I had long been embarrassed by the fact that though I consider myself a fan of acid rock and psychedelic music, I had never really heard a Moby Grape album. (While I am at it - I have also not read Pynchon or Proust.)
Their name - which still sounds funny and surreal after four decades - pops up in any conversation about the mid-/late- Nineteen-Sixties' music and the San Francisco scene but you don't find their albums in stores, in people's collections or even played occasionally on college radio stations.
The band inspired and influenced many musicians (Led Zeppelin, for one) and musical genres, from country-rock to Southern Rock to that indie, psychedelic-folk sound of the recent times. (Some idiot on Wikipedia compares them to Poco and the Eagles.)
Ask any "classic rock" fan about Grape and chances are, he knows *some* trivia about them and it usually has to do with their legendary personnel woes.(Links to The Hangar, Salon and NPR.)
But their music itself has almost been completely ignored.
So to to fill this personal musical gap, I got a copy of "Moby Grape '69". Going by some online opinions, I should have got the much-praised debut album, but this album did not disappoint at all. In fact, it is fantastic.
Turns out that in 1969, the Beatles were not the only musicians readying themselves to make one final record as a real, united band. Moby Grape was coming apart too and wanted to get their act together. (Unlike the Beatles, they had been together for only two or three years in '68/'69.) Of course, "Moby Grape '69" is not "Abbey Road" - nothing is - but it is just as timeless, never mind the year in the album's title. Songs like "It's a beautiful day today" and Skip Spence's harrowing "Seeing" should be on more iPods.
BTW, if you are in the mood for silly, trippy, nonsensical psychedelia, this is not that album. This album is really a mix of blues, soul, country, folk and that late-Sixties vibe which can be heard on Stones' albums from the same period.
But what prompted me to post this is not the desire to play Rock Historian. Instead, I wanted to share the original liner notes to the album, written by legendary producer David Rubinson. Even if you don't care much for rock 'n roll, do read the text below. I doubt if such sincerity has ever been seen on the back of a rock album - whether in the Sixties or now.
"In this country, where artistry is so often a function of greed, where the creative imagination finds its wildest expression pushing those nose drops and aluminum foil, and where so few can think, but everybody can count, the story of Moby Grape is an American classic. For their story reflects in clearest detail what life is really like for any group in "The Music Business", and thereby, in miniature, what life is like for the artist in America.
Few recording acts get the initial build-up which the Grape got when they started. They themselves demanded the enormous hype - I know this, I was there - but they didn't know what they had started (nor did I), and, logically, they couldn't ever live up to their notices. They chose to substitute notoriety. They became defensive - self destructive - in an attempt to reconcile the publicity blurbs (which no artists ever really think they deserve) with they, in their typical artistic insecurity, thought to be deprecatory truth.
Let there be no mistake: they demanded the hype, they were greedy and they didn't trust their enormous talents. They lost all faith in themselves and stopped loving their music, stopped respecting each other. Music became a function of money and fame. They fell apart. The hangers-on, middlemen, entrepreneurs, advisors, and most everyone else predictably drifted to the newest hype. Alone, they could fall back on nothing but their music.
This album represents an attempt to retrieve all that was once so honest and easy and simple. It symbolizes the very amazing truth that through all the incredible nonsense of the past two years, the group is still together, still functioning, writing, playing, rehearsing. They are, in fact, starting all over again.
We have promised each other: no more gimmicks, no more hypes, no egos, nothing ever again but the music and the mutual respect and feeling from which the music springs - pure, honest and with a most hopeful eye to the future." - David Rubinson.