Friday, October 30, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: Soup

There is a guy who works in the building I do. He is the head of a local union of classified school employees. He likes Jeff Beck a lot. He reads Jeff Beck biographies and lends me Jeff Beck CDs and DVDs, as well as feeding me a steady supply of links to Jeff Beck on YouTube. I like Jeff Beck. So it is fine.

But mostly I am interested in this guy's commitment to music. Not too many people have his level of commitment. Plus, he lived through the cultural revolution of the 1960s as a young adult. He was obviously shaped by the tremendous pressures brought to bear in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

One day when he was in the office he asked if I knew of a band called Soup, a celebrated regional rock band from Appleton, Wisconsin during the Age of Aquarius. I told him I did not. He went upstairs to his office and brought back the CD Soup. (My friend the union leader Jeff Beck aficionado grew up in Wisconsin.)

Soup was led by virtuoso guitarist and prolific songwriter Doug Yankus.  Both Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton are rumored to have made the pilgrimage to America's dairyland to behold Yankus' guitar work.

What is interesting about the compact disk is its kaleidoscopic quality. The first part is full-on 1970 counter culture San Francisco Sound blues-based trippyness. Quicksilver Messenger Service is the band that springs to mind. The second part is from an earlier Yankus band, Private Property of Digil. The sound is early folk rock, like Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds; sunshine pop, like the Beach Boys; as well as nods to the Beatles. Listen to the entire CD and one is struck by the enormity of the social upheaval the West went through from 1966 and 1970.

From derivative, trite singles to 15-minute meandering jams all in the space of a handful of years. The essence of the counterculture was its rejection of a technocratic conception of time -- time as a monetized technique of marking -- in favor of a deep, lush "Mother Nature" time. For a few years, say, 1969 and 1970, this "Mother Nature" time was ascendant, and it was still possible for people to imagine turning the U.S. battleship around.

Now, 45 years later, the technocratic conception of time has triumphed completely. Everything is manic and digital. People walk down the sidewalk in the morning gloom staring blankly ahead like flesh-eating zombies as they chatter away hands-free on their smart phones. The deep, rambling, replenishing conception of time that Soup produced on their 1970 record is gone, daddy, gone.

I blurted all this out one recent afternoon to the Jeff Beck union leader, and his reaction was interesting.

He was offended and became flustered and dismissive before beating a retreat. He didn't understand what I was saying. He thought I was babbling New Age mysticism, was proselytizing some sort of creepy spirituality. I thought I was stating the obvious. Oh, well.

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