Tuesday, March 31, 2020

In-Depth on The Spike Drivers "Often I Wonder"

The Spike Drivers

"Often I Wonder" b/w "High Time"

So working remotely this past week has been...challenging. No matter how much you tell a three year old that dada is "working from home" the fact that they just wet their pants and are staring at their father like HE created the problem, well, you just suck it up and you clean up the piss.
I usually write these ramblings from the friendly confines of my office. But having only stopped in there twice, briefly, over the past week, means I'm a little out of my element for contemplation, selection and concentration. At least three times since I've started this essay I've had to threaten "going to the office" in order to get the six-year-old to stop braiding my hair, the three-year-old from climbing on top of my shoulders, or the 18-month-old (as of today) from staring me down like a Wild West duel.
Additionally, the bulk of my new arrival vinyl sits in my office. It's where I have my packages sent, where I can listen in peace, where I have a door I can close to prevent people from entering without permission.
But at home, shit, anything goes. My records here are a little more haphazard, a lot more older, and shockingly more difficult to trawl through. I must've spent 25 minutes just trying to find something I thought was worthy to write about. Granted during that time I discovered a copy of a gospel record I had recently put on my Discogs wantlist, asking price for only available copy $300 plus, so I actually saved money in the process.
While digging through 45's, Violet the 6 and 11/12ths-year-old calmly sat nearby on an overturned crate and asked me, "Dada, why do you like records so much?"
I paused. I thought. I blanched at the fact that I had no immediate answer at hand. It's almost embarrassing to say it even. But oftentimes it's the simplest questions, asked from the most unexpected perspectives, that give you the most reason for deep, introspective thought.
So now, with the tiniest bit of hindsight, I'm saying to Violet...
When we want to be sad, records can help us be sad. When we want to be happy, records can make us happy. Records tell us stories. Records help us understand who we are and where we've come from, while giving us hope for who we can become and where we are headed.
When I ask Violet why she likes records, she says "I like records because it's the best."
Amidst the clutter I was initially scared that I could not find this 45 in my stack of all the other Spikes releases, including exotic South American, Japanese and Australian releases, though I quickly remembered I'd spun it at my last DJ gig and happily found it safely amongst my "going out" case.
I am hard-pressed to invoke a more perfect song than "Often I Wonder." The minor key, Eastern-influenced string pairings present the bass guitar formulating one-of-a-kind figures while the lead guitar threads breezily in-and-out, all of it light years beyond anything else that was happening in Detroit in 1966, shit, probably better than just about anything else in the WORLD at that time. Push comes to shove, I would put this on par with the first Velvets album...but otherwise...unparalleled.
And when the 90 second long fuzz guitar solo drops in...just pure delight, chordal overtones ringing out in ways that I could never fully explain or understand, other than that they FEEL special, like they were woven with the microscopic filament of a thousand electric eagle feathers.
Spending the past twenty minutes trying to transcribe the lyrics here has me taking stock, so moved by the beauty, precision, choice and deployment of these words. Hitting me harder and harder with each replay.
In full, from my ears (and if someone can definitively decipher my question mark, I am offering up a prime Jack White or White Stripes or whatever test pressing I can make happen for the effort and for reading closely) the lyrics are...
Often I wonder
And try to remember
The splendor that I once had known
Days free from scheming
Were days full of dreaming
When seemingly all could I own
I flew to the moon on a thousand delights
Was washed in the sun's warm and mellowing (maddening? meadowing?) sights
That caressed me and blessed me through ten thousand nights
Filled with longing and raging for love
But circling round me
A feeling has found me
That can comprehend where I'm in
Stripped of illusion
I flee the delusion
That man is a creature of sin
Wow. Stunned. Don't think until right NOW have I fully absorbed these lyrics. Now they feel sewn into my soul.
Furthermore, the flip side "High Time" is, while more stereotypically 1960s pop-psychedelia, as precise a double-entendre as you could wish for from '66, with a solo and biting tone just as fierce as "Often" and as a sublime pairing as you could hope for.
(necessary asides...there are no a-side or b-side distinctions on this single, the record is self-released by the band, the label name Om is as much a sign as I need to know that they weren't dabblers in the esoteric, "Often" clocks in at a phenomenal 5 minutes 45 seconds at 45rpm and whomever the genius is that cut this single deserves a medal)
I speak in pure honesty when I say that this single should cost $500 and it would be worth every penny. I seem to recall back ten years ago or so that Ted Lucas' family was selling copies on eBay for $50 a pop. I think that is where this copy came from. I feel blessed.
In some ways I feel like as a counterculture we're STILL just trying to catch up to what both Lucas and the Spike Drivers accomplished over fifty years ago. Divining inspiration from unexpected places while imparting our own coloring on it all, pushing the envelope and trying to advance our worlds and open ourselves up to varied experiences.
While trying to press on and make all this happen, an unexpected Uber Eats delivery of White Castle burgers arrived on our doorstep, I told them no one here ordered them, they left then returned minutes later saying they were from my mom. I instantly sent her a text saying "You son of a bitch."
Not long thereafter, deep in my writing, girls running around helter skelter, Navy stinking up the place with a diaper that needs changing (yeah, we gave her the White Castle), a balloon delivery shows up on our doorstep, individual balloons for each of the three girls, with a note that said "Navy, Happy 1 1/2 birthday. Love, Gigi."
I texted mom immediately "You son of a bitch again."
I can't imagine however many more weeks we have to live like this. Take care out there.