Sunday, June 14, 2009

Henry Flint & the Insurrections - I Don't Wanna

My friend Arnaldo from Davila 666 loved this record when I burned a copy for him a few years back. Hope you love this resurrected piece of protopunk/avantrock history too.

"Initially comprised of only Flynt on vocals and electric guitar accompanied by his sculptor friend Walter De Maria on drums, the duo was nevertheless a superb and highly volatile agit-punk outfit that soon went by the name of Henry Flynt & the Insurrections. Rehearsals initially took place at De Maria’s downtown loft, where the duo swung rhythms around against each other and battered smart 13/8 and 5/4 tempos so hard that they sounded like old vinyl caught in a locked groove. Released temporarily from his LaMonte Young-fixated violin drones, but still determined “to reject the claim of cultural superiority which musicology made for European classical music”
3, Flynt’s spangly and disorientating guitar licks and tumultuous Reedian rhythm playing came on like Armand Schaubroeck’s Churchmice playing frenetic Bulgarian wedding music, or John Fahey as fed through the Boards of Canada filter. Moreover, this neo-New Yorker’s refusenik motor-mouthed verbal onslaughts were delivered in an ultra southern preacher twang said to have been far stronger than when he’d first stepped off the train from North Carolina several years previously. Behind Flynt, Walter De Maria’s drumming was a swirling and bruising snare-led dervish dance, inspired by a desire to jettison the indolent thuggery of his previous band The Primitives, whose now legendary 45 ‘The Ostrich’ had almost been an accidental hit in 1965 for its writers Lou Reed and John Cale.4 And such was the musical effect of Henry Flynt & the Insurrections on its protagonists that they soon attempted to validate their group in the eyes of the New York art community by adding a bass player and organist. However, both Flynt and De Maria were overtly paranoid of the possible unbalances that could be wrought by unsympathetic playing from any new members. And so it was with some trepidation that they asked their friends organist Art Murphy and upright bassist Paul Breslin to extend The Insurrections into a quartet. We shall never know, however, quite how the four piece incarnation of The Insurrections would have fared in a live situation, for, due to Flynt’s wariness of the commercial music business, they were disbanded after recording just one LP’s worth of material in 1966. Flynt would later claim that it was the music hall approach of The Beatles that was to rid pop music of the essential ethnic qualities that had attracted him in the first place, whilst the assassination of Martin Luther King would – for Flynt – be the final nail in the coffin of the civil rights movement that was to drive this delicate soul underground forever.

Flynt’s assumption that his ‘playing would entail commercial success as a by product’ was severely battered by the absolute commercial failure of The Velvet Underground, so recently championed as the New York avant gardists’ answer to The Rolling Stones. It all seemed evidence enough to Flynt that popular rock’n’roll had become “uniformly loud in a way which was vulgar, mechanical, and bloated.
5” Here was a perfect excuse for Henry Flynt to bow out of mainstream culture entirely and disappear for good, rather than “competing with musicians for whom the last step in composing a piece is the sale—musicians for whom a bad piece that sells is a good piece.” Thereafter, this marginalised (and highly shell-shocked) artist chose a strictly non-combative path, still quietly exploring his theory of a new American ethnic music in the face of what he called the ‘Youth Disintegration Industry’, but damning all post-’69 rock’n’roll as a ‘one-way march towards grotesquerie and defilement.’ By 1984, Henry Flynt had given up playing music of any kind and had retired inwards into his art theories. He appears to have gained some kind of solace in the notion that all Western art movements were equally pervasive, equally brutal and equally unjust.

But where does this leave Flynt’s sole recorded statement made with The Insurrections? At times, this guy is as much of a Zoroaster staring down the Iranian charioteers as is Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammill, and – after eighteen months of repeated listening - I personally consider the record to be a truly dislocated and barbarian classic. Moreover, although I’ve attempted several times to make I DON’T WANNA into Album of the Month, I have always previously backed down at the last minute in case it was just my ultra-compassionate, or overly romantic side talking. But still I’d come back for one more spin and fall in love all over again.

The recorded evidence contained within the grooves of this album reveals such an astonishing quicksilver energy of interplay between the guitar and drums that it all sounds contemporary even today. Whilst De Maria’s drumming ricochets around the heavens and, at times, makes no more attempt to keep down the beat than did Mickey ‘Circle Sky’ Dolenz at Monkees concerts, Henry Flynt’s guitar melds Sterling Morrison’s cyclical mantras to Lou Reed’s freerock abandon with effortless ease, all the while his vocalising conjuring up a bucolic and Biblical imagery utterly at odds with the downtown New Yorkscape in which the recordings were made. Except for the seven minutes of ‘Dream Away’, each of the songs is concise – most being under three minutes in length - and each inevitably sounds somewhat reminiscent of L. Reed’s playing in his pre-Velvets groups (which I could never get enough of anyway). But does I DON’T WANNA truly qualify as having been made by a group? Perhaps not. For “Jumping” is a duel between Guitar Henry and an overdubbed Violin Henry with ne’er a thought for the other three guys in the band, whilst “Dreams Away” is virtually solo Henry throughout its entire seven minutes. It seems that, in choosing a double bass jazzer such as Paul Breslin over an electric bassist, Flynt was clearly intending his sideman to be seen (for credibility’s sake) and not heard (as Leo Fender commented in 1951, the double bass was always ‘the doghouse’ – inaudible to all but the front rows of the audience and NEVER in tune). Perhaps the highly-respected Breslin was put in place to make the Insurrections FEEL more like a ‘proper’ group to outsiders. But you can strain your ears all you wish and barely hear a pulse from that double bass, other than the occasional boogie down on ‘Sky Turned Red’. Furthermore, that Art Murphy’s organ playing was equally secondary to the powerhouse of Flynt and De Maria is also clearly evidenced on I DON’T WANNA, being audible only during the unnecessary and slight instrumental ‘Corona del Max’ (which sounds more like the work of a typical organ-led garage rock band such as The E-Types than hefty musical dudes from a NY seminary). However, as Murphy went on to play with both Steve Reich and Philip Glass in the 1970s, perhaps he too was added to the line-up to infuse a psychic heftiness to this otherwise guitar’n’drums-only ‘quartet’.

But whatever his reasons, Henry made his single most magical statement with this self-styled ‘protest band’ The Insurrections, and mighty thankful should we be for the release of this hitherto unknown gem. Indeed, so should our man Flynt. For, with such a substantial statement now in place, much of Henry Flynt’s other performance work (from the ‘Dreamweapon’ appearances with LaMonte Young to the recent slew of releases via the Locust Music label) will be much easier to access by utilising this record as the gateway to his skewed and elliptical underworld. My compassion for this anguished theorist grows with everything new I learn about the man, especially as his own writings reveal no anger at his lack of commercial success, but instead betray all the compassion for modern humanity of a prophetic voice truly crying out in the desert. As Mr Flynt so percipiently commented back in 1980:
“I have to believe that the audiences which support the deluge of crass, gross music experience a far greater misfortune than I… Under the circumstances, the horrible symbiosis represented by mass culture cannot be upstaged by one iconoclast.”
-Julian Cope
dark destroyer