Amon Düül: A Science Fiction Rock Spectacle

Part One: The Aluminium Revolution

IT HAD TO HAPPEN! It’s been some seven years now since the impact of American popular music first rebounded to engulf our shores and burghs in a new-old sound as fresh and vibrant as the Presleys and Berrys it was modeled on a decade before.

The English rock scene, and the American renaissance it predicated, have soared and muddled to hiatus positions of equal entrenchment. There are great bands and artists everywhere, but somehow the pervasive feeling is that just like the first three years of the last decade we are in a slack period between mass cultural eruptions.

Meanwhile, however, the combined accomplishments of American and Limey bands have been seeded in less-sung rock scenes around the world, and some of those seeds are coming to the weirdest blooms heard in the Western world since Molly took all those pages just to say “Yes oh yes I will.” And the first with the mostest bloom is in one of the seeming-unlikeliest places imaginable: Scandinavia and Germany, the very heart of the cold emotionless sensibility most antithetical to the spirit of rock.

But kids are seething clear round the globe, and the Kinder of Munich are no exception, and rock has in its aluminum evolution expanded to encompass more than mere good-vibes (all the darkest impulses of the human soul, in fact), so maybe it’s not so shocking that the chilly domains of the Aryan bullmoose have kindled a burgeoning rock-roll revolution as healthy and instinctive in its understanding of learned styles as Britain’s Beatbrats were toward American R&B once upon a time.

The first sign of this nascent scene was the American release in 1969 of a Savage Rose album called In The Plain. Savage Rose sounded a little bit like the Jefferson Airplane, and their arrangements showed a cross-idiomatic musical sophistication that many States and British bands should envy, including a bit of Hungarian gypsy influence in ‘Evening’s Child’. Their songs were mostly dark-emotioned, with a sense of Gothic gloom that would seemingly wear better on a German than a cheery clog-clopping Tulip Child Dane. They were and are brilliant, and their subsequent albums, Your Daily Gift and Refugee, are among the finest examples of musical art and sheer rock ‘n’ roll our era has to offer.

But somehow the stage was still waiting for a Germanic entrance, something really weird and woolly. After all, the Germans were always noted for their mechanistic thinking and obsessive emotionalism, at least among those prone to indulge in post-World -War II backlash, and Led Zeppelin was wowing ‘em by exploiting similar neuroses in their sound if not their lyrics, and later the Stooges would come along and blow everybody out with Iggy’s demonic tirades and a lead guitarist with a fondness for jackboots and swastikas, so why were the real original Jerries wasting any time at all, huh?

Well, the answer is that they weren’t. There was some real killer rock aborning in the drafty sound laboratories of certain musty communes of that country, but the trouble was that the only initial exposure we here in the U.S. of A. had to German rock was through albums by bands imitating popular Yankee and Limey styles in the lamest possible way. Ah, it’s almost been a year since they came out now, and who remembers the Marbles, who sounded like two lollipops formed of Bee Gee goo, or Brainbox, who did the most perfect imitation of Jethro Tull I’ve ever heard, or Birth Control, who sounded like the Doors waiting through a wall of asbestos, or Joy Unlimited, who came on like Las Vegas sharpies backing up one of the more notable white pubescent Aretha Franklin parodies of the month? Who remembers all those losers? Nobody, and justly so, except me, and I had to research them out of a review I wrote myself and forgot in a back issue of Creem.

But not to worry, mein Kinder, ‘cause there was a new Sound in the winds off the Rhine and the Rhone! One product of it was a great, great, marvelous, wonderful group called The Can, who have three albums out and definitely deserve to be unleashed on America. I don’t have time to tell you much about them, except to say that they’ve been much influenced by American psychedelic raga fuzztone feedback rock and British Pink Floyd spaceouts, and the names of their albums are Monster MovieTago Mago (a double set), and Can Soundtracks, which is made up of themes composed by Can for German avant-garde underground movies which were never released or perhaps never made.

Part Two: “Are you on an acid trip?”

BUT THE Can were only the beginning: the real payload in the nascent glorious history of German rock lies in the work of Amon Düül II, a band which has evolved out of Amon Düül I and is currently one of the most interesting and experimental bands in the whole wide world.

Before proceeding to a critical consideration of their oeuvre, we must ask the question, “Who are Amon Düül and why are they for that matter and where did they come from?” Glad you asked that question. It just so happens I have all the crucial info right here in my customary Rock Critic’s File Of Essential Arcana, in the form of an interview with them by an unidentified dork presumably with the German press, and a no-monkeyshines statement of philosophy and intentions from the group themselves.

The interview is a classic of total noncommunication. The first question the dildo asks is, “Are you on an acid trip?” “Yes,” replies Karl-Heinz Hai’srmtnn, leader and spokesman, “you might say that.” Which sort of sets the tone for the whole conversation. The second query posed by the klutz is, naturally, ‘Where did you guys get your name?’

Well, I’d wondered about that one myself, and the reply is interesting. “The two names ‘Amon’ and ‘Düül,’ “says Heinz, “are a construction of two different mythologies–” “Which ones?” butts in the blurting asshole, just as another member of the bend is laughing at what Heinz just said.

“‘Amon’ is from Egyptian mythology and ‘Düül’ is from a very well known record in America, it’s called Tommy and it was made by Canadians.”

Now that that’s all clear, we can get to the matter of the band themselves and their internal message. Because they definitely have one, and stare it with certain eloquence. As the liner notes of the American release of the Amon Düül I album say, “Amon Düül is a discovery of the revolutionary spirit of young people in all parts of the world and particularly articulates the creative genesis of the new music in Germany today.”

That is, Amon Düül are an organic expression of certain young Germans learning, as their peers all over the world are, to relate to themselves and their own freedom in totally new ways, to translate that freedom into a new free music like nothing heard on the planet heretofore, and to totally oppose anyone or anything that stands in the way of the attainment and ongoing sensation of that freedom.

If that sounds a bit like John Sinclair and the MC5, it’s only natural, because Amon Düül probably come out of an environment just about as oppressive as that obtaining in Detroit. The difference is that Amon Düül are the direct representatives of no party or faction, disdaining all boards, syndicates and governments of the earth. And their rebellion is totally understandable as the healthy human response to themselves and their situation: “Everybody has to make his own experience,” says Heinz to the interviewer’s wheedlings about what-gives-youthe-right-to-complain-if-you-clon’thave-a-better-plan, “and decide what he wants. We try to express that with our music.”

In the process of that they have become the most publicised and controversial group in Germany, and by way of clarifying and defining themselves to both friend and foe they have drawn up a program:

What We Were

(Our Way)

Already during our schooldays in boarding schools, our common path began to merge. In order to overcome the suppressions during that time, we saw in music the freedom to develop and further continue new forms of communication.

It was evident that we would not let ourselves be pushed into any kind of middle class “9-5” career. From analysing the repression mechanisms within the boarding school, we had already learned how to react against “the system” surrounding us on the outside. With this knowledge, it was clear that–contrary to our parents– we had to completely redefine ourselves. For example, none of us know or use alcohol, the main intoxicant of society (and the pocketbook); we wanted to offer what we had experienced through conscious, eye-opening situations.

A sense of belonging together and being a group–out of free will–made living together possible for us. First in a commune, then in a kibbutz-like residence. We can truly articulate basic criticism against the existing system because we have created a model of the counter-society with music…

Our group had to continue on against the intolerance of our middle-class, academic parents, homeowners, and neighbors, who know how to communicate with us only through the police…

What We Want

With our group we want to show that is possible to live together, to work togeether, to overcome common problems, but nevertheless remain autonomous individuals. We want to reason for our conscious, communal way of life to be expressed through music and be known everywhere.

It is partially the latest edition of the great utopian communist dream of a better world and purer human integration, partially the rather defensive response to the abuse heaped on them by the German, yes, Establishment and uncomprehending nerds such as their interviewer. Sometimes you don’t learn to define a particular cultural or artistic situation as political until you’re right in the thick of the shit-gale of contention. And while some of Amon Düül’s positions may seem a bit extreme even to members of their own generation–for instance, that bit about booze is shortsighred if not positively reactionary at this stage in history, when the finest alternative to psychedelic strychnine or stuporous self-pollution is a charmin’ snort of hootch and I am writing this with a pint of J. W. Dant Sour Mash Bourbon sitting not six inches from my IBM Selectric–but their statement as a whole has a strength and lucidity that is admirable in this time of general random disintegration. These people obviously know who they are and what their work in the new society is. And who are they?

WellKarl-Heinz Hausmann plays organ and has just turned 21. Chris Karrer, on guitar, violin, and soprano sax, has been greatly influenced by Ornette Coleman, “the famous alto saxophonist with Free Jazz,” and, it says here, “began professional study in drawing, but was no pedagogue.” And I can believe that and you should too. Peter Leopold is their seeming-octopoidal pacussionist, John Weinzierl contributes the swirling, searing lead guitar lines, and bassist Lothar Meid came to Amon Düül II from a stint in eminent nonrock avant-gardist Gunter Hampel’s Free Jazz Ensemble.

None of these people were in Amon Düül I, although some of the members of that group sat in on II’s still-unreleased-here album Yeti. And Amon Düül I have an album which has been released in the United States by Prophesy records, and which I reviewed with premature heat in Creem, March 1971: ” Amon Düül is the monstrosity. I don’t know who at Prophesy ever dreamed that this album deserved the States, but that man is lost in space. This record, which war called Psychedelic Underground in its German edition, is thirty minutes of the kind of clattering “space jam” that is likely to result anytime you get a bunch of amateur musicians together with huge amps and too much dope for them even to say something musical by accident. Lots of percussion and one-chord guitar. This is undoubtedly the worst record out this year, and the most inept, sludgy album I’ve beard since Hapsash and the Colored Coat’s first effort, which formerly qualified as the worst rock album I’d ever heard. You just couldn’t believe this shit if you heard it, but take it from me, it has none of the inspired insanity or so-bad-it’s-good redeeming factors of purposely primitive bands like the Godz. Although is might be interesting as an artifact–the first group on LP that nobody could like.”

Well, naturally that’s a great album and the guy what wrote that review was a pompous punk. Not that any of the things I said about the album’s sound were so untrue, it’s just that with time and the mellowings of maturity I can easily see how such a repetitive, freaked-out album has great value indeed; Dave Marsh and his girlfriend used to drink wine and listen to it as night fell like an iron curtain on the Detroit ghetto, and I own two copies now myself.

And anyway, by the time my half-ass review was scrawled, Amon Düül I had gone the way of Hapsash & the Colored Coat and legions of other great rock bands, and Amon Düül II was in full frenzied bloom. Their first album, Phallus Dei (which, translated literally, means “Jehovah’s Pecker”), I have unfortunately not been able to obtain, but the follow-up, Yeti, was a real killer and the latest one, Dance of the Lemmings, has even, praise be and a tip of the J. W. Dant in honor of United Artists Records, been released in this country to corrode pubescent minds and win converts to the Düül ethic and esthetic.

Part Three: Yeti

Yeti (below, right) islet me say at the outset, one of the finest recordings of psychedelic music in all of human history, and will blow you straight to the shores ofCeres if you are ever fortunate and prudent enough to happen on a copy and by all means buy it. My copy bears a sticker with some futuristic script broadcasting the words “Electric Rock Idee 2000,” which is also affixed to The Can’s Monster Movie album, which indicates that the people that record or promote both groups are aware that they are way out in front of a real vanguard/renaissance type sonic sci-fi scene.

Yeti itself is a veritable blitzkreig of a two-record set, and in both grooves and package positively drips atmosphere. The jacket art is incredible, like something right out of Bergman: on the front a sullen creature in a black robe is swinging a scythe against dark skies while an enigmatic storm of red dust swirls phosphorescently about his feet. The inside features a Gothic landscape with purple mountains, a pagoda with the faces of group members in the windows, a naked man falling through space and a demonic dying horse flailing a hoof at you.

The music is experimental in the best possible sense, showing the influence both of American psychedelic jams and the band’s own European folk roots. The first side is taken up mainly by a sort of suite called ‘Soap Shop Rock’,which features such inextricable-from-each-other sections as ‘Halluzination Guillotine’ and ‘Gulp a Sonata’. Where on Amon Düül I’s album most of the “songs” (listed 6 on the back, even though they were all the same jam) were free German translations of Sandoz acid references (‘In The Garden of Sandosa’, ‘The Garden of Sandosa in the Morning Dew’, ‘An Extremely Lovely Girl Dreams of Sandosa’), Yeti reveals a penchant for surrealistic titles and lyrics that will grow even more marked in Dance of the Lemmings.

As for the music, ‘Soap Shop Rock’is like some bizzaro opera, with swirling gypsy-tinged violin attacks and great falsetto divas shrieking through, while the second side is made up of five identifiable and often moving songs. ‘Eye-Shaking King’bears certain structural resemblances to the Velvet Underground’s ‘Venus in Furs’, although the textures are far thicker, sometimes to the point of overpowering the listener and turning his brain to the resinous extract of Burroughsian Mugwump spinal fluid, and ‘Cerberus’is a surging piece which flipped me out one night when I suddenly realized that the guitar riff in it was almost an exact duplication of the folk-classical ‘Chope Dance‘ performed by the Phillipe Koutev ensemble on Elektra/Nonesuch’s amazing but decidedly non-rock Music of Bulgaria album.

The set’s other record is composed of three long improvisations which seem like an extension of the Psychedelic Underground album’s jams to a higher level, titled ‘Yeti’, ‘Yeti Talks to Yogi’ and ‘Sandoz in the Rain’. They all have their moments, but the pounding, relentless floodtides of sound which are the group’s hallmark seem to work better in the more controlled settings of shorter songs.

Part Four: The Mini and Maxi Lemming

Amon Düül’s latest album reflects the application of that knowledge, and what you’re holding in your hands right now is a sampler of the result. Dance of the Lemmings, while a refinement and maturation of the directions charted in Yeti, is still a totality, perhaps more so than that album, and deserves the most intelligent and committed kind of listening. It is not light music, but its seriousness is fortified by the scope of its venturesomeness and its profound originality. Again at least half of it is composed of musical sequences in which series of songs, listed chronologically on jacket and label, seem to wind and flow and twist around and through each other, so that it is challenging if not impossible to determine just where, say, ‘Dehypnotized Toothpaste’ ends and ‘A Short Stop at the Transylvanian Brain Surgery‘ begins. The best thing to do is see that this two-record EP serves only as appetizer, and to get as soon as possible into the warp and woof of the complete work.

The first side is a suite in the grand Amon Düül’s latest album reflects the application of that knowledge, and what you’re holding in your hands right now is a sampler of the result. tradition called ‘Syntel Man’s March of the Roaring Seventies’,which is divided into four parts that flow right into each other without demarcating bands and is actually composed of six or seven short sequences running through a myriad of changes: folk melodies on acoustic guitar, high keening drones, bongo drums and a jazz guitar segment with dulcet parsley tones. Later the music turns from folk forms to an almost classical sound, with charging piano and modal violin a bit reminiscent of Sugarcane Harris’ work with Zappa, the entire ensemble finally coming together in one pulsating drone that rides over and out.

The second side is another suite called ‘Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child’ and begins with a descending scale eventuating in an electronic burp called ‘Landing in a Ditch’.The ‘Dehypnotized Tootbpaste’–’Short Stop at the Transylvanian Brain Surgery’sequence is next, with a breathtaking sound palette including fuzztone attack, sitar, Airplane-ish vocals trailing into a beautiful repetitive guitar riff that continues with little change as an electronic curtain rises steadily and fills the sky. The sense is of Burroughsian literary techniques, which were themselves derived from 20th Century graphic arts, applied to music, massed bowed or amp-distorted strings cut up and rearranged in a sound collage fading into a fuzz wah-wah attack worthy of Black Sabbath and a vocal with Yoko whinny-vibrato overtones, followed by another wailing violin solo. The side ends as ‘Paralyzed Paradise’oozes into ‘H. G. Wells’ Take-off’, with a Black Sabbath rhythm guitar crunch overridden by a Robbie Kreiger-ish guitar solo streaming into phased guitars melting behind unintelligible spoken vocal a La Yardbirds’ ‘Glimpses’, overlain by absolute walls of sound that are always coherent and controlled but whose source is not always readily identifiable… I’m not saying that this music derives from some mystic Outer Source, but that Amon Düül’s assimilation and synthesis of all major 20th Century musical idioms is so astonishing that you sometimes don’t know exactly what you are hearing.

Side Three is entirely given over to an improvisation called ‘The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church’, which harkens back to the material on the second record of Yeti and sounds pretty much the same all the way through with feedback drones and repetitive rhythms. It’s like the later live work of the Stooges, which was an endless wrangling tangle of fine, fine noise that you could live in. It’s a real aural environment! It is authentically hypnotic.

Side Four of Dance of the Lemmings is the most immediately accessible side of the album and perhaps of all Amon Düül’s recorded work, consisting of three songs that begin and end and have spaces of traditional non-chancy silence between them. Another plus for programming or just initially getting into this music is that they are the closest to traditional notions of rock ‘n’ roll as well. ‘Chewing Gum Telegram’ is built on a heavy churning guitar line, wah wah slithering over and out on Martian suction cups, while ‘Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight’ is a deep moog-like basso excursion almost cinematically true to its title, and ‘Toxological Whispering’ shouldn’t give any trouble to anybody weaned on Hendrix and Clapton.

There has never been a group quite like Amon Düül II before, and there may never be another to transmute so many sounds ever again. One thing is certain: we are doing ourselves a disservice if we let this intrepid German vector go by us. When Yeti came out, the French magazine Rock et Folk had this to say: “With its new double album, this Munich act establishes itself as one of the most astonishing groups anywhere… a type of musical happening, in which all the forms of pop and contemporary music are included. The steadily hammering beet gives the essential balance; without it the ear would be exhausted in a crazed running between manifold pictures, windings,highs and lows…For us it is the discovery of a new dimension in pop music: a fantastic surrealism, a new spectacle.”

To which I can only add, having just returned from another headphone-session with Dance of the Lemmings, a spent Amen. This is one time that somebody far from these shores has something to teach us (and fry our brains in the process) about “our” music and the music of the universe. It’s happened before, you know.

© Lester Bangsunpublished, for Dance of the Lemmings, 1971

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