Friday, August 06, 2004

DO ANY OF YOU REMEMBER WAYNE McGUIRE???

Awhile back (in the course of a review of the Lester Bangs biography) I made the statement that Bangs wasn't my all-time favorite rock writer anymore. That lofty positiion was now held by none other than Wayne McGuire. Yes, a writer whose entire list of published articles (and a letter) could probably be counted by either your average four-year-old and one who never made it into the seventies writing scene fully intact, is now a bigger writer in my panthenon of rock critiquing greats than one Lester Bangs who gets all the glories and has pipsqueaks praising his name and dribblings this far down the line. And you know what, three years later I'm still sticking to my guns.

So, who is Wayne McGuire? From what I can patch out he was/is a Bostonian (living in Maine for a short spell in the very early-seventies) who had been involved with the underground there since at least the mid-sixties (in his "Boston Sound" piece he mentions trying to convince high school classmates the superiority of John Coltrane over the Beatles and Stones which would make him roughly now in his late-fifties). Not much else is known about this point in his life, though it is reported that he was arrested at a book shop where he wss working in 1967 for selling copies of Boston guru Mel Lyman's underground magazine AVATAR, which the local authorities were eyeballing as an obscene read due to its breaking of the language barrier amongst other things (naturally this and other arrests and Lyman's defiance made him a free-speech hero and all 'round countercultural guy, at least until the stories came out). McGuire came to "prominence" more or less in the pages of the old CRAWDADDY back when Paul Williams was still running the game and under the spell of the infamous Lyman. According to reports, McGuire was also under the spell of this mystical "World Savior" who was then working out of the Fort Hill complex as well, something which seemed to permeate a lot of his early works and earned him a bit of derision from many a quarter. The first of these works to get published appeared in the seventeenth issue of the self-proclaimed (and for many a good reason too!) "Magazine of Rock," a wowzer of a piece on the Velvet Underground entitled "The Boston Sound/The Velvet Underground and Mel Lyman" which not only delivers a pretty good review of WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT but attempts to pair what the late-period Cale-era band (this article was dated August 1968) were doing along with the likes of Mel Lyman and his "community" who were then riding high on the infamy that came with publishing an underground newspaper run by none other than God with a big "G" himself! Considering how the Mel Lyman and "family" recordings that have been circulating under the title BIRTH (CD-R available from John Aes-Nihil) sound a lot like the early-Velvet Underground meets Amon Duul I with Sky Saxon's LOVERS COSMIC VOYAGE thrown in (this bit of information courtesy Imants Krumins, I never heard that one!), maybe McGuire did have a point.

But man oh man, did McGuire really do a good job making the Velvet Underground's music seem so beyond-walls. At first (around 1981 when I first read it) I thought McGuire was just another one of those fruity frilly innerlectual rock critics seemingly oh-so-proper and genteel, and the quick and curt putdown by Bangs in his famous "racism in punk" article helped solidify my original feelings, but subsequent readings had me doing more than just a complete turnaround. For I could now see just how this article, with its references to Burroughs, Genet and C.S. Lewis (whom I originally thought might have had some interesting value as a fantasy cum social/religioso figure but now comes off more or less as just another Northern Irish prod) and with all of its high-falutin' style captures the unmitigated essence of the Velvet Underground as the only band willing to take rock & roll to the heart of the matter at a time when many musical aggregations were getting ten times as much praise (witness ROLLING STONE's incessant cheerleading of the New Left rock agenda with little regards for the actual music or stylings, not counting the MC5 for a short spell of course!) while doing ten times less the effort or energy. Some might have shuddered at a description of the Velvets as being "at the fiery center of the twentieth-century dilemma, as was Nietzsche" but maybe from a 35+-year vantage point I can see just about how right McGuire could have been.

When McGuire begins to talk about the Velvet Underground's actual sound and vision (and not necessarily their light show) he improves even more, in fact laying down a lot of the same critical ideas that have been copped by many a Velvet-obsessed maniac this far down the line. Since everybody likes to insert large block-quotes brimming with major important hunks o' info, I myself will do just that with this following bit which will just goes to show you how far advanced McGuire's writings were with regards to the Velvets (as well as how advanced he was when compared with his literary "competition"):

"But what I really want to talk about is the Velvet Underground's music. Essential to that music is drone. Not the pencil-thin drone of Indian music which emanates from spirits and nervous systems which think they've found it and probably have within their limited structure of things, but a drone which is as broad as a house, a drone which is produced by New World Citizen nervous systems plunging into the Cosmic Whirl. The drone has two levels, high-pitched and low-pitched (corresponding to the drones of the central nervous systems), which are produced by two very heavy nervous systems belonging to Lou Reed and John Cale respectively. The drone is not always heard but rather felt as pure essence and perpetual presence.

"The constant feedback is produced by those nervous systems and projected through the amps which have been made perfect human extensions; it is organic and comes from from the inner recesses of their souls; and their souls are connected to mother earth, their energy is generated from the core of planet earth up through their feet through their heads and amps to create a wall of sounds which is a beautifully intricate and richly texturized abstract-expressionist motion picture. The feedback at peak moments is a suspended mystical ecstasy in which spirit is transformed into a negative mirror of itself, in which streams of energy travel into and out of spirit simultaneously at the speed of light. The only other musician to approach such a profound conception of feedback was Jimi Hendrix on ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? But, as can be heard on AXIS, BOLD AS LOVE, he didn't have enough energy to maintain that powerful conception; and by concentration on such superficial musical aspects as melody and harmonic progression has degenerated to the level of a second-rate jazz musician a la Roland Kirk or Yusef Lateef."


Yeah, I'll bet that a hefty portion of that sounded like pure shovel-it-on hokum to you, but if you think that was I can tell that you too have been blinded by the forces of moderne thought processes which would make you spurn such a well-crafted description of the entire early-Velvets essense of substance while eating up the usual alternative rock press quap so in vogue with the puncture-hole brigade these days. Maybe the "mother earth" ref. would have your stomach flopping but frankly I find the above paragraphs perhaps the best explanation, distillation if you so wish of the inner energy and spirit behind the Velvet Underground sound, a lot more relevant than the comparative duds flung out by a whole slew of Velvet-worshippers of the eighties and beyond whose prose is about as limp as their modern-day musical counterparts.

There are a few interesting open-ends left in this piece, which as McGuire said was only half of the story. This interesting quote; "The V. U. may well inherit the throne vacated by Dylan as the primary myth-makers of our generation. But that is a subject for a book which no doubt someone will write this summer." makes me wonder whether McGuire himself was the author of this probably-written and forever-to-be-unpublished manuscript.

By #19 (October '68), McGuire had penned another piece entitled "Towards a New Musical Form," an entertaining and intriguing work detailing McGuire's plan for a "Universal Musical Form" which is more or less McGuire's take on World Music concentrating on the massive-overdrive sounds of the late-sixties (The Velvet Underground, Cage, Coltrane, Shepp, Sanders, Soft Machine, Shankar, Stockhausen, "Eight Miles High," "Tomorrow Never Knows"...) which would result in a new musical style to be accompanied by a light-show highly reminiscent of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. The musical make-up of this new grouping is so impressive, at least as much as all the credits on those late-sixties albums where each and every instrument is listed on the sleeve no matter how humble it may be that used to make me drop jaw in awe, so once again I'm going to do some block quoting and list the instrumentation just to give you an idea of how crazed this group would have been had it only materialized (and you would have thought, then and now, that someone out there would have had the brains to put McGuire's theories into practice):

Lead guitar/sitar
Bass guitar
Organ
Piano (electrically amplified, not electric piano)
Two Drummers
Tamboura or cello drone (electrically amplified)
Tenor sax (electronically amplified)
Five tape decks
Five record players
Fifteen radios
Television set

Optional: electrified violin and/or viola; 2nd tenor sax; 2nd Bass guitar; 3rd and 4th drummers; extra tape decks, radios, record players and and television sets; bells and other radios, record players, and television sets, bells and other assorted rhythm instruments.


Whew! And what McGuire proceeds to write about with regards to this new dimension in sound is a (once again) rhythmic drone that takes the best of the new jazz (McGuire mentions Coltrane's IMPRESSIONS, Cecil Taylor's LIVE AT THE CAFE MONTMARTRE and the new rock of the Velvet Underground) combined into two "structures," an "Inner" and "Outer Clock" with one in a jazz and the other in a rock mode with the jazz part being "atonally based since these musicians will be playing lines, curves and arcs of sound, not notes (my itals.)." The "Outer Clock" would be more structured, playing in "Dorian, Phrygian, Mixolydian or Lydian modes." Ambitious true, and (expecially given the large rock "orchestra"-type ensembles of the early-eighties conducted by Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham and Rudolph Grey) it's surprising this project never was fleshed out, and in fact was published in a magazine that, other than McGuire's rants, was devoted to the more boring aspects of late-sixties youth culture music.

McGuire seemingly disappeared from the pages of CRAWDADDY along with Williams (who himself was under the spell of the Lyman Family), but suddenly and without explanation popped up in the pages of FUSION in 1970. FUSION was one of the better of the new rock magazines of the day; coming out of Boston, it seemed to have a bit more on the ball than most of the competition perhaps thanks to a snider-style of writing that was a refreshing change from ROLLING STONE's starry-eyed utopianism. True it deep-dived into the same political miasma as STONE (anti-Nixon politics, youth gulcher, Wilhelm Reich...), but at least people like Richard Meltzer were let loose in its record review pages where even Lester Bangs could be given space to praise sixties garage band bargain bin finds (plus the Mad Peck's great cartoon reviews and "Flash Burn Funnies" would show up as well), and it was in this same spirit that McGuire would be given the opportunity to extrapolate himself with his own running (albeit shortly-running) column entitled "An Aquarian Journal."

No, don't expact anything on the Fifth Dimension here, for although McGuire was heavily into astrology as was even hinted in his Velvet Underground piece, this was not the hippy-dippy sort of mystical chicanery more attuned to headbanded gals in the poster shop. More or less astrology in the real Aquarian Age which would see the culmination of a real New World Order, one where both Communism and Capitalism would capitulate to "an electronic theocracy" which I guess McGuire once again left open to discussion as to what that meant!

These "Journals" were short, elliptical commentaries on a number of subject matters and items of varying range, most of them seemingly anti-youth leftist which is s trange considering how McGuire was writing in a "new" publication aimed at the very same hipsters McGuire was deriding. Besides the usual paens to the Velvets (as well as musical acts previously unmentioned by McGuire such as the Stooges, John Fahey, Robbie Basho and the Grateful Dead), there were bits and pieces on a wide array of "relevant" subjects that in many ways seemed to be as dagger-aimed at the heart of the love generation as Alice Cooper said his music was. Much of this is now outdated 'cept for students of early-seventies radicalism, but given McGuire's general hatred for the New Left as well as some of his more acidic, downright offensive comments, you could call these Aquarian Journals proto-punk in their slash and burn (not to mention musical) content.

Beware: McGuire, like Mencken, could really tear into his object of derision. He could also, like Mencken, say things about groups and races that would be considered "beyond the pale" by the arbitors of taste out there...y'know, the ones that shudder whenever something terrible is said about blacks or Jews but feel perfectly fine dishing it out to suburban squares and practicing Catholics who've been punching bags for these intellectuals for way too long. It's kinda funny, but sometimes these literaty-minded tastemongers seem to tear into people like Mencken for their at-times derisive words towards the protected classes of today while ignoring all the good things Mencken would say about 'em as well (I mean, he may have said some off-center things about blacks, but you must also admit that the KKK was after his hide for some even-more powerful daggers aimed at them!) Back to the subject at hand...McGuire too could say a lotta things that seem extremely offensive to blacks and especially Jews, but like Mencken there seems to be some sorta alterior motive. His barbs were more or less aimed at the radical aspects of each (maybe in the same way that I'm sure a lotta non-liberal/left Jews probably get all apopleptic over the radical Jewish elements who berate them for not being socialist...I actually read that somewhere but don't ask for any sources!) and even with some of his comments and usage of uncouth language towards blacks I couldn't see him as being as "racist" as such. After all, he was a big fan of the new avant garde jazz and actually felt that Pharoah Sanders was a milestone of the black race with his "karmic music."

But then again, I copied these journals for a BLACK TO COMM reader who at the time I didn't know was Jewish, and I told him that I thought some of this writing, while good, might be a bit extreme considering some of the things said. Oddly enough, the reader wrote back saying he enjoyed the journals and didn't find a thing in them he would consider anti-Semitic, so maybe I am over-conscious about these???

Still, the quotes found in these journals continue to sting this far down the line, and for anyone who can remember the "New Left" hijinx of the early-seventies they do have their power (and can even be applied to the current variation on the Young Communist League admireres out there). I remember one quote which went something like "I don't know about you, but I kind of like it when Spiro Agnew makes the tweedy, pipe-smoking liberal college professors cackle like a bunch of indignant hens." My sentiments (in retrospect) exactly! There were many more of these attacks on youth culture extant, from a disparaging commentary about a white girl with a picket sign swaying to soul music blasting from a speaker, to on-target destructions of the likes of Bill Graham and Ralph Gleason, whom McGuire saw as the worst West Coast shucks imaginable (despite his like for late-sixties Dead).

As far as the music went, McGuire was still strong on the Velvets as well as the aforementioned acts not forgetting Yoko Ono (this being her pre-gay icon days when she certainly exuded a, er, heterosexual persona you think the gay guys woulda run away from!), Lamonte Young and even jazz pianist Bill Evans. Nice li'l bits of flight can be found as well: "Life Cell Movie: The Stooges take over town. As a community joke, a large platform truck drives up and down Main Street all day and night for a week, carrying ten hanged people. Their eyes bulge out, their swollen black tongues hang out, their blistered faces have turned matted grey. The townsmen line the street to marvel at the Death Float. The ten hanged folks occasionally wink and grin at the spectators to let them know that everything is OK."

Besides the musical commentary (with more interesting proto-punk musings on the likes of how CCR's monotony is boring while the Stooges' is genius, and how McGuire's favorite music is that which is in "the raw stages of becoming" not to mention classic swipes at the likes of Eric Clapton and other seventies stupes) there more on the likes of McGuire's fave British fantasy writers with some great bits that may have even more meaning now than then. Even Dorothy Sayers gets quoted: "Humanism is always apt to underestimate, and to be baffled by, the deliberate will to evil." Humanist was one thing you couldn't blame McGuire for being, since it was he himself who called that modern thought process a "cop out" in his Velvet Underground tome.

It seems that there were only three "Aquarian Journals" to grace FUSION although McGuire would later pen a writeup of THE DUTTON REVIEW for them a year later as well as this letter in praise of a Mel Lyman piece (where he tears into the articles by Lillian Roxon, Nick Tosches, Richard Meltzer etc. that appeared in the same issue, strange because in a journal McGuire was very gung-ho on Meltzer but then again McGuire tended to praise then berate a lotta people, and vice versa). It seemed that McGuire and the New Journalism just weren't meant for each other which is probably wny the man seemingly dropped off the face of the earth for a spell.

McGuire reportedly turned up in the late-seventies in the pages of Nancy Foster's NEW AGE fanzine, first as an interview subject where he stated that he pretty much gave up on rock music after the Stooges, only to get back into it after hearing the Ramones, and later as a reviewer. I've only been told this and have yet to read anything from this period, but (as usual) any help would be appreciated. It was around this time that McGuire became the manager of La Peste, the Boston punk group that had released the excellent "Better Off Dead" single plus a bootleg along the line before entering the great garage in the sky. And after that nothing was heard, until...

McGuire once again showed up in cyberspace, during the early days of the internet where he became part of mideast discussion groups usually upsetting people on both sides of the aisle (I had read one entry of his commenting on the assassination of Rabin, which seemed very pro-Labour Party and anti-Likud to a frothing extent----supposedly he upset way too many people to the point where he was hounded off the web with detractors even going to the extent of digging up old dirt on a messy divorce!). There was also this website of his which was more or less technological data and linkage for the more brainy amongst us, though there was a neat page which listed various McGuire faves, likes and dislikes as far as various subjects went. He did mention an admiration for British historian Paul Johnson (who is considered very pro-Israel/Jew, so go figure!), though his other political/historical likings make McGuire a hard man to peg. He hates William Safire (which seems the course considering Safire's more or less turnaround towards a neocon-ish bent) but likes Maureen Dowd, perhaps because her Clinton-era writings were critical of the prez enough that many conservatives would cling to her at the time. His Howard Stern hatred seems to be an outcropping of his old hatred of such New Left types as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, though his other likes and dislikes might make McGuire even harder to place amongst the uninitiated. However, I can understand him...amongst the things he least likes are "fundamentalist Christians/Conservatives/Liberals/Libertarians/Jews/Muslims" on and on down the line, and in many ways I echo the same sentiments, which seem very Menckenian in retrospect. (Though in no ways would I consider the man Randian...in fact, I wonder what Rand would have thought of McGuire doing an astrological reading on her!)

Also of interest were McGuire's musical tastes. On his lists of various musical faves he drops the names of the acts I would have expected after reading his writings of yore...the Velvets, Stooges and John Coltrane, but surrprisingly enough McGuire revealed his love for the heavy metal idiom, something never mentioned in any of the writings of his I have previously glommed. Black Sabbath are a fave, as is solo Ozzy (along with Randy Rhodes). McGuire also mentioned that amongst his fave musical acts of all time (and fave guitar solos etc.) were recordings by bands such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Neil Young and Crazy Horse (ca. the brilliant EVERYONE KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE and the great solo on "Cinnamon Girl"), as well as some of my favorite "no comment" acts such as Alice in Chains, REM and U2. Hmmmm, maybe I'll give him a pass this once!

's funny, but McGuire's page was up for quite a long time, and being naturally intrigued I even wrote the man an email seeing if he'd get in touch because I wanted to get Edgar Breau (a huge fan) to interview him for my BLACK TO COMM fanzine. There was one long note mentioning everything from Lyman, the Velvets and Bach and another one a short while later (Imants Krumins also wrote a letter) but no response. Soon, McGuire's page was down for good making me wonder if li'l ol' me had anything to do with it...maybe McGuire was in hiding from the Lyman Family (or what's left of it) and thought I was part of a conspiracy to silence him for good, or maybe I was another internet trickster out to ruin him even more, or perhaps he was ashamed of something from those days but whatever, this attempt to get in touch with one of the greats had backfired, perhaps for good!

Wayne, the offer still stands...Edgar is waiting patiently for your return so he can do an interview, so if you happen to read this and want to take us up on our offer, why don't you post a comment or something???

ADDENDUM-Go to Groups.google.com and enter in "Wayne McGuire" with such combinations as "Velvet Underground" and "Boston Rock" or "Middle East" if you're so inclined (invent your own variations!) for even more insight as to what the man has been doing since the early days. This bit of information comes courtesy of Jim Hoffman. Thanks for the tip, Jim!

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Anonymous said...

i knew Wayne McGuire (and his remarkable wife Catherine). i worked with him and several other crazy people at the Booksmith in the 60s & 70s. We once went to see the VU, but i was only casually into music. I have not be in touch with him since that time.
kebec1@gmail.com

Stuart Shea said...

I thought McGuire was full of shit, honestly. Anyone who thinks melody and harmonic progression don't matter, as he does, instantly shuts off the lines of communication with 85% of humanity--i.e., "I'm so far advanced I don't need things to sound good." Anyone who pisses off people on both sides of the aisle isn't automatically a saint, but just as likely a boor.

Anonymous said...

I remember Wayne from the CC Booksmith. Kind of a smarmy dude who'd go on & on & on about John Coltrane or VU. I don't think he really condidered there ever was anything/anyone else, oh and Lamonte Young. Yeah and that POS Lyman. God my ass. His fat horse of a wife selling papers on the streets of Brookline.
I think this blog is actually (secretly) Wayne posing as somebody else so he can rave on about himself. That's the Wayne I remember. Since you asked.. right?

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