Monday, November 30, 2015

Gong – "Pot Head Pixies" (1973)

I am
You are
We are

Flying Teapot, a 1973 album by the Franco-British art-rock band Gong, takes its name from something philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote:

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of skeptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them.  This is, of course, a mistake.  If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes.  But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. 

Russell’s point was that A’s inability to disprove B’s belief is not proof that B’s belief is true – specifically, Russell was arguing that the inability of atheists to disprove the existence of God doesn’t prove that God exists.   

Bertrand Russell
I can’t disprove the elaborate, bizarre, and perhaps drug-induced mythology set forth in of Gong’s Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg, and You albums – which are often referred to as the “Radio Gnome Trilogy.”  But I’m with Bertrand Russell on this one.

The Gong mythology was supposedly inspired by a vision that Daevid Allen, the man who formed the group, had in 1966.

Here’s how the Gong website describes Allen’s vision: 

[Allen] gains the impression that he is an experiment being supervised by intelligences far beyond his normal level of awareness, that he is later to call “the octave doctors,” seeing himself on stage in front of a large rock festival audience and experiencing a connection with them that had the quality of intense LOVE, while at the same time being surrounded by a enormous cone of etheric light . . .  simultaneously drawing astral shadows from deep below us and dissolving them in the downpouring radiance focused at its peak.

Daevid Allen
Allen had been one of the founding members of the legendary progressive-rock bands, the Soft Machine, but visa problems prevented him from re-entering the UK after the band toured France in 1967.  According to the Gong website, he “spent the next couple of months in Paris experimenting with his electric guitar and a boxful of nineteenth century gynecological instruments processed through an echo box and other effects.” 

Allen took part in the 1968 Paris student riots.  (Gong’s Wikipedia page says he “handed out teddy bears to the police and recited poetry in pidgin French.”)  To avoid being arrested, Allen and his partner – Gilli Smyth, who taught at the Sorbonne – skedaddled to the island of Majorca, where they met flautist/saxophonist Didier Malherbe (who was living in a goatherder’s cave on the estate of poet Robert Graves) and recorded the first Gong album, Magick Brother.

Gilli Smyth
The Gong website contains a glossary that will come in handy if you want to understand the “Radio Gnome Trilogy.”  Here are just a few entries from that glossary (which Gong says listeners shouldn’t gloss over “unless total incomprehension is preferable.”):

PLANET GONG: A transparent greenish planet unknown to astronomers and situated in the seventh sky or seventh heaven, it operates according to the laws of the music of the spheres.

RADIO GNOME INVISIBLE: A telepathic pirate radio network operating brain to brain by a crystal machine transmitter direct from Planet Gong.

POT HEAD PIXIES: These small green gents who populate the Planet Gong have pointed heads with propellors which serve as receivers for Radio Gnome Invisible.  Noted for their joyful capers, they can become invisible at will and when nearby, one's pot pouch is never empty. 

FLYING TEAPOTS: Distantly related to flying saucers, they are the chief means of transport for the pointy-headed and well-propellored population of the green planet [e.g., the Pot Head Pixies].

OCTAVE DOCTORS: Gong gurus and benevolent, all-wise, and loving advisors of the Pot Head Pixies and protectors of the planet. they appear as a giant radiant eye which hovers inside an upturned cone which is set inside a luminous egg-shaped aura called the Angel’s Egg.

ANGEL'S EGG: This is the Octave Doctors' impenetrable protective force field from which the unisexual Pot Head Pixies are born and back into which they are recycled at the end of their time. 

(Got all that?)

Would you like to meet a few of the characters from Flying Teapot?  Your wish is my command:

MISTA T BEING: A pig-farming Egyptologist and possibly the first air-breathing human to tune into Radio Gnome, this bushy being was the famed inventor of the walkie-talkie for porkers and distinguished himself as the bravest of the mummy runners to the British Museum.  He subsequently invented the white lens or clairvoyant telescope with which one can see the Planet Gong . . . .

BANANA ANANDA is the great beer yogi whose noble cry “Have a lager!” greets his disciples as they enter his primitive cave high up in the hymnalayas [sic] of Tibet.  His motto is "Banana Nirvana Mañana,” a phrase worthy of many days of deep contemplation on the many-sided meanings inherent in its profundity.  [He is] an upright hindoo sage of great magnetism, especially for the ladies.

ZERO THE HERO is, in fact, our real hero in this epic Gongography.   A floating dropout with a strange predilection for making heroes out of people and a fancy for wearing prophetic robes of sackcloth, he [had] a vision in the Charing Cross Road and went wandering off to look for heroes. . . .

CAPTAIN CAPRICORN: Respected captain of the good ship “Earthling,” ol’ Captain Cap don't believe in anything but facts he can prove scientifically. All this jazz about little green men and flyin' teapots is just so much balderdash to him.  He is animated by a profound distaste for religion of any kind – due to an early childhood christian brainwash – and is perpetually setting off in the good ship with a load of stoned cronies in his well-stocked saloon to try to prove that God don't exist. . . . He is always very helpful if you have a problem and knows the train timetables by heart.

I could continue cutting and pasting from the Gong website all day, but a little of this stuff goes a long way, n’est-ce pas?

Gong in 2012
In 1975, Daevid Allen left Gong after going off his rocker during a gig in Cheltenham: 

I couldn't actually get on stage.  It was as though there was a an invisible curtain of force that was stopping me from going through the door.  I threw myself at the open door and bounced back, off nothing.  And this blew my mind so thoroughly that I just ran out of the theatre into the rain and started hitchhiking on the road with all my clothes, my stage clothes, my costume and face painted with fluorescent colors.  And then a woman looked at me so strangely that I started thinking I was a murderer and I was hiding in the bushes.  Finally I got picked up by somebody who had left the concert, was taken home, and then I had to realize that I had to leave Gong, so that's the way it all ended. 

But Allen returned to the fold Gong fifteen years later, and remained an active member of the Gong family on bands (which included Paragong, Planet Gong, Mother Gong, New York Gong, and Gongmaison, just to name a few) until he died of cancer earlier this year at age 77. 

Here’s “Pot Head Pixies”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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