Have you ever wanted to just drill someone to the spot and make them gasp, with nothing more than what came out of your head?
Ever heard “Telstar”? Instrumental from the Fifties, created and produced by Joe Meek. Inspired by the launch of the first telecommunications satellite, of all things. And it’s one of the most purely joyful things you ever heard. I knew a guy who seemed to spend half his life collecting versions of “Telstar.” I’m listening to a live recording of a band called Laika And The Cosmonauts covering it at the moment. Joe Meek was Britain’s first independent record producer. His later stuff, with the Blue Men, still sounds weirdly contemporary. The best Joe Meek songs, like “I Hear A New World,” are like sitting in an alien church. Music that imparts joy and glory from another planet.
Joe Meek was a Mind Gangster.
I think either Chris Sebela or Matt Fraction introduced me to the term, talking about Phil Spector. The term derives from something Brian Wilson said during his craziest period: he believed that Phil Spector was telepathically stealing all his ideas, and called him “a Mind Gangster”.
Go grab a copy of, say, “River Deep Mountain High,” which a critic once described as the sound of God hitting the world and the world hitting God back. Possibly the apotheosis of his Wall Of Sound technique, that immense wave of presence. He was way ahead of his time. When he started out, the Hollywood recording studios he strived in didn’t have the capacity to contain his sound — the mics couldn’t cope with the vast surge of information being thrown at them. But when the apparatus caught up with him, my God, Phil Spector could drill people to the spot. He almost single-handedly invented teenage angst in music.
Andrew Loog Oldham invented thievery in Western music. When people talk about “pop Svengalis”, they’re talking about Oldham. He managed, produced and essentially invented the Rolling Stones, at age 21, a feverpitch criminal brain showing Jagger and Richards how to creatively steal from the blues and their contemporaries and any other damn thing that was laying around, and making their every breath into a Media Event. (And, on the side, pretty much signing Brian Jones’ death certificate.) In the days before miniature tape decks and dashboard CD players, Oldham was the guy who had a record player in his Rolls Royce. Unlike Spector, he barely touched the production board. He created the ambience. He had the Knowledge. He was conducting, his head out in the Superflow, waiting for the sound that’d make the world skip a beat under its needle.
These are all stories from the days when rock and roll was new, the music business was small, everyone knew everybody but no-one knew anything. There was space.
Joe Meek killed himself. Phil Spector went crazy. Andrew Loog Oldham fried himself with money and drugs and now lives quietly in South America. Because, you know, crime doesn’t pay, and even Mind Gangsters come up hard against natural law in the end.
But isn’t it worth it, for those blazing years when you can control someone’s breath and take them somewhere they didn’t know existed?
( (c) Warren Ellis 2004. Another piece from last year that I feel like preserving. Since the writing of it, I believe Andrew Loog Oldham has moved to sedate Vancouver.)