- Mayo Thompson (Hurricane Fighter Plane)
With that Mayo Thompson uttered the truest statement he’s ever given in his entire life. By far the least insane song on an album too weird for even late 1960s Berkeley. Indeed there is a story where The Red Crayola was paid $10 to stop a performance in Berkeley, which presented the audience with squalls of feedback and an ice cube melting onto aluminum foil with a contact mike attached. Later reviewers would remark that The Red Crayola (and The Familiar Ugly, the members responsible for the ‘Free Form Freakouts’ that adorn the album) made the audience uptight. Honestly that was probably The Red Crayola’s intention as they were highly methodical with their approach. Many attribute the cacophonous sound with the first forays into what would eventually come to define the ‘industrial genre’. In fact many of the ‘Free From Freakouts’ are far more maddening than what came after it.
Introducing the album is a sound that would feel more at home on an AMM album than anything remotely categorized as rock. Much of the album seems to owe quite a debt to more avant-garde musicians than anything going on in rock, especially on the ‘Free Form Freakout’ pieces. Rhythms are pointless though apparently among the noise are people attempting to keep rhythm by striking matches together and blowing on a soda pop bottle. If anyone has good enough ears to notice this, kudos to them. From there comes perhaps the closest approximation to a single that the early incarnation of The Red Crayola would ever achieve. ‘Hurricane Fighter Plane’ features Mayo Thompson’s completely surreal ode to his fighter plane. The bass player tries his best impersonation of someone who knows how to play the bass and literally could not be more perfectly attuned to the weird energy of the song. Roky Erickson (of another famed weird 60s band 13th Floor Elevators) plays the impressionistic organ. Loose drumming defines the piece as it sort of wanders off into yet another ‘Free Form Freakout’.
Mayo Thompson gets a number of memorable lines into the atmospheric rumblings of ‘Transparent Radiation’. By far the most memorable is “Eating babies for nourishment” showing off just how strange he could get. The Familiar Ugly do a pretty fine job on the next ‘Free Form Freakout’ as a discernible rhythm can almost be filtered out from all the chaos, but fortunately any attempts at clarity are thankfully thwarted. From here comes the anti-war song simply named ‘War Sucks’ which appears to have a lot in common with the drone strum work of the Velvet Underground. Moving back into ‘Free Form Freakout’ Mayo Thompson sings of “I will not talk of dead men’s rooms and tombs”. Repetitive guitar work at times flirts with more oppressive tones.
On the title track The Red Crayola appear to merge the two worlds, of their psychedelic rock and avant-garde tendencies. Sounding akin to the freest possible jazz the song, even decades later, is incredibly unsettling. Such is the weirdness of the title track that the following ‘Free Form Freakout’ goes for a traditional song structure, letting the group relax to a large degree. Bringing things to a close is the minimal ‘Former Reflections Enduring Doubt’ which has an untrained, loose style to it.
Probably the hardest part of listening to The Red Crayola and the Familiar Ugly’s ‘Parable of Arable Land’ is how uncompromising the whole thing is. There is hardly a moment of rest among the high levels of anxiety they enjoyed creating. Clearly not attuned to any of the milder leanings of the psychedelic leanings of their brethren they rebelled against what was expected of them, making their song prickly and frustrating. Musicianship was secondary in their ultimate goal, and this additionally is something that has to be somewhat ignored while listening to their peculiar sounds. Nor did they stop after this record. Much later Mayo Thompson would re-form The Red Crayola (also as The Red Krayola due to legal concerns from Crayola) with musicians like Pere Ubu and Lora Logic, among many others. In fact, The Red Crayola continues to this very day, with its most transmission from 2010.
Seeing how far The Red Crayola’s sound reverberated into so many future bands and art forms (Mayo Thompson is a visual artist and his many collaborators often were multidisciplinary as well) is impressive. For a band that initially put so many people off, it is incredible that The Red Crayola has managed to find its way through almost five decades worth of musical changes, all the while remaining true to their unique artistic vision.