Here's another oldie that I'm writing up in between waiting in vain for some new hooch to make its way to my door, and to be frank about it my choice in matters was undoubtedly spurred on by Jon Behar's recent posting of matters of a particularly Smithian/Deadish nature ifyaknowaddamean wink wink hint hint!* And yes, I must admit with a heavy heart and even heavier thighs that I have neglected this 2000 release for a variety of reasons, most notable amongst 'em being that the dang thing kept getting pushed to the back of the collection while I would be on the search of more pressing matters, like where did that Big Brother CD I was planning to play go anyway!
Three/four years after producing the sci-fi-oriented fanzine OBELISK and a good three or so before becoming the resident rockscribe at CAVALIER where he filled us in on all of the new names in showbiz from Iggy Stooge to James Taylor, Lenny Kaye was making himself known in the city of New Brunswick and outlying vicinities as one Link Cromwell. Cromwell was the tri-county's answer to Sonny Bono with a few tricks up his own balloon sleeve which you can find out about by playing this platter that was, surprisingly enough, released by the decidedly anti-peace creep Norton label who I thought woulda known better given all of those things Billy and Miriam used to say about protest types back inna pages of KICKS!
But that Link guy...what a card! I'm positive he had more than a few neighbors muttering about his long hair and Nehru jacket, especially since he used to be such a nice boy too. I mean, if he only trimmed it a little in the back, he'd look halfway decent. But whatever, the guy must have gotten around plenty with his group the Zoo causing much consternation amongst the old-timers in the area who just couldn't connect with the new ideas that were coming forth in that music-active year of 1966 and for that Link we salute you!
Miraculously enough a single was released which came and went faster than you can say "G-L-O-R-I-A", and little else was heard from Mr. Cromwell until an early 1980 appearance at Max's Kansas City. Fortunately his protest-minded music survives to inspire us young and frustrated suburban kids who have to put up with squares knocking us for our long hair, secretly chortling about it knowing that in a few years time these same L-7 types are gonna be sprouting lambchops and medallions (not to forget those kerchiefs that were so omnipresent you even saw Phil Harris wearing one on that Dora Hall special) thinkin' that they're the bee's knees for having such sartorial elegance!
Fortunately both sides of that platter ("Crazy Like a Fox"/"Shock Me") end up on this disque, they being the bread which sandwiches a flesh and blood 1966 Link Cromwell and the Zoo gig recorded live on an actual Wollensack reel-to-reel the kind you used to see in grade schools nationwide during those pre-cassette days. Sound quality is surprisingly good as well...guess the folks at Norton hadda do a lotta afterhours scrubbing to make the thing sound halfway decent considering the lousy reproduction those old tape recorder monstrosities were legendary for! But I'm getting ahead of myself...the Cromwell single is a real professional winner even if the brave soul is undoubtedly backed not by the Zoo but a buncha studio musicians. Well, at least they lay down a surprisingly decent backdrop even though you kinda get the idea that they'd all rather be home watching PEYTON PLACE. Nice East Coast folk-rockiness that still has that mid-sixties zip even if it does sound like it was recorded in the same dimension where those Dave Berg "Lighter Side Of..." cartoons took place.
NOW on to the live stuff. Here Cromwell and the Zoo play real snat-like and competent enough to jive with your own personal opinion regarding mid-sixties local group ideals. Nothing dynamic mind you...let's just say that the Zoo knew how to play that basic sixties rock, or at least they did before they all went to college and discovered inner peace through Joni Mitchell 'r somethin'. But I don't mind...after all, if you were some teenage doofus living on depression wages this is probably about as close to the real thing as you were gonna get so quit complainin'! And talk about packed...these guys even had a secret weapon in the form of the Zooluz, gal backup singers who used to go go dance and shake tambourines in that inimitable mid-sixties way that used to get my mom all apoplexed! I personally don't think they were anything special looking with their flop around the house blouses 'n shorts (in fact, if you told me that two of 'em were really Marcia Bronson and Sheila Klein her very best friend I'd believe it!), but it's nice to know that Cromwell had no use for Women's Lip and knew enough to keep 'em all in their place mainly shaking tambourines and dancing up and down the stage like all good women should do!
Actually the live material really connects with whatever there is in my cranium left to connect with, with Cromwell and company romping through everything from the Stones to "Green Onions" while playing to a small but unappreciative audience. Naturally the recently-released single gets plugged/performed and, amidst the wide array of cover material, one other "original" entitled "Gross Man" (which may or may not be about the famed Dylan manager) appears. Don't get your hopes up too much, for this number is actually the Batman theme with some off-color references tossed in including one naughty joke about a guy who mixes cement with a fork and a few lines about the "special" relationship that exists between Gross Man and his teenage sidekick Robin. Talk about the love that dares not speaks its secret identity...I mean, who's gonna buy this disque anyway, Fredric Wertham?
I dunno, but despite this foray into the realm of bad taste Link Cromwell sure sounds fun and appealing to that mid-sixties rock ideal the same way he woulda if I were some ten-year-old kid at the time and I saw Link and the Zoo playing a birthday party in my neighborhood. Of course it was fun no matter how you sliced it during the all-important rock & roll year of '66, perhaps the apex of rock as what it stood for before situations really got way out of hand. And to be honest about it nobody really realized this all important fact until that scene was long gone and Kaye's own NUGGETS collection arrived to remind us of just how exciting rock & roll used to be before the great upheaval of the late-sixties and very early-seventies sorta shocked people into a new sense of nerve-frazzle.
Here in 2011 it comes off like a strange piece of a by-now ancient history that even I can remember although I was way too young to appreciate the true power of it all to the point where it might as well have been some long-gone dream I had. An even stranger one than the dream from last night where I suddenly noticed that a very young girl's face was either eaten away at or blown off leaving me in the throes of sorrow/nausea.
But if I had been born even a good five years earlier I would have understood perfectly and who knows, maybe if I did catch 'em I'd've been inspired to put together my own group of local miscreants barely into the double digits just so's we could crank out our own favorite rock & roll songs at some creepy girl's birthday bash. A true piece of rock & roll esoterica from a past that wasn't just a "simpler" time, it was a BETTER time.
*And really, there's nothing surprising about that given that Patti Smith herself once shared a CBGB stage with none other than Dead lyricist Robert Hunter making him perhaps a bigger underground scion than any of us would have ever dared admit!