David Peel

(Copyright © 1999-2017 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Have A Marijuana (1968) , 8/10
American Revolution (1970), 6/10
Pope Smoke Dopes (1972), 6.5/10

David Peel (born David Rosario) was one of the most militant and underground folk-singers in the age of the student riots. He was a modern minstrel of the white lumperproletariat, who terrorized the Lower East Side with live performances at street corners, accompanied by random street musicians. This political bum was obviously mimicking street preachers, except that his religion was the marijuana, his Bible was rock'n'roll, and his mission was to expose the hipochrisy of the bourgeoise. His semi-improvised albums (or, better, public "happenings") followed in the footsteps of the Fugs' grotesque agit-prop cabaret and of Frank Zappa's satirical operettas. Peel's hysterical, sarcastic and insolent tone, and his spartan/spastic combo of guitar, harmonica and tambourine (which mainly contributed rhythm), and the naive enthusiasm of everybody involved (responsible for some of the most hair-rising backing vocals in the history of music), created a new kind of folk music. His masterpiece, Have A Marijuana (1968), a demented sabotage of protest songs, hillbilly, blues and square dances, was an epic insult to common-sense. He played folk music with the emphasis of punk-rock and the arrangements of "lo-fi" pop. And he played it with divine recklessness. As of 2008 (before i published my "History of Rock and Dance Music"), no major encyclopedia or history of rock music mentioned him.
Full bio (Translated from my original Italian text by Troy Sherman)

David Peel was one of the most intransigent members of the funny, militant underground of the 60s and 70s. He was at the core a New York Folk singer, but it remains difficult to find any similarities between him and any of the others (especially Bob Dylan). Peel was a sort of modern white minstrel of the slums, terrorizing the Lower East Side with street corner performances, ever-accompanied by a small group of homeless musicians like him.

He was basically one of those crazy preachers who stand in crowds and shouts at people, but his religion was drugs and his Bible was rock and roll. He had no qualms about exposing the hypocrisy of a society that persecuted and massacred pacifist Vietnamese citizens, but then was shocked at the idea of marijuana at home.

His records, generally improvised in one way or another, continued the agit-prop saga initiated by the Fugs and the social satire launched by Frank Zappa.

Peel can be immediately recognized by his psychotic tone and Spartan accompaniment (guitar, harmonica, bells). His style was inspired by Appalachian Folk and African music; he was a bluesy and British story-teller, but it was his distinctive personality as an artist that transcended any classification.

His lyrics were completely topical and specific, and in no way universal. But, the tone of Peel’s innocent and enthusiastic screams had universal value. The worth was not in the writing itself, but in the spirit of its ideology (the bizarre faith in drugs, specifically marijuana, as a remedy for all of the world’s ills).

His extravagant musical creations were fun, and his discs prove that music for him was not a vocation, but rather a coincidental conglomeration of public happenings. Those discs are notebooks, with notes thrown down in bulk, without even the slightest claim of an attempt at making revolutionary sound from a musical standpoint. Politically speaking, Peel’s operation was perhaps less effective of an attack on culture than that of the Fugs, but purely by chance it was equally, if not more, brilliant.

Have A Marijuana Danny Fields of Elektra discovered him in march 1968 and producer Peter Siegel recorded him in june and july (according to his recollections).

(Elektra, 1968), an album recorded live with random street musicians of the Lower East Side (actually cut over a period of four summer weeks, supervised by veteran producer Peter Siegel) and released in october 1968 (not december as many sources claim), is a masterpiece in its own way. The genuine hysteria portrayed by the singer and the grotesque incompetence of his accompaniment (who can only produce tribal rhythm and sloppy vocal accompaniment, using their hands, tambourines, guitars, and drums) contribute to the chiseled atmosphere of absurdity, which seems only to exist to systematically contradict all of the clichés of the music industry. Peel stages a relentless musical for stragglers that winds along psychopathic choruses, drawn from a precedent set by British and South American folk music and sung hectically and mitered. The gems of this spastic, vaudevillian asylum epic are Mother Where is My Father?, Happy Mother’s Day, and I Do My Bawling in the Bathroom. His protest speeches are farcical comedy sketches like I Like Marijuana, sarcastic blues like Here Comes a Cop, or tongue twisters set to the beat of a polka, like The Alphabet Song. There are apologies for crime, degraded political slogans (the cha-cha of Up Against the Wall), and miniature dramas with a coarse laugh that exist to exorcise the desperate and angry cry of revolt in hope of Dadaist freedom (the genial crooning of Show Me the Way to Get Stoned).Every song is seasoned with a dementedly acute and unleashed rhythm. The atrocious skit culminates with the great choral finale of We Love You.

At the time, Peel did not know it, but with the release of Have a Marijuana he had invented punk-rock: just speed up and amplify the songs and you have the choral chants of 1977.

Peter Siegel recording Peel's band in the streets of New York (clearly not in december, unlike what many sources claim, as you can see from their clothes)

The second album, American Revolution (1970), was recorded between political events (Peel founded the “Rock Liberation Front” and publically accused Dylan of having betrayed the cause). He takes up the usual company of amateurs that was found in the first release and repeats his debut’s formula.

The third record, Pope Smokes Dope (1972), is the most daring in terms of lyrics and the most musical of his entire canon. The imbecilic popular song strays as usual, and is arranged with a set of rich rhythmic equipment. This record more than the others was created for satire, which goes beyond defamation and contempt and even contains a hint of coquetry in the accompanying instrumentals. The self portrait of I Am a Runaway, the homage to John Lennon of The Ballad of New York City, the metropolitan Indian war dance of Chicago Conspiracies, and the choral gags of Everybody’s Smoking Marijuana and The Hippie from New York City are all half way between the music of a village festival, children’s ring-around-the-Rosie, an operetta, and the spiritual hallucinogenic porn of a blasphemer. With boundless melodic imagination and two centuries of American civilization and music behind him, from television commercials to country and westerns, from musicals to doo-wop, rising again to the moving blues violin and operatic chorus of the profane Birth Control Blues, and culminating the exuberant collection in a final joke, Peel simply reveals the fact of the century: The Pope Smokes Dope!

David Peel  would continue recording records through the 1970s, documenting alternative evenings of the heroic years. He has never, of course, enjoyed the favor of the record companies or been mentioned in any prominent histories of rock.

Peel died in march 2017 of a heart attack at the age of 73.

David Peel fu uno degli esponenti piu` intransigenti e buffi dell'underground militante degli anni '70. Peel era un folksinger di New York, ma sarebbe difficile trovare qualcosa in comune fra lui e gli altri (in particolare Bob Dylan). Peel era una sorta di moderno minstrel dei bassifondi bianchi che terrorizzava il Lower East Side con esibizioni agli angoli delle strade, accompagnato da uno sparuto gruppo di barboni come lui.

Era in fondo uno di quei predicatori un po' matti che passano la giornata a gridare nella folla, ma la sua religione era la droga e la sua Bibbia era il rock and roll. Peel non aveva remore a smascherare l'ipocrisia di una societa` che massacrava civili vietnamiti e perseguitava i pacifisti, ma si scandalizzava poi per qualche spinello.

I suoi dischi, semi-improvvisati per strada, continuavano la saga dell'agit-prop grottesco avviata dai Fugs e quella di satira sociale varata da Frank Zappa.

Peel lo si riconosceva subito per il tono psicotico, sarcastico e oltraggioso, e per l'accompagnamento spartano al massimo (una chitarra, un'armonica, sonagli). Il suo stile si ispirava al folk degli Appalacchi e alla musica africana, al blues e ai cantastorie britannici, ma era soprattutto uno sfogo cosi` perrsonale da trascendere qualsiasi genere.

I testi erano d'attualita`, e non avrebbero nulla di universale. Ma il tono di innocente entusiasmo con cui Peel li urlava, quello si` aveva un valore universale. E aveva un valore non la lettera, ma lo spirito della sua ideologia (la bizzarra fede nella droga come rimedio a tutti i mali del mondo).

Il suo stravagante far musica per divertimento e vocazione si tradusse non in dischi ma in veri e propri happening pubblici. Quei dischi sono quaderni di appunti, note buttate giu' alla rinfusa, senza alcuna pretesa di farne anche delle canzoni. Politicamente parlando, l'operazione di Peel era forse meno efficace dell'assalto alla cultura dei Fugs, ma altrettanto, se non piu`, geniale.

Danny Fields of Elektra discovered him in march 1968 and producer Peter Siegel recorded him in june and july (according to his recollections).

Have A Marijuana (Elektra, 1968) e` un album registrato in presa diretta, in mezzo alla gente del Lower East Side (ma registrato nel corso di quattro settimane estive con la supervisione del produttore Peter Siegel, e pubblicato in ottobre), e rimarra` un capolavoro del canto d'autore, benche' si tratti dell'esatto opposto. L'isteria genuina del cantante e l'imperizia grottesca dei collaboratori (che si limitano a produrre ritmo tribale, usando mani, tamburelli, chitarre, tamburi, e a far eco in coro) contribuiscono a cesellare un'atmosfera dell'assurdo, il cui unico fine sembra di contraddire sistematicamente tutti i luoghi comuni dell'industria musicale. Peel mette in scena un incalzante musical per sbandati che si snoda lungo ritornelli psicopatici, attinti dalla musica folk britannica e sudamericana e cantati in maniera sgolata e frenetica. Le gemme spastiche di questo vaudeville del manicomio sono Mother Where Is My Father, Happy Mother's Day, I Do My Bawling In The Bathroom. I suoi sketch comici sono comizi-farsa come I Like Marijuana, blues sarcastici come Here Comes A Cop, scioglilingua a ritmo di polka di The Alphabet Song). Si passa da apologie di reato e slogan politici degradati (il cha-cha di Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers) a drammi in miniatura che esorcizzano con una risata grossolana il disperato rabbioso grido di rivolta e l'anelito dadaista di liberta' (il crooning gioviale di Show Me The Way To Get Stoned). Il tutto condito da acuti demenziali e un ritmo scatenato. L'atroce sceneggiata culmina nel gran corale finale di We Love You,

Peel non lo sapeva, ma aveva appena inventato il punk-rock: basta accelerare le sue canzonacce di strada e amplificarle al massimo per ottenere le cantilene corali del 1977.

Il secondo album, American Revolution (1970) registrato fra un evento politico e l'altro (Peel ha persino fondato il "Rock Liberation Front" e accusato pubblicamente Dylan di aver tradito la causa), sfodera la solita compagnia di dilettanti e ripete la formula d'esordio.

Il terzo Pope Smoke Dopes (1972) e` anche il piu` audace sotto il profilo dei testi e il piu` musicale dell'intero set. La canzone popolare randagia e mentecatta, arrangiata con un nutrito equipaggiamento ritmico, e` piu` che mai al servizio della satira, che va ben oltre la diffamazione e lo spregio, ma con un tocco di civetteria strumentale in piu` e finalmente con qualche accordo indovinato: l'autoritratto di I Am A Runaway, l'omaggio sentito The Ballad Of New York City a John Lennon, la danza di guerra degli indiani metropolitani Chicago Conspiracies, le gag corali di Everybody's Smoking Marijuana e The Hippie From New York City, a meta` strada fra la sagra paesana, il girotondo per bambini, l'operetta e un blasfemo spiritual porno-allucinogeno. Con sconfinata fantasia melodica Peel mette a sacco due secoli di civilta` musicale americana, dai commercial televisivi al country and western, dal musical al doo-woop, passando ancora per il commosso blues violinistico con coro operistico di quella profana rappresentazione che e` Birth Control Blues e culminando nella esilarante barzelletta finale, la grande esuberante festa collettiva, un ballo paesano d' altri tempi con tripudio generale, dedicata al fatto del secolo: The Pope Smokes Dope!

David Peel registrera` ancora un disco nel 1978, che documenta le serate alternative degli anni eroici. David Peel non ha mai, ovviamente, mai goduto i favori delle case discografiche.

Peel died in march 2017 of a heart attack at the age of 73.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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