I first saw Daevid Allen in March 2004 at the Brisbane Powerhouse in the Zero & Zero incarnation, a collaboration between David Allen and Gilli Smyth of Gong, Bill Awtm and Cotton Casino of Japan’s infamous Acid Mothers Temple. I truly didn’t know what to expect by a collaboration between a spaced-out retro-psychedelic band and the ultra ear shredding multi-guitar sound of the Japanese psychedelic freak out band. Beginning with an immediate onslaught of feedback and high volume electrics, the elegantly pruned world beat audience that were hanging around were clearly suddenly out of their depth, shuddering on their spindly heels. Everything was fine, until the skinny 60 year old guy with long gray hair quite matter of factly took off ALL his clothes, to stand stark naked! All around the jaws hit the floor with a resounding thud! The two middle aged women seated behind, promptly got up and walked out. Jiggling around for a bit as though no one was watching, Daevid then put on a Madonna like outfit with huge cone shaped pink breasts and shouldered a sawn-off guitar to add to the dizzying cacophony of manipulated sounds swirling in some outer space mire of amplified comets criss-crossing in freak orbits. Drenched in smoldering feedback the visual and auditory assault was added to with Daevid’s shouted poetics of condemnation, perverse humour and political mockery while Gilli Smyth as “space whisperer” poured out delicate high pitched shrieks and caterwauls, Cotton Casino (of Acid Mothers Temple) worked the synthesiza and a theremin like device while Bill pounded on bass guitar.
“Elegantly stoned with Burroughs…”
At age 67, Daevid Allen, the self described, “nerdy hurdy gurdy olde man,” still has more youthful exuberance, zeal and ‘fuck ‘em’ attitude than most cynical 20somethings. Courting every turn of revolution in art and music, his wild experiences, of artistic expression, travel, experimentation, drugs, communes, political activism, psychedelica, punk and no-wave, are so extensive, it is truly something breathtaking and inspiring.
In the late ’50s Daevid was discovering the beat generation while working in the Melbourne University Book Shop and ran a jazz appreciation society collecting the likes of Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and Sun Ra. In 1960 he burst free from a stifling and intolerable Australian culture and landed in Athens, hitchhiking on to London where he lodged with then 14 year old Robert Wyatt with whom he would later form the band The Soft Machine (named after the William Burroughs novel). From London he headed for the bohemian art culture of Paris and began selling the New York Herald Tribune which is how he met Terry Riley, the New York minimalist composer, then comparatively unknown, selling the same paper. But that was not his only stroke of luck, he found lodgings in the infamous Beat Hotel in the same room that Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky just moved out of, right next door to Brion Gysin… “thin walls you understand” (Burroughs). Daevid’s quest had landed him smack bang in the epicenter of the most radical upheaval of 20th century thought. Burroughs and Gysin were at that very moment in the throes of their tape loop, cut-up and dream machine experiments. Daevid gives a poignant description of his mind blowing first experience with the dream machine in Xochi23.1 Daevid formed a jazz group for a musical and theatrical version of Burroughs’ The Ticket That Exploded and performed with Burroughs and Gysin as a part of the Machine Poets exhibition at the ICA, the American Centre in Paris and also at the Paris Bienniale ’63 and ’67. He met and married Australian art groupie and alcoholic Kay Calvert, who’s penchant for creating drunken scandals at art openings and getting kicked out of the best Parisian cafes was honed down to a fine art. Together Kay and Daevid brought a house boat on the Seine off Gilli Smyth, a poet and lecturer at the Sorbonne, the woman who would ultimately become his long term muse and Gong’s “space whisperer”.
In 1966 The Soft Machine formed in London consisting of Daevid Allen, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers and Mike Ratledge, as a free form psychedelic improv band with roots in experimental jazz, which went on to do legendary performances at underground clubs like the UFO and supporting Pink Floyd. After a stay in France with the other members of The Soft Machine in 1967, the British Immigration authorities prevented his re-entry labeling him “an undesirable alien” i.e. unwealthy, unwashed, untogether and long haired – ultimately ending his involvement with the band. An excellent stroke of luck, he thought, The Soft Machine went on to do a grueling tour of the US supporting Jimi Hendrix, beginning the slow disintegration of the fragile dynamic that had generated so much innovation. The seething ferment of the May ’68 riots in Paris were soon rocking Daevid’s little house boat again, which not only brought the whole of France to a stand still but remains the closest the left ever came to the brink of a modern revolution. A film shot by Jerome Laperrousaz of the Paris street riots, shows Daevid along the barricade strewn Boulevard St Michel, wearing a long black gown and a colonialist sun hat with a tiny French monarchist flag stuck in its headband – “a bewildering contrast of symbols!” In front of a platoon of paratroopers on the rue de la huchette he performed a sound poem, “je ne fume pas de bananes” – warning that the bourgeoisie nightmare was coming true through the ritual smoking of the banana. Along the boulevard he handed out two dozen teddy bears to bewildered paratroopers sitting in a troop carrier – “embarrassment therapy can be a potent tool!” In the same film he is seen in the rue des ecoles inspecting a burnt out citroen diesse when a po-faced looking policeman approached him saying, “what are you doing here, beatnik! This is no place for you! Why don’t you go home & smoke your weed!” In the aftermath of the May ’68 riots Daevid and Gilli fled France pursued by police who regarded them as dangerous insurgents.
When things had settled down again, Gong formed and played their first gig at the 1969 Amougies Jazz Festival in Actuel Belgium, just across the border, frequently referred to as the Euro-Woodstock, it was hosted by Frank Zappa featuring performances by Pink Floyd and Captain Beefheart. For almost a decade Gong’s, “anarcho-pataphysical hippy idealist revolutionary nursery-rhyme” style of rock was to become the forefront of the ultra weird hippy psychedlica set, with it’s alchemical mix of theatre, eclectic free-form musical arrangements, spaced out consciousness, commune lifestyles and of cause, pixie hats. As complete aliens to the trend set, Gong’s wacky and trippy musical chimera, sounded like a wayward transmission from the truly brain-bent planet Gong. The zany, cosmological and psychedelic realm of Gong is perhaps best exemplified on the mystical Gong trilogy of ’73/’74 – Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and You. The ongoing hedonistic lifestyle caused Daevid to leave Gong in ’75, which after a break lead to the Floating Anarchy Gong of ’77 and the no-wave New York Gong phase from 1978, collaborating with Bill Laswell, which wound up with Daevid’s returned to Australia in 1981. Back in Oz, he did everything from driving taxis, a Byron Bay radio show, poetry performances in the streets, markets, pubs and festivals and discovering meditational techniques of rebirthing. The original Gong was triumphantly reborn in the early 90′s with the release of Shapeshifter in ’92 and tours of the UK and Europe bringing the band to the attention of a whole new generation. A 25th birthday for Gong was held in ’94 at the London Forum and in ’96 they toured Japan, Europe and the USA.
Poet For Sale
Daevid Allen writes like an uncrowned Dr Seuss on bad acid, like a bent and dirty nursery rhyme on a broken record player. Not surprisingly, Daevid Allen treasures bad reviews and slanderous attacks about it’s unrespectablity. Poet For Sale may be exactly what Hakim Bey had in mind when he talked of “poetic terrorism” as an aesthetic shock of vandalism unleashed on an unsuspecting audience – “The best Poetic Terrorism is against the law, but don’t get caught. Art as crime; crime as art.” As a series of fast paced rants running on high doses of wit, mockery and slander, bouncing between absurdi-tea and normali-tea, Poet for Sale divests an unrelenting attack on sexual mores, consumerism, environmental destruction, corporate capitalism, Australian ocker arrogance, the dole and the media. It is also Daevid’s first collection of performance poetry to be published since 1962 and is elaborately illustrated with typography and pictures throughout. The collection includes, Thank the good Lord for masturbation, a poem for Robert Wyatt, The Audience is a Nuisance and a goodnight to every icon and cult of rock history’s waste bin. The Ordinary Australian fires off an angry vilification, tearing apart the conceited and arrogant stance of the suburban backyard BBQ ocker. “I can’t stand ordinary Australians, ordinary decent hardworking, tax paying Australians, honest decent red neck, right wing money groveling, earth flattening, sea poisoning, Koori hating, anti land rights, bigoted racist xenophobic, ordinary decent, hard working Australians”. If you’re looking for contrived and sentimental poetry to be read on a patient and gentle Sunday afternoon, then you obviously won’t find it here. Raw, provocative and hilarious, this is gutsy performance poetry to be read between punk acts at the local pub. Isn’t it time you did a mental check on your hang-ups? Daevid Allen has recently been performing his poetry at the Avid Reader and with Speedpoets in Brisbane.
“Post Industrial Nu-psychedelia at It’s Most Intense and Beguiling!” are the words used to describe the collaboration between Gong and Acid Mothers Temple’s latest release, Acid Motherhood. Forever restless and eager for change, Gong has sought new challenges, directions and new boundaries to shake out any pretension of Gong settling down to a tame and predictable representation of it’s former self. The only predictable element of Gong might well be the unpredictable. Acid Motherhood, as the mother of all albums, sees Gong bouncing off into a new orbit that’s had it reeling and ricocheting with acute G forces ever since. The cultural crossover with new young blood from Japan, has enriched and revitalized the energy and diverse synergies at play melding old and new, eastern and western audiences together. Recorded in Byron Bay, the new CD leaves the sax in the case, with three lead guitars for those older Gong fans who don’t hear so well and even a Swiss UFO. The Acid Mothers’ ingredients consist of Kawabata Makoto on guitar and bazouki and Cotton Casino on synthesiza and voices. Daevid Allen adds his pent-up weird eccentrics showing that, like Iggy Pop, you’re never too old to rock out. The opening track “Ocean of Molasses” sees the broiling guitars tossing and turning on an undulating ocean of howling and blistering cosmic churning. Gilli Smyth adds her voice on “Supercotton” as the “space whisperer” wandering between the keys and pitches reaching those resonances that touch and expand our deepest senses. The final track on the CD “Schwitless in Molasses” features samples of Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, “I am a painter and I nail my pictures together!” reading from his famous sound poem “Ursonate” (1932). The cover alone will certainly stand out in anyones collection featuring a mirror fold of Daevid Allen naked with breasts and heavily pregnant, flip it over, and you have Kawabata Makoto dropping a turd on the loo.2
© ROBERT LORT 2005
1. See Xochi23 published by Marisa Giorgi and Michael Spann of Xochi, where you can read up on his meetings with luminaries such as Vali Myers, Brett Whiteley, Clive James and even Barry Humphries. Xochi23 also contains texts by Brion Gysin, Jurgen Ploog and an interview with Charles Bukowski, limited to 100 copies.
2. There are actually three different covers available all slightly different, one for the USA, one for Europe and UK as shown here, and one for Japan.
This material is copyright © Retort Magazine/Individual Artists/Authors 2005 – no reproduction of this material is permitted with express written permission from Retort Magazine and/or the Author/Artist.