The First Slackers

Okay, I’m sure they weren’t the “first” slackers but the late 1960s-early 1970s “psychedelic” band Quicksilver Messenger Service definitely was ahead of their time in slackerness.

Now relatively obscure, the band had a couple of “hits,” notably “Fresh Air.” “What About Me?” used to make an occasional appearance on album-oriented rock (AOR) radio, too.

The band, part of the frothy San Francisco music scene during its hippie glory years, was always unstable with its “leader” (Dino Valenti, AKA Chester William Powers, AKA Jesse Oris Farrow [writer of ‘Get Together’], AKA Jesse Otis Farrow — he changed his name a lot) being arrested and imprisoned on marijuana possession immediately after forming. The next leader (Gary Duncan, AKA Gary Grubb) bailed out after a year or so to bum around the country on a motorcycle. Other members had drug problems, dropping in and out of the band. They did not really seem to care about much beyond getting high, hanging out and making some music. Responsibility or a productive life weren’t terms they were familiar with. Self-centeredness was their sole (or soul) concern though it was usually masked by anti-war, anti-business, anti-everything, pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric. What we now call modern liberalism.

These guys, and so many like them, really didn’t want to have to get a day job while  consistently making sellable music was too much of a hassle. So much of the California music scene of the time relied on rich (and not-so-rich) parents subsidizing wayward lifestyles; bumming money or a place to crash out of other relatives and friends along with drug sales to kids. Sometimes someone got lucky with a record contract and won the lottery with a hit record.

Having said that, Quicksilver has a sound that I like (in a couple of albums — the output is inconsistent) — twangy guitar, flute/recorder, Nicky Hopkins’s keyboards, Valenti’s squirrely voice, tons of reverb and a tenor chorus. They are also a perfect crystallization of the times and are surprisingly prescient concerning modern liberalism.

Check out these lyrics from “What About Me?”:

You poisoned my sweet water
You cut down my green trees
The food you fed my children
Was the cause of their disease

My world is slowly fallin’ down
And the air’s not good to breathe.
And those of us who care enough,
We have to do something…

Your newspapers,
They just put you on.
They never tell you
The whole story

I work in your factory.
I study in your schools.
I fill your penitentiaries.
And your military too!

And I feel the future trembling,
As the word is passed around.
If you stand up for what you do believe,
Be prepared to be shot down

And I feel like a stranger
In the land where I was born
And I live like an outlaw
And I’m always on the run…

And I’m always getting busted
And I got to take a stand…
I believe the revolution
Must be mighty close at hand…

I smoke marijuana
But I can’t get behind your wars
And most of what I do believe
Is against most of your laws

I’m a fugitive from injustice
But I’m goin’ to be free
Cause your rules and regulations
They don’t do the thing for me

And I feel like a stranger
In the land where I was born
And I live just like an outlaw
And I’m always on the run

And though you maybe stronger now
My time will come around
You keep adding to my numbers
As you shoot my people down

Whatcha gonna do about me? is the constant refrain between every other verse here. Does this not read like a speech from pretty much any Democrat these days or something you’d see on TV? Whining about destroyed environments and poisoned food leavened with social justice and anti-war rhetoric, pro-marijuana, anarchy and paranoia about being shot down, a call to fuzzy action, simplistic economics with threats of sabotage and the vague self-centered alienation that post-World War II youth specialize in.

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