Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wet Cheese Delirium

Gong (Space-Rock)
LP: Camembert Electrique (Virgin, 1971)

1973 was a strange year.

Flailing at school, I spent my time learning guitar licks from Bowie records, reading existentialist novels and getting spaced out listening to Gong, the stoned freak collective formed by Aussie Daevid Allen after he quit Soft Machine in 1967.

I picked up their psych-out masterpiece Camembert Electrique for 49 pence as a "loss-leader" during the newly established Virgin Records’ introductory promo campaign.

It was the first prog-psychedelic album that grabbed me. Its heavy space rock, free form jazz, electronic experimentation and wig-out hippy humor was like nothing I’d heard.

Another reason this LP captivated my adolescent brain was that my parents despised it in exactly inverse proportion to my newfound devotion.

As I cranked Camembert on my Fidelity “music center”, the cacophonous closing jam Fohat Digs Holes in Space - suggesting an orgasmic cosmic orgy - was greeted with howls of execration by my father. He especially hated Gilli Smyth's wordless "space whispering" - actually a piercing screech that could crack a lava lamp at ten paces.

As you can imagine, his pleas for me to remove the offending platter from the turntable merely increased my desire to spin it with increasing volume and regularity.

If you could get past the caterwauling, Fohat Digs Holes in Space had an ambient, trancelike feel which was way ahead of its time. History shows that Gong were precursors of the fire-twirlers and dayglo armband brigade who typified the proto-ravers of the 1990s. Members of the band later went on to form System 7, Eat Static and other key techno outfits.

Another Camembert classique, And You Tried So Hard, features a splendid lyric which proclaims:

A hand flutters in my brain
Silken cords trembling into the waterfall
Where the wise brown frog
Gives princely advice.

If you’re the skeptical type, maybe you got a problem with wise brown frogs dispensing princely advice, or titles like Squeezing Sponges Over Policemen’s Heads. Or how about Wet Cheese Delirium, the track which closes Side One and features backwards tapes and a stoned French hippy droning the priceless incantation, “Tu Veux Camembert? Tu Veux Camembert?”

Andt if you think that's weird, Camembert Electrique marks the birth of Daevid Allen's tongue-in-cheek Planet Gong mythology - the subject of the band's subsequent three albums. It describes a utopian interplanetary psychic communication between we Earthlings and - ahem - the "pothead pixies" from the distant planet Gong.

Unsurprisingly, the Gong mythology makes a lot more sense if you happen to be stoned senseless. Their songs are about a kind of cosmic freedom, I guess, even if it is the freedom to marmalize your brain with “tea” and “mushrooms”, eat cheese and discover your inner pixie.

Gong were never remotely fashionable, and by the time the New Wave had struck, irrepairable cracks had fractured the prog-rock façade. The days of hallucinating freedom were over, to be replaced by life-changing, punky revelations.

To be sure, no one loved getting high more than my bondage-clad friends, but it had become demonstrably old hat, and - more importantly - fatally uncool, to admit a predilection for such hippy-dippy nonsense.

Moving on to edgier frontiers, I never bought another Gong LP, and when their Floating Anarchy Tour visited my town during 1977's summer of punk fury, I wisely kept my own cheesy counsel.

Oh yes, I had been a fan. But when my friends barked “Fuck off, hippies!” at the patchouli pixies proudly prancing on stage, I - sheeplike in my treachery - unashamedly joined in with their chorus of derision.

GONG, Fohat Digs Holes in Space:


Anonymous said...

what s freedom babe?

spaewaif said...

Oh,I enjoyed that!
The bass is wonderful.

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Oh Spaewaif!

Ur right...that bass. And do you know the rest of the album?

As always, darling, your taste is impeccable!! :P

spaewaif said...

I haven't really heard much Gong,it's always been one of those names sending echoes from the past that hit you from time to time...
Speaking of present signals,I was filled with curiosity after reading your Radiohead review.
As somebody who was a fan for a few albums,namely the ones where they started ripping off ideas from acts like Autechre ;-/ ,who went to see them live a few times but then lost interest,I could sense in your words an air of complacency about the whole Osaka gig.

scott said...

This band represented their era and resonated through following years. Those who heard and understood remembered years later and the memories tied to those times. As do i. I pay honour to those who stuck to my soul in a rememberence of what its like to be happy and stoned!