On Delmonas, Descarte a Kant and the Past Future of Rock’n’Roll
I have seen the future of rock ‘n’ roll and the constant of rock ‘n’ roll, and inhaled the rockin’ dust of one thousand and eight Kalpas. I am born under this spray of starlight, eternity broadcasting it’s luminous seed against mother sky. I am standing on the end of the eyelash of time, and the stars look down from their perch eight hundred thousand years in the past. Cold or warm, these observers surely cannot imagine a life lived between headphones (think: when they look at us, they are seeing a magma-filled, alga-skinned lifeless earth, so we are already time-travellers). And since space does not take sides, we can be certain that not only can the unnamed, unknown witnesses in the violet sky not imagine headphones, they cannot even imagine continents (the earth they see has none, Gaia has not yet sent her lovers to the corners of the earth). Nor can they imagine Africa, much less Bo Diddley, who reached into the loamy, red earth and maroon sands of West Africa to harvest the Juba beat that became the future past of rock’n’roll, the gift America’s disenfranchised gave to the spoiled Bowie and Tommy Shaw loving children of the future, fuchsia , no fuchsia for you.
So naturally, while we await the arrival of Oumuamua, the Alien Space Cigar, I was considering whether the tiny mote of fluff by the foot of the dishwasher contained any trace of the ashes of the Shakyumani Buddha, the fourth of the five Buddhas of this Kalpa.
I considered that this was very likely, since we humans (and the things we have crawled up, around, and under) have shared the sky under the stars for a very, very long time. It is an exclusive and inclusive club because matter is like Play-Doh, it always fits into the container it came in.
With that in mind, it comforts me to think of history as the smoke that rises above a constantly smoldering, constantly renewed charnel ground, where all the dreams we dared to dream are reduced to ash; and the dreamers of those dead dreams are not to be thought of as anonymous, but instead super-named, full of everyone and everything.
A Kalpa is a very long time. According to the Buddha, it is the length of time it takes for a stone, 16 miles on each side, to be worn away if touched with a cloth every 100 years (which is a period of time only slightly longer than the length of ELP’s “Karn Evil 9”). And Kalpas matter, just as Bo Diddley matters, just as the Papa Oom-Mow-Mow of the Holy Rivingtons and the Bom-ba-ba-bom ba-bom-ba-bom-bom ba-ba-bom-ba ba-bom-ba-ba dang-a-dang-dang da-ding-a-dong-ding of the Majestic Marcels matters, because, see, dang-a-dang-dang da-ding-a-dong-ding is not nonsense, you must understand it is not nonsense! It is the sound of a culture asserting itself. See, when you are raised to say nothing, your nonsense shouts and shrieks. “We are here, we are here, we shall rise!” Ah, it is like Einstein: When he translated the babble of atoms into earth-language he shouted, “I am a Jew!” at the Kill-Mills of the 20th century! Now, am I saying “dang-a-dang-dang da-ding-a-dong-ding” is as important as E=MC2? Well, possibly, but that is not an argument my withered, staggering, hungry ghost soul is prepared to make at this time.
But yeah, it’s true.
This led me, of course, to these crucial relevations:
First: Mexico’s Descartes a Kant are, almost without doubt, the best rock band in the world right now; and secondly, the Delmonas’ version of Farmer John is one of the Greatest Rock Recordings of All Time.
For those unfamiliar, Descartes a Kant are a theatrical and high-energy bunch of cocky neon misfits from Mexico City who have been making records since the middle of the last decade. They present themselves like Gogol Bordello if GoBo had watched a lot of Pedro Almodavar films while listening to Lightning Bolt and early Devo while accidentally doing speed. I accidentally did speed once; my companion – hello, Ace, how are you? – said to me, “Prepare to spend the next three days feeling like you are walking across a six-lane highway holding a large pane of glass.” And if you imagine a band of Angels and Warhol Superstars and Moondogs and Masked Wrestlers running across a six lane highway while holding panes of glass, maybe you can imagine what Descartes a Kant sound like.
When I think of all the fakes, flowers, tuned and tattooed slackers, and billionaires dressed as beggars who pass for pop stars these days, I go oh my (as Joe Kenda might say), those are not pop stars! Look instead to Descartes a Kant! They are true pop stars, they are true rock stars. This limber army of angel-winged Biafras and Bjorks dressed by John Waters fluttering and stomping around the stage are the real thing!
Descartes a Kant are, truly, the kind of band everyone thought Arcade Fire could have been combined with what the Sugarcubes should have been, if the either Arcade Fire or the Sugarcubes had been produced by Lightning Bolt and Danny Elfman (I could shorthand that, effectively, by saying that Descartes a Kant are what would have happened if Arcade Fire had been produced by Lightning Bolt instead of LCD Sound System). Descartes a Kant are the first true prog-alt rock band since The Tea Party, which is to say, Descartes a Kant are somewhere between Rush and a hallucinogenic viewing of Velvet Goldmine (while at the same time, in a very nagging way, reminding me of the marvelous 1980s British pop band Voice of the Beehive, if Voice of the Beehive were allowed to be the Acid Cowsills they really wanted to be).
Bizarrely, while inhaling Descartes a Kant I keep on coming back to Lightning Bolt and Voice of the Beehive, two bands that would appear to be at polar opposites of each other. Think about that, because post-core luvvers like meself have long been searching for someone to take the pine-resin/grain alcohol/Dali-on-fire teeth-grinding noisik of Lightning Bolt, and somehow make it sexy, flamboyant, and theatrical.
And that is what we have here in Descartes a Kant: It all has the effect of what happens when you drink some serious Dutch Jenever and fall asleep while watching a news report on Santa Murete, and you dream of skull-people wearing ballet shoes dancing with the spirits of Greg Ginn and Cocteau Twins.
Can you imagine, can you imagine a band combining Gaga’s flamboyance and sexy/ugly with a weird early-Swans growl and the kind of hyper-musicianship in a horror-schau context that makes me think of Van Dyke Parks producing Captain Beefheart?
It is very, very hard for me to imagine there’s a better rock band in the world right now, so you may wonder, why isn’t the name Descartes a Kant on everyone’s lips? Well, there’s a lot of reasons for that, but largely it’s due to the reverse racism of the music critic establishment, a topic so tender that even an a-hole like myself is loathe to mention it. But there’s also this: We spend so much time convincing ourselves that brand name mediocrities are geniuses that we don’t have much mental/emotional real estate left to grab the brass ring of the real thing.
Now, on to “Farmer John” by the Delmonas.
The Delmonas were a British woman-led band of the 1980s that existed within the magnificent orbit of one of our greatest living artists, Billy Childish (no sarcasm there — I honestly believe that in the future the world will regard Childish as another Van Gogh, or at the very least another George Grosz). The Delmonas’ “Farmer John” is not unlike The Ark of the Covenant: Both are full of gold, mystery, and 10,008 volts of power, yet also scratched by the soil (and fingernails) of many continents. The Delmonas, uniquely, have also brushed this much-covered four(ish)-chord sweater-teethed wined-up teen classic with the pissy neon of Der Grosse Freiheit. Der Grosse Freiheit, of course, is the syrup-colored nightland-nightmare-joyland main street of Hamburg’s Reeperbahn. On their “Farmer John”, the Delmonas summon, SIGH-multaneously, the spirit of the low-ceilinged whore-rooms of the rockin’ ’61 Reeperbahn (lousy with neo-Nico beat girls, Exis boys, and pilled-up Liverpuds), and combine that briny sea-breath with the smoky V.A. beerhalls of the Northwest (and the dumbangel Wailers and Sonics and Raiders who stomped therein); and then at no extra charge, the Delmonas knead in the speedy slash, dash, slur and scar of punk rock, specifically the kind of pure teen frantic that the Northern Irish bands (Undertones, Outcasts, Rudi, and even SLF) were so good at.
(Note bene: There is considerable literature, supported by scripture, that Ark of the Covenant had the power to generate electricity.)
In this sense, the Delmonas’ “Farmer John” condenses so very much of what is brilliant and strange about rock ‘n’ roll into less than three minutes.
Mind you, it’s hard to go wrong with “Farmer John” (unless you wink at it). There are, in essence, two different veins of “Farmer John.” The 1959 original by Don and Dewey is a tight-but-loose crowd-pleasing soul-lope not a million miles from the work of Chicano soulrock legends Thee Midniters. The original is also completely missing the four(ish)-chord riff imposed on its framework in 1964 by the Premieres, another Los Angeles Chicano rock band; most of the bands who later covered the song followed the Premiers model. However, the pre-Premieres form of “Farmer John” was a favorite of the early Liverpool bands; there’s a terrific version cut in 1963 by the Searchers, who race through the tune like the Dickies’ imitating Dr. Feelgood, eliminating any soul and replacing it with the fury of the premature ejaculator.
But when the Premieres’ reduced “Farmer John” to a dog-slobber trashcan of four(ish) chordism that literally any garage band could play before they had even introduced themselves to each other, the real possibilities of the song opened up. For the record, my second and third favorite covers of the song are by The Beachcombers (a ‘60s Northwest garage obscurity), who do a full-out “Just Like Me” kind of lust-job on it; and Neil Young, who uses it as a platform for the lobotomized proto-Fu Manchuian metal that he is so very, very good at).
(At this point in our story we note that the author, in an unusual fit of self-discipline, deleted roughly 448 words on the origin of the Godzilla Vs. Mothra stompy riff that the Premieres interpolated into “Farmer John.” It was an interesting — if ungainly — paragraph if you’re into that sort of thing, but otherwise profoundly unnecessary.)
In any damn event, the Delmonas impart their “Farmer John” (based on the Premieres’ model, not the Don and Dewey/Searchers model) with a kind of openhearted yet world-weary wisdom and graceless grace that no other version of the song has. In fact, with the possible exception of “Sister Ray” by the Velvets and “Reuters” by Wire, I can think of no other rock recording that is as knowing yet as completely unconscious as the Delmonas’ “Farmer John.”
But, yeah, Descarte a Kant.