Rating: 4 Guns
Written By: Darwin Green
It’s been 40 years this year since Charles Manson formed his “family” and escaped to the desert to live unencumbered from the confines of society and “the man.” Since then there’s been Burning Man, countless communes, Laurel Canyon and its reputation for its psychedelic residents, The Doors and Timothy Leary and their shamanistic journeys through archaic (and not so archaic) techniques of ecstasy, and the pervasive feeling that somehow, at some point, the peace, love, unity, and respect of the counter-culture seemed to turn frivolous (with gimmicks, clothing styles, and “bad vibes”), dark (The Manson Family), and eaten up by corporations for their own gain (the rest of it), or at least turn underground into the rave scene.
Indeed, the 1990s looked like it would refuel these long-buried sentiments by the sons and daughters of well-to-do businesspeople who once donned feathers and tie-dye clothes, who grew up favoring the lost ideals of their parents’ generation. The chaos and abandonment of the late-sixties counterculture went mainstream. However, with examples like Woodstock ’94, with its destruction and corporate sponsors bringing regulations due to such things as “insurance” and “tort laws,” they left the general feeling that this generation fell short of generating the same cornerstone that left nostalgia for the past run on high.
There are bands or artists, though, like Devendra Banhart, Polyphonic Spree, and now Edward Sharpe, that grab at the spiritual core of the late 1960s with aplomb, and do so with or without the respective silliness that accompanies it. As music, though, these bands stand apart from the music they hearken back to as though, maybe, there is some merit in dropping out and becoming a communal artist (or the euphemism that some people ascribe: “dirty hippie”). It’s simply a matter of perspective. Some people think Burning Man has lost its true core values. But then again, some people believe there will always be another event or community to replace them once they do. The same goes with music.
I don’t think Edward Sharpe and his Magnetic Zeros care. They seem to live on their own trip though clearly inspired by the past. However the world has changed it seems like they sincerely still believe in turning on, tuning in, and dropping out, as Tim Leary once coined. And they do it well.
The lead singer, as demonstrated in videos and onstage, has deep roots in the psychedelia of the past, and is the defacto leader of this “family” of musicians. There’s a video on YouTube of the singer’s father chanting in the desert, followed by a video of him enduring a vision quest with Oedipal implications of birth and rebirth and living in harmony with the forces of nature. It’s nothing new as witnessed by the American continent for millennia, but for suburbanite white kids who don’t know any better, those spiritual quests, or at least the concept of them, can cause an awakening of monumental proportions.
So all in all this band has the epic scope of wanting to change the world, with vast, sweeping melodies, and a grandiose, idealistic view of the world and its potential in its lyrics. It’s great listening if keyed into the intent. Its message is fairly straightforward: live with freedom and without attachment to material gain and let the simplicity of life overtake you, as well as accept the love and companionship from each other for mutual gain. Not a bad message.
Like Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros? Then you might like: Devendra Banhart, Polyphonic Spree, Arcade Fire.