Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hippies vs. Punks: Pink Floyd's More (1969)

After the last Hippies vs. Punks post back in April I felt guilty about my mildly condemning juxtaposition of Pink Floyd’s meandering, soporific double album Ummagumma (1969) with the frenetic dance-friendly Post-Punk music of bands like The Fleshtones. I felt guilty because I think Ummagumma is a great record. My two favorite Pink Floyd albums are Ummagumma and its follow-up Atom Heart Mother (1970).

Post-Punk begat or, depending on how you look at it, is synonymous with Hardcore. The Hardcore of my young-man youth had a distinct world view (just as the Hippies had their own world view). The literary foundation of the Hardcore world view was the poetry and fiction of Charles Bukowski, popularized in no small part by Barbet Schroeder’s feature-length film, Barfly (1987), starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.

Interestingly, Barbet Schroeder, if you listen to him tell it, played a role in Pink Floyd’s post-Syd Barrett success. Schroeder sought them out to provide a soundtrack to his debut film, More (1969). Once the film became a smash hit in Europe, Pink Floyd rode it’s coattails to a larger audience.

There is evidence that Schroeder is telling the truth. The Syd Barrett psychedelic albums, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), charted in three countries -- the U.S., UK and France -- upon their initial release. More charted in France, the UK and Holland, but added a fourth country, the U.S., when it cracked the Billboard 200 on its re-release in 1973 (still the Hippie period).

Recorded and released the same year as Ummagumma, the soundtrack to More sounds similar, with musique concrete bird songs combined with early electronica (it sounds to me a lot like the first Tangerine Dream album, Electronic Meditation, also recorded in 1969). The difference is that there are a couple toss-off acid rock tracks the band recorded to provide the ambiance of the Paris Hippie scene of the day.

More the movie -- much like its 1969 companion, the Ur-Hippie document Easy Rider -- is a cautionary tale of excess. Instead of violent rednecks murdering Hippies prone to bad acid trips, More features a beautiful German youth, played by Klaus Grünberg, coupling with a beautiful American youth, Mimsy Farmer (who also starred in the 1967 Hippiexploitation classic Riot on Sunset Strip) on the sunny Mediterranean island of Ibiza. They rip off an ex-Nazi’s heroin stash and abscond with it to a beautiful seaside villa where they proceed to shoot smack and rut with abandon. The German youth eventually overdoses, and the movie ends with his burial in a pauper’s grave.

Despite its pessimistic, dreary conclusion, More captures the wide-open horizon of the 1960s. I speak of “horizon” here in the phenomenological or hermeneutic sense of everything that goes unquestioned in one’s temporal-social frame that nonetheless constitutes one’s field of perception or capacity for consciousness.The gestalt. In 1969 it was wide open. The revolution was being born. The sense was that you could do whatever you wanted. The old wartime social homogeneity cultural consensus was dead. The pitfall for youth of the day was that this freedom was bankrupted by the false infinity of hallucinogenic drugs and narcotics.

Fast forward nearly 20 years to Barfly, Minutemen and the Hardcore of my youth. The horizon has been flipped upside down. It is no longer wide open but hidden beneath a flannel sheet of dead-end, low-wage work; cheap liquor, beer and methamphetamine; and a D.I.Y. ethos of creativity eked out at the end of the evening. Almost everything has changed.

Fast forward another 30 years to now, and, as the Minutemen presciently sang in 1985, “reality appears digital,” our horizon is inseparable from the false infinity of information technology. Things are much worse.

What’s beautiful to me about listening to the More soundtrack, as well as Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother, is the memory of a wide-open horizon.

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