A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Thursday, February 14, 2002

I begin on a sad note this week as I just found out this past weekend that Michael Karoli, the guitarist in the legendary German psychedelic/progressive band, Can, passed away in November 2001. I happened to be browsing through the latest Mojo magazine and came across the obituary and was shocked by it. I can't even remember what caused his demise..be it cancer or maybe a hereditary condition--it doesn't matter, another great musician has left the planet..
Karoli joined the band in early 1969, after it was formed by Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt, two classically trained musicians who turned their backs on the "orchestra/composer" path to try their hands at the spontaneity and excitement of rock and roll. The psychedelic revolution that swept through Europe in 1967 and '68 gave them even more of an incentive and a D.I.Y. mission statement to add to the "new sound". Karoli was the "rocker" in the band, being a big fan of the Beatles, Stones and some of the American groups--he effectively brought his knowledge of rock and his guitar chops to the group and helped galvanize the Can sound. Most of the other German groups described their music as "muzik kosmiche".."cosmic music"--exploratory space hymns..this is especially reflected by early Tangerine Dream and Guru Guru. Can were progressive, but their sound was far more earth-bound, thanks to drummer Jaki Leibzeit's solid back-beats and Karoli's gypsy-influenced licks. On the first proper Can record, Monster Movie, his playing is mainly sandwiched into the mix so the band can act as a telepathic monster underneath original singer Malcolm Mooney's surreal lyrics, especially on the 20-minute centerpiece, Yoo Doo Right. By 1971, the band had completely jelled and moved into a castle in Cologne. They built their own studio and dubbed it "Inner Space", then proceeded to record their best album, Tago Mago, with new lead singer, Damo Suzuki (Mooney had suffered a nervous breakdown and returned to the United States the previous year). Karoli's expert playing is all over the double-album (re-issued on a single CD by Spoon/Mute Records in 1998). From the opening cut, Paperhouse, through the psychedelic delerium of Mushroom, actually more of a showcase for Leibzeit's drums but the bit of guitar that M.K. adds enhances the already paranoid/trippy vibe evident in Suzuki's vocal..and on to Oh Yeah, where Karoli's bluesy-rock leads in the breaks are exemplary and a highlight of the entire album. Schmidt's keyboard work dominates most of the longer cuts but Karoli fills in his space nicely and never tries to "be" a lead guitar player in the sense of him waiting for his time to solo all over everyone else (a la Eddie Van Halen or Ritchie Blackmore). He always seemed more comfortable as a rhythm player anyway and the next few records are a testament to that...Pinch, the opening cut on Ege Bamyasi (Can's 1972 album), features Karoli coaxing serpentine feedback from his guitar as a backdrop to his near-jazz chording, while Leibzeit absolutely bashes an amazing rhythm from his kit and Suzuki mumbles some indecipherable lyrics that become buried in the mix..then re-surface..then bubble under again. This, to me, is the essence of Can..five guys just playing to see what will happen when they get together..no plan..no attempt at a hit single. Spoon, the band's most well-known tune, sees Karoli adding an acoustic guitar part..which gives it a different coloring altogether than if he had plugged in and cranked up the juice--the guitar part in "Spoon" is happily understated.
Suzuki left the group shortly after their 1973 album, Future Days, was completed and the group continued on without a lead singer. Karoli stepped up to the mic for the only two songs with vocals on the Soon Over Babluma album in 1974--but his voice is faint and he sounds unsure of himself as a vocalist..kind of like when you hear Steve Howe of Yes sing. After two more records in 1975 and '76 (Landed and Flow Motion)..the group began to disintegrate, they were running out of fresh ideas and Czukay made it known that he was making an exodus from the band (albeit a slow one). He actually stopped playing bass and would manipulate a radio transmitter that would be connected to the group P.A. system and add bits of "found sound" into the live mix--almost an early version of sampling. In 1979, the group finally split with the release of the disastrous Can record (they had sunk to the point where they recorded a rock version of the "Can-Can"). Czukay and Schmidt both continued on in solo ventures, but Karoli took the time to get married and kick back in the Fatherland.
Malcolm Mooney somehow was contacted by Czukay at the end of the 80s and this led to a full-on Can reunion starting with jam sessions and ending up with a brand-new album, Rite Time, made by the original 1969 line-up: Mooney, Karoli, Leibzeit, Czukay and Schmidt. The reunion was short-lived, however, when they found they couldn't get the old magick back (probably a shortage of LSD and "good vibes") and everyone went back to what they were doing. Interest in the band remained in indie/underground circles due to name-dropping by such acts as Sonic Youth and The Orb and Primal Scream. The Mute label approached groups who were fans of Can about recording a tribute album in which they would cover their favorite track. Most turned them down due to too much respect for Can's work. A lot of DJ's and dance acts took part in the project, released in 1997 as Sacrilege (Sonic Youth did contribute a re-mix of "Spoon", which the members of Can praised). The album had a surge of response, sold fairly well..but did not prompt a re-union tour from Can. Instead, they played some shows in England and Europe...not together on stage but showcasing their individual talents as solo performers on a package tour. Karoli took part in these shows, then returned to his home life...until last November. If you can afford to, buy the 2-CD live set that was released separate from the "Can Box" boxed set--for those who wanted the live stuff without paying $60.00 for the book and video too--it's a testament to what a powerful live animal this band was and Karoli's energy and talent as a guitar player. Goodbye, Michael..R.I.P.--thanks for all the music!!
I just found out that country legend Waylon Jennings has passed away this week...there's a nice little tribute to him at Cheek. M.A.D. knows more about W.J. than I do, so git ovet there an' read it!!! Apparently, he opened for The Grateful Dead for a show..maybe I can get M.A.D. to extrapolate on that story...so, R.I.P. Waylon...it looks like all the country greats are heading off as well...Willie Nelson seems to be going strong..but I don't know how long Johnny Cash has...that will be sad, when the Man In Black goes...