Three 70s “classic rock” bands, each releasing major “return to form” albums over the summer. Each seemingly revived like the Phoenix…and each sharing this “hypnotic” graphic motif.
This week, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers‘ “Hypnotic Eye” debuts as the #1 album on the Billboard US chart…1st time in 38 years.
Is this just a “coincidence”…a synchronicity…or a “meme”…are we collectively looping a hypnotic state consciousness that is reflected in the arts? Is pop culture is a reflector of the state, or a state of reflection?
“Like shadow people in shadow lands
Shadow people in shadow land
Shadow people in shadow land
Waiting for the sun to be split over there
I ain’t got any shadow at all” -Tom Petty, “Shadow People” from Hypnotic Eye…hmmm!
Hollywood Resurrection: Classic Rock and the Hypnosis Meme
I like to note memes in the popular culture because they generally hold some nuggets about the collective state of humans. The meme, that modern application for the Jungian archetypal pattern recognition and retrieval—call it software—operates on the perceptual and/or subliminal levels of consciousness. It “swims” in the streams of consciousness and charges emotional, kinetic, and visceral responses which, in turn, aggregate energies to a conditioned response. The term was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976—long before the nascent internet was made public. It means (from the Greek, mimeme- to mime, mimic; an “imitated thing”
If modern hyper-media produces chunks of coded information that either predict, or conform, behavioral and perceptual patterns, then certainly the “pop culture”, especially music, is the most viral agent to notice such patterns. Popular culture is, indeed, formulated and dispensed to the “public” as ongoing re-programming. Certainly since the time of the Beatles and the explosion of the rock music era, no better carrier of cultural upheavals has been formulated than culture driven by sound, images, and (often hidden) philosophical embeds. The Beatles, you may recall, were brazen enough to place Aleister Crowley (The Beast/666) on the “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” cover.
Sixties and seventies rock culture created vast opportunities for media moguls to “amplify” the message to a generation literally raised by the electronosphere of TV, electric music, mass-produced print, and the more tactile responses of fashion, language, and behaviors. Psychologist, N. K. Humphrey’s has suggested that “memes should be considered as living structures, not just metaphorically.” Thus, the messages, forms, and medium constantly shift, convolute, and evolve (fitting to Dawkins’ own evolutionary theories). We now live in the day of the “nugget”: where memes fly by in rapid succession and are custom formed for a particular “affinity group”, yet touch on the larger collective culture.
I began to notice a “meme”, over the course of the last few months related specifically to three “classic” rock bands from the 1970s. In each case, these bands are “resurrecting” their images and reclaiming their mantles in the rock music pantheon. In each case, these bands—all over 40 years running—seek to shed the image of being little more than “oldies acts” or even “cover bands” of their material. In each case, the bands were culturally significant “change agents” in their respective heydays and are reclaiming their “relevance” and artistic statures. Each band, although not natives to LA/Hollywood, have largely been based there and produced their music there. In each case, there is a visual “hook” to the meme of hypnosis.
The rock-jazz-pop band, Chicago began in 1967, releasing their debut LP, “Chicago Transit Authority” in 1969. The album was a masterpiece of rock-jazz fusion that featured significant commentary on the political upheavals of the time. The song, “Questions: 67 & 68” featured an audio collage of the 1968 Chicago riots with the chant: “…the whole world’s watching…the whole world’s watching…” over heavily distorted guitar feedback and rising, ominous horn blasts. Chicago was, in the day, a band who understood the power of music to a culture. While Chicago has continued to echo their city namesake, they transplanted to Los Angeles where they built their reputation as the house band at the Bitter End. Over time, the band lost its original rock roots (after the accidental “Russian Roulette” suicide of leader/guitarist, Terry Kath), and by the early nineties was considered a pop or soft rock band, whose fortunes declined as the music charts moved to punk, in turn “grunge”, then hiphop.
Chicago, in 2014, needed to revive their artistic “cred”, and “NOW” features some harder-edged music, including the extremely modern production styles of “Naked in the Garden of Allah” and “More Will Be Revealed” , both co-penned by founding member, Robert Lamn.
Chicago attempted this return to roots first, in 1994, when they went into seclusion with producer, Peter Wolf, to record “The Stone of Sisyphus” — a jazzier, more rock-oriented album that was rejected by Warner Brothers Records, and resulted in Chicago departing the label, and the departure of guitarist, Dwayne Bailey. The album was later released in 2008 on Rounder Records—after two decades of the band being largely a touring ensemble playing their past hits and releasing albums like “Big Band” and “The Christmas Album”, along with several live recordings.
The band, with a revamped line-up, stood to gain much with a powerful new “statement” in their 2014 release. Their image has largely been shadowed by their 1980s era music produced by pop producer, David Foster. While continuing to sell records, they also lost their core rock sound in favor of mainstream “adult contemporary” radio-friendly hits. Even with a series of other producers, the band lost their “edge”, but sustained popularity because of their superb musical skills, and despite the departure of founding member and lead singer, Peter Cetera. “NOW” features a cover that seemingly “captures” the visual eye, even as these new songs seek to grab the ears and hearts of the listeners. Oddly, the re-styled Chicago logo (the band’s visual icon since the beginning) looks oddly: HYPNOTIC. Here we have a mandala motif and commentary on the media itself:
“This televised democracy (we seek protection, we seek protection)
Such adolescent fantasy (we seek refuge, we seek refuge)
Random access to content
I think we’re naked in the garden of Allah (Allah)
We are artless, we are violent
We are poison, we are broken
Pie in the sky and gingerbread (we seek protection, we seek protection)
We never meant to get in bed (we seek refuge, we seek refuge)
With wannabe intelligentsia
I think we’re naked in the garden of Allah”
– Robert Lamn, “Naked In The Garden Of Allah”, from Chicago XXXVI: “NOW”
YES-”Heaven and Earth”
YES, like Chicago, needed to stabilize, and reclaim their mantle. The band has toured tirelessly for three years with the current line-up, including successful cruise tours featuring a “progressive rock” package of onboard concerts, smaller jam sessions, and numerous guest acts, including members of Genesis, ELP, King Crimson and other “prog” luminaries. The challenge lay ahead in the question: could they successfully translate this band back into a viable recording unit and achieve the standards of “Fragile”, Close To The Edge”, and their breakout 1971, “The YES Album”? In early 2014, they met in Los Angeles and began recording, with producer Roy Thomas Baker, the tracks for what became “Heaven & Earth”.
“One glimpse, way out
Of the ethereal
Or just imagination
Venturing to find
The victory of game
It’s all a state of mind’ -Jon Davison, “Subway Wall” from YES: “Heaven & Earth”
Very much both a return to form, and oddly sounding more like YES around their 1970-era sound of “Time And A Word”; they merge the high tenor vocals and mystical lyrics of the Jon Anderson-era with a more compressed delivery. Howe’s signature guitars are more forefront, keyboards, elegantly played by Downes, tend to serve the songs rather than dominate, as they had in the Rick Wakeman and Patrick Moraz eras.
The songs are shorter (longest , “Subway Walls” clocking in at just over 9 minutes), crisply produced, and sounding cohesive and more organic than any YES album in two decades, “Heaven & Earth” moves YES back to their creative heights. Interestingly, YES has, since the “Fragile” album used very conscious imagery to convey their particular message, largely (though not exclusively) through the graphic designs of Roger Dean, who designed their logo and has done many of their album covers and stage designs.
For “Heaven & Earth” there was a conscious decision to include Dean in the overall “arc” of the album’s conceptual thrust. Steve Howe states:
“I don’t know whether it’s a concept record in the true sense, but basically Roger Dean and I were talking about different things and sometimes it helps to get Roger fired up about ideas that we can draw from. In a way, the parallel of saying ‘Heaven And Earth’ is the same as saying good and bad, yin and yang, up and down, left and right. They’re two extremes, but I think the way Roger and I liked it was that in fact the Earth is a physical place where you can measure stuff and you can do quantum physics.”
Those who grew up in the classic rock era (1970s) are likely aware of the mystical imagery, streaming consciousness, and deliberate hypnotic devices via music, rhythms, imagery, lighting, and later, video screens. The world is a multi-sensory experience which these children of Marshal McLuhan both understood and gained the technology to exploit.
The early masters, The Beatles (or their “creators”) forged the path to a musical experience which opera (the first multimedia form) only glimpsed. The Grateful Dead certainly perfected the mass-hypnosis rock event at Gizeh, Cairo Egypt in 1978, when they produced a “standing wave” trance state live. That it could be used to generate social and psychological effects is part of why we are both fascinated by—and also need to be wary of—the intended memes that are generated.
That popular music, especially rock (and especially The Beatles) is a well-financed, purpose-driven media mechanism that has been exploited to drive social changes and create hypnotic states is not new, nor is it a modern concept: think of the Roman Empire and the campaigns of “Bread and Circuses”that were used for mind control. It is also not controversial to those who have studied it at depth…and THAT is the subject for another blog post. Think upon these things.