The Holy Modal Rounders – Skydivers
Even now, after all this time, I can forget that my parents used to listen to some absolutely mental shit in their day. It’s a thing most of us learn at some point, but still something I seem to manage to forget on a regular basis – probably because when I make compilations for them I have a think about some of the stuff I am into these days, stuff which is far weirder than I myself used to listen to, and decide on their behalf that it’s probably a bit much for the old fuckers.
My folks have just returned from a round-the-world trip on a container ship because, erm, apparently that’s what you do if you’re nearly seventy and finding retirement a bit boring, and we just had a bit of a chat about the trip and various other bits and bobs because we haven’t really spoken for weeks now. Apparently the mobile reception is shit in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Anyhow, they signed off with the somewhat throwaway comment that I should listen to Skydivers by the Holy Modal Rounders, because it’s brilliant.
Cool, I thought. I like the Holy Modal Rounders. Apparently during the height of the super-elaborate and boorishly pretentious wave of proggy rock-operas in the sixties Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber reacted by stripping music back to absolutely minimal basics again and going a bit crazy with it. I actually have Holy Modal Rounders 1 & 2 on vinyl. The lyrics are weird as fuck and the nasal vocals take a little getting used to, but it’s pretty straight-up and basic, albeit brilliant, psychedelic folk. And that’s about as much as I’m familiar with.
Skydivers, on the other hand, is little bit more in the, erm, batshit crazy camp. It’s from their third album Indian War Whoop, and it adds a lot of delirious organ to their signature sound, but more importantly, it throws every last mental idea spinning around their crazy heads into a blender and smears the result all over the resulting record like pizza base. I’ve heard my dad sing versions of these songs my whole life and never known that that they came from this record, or that what I was hearing was such a… well, such a palatable interpretation of such intense and weird music.
You can hear most of the album at this YouTube link. Have a listen. Skydivers is by far the most beautiful moment on the album (apart from the missing songs of course, which I haven’t heard yet), and some of the violin in particularly is just hauntingly lovely. But it’s still tense and wandering and has a definite sense of simmering menace lurking amongst its lovelier moments. And, y’know, it still contains lyrics like “…looking for all the world like an umbrella that has seen too much, and forgotten nothing.”
Even at nearly forty years of age myself, and even after the two mad old bastards have just returned from indulging their retirement by riding a container ship through the Panama Canal, I still seem to manage to forget that my folks are way weirder and way cooler than I tend to give them credit for.
I don’t think I can take all the blame though. I mean, my Mum bought a fucking Lighthouse Family album for fuck’s sake. She bought one on purpose. She may have bought several. But then they lulled me to sleep as a child by singing me this absolutely crazy stuff. No wonder kids grow up confused.More: holy modal rounders