frank Zappa, interviewed by John Winokur, 1992

Whether you agree or disagree with Zappa’s take on the love song, you have to admit that love songs have had a significant impact on interpersonal relationships and vice versa, and this has been true probably going back to before the first written lyrics ever existed. Now, let me clarify here. I am talking about, and it is obvious that Zappa was referring to, romantic love.

For the sake of not getting too dense in describing the concept of love, let me just state that we all know there are various types of love; the ancient Greeks divided it into four basic types – Eros, Philia, Storge, and Agape. And to me there seem to be shades and blendings of these types to create a huge quilt of love varieties. Romance falls primarily into the domain of Eros, but there are still so many mixes. Now we could go deeper with distinctions between the noun “love”, and the verb “love”. But, let’s not. Suffice it to say that several concepts can be thrown into the mix involving romantic love for good measure: eroticism, sexuality, sensuality, spirituality, intimacy, physical attraction, truth, Platonism, affection…why don’t I just use a Thesaurus?

I am stating the obvious when I say there are few topics not covered by music and lyrics, but when it comes to selling music as a product in a capitalist society, sex and romance sell the best. Right? They are powerful driving forces in human relationships and people can go from extreme highs to extreme lows when expressing their feelings about them – and this is always great material for the songwriter. But because of the millions of songs about this topic, it would become rather bland to just write about the love song. Rather, I am interested in the more unique observations, stand-out lyrics that reflect real emotions and situations people experience, or the mixing of unlikely ideas with the idea of love. So here are some stand-outs that I have had the pleasure of meeting.

Animal Collective – Applesauce For the past 30 years, music has taken advantage of the video to get a point across, and this music video stands out for me in a quasi-erotic and yet philosophical way. As with many other Animal Collective compositions, lyrics are vague yet clear enough to take them on several different trips. This music video features a silhouette of a woman eating some type of fruit – a peach, maybe, but definitely not an apple – with lyrics that make reference to people going away. The erotic aspect of the video is that she eats the fruit very s-l-o-w-l-y, getting it all over her face. All you see is her face around her mouth and nose along with the disappearing fruit. To me, this perhaps portrays a lover that is leaving; or perhaps that the singer is being consumed by his lover until his own identity disappears. Or could it be that the song is about people dying or otherwise leaving our lives just like rotting or eaten fruit? Could it really be that simple? It is a very thoughtful composition, and lyrically intriguing, but for me, musically, it falls flat without the video. The video is exquisite in my book. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIbtYzjLuMo

Joni Mitchell – A Case of You Few artists are as gifted as Joni Mitchell in writing about real human relationships, usually drawn from her own experiences. Taylor Swift has a long way to go to get to this level. Few love songs have captured passion in such a simplistic way as how Joni does here. The Appalachian dulcimer and solo voice balance the intensity of the lyrics in describing her declarations of ambivalence, surrender, and devotion to her lover. Frank Zappa be damned, this is a hot song! From the Joni Mitchell album, “Blue”. The link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YuaZcylk_o

Gary Numan – Cars; Queen – I’m In Love With My Car; Steve Miller Band – Mercury Blues; The Dead Milkmen – Bitchin’ Camaro; Autosalvage – Auto Salvage There is a certain fascination with cars in Western culture. In my choices here I try to remain familiar to the reader but there are literally hundreds of songs that could replace these. Gary Numan’s song could be considered a Zen-like experience of becoming one with his car. I can identify with his sentiments when I drive long distances by myself. My mind races with a variety of thoughts while another part of my brain is on autopilot, almost one with the car in that sense. Could it be a form of love? On the other hand, this song could be using the car as a metaphor for isolation, where he is asking if you will visit him if he opens his door so that he does not feel so isolated. In this sense, there seems to be a longing for a loving, trustful relationship where he can avoid the eventual demise that isolation brings. It has been said that Numan suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and knowing this makes it more likely that this is about isolation, but for me it could work either way. Queen takes it a step further as the writer openly declares his love for his car. Or is it all double entendre? It could be, or it could be that Roger Taylor was expressing his carsexual tendencies. Objects, such as cars, do not talk back, so it could be he was expressing his preference for a powerful four-wheeled machine over a human love relationship. Or it could simply be a healthy enjoyment of vehicles and driving fast. Steve Miller was not the first person to record “Mercury Blues” but he may be the first to bring it to the general public. It was written by K.C. Douglas and Robert Geddins in the late 40s, originally known as “Mercury Boogie”. Several major artists have recorded and popularized the song since the Steve Miller Band’s 1976 release. The song expresses a love for Mercury vehicles as a means to “getting the girl”. It also expresses a love for cruising but let’s not get too deep here. This song means just exactly what it says. I used to love my Saturn vehicles. Still have one. I was very sad when that line was terminated by GM. The Dead Milkmen get even further away from the concept of love with their comedic song, “Bitchin’ Camaro”. But it is not that far off from “Mercury Blues” so I included it here. There is a reference to The Doors’ “Love Me Two Times” in the song, but then they get silly with sick humor, associating it with AIDS. Again, there is no intended deep meaning here; just fun in a mock-adolescent, braggadocios manner. Autosalvage is the only obscure group I mention here. They had only one LP, issued in 1968, but it did not go anywhere and the band folded a year later. The band name actually came after the song. Zappa heard them rehearsing and suggested they name their band after their song, “Auto Salvage”. They took his advice. The song pays homage to all the variety of vehicles on the road at that time, but it goes further. No matter which one you think is the best, they are all equal in the auto salvage yard. Could this be a reference to life? Such a variety of people and personalities but in death we have the ultimate equalizer. So, whoever you love or admire, we all come to the same end, and all that love and admiration is done at that point. And I am done discussing love and cars. Links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6YMAvfwTFo ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaEM4JYFPfw ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJJvyPXPssg ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1v3CzvQ9e_w ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY6KVmx4E8U

Susan Christie – I Love Onions A novelty song from 1966 in a vaudeville/jug band style, this was Susan Christie’s only charting release. The song speaks for itself. And I love onions, too. Just a side note – in 1969 Susan recorded a rather dark album of songs for Columbia but they did not release it due to a lacking of commercial potential, so they thought. It is now available on CD. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KM-lEhhsLQw

The Captain & Tennille – Muskrat Love Introducing Susie and Sam; two fornicating muskrats. This was written and recorded by Willis Alan Ramsey as “Muskrat Candlelight” but then America changed the title and had a hit with it. The Captain & Tennille took it to # 30 in 1976. No-one knows why. Later a parody was created entitled “Hamster Love” by Big Daddy, where the little critters frizzled and sizzled on the stove and a boy is heard to exclaim that the hamster sandwiches are delicious. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjqeNoi6EmM ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSt2RoZ8Ek4

So let’s deviate some more by looking at some deviations to the concept of sexual/mental love.

The Velvet Underground – Venus in Furs Most people reading this are familiar with this song, composed by Lou Reed. Recorded in 1966 by VU, it has been covered by many artists. But few are familiar with the cover of this ode to sadomasochism by Prydwyn recorded on solo acoustic guitar with male/female voices in a very dark medieval complexion. I like both versions, depending on my mood. The concept of the song was inspired by a novella of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch as part of his “Love” series. The references to a character named Severin in the song come directly from the novel’s character, Severin von Kusiemski. Alternative sexual themes are common in the music of The Velvet Underground, but this was one of their first and most striking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfN1-YeBnA8

Jefferson Airplane – Triad This is a David Crosby composition, and was recorded and performed by The Byrds in 1967, but was left off “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” LP because Roger McGuinn thought it was too risqué for public release. The in-fighting regarding release of the song was one of the things that led to Crosby being fired from The Byrds in late 1967. But Crosby found an outlet with the Jefferson Airplane, who included it on their “Crown of Creation” LP in 1968. Sung beautifully by Grace Slick, with a lush chord progression, it is a story of a ménage à trois. This is not an uncommon theme in today’s music, but in the 60’s it was unheard of. Decades later, The Byrds’ version was released on compilation albums and as a bonus track on The Notorious Byrd Brothers CD. There are also cover versions, most recently by Tina Dico in 2008. Here is the link to Jefferson Airplane’s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKV9WFxDSfg

King Crimson – Cadence and Cascade The song is an allegory regarding dualism, cleverly cloaked in sensual innuendo on the surface. This was released on the King Crimson “In the Wake of Poseidon” LP in 1970 with lyrics by Peter Sinfield. The song is an essential piece to the album’s theme of Eros and strife. The characters of the song are Cadence, Cascade, and Jade. Cadence represents the formal structure of Logos, thinking, consciousness, ordered rhythm, or the Yang. Cascade represents uncontrolled energy, chaos, Eros, and Yin. Jade is balancing, grounding, and strengthening. The words are breathtakingly exquisite, hitting on both a sensual and spiritual level. The music is gentle and melodic, yet pensive. Highly recommended. Sinfield proves himself to be an erudite masterful lyricist here.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpZqSg6U53E

The Fugs – The Garden Is Open This is a cleverly disguised mating ritual with lyrics by Tuli Kupferberg. The Fugs pushed the envelope in the 1960’s, even further than Frank Zappa, regarding sex and profanity in music, thus staying vastly unpopular commercially, but revered in the underground music scene. From the Tenderness Junction LP of 1967, this song is one of their best with regard to musical and lyrical aesthetics, and it has a menacing electric violin solo reminiscent of John Cale’s viola on Velvet Underground’s recordings. There is a very experimental cover of this song by Valinger/ZeBB/Runolf floating around on the Internet.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1C9omgNzAAU

There are many songs about loving dogs or being loved like a dog. Salty Dog Blues first comes to mind. This song has been recorded by several country and bluegrass artists over the years (I first heard it performed by Buck Owens & The Buckaroos) and has become quite sanitized from its original sexually suggestive beginnings in the early 1900’s. Cat Stevens – I Love My Dog is a harmless song about a man’s affection for his dog. But Patti Page – How Much Is That Doggie In The Window smacks of dog prostitution if you ask me. Is Lobo – Me and You and a Dog Named Boo about a bestial ménage à trois? The Beatles – Martha My Dear sounds even more to the point. Who would have known McCartney was having a yiffing good time with his dog, Martha? For me I will stick with The Stooges – I Wanna Be Your Dog which at least keeps things on the human level; perhaps a bit furrie, but still human. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U9mdVn0jSQ ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qcqk_SEsLPU ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=safoNysTrbE ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TFQeJ-pQJ4 ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pK5jy5rYeYg ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJIqnXTqg8I

One of the worst uses of the concept of love in music happens with what is called Contemporary Christian Music. In the past 30 years, I have heard some really bizarre songs where female and male vocalists sound like they are longing for a physical romantic relationship with Jesus. One could be forgiving of this if it was more obvious they were using a creative metaphor. However, either due to the lyrical limitations of the writers, or the shallow, sappy slobbering of the singers, this never is convincing and just leaves me feeling uncomfortable and undesirous of such a closer walk with Thee. Here are some stand-outs: Paul Baloche – Falling; Kirk Whalum – Falling In Love With Jesus. There are many more artists, and the female singers make me even more squeamish. Pick any of them on Internet sources such as Amazon and you will see what I mean.

Getting away from all that, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of my all-time favorite love songs, Like a Lover, written by Alan Bergman, Dorival Caymmi, Marilyn Bergman and Nelson Motta. It was first released by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 in 1968 with Lani Hall as the lead vocalist. This is my favorite version. It captures the longing one feels when apart from a new lover. The lyrics are beautiful and the melody is a perfect fit. Check it out online. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BF4pN19mXws

The Mothers of Invention – How Could I Be Such a Fool This brings us full circle. From their 1966 “Freak Out!” LP, this is a Frank Zappa-penned…song of rejection in love! Oh my! Was Zappa trying to contribute to mental illness in society? When he said what he said in 1992, I wonder if he thought about what he wrote in the 60’s. This is actually a very well-constructed song that starts out in a ¾ waltz style, and the lyrics sound like they are grounded in experience. Unusual time changes occur to produce a sense of drama. One of his best. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpYmHNicnkQ

I hope this whets your appetite to hear some of the selections mentioned above. I stayed largely, but not totally, with the era of the late 60s to early 70s, simply because that is the era that interests me the most. This is an inexhaustible topic and one I might find myself coming back to in future blog posts.


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L to R: Billy Watson, Whitney Shay, Robin Henkel

I have been on the road a large portion of the past month and a half, so it has been limited pickings as far as getting out to hear what is going on in the local music scene. And sometimes when I could go out, I had too much to do at home to get out, or I was simply too jet lagged. I did get out to see Robin Henkel (guitars, vocals), Whitney Shay (vocals), and Billy Watson (harmonica, vocals) at Proud Mary’s on October 8. While hearing all three artists in the past, I had never heard the three of them together until now. It was a nice fit. Robin had just had his birthday a few days before, so Whitney surprised him with a little birthday celebration during their performance. A couple days later Robin Henkel & his Horn Band were at Lestat’s. The advertised time was an hour early, so we hung out at the coffee shop until it was time to go over. With Robin was Jodie Hill on bass, Troy Jennings on saxes, and Gary Nieves on drums. Another fun evening. I have written about all of these artists in the past. Take my word for it, if you are in San Diego, you need to see them. You will not be disappointed.

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L to R: Robin Henkel, Jodie Hill, Troy Jennings, Gary Nieves

On November 6, we attended the “Evening with Songwriters” at Java Joe’s hosted by Bart Mendoza, and also featuring Dave Humphries and Kimm Rogers. Supporting these fine songwriters and performers were Mike Alvarez, Mark DeCerbo, Samuel Martinez, Patric Petrie, and Beezie Gerber. The evening started out with Bart and Patric doing a number, followed by Bart and Samuel (of the Bassics). Then Bart and Mark did several songs, with Dave helping out on harmony on one song, and Patric joining in for a couple songs. Next up was Kimm and Beezie with several of Kimm’s songs. I had never heard Kimm Rogers before and I am now sold on her. She is not only a wonderful singer, but her lyrics are well crafted vignettes of real life situations, full of power and emotion. Finally, we had Dave Humphries and Mike Alvarez, with some 60s UK pop tunes along with many of Dave’s own songs. Dave, who hails from Durham, UK, weaves anecdotes of his time with Tony Sheridan (of Tony Sheridan and the Silver Beetles fame) and with Badfinger’s Joey Molland into his song intros, subtly letting us know he was there when it all started in the 60s. This was a fine evening of great music performed by some of the best.

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Bart Mendoza and Samuel Martinez

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L to R: Patric Petrie, Bart Mendoza, Mark DeCerbo

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Kimm Rogers and Beezie Gerber

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L to R: Bart Mendoza, Dave Humphries, Mike Alvarez

November 7, we noted that the Robin Henkel Band was appearing at Proud Mary’s. This configuration had Caleb Furgatch on string bass, Troy Jennings and David Castel de Oro on saxes, Big Al Schneider on drums, and of course, Robin on super-collider guitars and vocals. The band was exceptionally “on” with some great solo work from everyone. Wonderful Americana in the form of blues and jazz with many penned by Robin as well.

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L to R: Robin Henkel, Caleb Furgatch, Al Schneider, Troy Jennings, David Castel de Oro

November 8 is the second Sunday in the month, which means Plow is at the Urban Solace restaurant and bar for the bluegrass brunch. Since I have been flying most Sundays in the past several months, we could not miss this opportunity. They were all there: Chris Clarke, Jason Weiss, Doug Walker, Joe Pomianek, Mark Markowitz, and Dane Terry. This was their 8th anniversary playing the Bluegrass Brunch at Urban Solace. And we got to witness it.

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L to R: Jason Weiss, Mark Markowitz, Chris Clarke, Doug Walker, Dane Terry, unknown, Joe Pomianek

And so we come to the end of another entry from out of the mind of the Popeswami to the eyes and brains of all 2 or 3 readers of my blog posts. May you all sleep well tonight.

The Wonder of Wyrd

“Nothing may happen without wyrd, for it is present in everything, but wyrd does not make things happen. Wyrd is created at every instant, and so wyrd is the happening.”
Brian Bates – The Way of Wyrd: Tales of an Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer 1983

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Finally or Firstly

Spilling over from my last post, and my list of beloved classical pieces, I totally missed Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”!!! Gracious sakes, how did I miss that one? That puts my count to a nice round twenty-one selectable and delectable Pisces, which is where I shall astrologically leave it. Speaking of astrology, I have promised for several months to write about the concept of wyrd in music. So now that the Popeswami’s Moon Unit is in the 7Stones’ house of The Rising Sons, and Jupiter’s Child is aligned with Martians, then the 21st piece is “The Planets”, and the band, Love, will steal the stars. Could it be the awning of the sage of equestrians?

Going back to the subject of Martians, “You’re a Martian” was a musical observation of Schwump when he first recorded this odd-ditty in 1976 with The Residents. And, in 2013 The Residents toured under the theme, The Wonder of Weird; so this brings us full circle to the Wonder of Wyrd. See what I did there?

Henceforth I shall attempt to give the square roots of the concept of “wyrd” and how this influenced a fascinating genre of music that began to flourish in the 1990s, blossomed in the early 2000s, and continues today.

NOTE: My primary reviewer feels that this is far too analytical and cerebral for a blog post. So be forewarned. It does get rather detailed.

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Hand/Eye Wyrd Folk Compilation

Isn’t Esoterica Lovely?

The term “wyrd” is closely associated with an ancient Anglo-Saxon view of the universe that goes back well over a millennium, and probably back to oral traditions. The word “wyrd” has an etymology that stems from Common Germanic “wurdiz”, and to the Proto-Indo-European root “wert-“, meaning “to turn” or “rotate”. It is associated with today’s usage of the words “fate” and “destiny”, but has a deeper meaning than the simple application of those words. The spelling “weird” first appears in Scottish and Northern English dialects in the 16th century. But by the 18th century the word “weird” began to mean “odd” or “strange” in connection with the supernatural, and eventually began to be applied as it is today to everyday situations that appear to be unusual. Modern paganism and mysticism has attempted to restore the use of the term “wyrd”, as well as the original meaning of the word “weird”.

In “What is Wyrd?” which was published in Cup of Wonder No. 5 (October, 2001), Arlea Hunt-Anschutz writes: “The most fundamental concept of heathenry is wyrd. It is also one of the most difficult to explain and hence one of the most often misunderstood…Wyrd literally means “that which has turned” or “that which has become”. It carries the idea of “turned into” in both the sense of becoming something new and the sense of turning back to an original starting point. In metaphysical terms, wyrd embodies the concept that everything is turning into something else while both being drawn in toward and moving out from its own origins. Thus, we can think of wyrd as a process that continually works the patterns of the past into the patterns of the present.”

The British psychologist, Brian Bates, has written extensively about the concept of wyrd. In his introduction to The Way of Wyrd” (1983) he wrote: “Wyrd is the unfolding of our personal destiny…But…It does not see our lives as “pre-determined”. Rather, it is an all-encompassing view which connects us to all things, thoughts, emotions, events in the cosmos as if through the threads of an enormous, invisible but dynamic web. Today, scientists know intellectually that all things are interconnected. But the power of Wyrd is to realise this in our inner being, and to know how to use it to manifest our personal destiny.”

Continuing, Bates says “…our Anglo-Saxon ancestors believed in a universe where lines of power ran through the earth, spirits inhabited the trees, streams and stones, and where magicians were able to look into the future through the mysterious power of runes. People understood their universe as held together by an interlaced web of golden threads visible only to the wizards. And still today, The Way of Wyrd transforms our experience of personal destiny – who we are, and how we can manifest our personal potential. It is a way of personal healing… Today, through a deep connection with wyrd, we are inspired to see our lives in a new and empowering way. It restores our experience of the healing power of love, nature and creativity. It is about letting into our lives the guidance of an extended universe of spirit. It brings ancient wisdom together with modern science in the service of enhancing our lives, and the integrity of our human presence on the planet.”

I bet many of you didn’t know any of this. I bet many of you didn’t care much, either. But there is no one reading this that hasn’t for at least a moment in their lives, considered “the big picture” – considered their destiny and asked why things were the way they were. I’m not referring to attending religious ceremonies, and performing rituals, but digging deep into ourselves and wondering what it is all about.

So what does this have to do with music? Well, we are all familiar with the close association music has with every aspect of our lives, from the sacred to the profane. From the time the first human uttered words tonally (or atonally), created instruments or contraptions to blow through, vibrate, pluck, or pound, we have associated these sounds with everything we do, we dream, we ponder, or imagine. Today we have music representing various cultural and religious traditions and customs, and dealing with all sorts of social concerns as well as our relationships with nature, with the cosmos, and with each other. When the concept of wyrd was revived in recent times, music began to be associated with that concept.

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The Birdtree – Orchards & Caravans

The Music of Wyrd

My first exposure to wyrd folk was through a now-defunct Website that mysteriously appeared with the title “Psychedelic Albums”. This was late in the year 2003. In 2004 the owner of this site created a category he referred to as “Wyrd Folk” but later changed this to “Psychedelic Folk, Drone, Improv, Experimental Acoustic”. This is where I learned about some of the current big names in the genre such as B’eirth of In Gowan Ring, Prydwyn of Green Crown, and Tim Renner of Stone Breath. The owner of this site turned out to be a fellow named Simon Allen, from Sheffield, England. We corresponded frequently and he shared many music sources with me. One source was Brad Rose of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who had two imprint labels, Digitalis and Foxglove, and an online newsletter, Foxy Digitalis. He also recorded under the name, The North Sea, and was part of other bands such as Juniper Meadows and Corsican Paintbrush. Another Website, The Unbroken Circle, was run by Mark Coyle from the UK. It was an excellent historical resource that described “wyrd folk” and the artists that performed it. Coyle also had a sister Website, Woven Wheat Whispers that served as an outlet for CDs and downloads for these artists. Simon Allen also began an imprint label, Barl Fire, where artists performing wyrd, experimental, and other related acoustic music forms released some wonderful albums. Unfortunately, Allen pulled the plug on the Psychedelic Albums site in 2006, and by early 2008, Barl Fire was gone as well. Likewise, Mark Coyle closed both The Unbroken Circle and Woven Wheat Whispers sites in 2008 after someone hacked into the site and caused him several problems. Brad Rose continued on with his imprints and Website for a few more years but finally discontinued his recording labels and then in 2013 his Foxy Digitalis site merged with Decoder, an Internet ‘zine with a broader focus, and so it was no more. Tim Renner, from Southeastern Pennsylvania, not only has formed several groups in a variety of folk sub-genres, but has operated a Website and album store, Some Dark Holler, that continues today under the name Dark Holler Arts. Groups formed by or associated with Renner include Stone Breath, Breathe Stone, Moth Masque, Mourning Cloak, The Spectral Light and Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree, Crow Tongue, and others. There are several other Websites catering to those interested in wyrd folk, experimental folk, and other related unconventional music forms that sprung up in the late 90s and early 00s and many still exist. I believe the biggest heartache for me was the closing of The Unbroken Circle, for it was a treasure trove of information about the beginnings of wyrd folk, with an immense reference section related to the many sub-genres of modern folk.

A characteristic of these artists is to release their music independently, often on homemade CDrs on their own imprint. Another characteristic was to form music collectives such as the San Francisco-based Jeweled Antler Collective, where a small core of artists, or an artist, works with a continuously rotating list of artists and a “music session” is represented by a group name under which they record. Many of these sessions are totally improvised, and the “recording studio” may be outside near a stream or meadow incorporating all the sounds around them into the music; artists like Juniper Meadows from the US, Sedayne from the UK, and Anaksimandros from Finland come to mind. Recordings often include sounds by the artists themselves such as coughing or sneezing, or even talking to one another in the background. Generally the music is acoustic, but not always. For example The Does and Family LSD use traditional electric rock instrumentation.

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The Franciscan Hobbies – Masks & Meanings

Many of these recordings are wordless, with the human voice being used as an instrument or as part of the ambience if heard at all. The music can be anything from a traditional Western structure with beautiful melodies and harmonies, to a Middle-Eastern sound such as from Josephine Foster or Mike Tamburo, or to atonal free-form chaos, and everything else in between. When there are lyrics, they leave no aspect of the human condition untouched, with an emphasis on subjects that are often avoided in more conventional music forms. One can sense the feeling of darkness, existential loneliness and pessimism, and of fateful resignation in some of the lyrics. Sometimes there is an ominous concern but yet a curious wonderment regarding the unknown or the spirit world. Some artists will uncover lyrics from centuries old songs that reflect similar dark, fatalistic views and superstitions. But not all the lyrics are about fearful and depressing subjects. Some are happy, even joyous, but still have that element of fate tied to it. Such lyrics, old or new, I believe are what make these songs part of the wyrd folk genre. The instrumental recordings, while often by artists who also perform lyrical wyrd folk, are another sub-genre and perhaps this is why Simon Allen changed his listing of such artists from “wyrd folk” to “psychedelic folk, drone, improv, and experimental acoustic”, which is a more accurate description of the variety of sounds. A more recent word used to group all these styles together is “neofolk”, with “free folk” being a sub-genre.

Many people associate the idea of “wyrd” with pagan traditions, Wicca, or Satanism. This genre does not represent such religions or traditions any more than any other music form. There are indeed Christian artists, such as Caedmon, who have been classified as “wyrd” just as there are others who are committed pagans such as Omnia. And yet there are others that are “unclassifiable” when it comes to spiritual orientation, such as Stone Breath, Sharron Kraus, Marissa Nadler, and Terry Earl Taylor. Some artists, such as Pamela Wyn Shannon, Circulus, The Wyld Olde Souls, and Spires That in the Sunset Rise, tap into the ancient Anglo-Saxon heritage of magic and mysticism, but without overtly making a definitive commitment to these beliefs; they are merely observing and reporting. Spires is more avant-garde in musical structure than the others mentioned here.

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Bert Jansch – Jack Orion

Wyrd folk, as in psychedelic music, has its primary origins in the 60s, when the youth of that era were experimenting with psychedelic drugs, Eastern religions, mysticism, magic, alternative lifestyles, and the like. Just as psychedelic rock of the 60s reflects these interests, so does 60s folk. While the term “wyrd folk” did not come into usage in modern music until the late 1980s, it has been retroactively applied to artists from the 60s onward. Music that has retroactively been given the label “wyrd folk” has a more metaphysical aspect to it, and in the UK the artists tapped into the ancient Anglo-Saxon shamanistic expressions described earlier. Early popular artists that could be tangentially connected to the genre include Donovan and The Incredible String Band. Also notable would be Fairport Convention, Pentangle and specifically John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. Jansch’s album “Jack Orion” is noted as an early example of what would later be considered wyrd folk. In the early 70s this really took off in the UK, with groups like Comus, C.O.B., Magna Carta, Forest, Trees, Fresh Maggots, Spriguns, and a host of others. However, in the US, it did not seem to catch on, and psychedelic music gradually melded into either progressive rock or hard rock and metal. Psychedelic aspects of music continued to bubble under the surface around the world for decades, surfacing mostly within the rock genre. But something happened in the late 90s that was a turning point. I have yet to figure this out. Some of the earlier artists of this genre, beginning in the late 80s through mid 90s, were Current 93, Sol Invictus, In Gowan Ring, and Mourning Cloak.

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Stone Breath – Songs of Moonlight and Rain

Around 2004, these related folk styles began to spring up everywhere, especially in the US and the UK but also throughout the planet. From Ireland come United Bible Studies and Agitated Radio Pilot. From Russia (with love) we have Julia Vorontsova who follows the traditions of the Russian bards. Japan’s Makoto Kawabata is noted for his work with Acid Mother’s Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. and related groups, but some of his solo work could be classified in this genre. In Scandinavia you have groups from Sweden, Norway, and Finland but the Finns seem to have been the most prolific, tapping into ancient folk traditions. There are artists such as: Anaksimandros, mentioned above; Paivansade; Uton; Pekko Kappi; Lau Nau; Islaja; Es; Keijo (Virtanen); Vapaa; Kukkiva Poliisi; and one of my favorites, Kemialliset Ystavat. Most of these Finnish groups/artists are classified as “free folk”. Most are instrumental. In New South Wales, Australia there is a collective of musicians centered around brother and sister, Michael and Kristina Donnelly. Groups related or attributed to them include Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood, Terracid, Alligator Crystal Moth, 6majik9, ffehro, Soarwhole and are primarily in the free folk sub-genre. The Jeweled Antler Collective is centered around Steven R. Smith, Loren Chasse, and Glenn Donaldson. Groups to come out of this collective include Thuja, The Birdtree, Skygreen Leopards, The Franciscan Hobbies, Hala Strana, The Child Readers, The Ivytree; The Buried Civilizations; The Once and Future Herds; and D. Smolken (who was originally from Poland). What seems to set these artists apart from the others mentioned here is that there are Eastern European elements that seem to run through the music coming out of the Jeweled Antler Collective, perhaps due to the influences from D. Smolken of Dead Raven Choir, Garlic Yarg, and Wolfmangler. Wolfmangler actually veers into dark metal drone more than folk.

Other notable US artists would be: Fursaxa from Philadelphia; Poppy Sward and Green Mistletoe from Oswego, NY; Hush Arbors and The Golden Oaks from Virginia. From Tyne and Wear, UK comes Sean Breadin who is responsible for several artists: Eleanor’s Visceral Tomb; Shibboleth; Venereum Arvum; and Sedayne. All are grounded in ancient Anglo-Saxon music, with many handmade instruments designed to be true to ancient construction and sound. The album “Winter Heresy” by Shibboleth is a very dark, primitive, instrumental work that sounds like it is performed by ancient spirits in a dank, dark dungeon. Malaysian born David Tibet (now living in the UK) has been instrumental in the promotion of wyrd folk and was one of the earliest artists in related sub-genres, recording as Current 93. He is also closely associated with the dark ambient sounds of Nurse With Wound and the more rhythmic acid house of Psychic TV. Phil Legard from the UK is another prolific artist recording as Xenis Emputae Travelling Band and The Pneumatic Consort. And I must not forget English Heretic, which mixes paranormal experiences with psychedelic folk and electronic sound. Do not listen to English Heretic recordings alone and in the dark as you never know what might visit you!

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In Gowan Ring – Abend the Knurled Stitch O’er the Glinting Spade

Recommended Albums

The following are just a small sample of items that I strongly recommend. Some are nearly impossible to obtain today with some titles having releases of less than 100. Others are much easier to locate.

1. Stone Breath – Songs of Moonlight and Rain
2. Stone Breath – A Silver Thread to Weave the Seasons
3. In Gowan Ring – Abend The Knurled Stitch O’er The Glinting Spade
4. Current 93 – All The Pretty Little Horses – The Inmost Light
5. Kemialliset Ystavat – Alkuharka
6. English Heretic – The Sacred Geography of British Cinema: Scene One: A Hilltop Hanging From Witchfinder General
7. Paul Giovanni and Magnet – The Wicker Man (original soundtrack album)
8. The Juniper Meadows – Pine Needles and Cones
9. The North Sea – Locust Grove
10. Hush Arbors – If There Be Spirits, Let Them Come / Cleaning The Bone
11. Green Crown – Washed In Her Blood
12. Green Mistletoe – God of the Blood of the Woods
13. Poppy Sward – Fawn
14. Xenis Emputae Travelling Band – Under a Soular Moon
15. Shibboleth – Winter Heresy
16. Sedayne – Astray Volume 6: Green As God The Touched Brow Of The Winter
17. Terracid – Transcendent Reign Inheritor
18. Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood – Animal Speak
19. Charlotte Greig and Julian Hayman – Live at Resonance FM
20. The Franciscan Hobbies – Masks and Meanings
21. The Birdtree – Orchards & Caravans
22. Omnia – Chrone of War
23. Sharron Kraus – Beautiful Twisted
24. Spires That in the Sunset Rise – Four Winds The Walker
25. The Spectral Light and Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree – Scarecrow Stuffing

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The Spectral Light & Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree – Burning Mills

And these compilations are totally necessary:

26. Lammas Night Laments, Volumes 1 – 14: a collection of wyrd-folk music from 1966-1980 (14 CD set compiled by Mark Coyle)
27. John Barleycorn Reborn, Volumes 1 – 3 (6 CD compilation in 3 sets of 2 CDs each)
28. Invisible Pyramid: Elegy Box (6 CDs)
29. Gold Leaf Branches (3 CDs)
30. Wailing Bones, Volumes 1 – 14 (14 CD set of extended instrumental compositions)

From the 60s and early 70s we have the following:

31. Donovan – Fairytale
32. The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
33. C.O.B. – Moyshe McStiff And The Tartan Lancers Of The Sacred Heart
34. Comus – First Utterance
35. Caedmon – s/t
36. Stone Angel – s/t
37. Seventh Sons – Raga
38. Peter Walker – Rainy Day Raga
39. Pearls Before Swine – These Things Too
40. Forest – Full Circle
41. Trees – The Garden of Jane Delawney
42. The Trees Community – The Christ Tree
43. Jade – Fly on Strangewings
44. Trader Horn – Morning Way
45. Mandy Morton and Spriguns – Magic Lady
46. Amazing Blondel – Fantasia Lindum
47. The Sallyangie – Children of the Sun
48. Linda Perhacs – Parallelograms
49. These Trails – s/t
50. Agincourt – Fly Away

So that’s it. Don’t ask me to do this again!

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