Tuesday, May 20, 2008

ELP: The Band That Wouldn't Die!

Okay, here's another of my Greatest Hits, i.e. one of my old pieces for the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review (AKA Sound and Vision).

As I've mentioned earlier, I had long planned to exhume my dead tree stuff when I started posting here, but I ultimately decided it would be a bad idea -- partly because it's a royal pain in the ass to transcribe the damn things, but mostly because after re-reading a decades worth of back issues I had come to the conclusion that too much of what I scribbled back then was either dated, embarassingly wrongheaded or both, and that I really didn't learn how to write until the early 90s anyway.

That said, the following H.P. Lovecraft pastiche has always been one of my favorites, and after re-reading it over the weekend, it still struck me as pretty fricking funny.

So now, without further ado, here it is, exactly as it appeared in the February 1980 issue. And yes, thanks to the miracle of Google Images, the photo below is the same one that appeared with the original review. Boss vines, guys.

It was in the late winter of 1979 that I first began to hear tales of peculiar, even weirdly aberrant, behavior on the part of my old friend Ernest Akeley. There were disquieting rumors about his overindulging in certain contraband substances, hushed stories of flirtations with such forbidden books as the dread Digitalchronomicon, and whispered reports of his emerging periodically from the Record Plant displaying a visage of such ghastly pallor as to freeze the soul of the beholder. But all these I dismissed as mere exagerration, overlooking, out of an almost habitual loyalty, the vague hints about some "queer business" that Akeley had himself let drop to me in unguarded moments. So, when an invitation came to visit him at his ancestral geodesic dome beside the decibel-blasted heath in witch-haunted Arkham, I accepted without hesitation, let alone trepidation.

When he greeted me in his art-deco study, however, I was immediately seized with an almost palpable dread. The cause was not merely the hideous, loathsome "music" that droned threateningly over his quadraphonic audio system ("Art-rock," he cackled dryly, "the last surviving remnant of a music of great antiquity"), or even the track lighting which revealed Cyclopean promotional albums whose Roger Dean covers boldly boasted a dizzying geometry not of this world. No, the source of my unease was Akeley himself, his appearance unaccountably, horribly altered beyond any human sympathy. He had come to resemble a shambling, galactic pudding with feral green eyes (my fingers shake even as I type these words), and he was clothed in a sinister black-satin baseball jacket upon which was lettered, in an ancient, strangely unsettling script, the legend "ELP."

"Good God, Akeley," I cried, "what unimaginable catastrophe has wrought this appalling change in you?"

The thing that had once been my friend regarded me with a glittering stare that chilled me to the bone.

"Hear me well," he hissed in tones suggestive of...other species. "The transformation is almost complete and I have little time."

I sank into a chair, unable to move.

"You may have heard," he continued, "that in the years since our college days I have been engaged in certain outré pursuits. The stories are true: I have spent the last decade and more in an attempt -- successful, as you can see -- to turn myself into a Mastering Engineer. This alteration has given me access to certain secrets denied to mortal kind. With them I have attained to almost miraculous achievements. Yes, already I have heard things that are undreamed of even in the innermost sanctum of Trouser Press! Do you understand? Yes! It was I who mastered what was supposed to Emerson, Lake and Palmer's swansong album! It was I who mastered 'Love Beach'!"

Blood thundered in my temples, and my chest felt as if I had been tackled by Meat Loaf. Then, in a whisper I barely recognized as my own, I replied, "But surely Emerson, Lake and Palmer have...broken up?"

"Yes," Akeley replied, "but don't you see? Yet another album was required before the arcane balances of corporate expenditure would come to final rest. And I so I struck a deal with certain...forces."

"You don't mean," I cried, "the Warner Communication Companies?"

"Yes," he intoned, "and your are about to hear the result, the awful price I have paid for consenting to master the repellent dogswill known as 'In Concert' these many months after ELP had ceased to exist!"

The music rose slowly, agonizingly, to a shattering, half-familiar crescendo. A look of cosmic terror seized what was left of Akeley's face, and he began to scream the fearful words that will haunt me for the remainder of my days.

"Oh, no...pointless synthesizer noodling...shameless audience pandering...lyrics beyond the limits of banality...The Enemy God!!...the rape of Pictures at an Exhibition!!!

He sank to the floor, and as I sat there, paralyzed with fear, he began to dissolve slowly into the floor boards, a spreading, noxious puddle of polyvinyl chloride!

"Too late, too late!" he screamed. "But you must warn them! It's already been released...it's already been released!"

And then he was gone. Trembling, half-mad with fright, I leapt from my chair and bolted from that accursed house and the music that had destroyed my friend utterly. But as I turned the ignition key in my rented Pinto, I knew that the nightmare was only beginning. For right there, over the FM radio, came the abominable, unmistakable sounds I had just heard in the study of poor doomed Ernest Akeley, the posthumous, soon-to-be-mega-platinum threnody by a group that had already cost one man his immortal soul and may well have tainted my own sanity irrevocably. The sounds of Atlantic SD 19255. The sounds of "Emerson Lake and Palmer: In Concert." The sounds of...THE BAND THAT WOULDN'T DIE! -- Steve Simels

ATLANTIC SD 19255 $8.98.

[h/t Ken Richardson]


Anonymous said...

Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends... Prescient, no?


Good stuff swami.

Wendy said...




ken f said...

Masterful, master! So eldritch, as HP would probably say.

steve simels said...

We got a letter at the mag about this from an ELP fan who was really pissed.

"Simels didn't even review the album...instead, he just rambled on about some friend of his who went nuts."


Anonymous said...

Good writing, steve!

But I have to admit I enjoyed some prog in the early 70s, including ELP. I even saw them live in the summer of '74. Hey, it was a crazy time, I was a naive confused kid....

steve simels said...


I actually like some ELP, I was just being difficult when I wrote this.

Hell, ever hear Keith Emerson's version of Meade Lux Lewis' "Honky Tonk Train Blues"? Kicks boogie-woogie ass....

mcpart said...

The Pinto was a very nice touch.

Anonymous said...

steve --

Are you familiar with the Rolling Stone review of The Basement Tapes from, I guess it would have to be '75?

Also written in a faux-detective fiction style. Your last reprint reminded me of it.

steve simels said...

Gummo said...
steve --

Are you familiar with the Rolling Stone review of The Basement Tapes from, I guess it would have to be '75?

Also written in a faux-detective fiction style. Your last reprint reminded me of it.

5/20/2008 2:33 PM

By Paul Nelson. Who was -- and presumably still is, although the last I heard about him, he was toiling in obscurity at a video store -- a great guy, and somebody who'd been around in some interesting times.

steve simels said...

Oh crap -- he died two years ago.

Lovely man -- signed the NY Dolls to Mercury, among other things. If memory serves, he was also one of the guys who staged the big intervention for Warren Zevon that probably saved his life.


There's a link to an interview with him from 2000....

Anonymous said...

Hilarious. NOBODY does this kind of thing better than Steve Simels. Heaven knows I've tried and failed. I'm told Carl Palmer was very good in Atomic Rooster.

Anonymous said...

You nailed the era (the late 1970's) perfectly, everything that was wrong with corporate rock of the times.

ROTP( lumber)

Kid Charlemagne said...

This would have fit better in the pages of Creem magazine. At least the readers would have gotten the joke! Great review tho', it should be in the archives at Miskatonic University!