I Am Damo Suzuki
Soundtracks, Soundtracks (10)
Melched together, the lights
The lights above you
May we go back to days pre-Virgin (13)
Cannot get on clear vinyl
The handle that was brass, is now brass evil
The rock that was an egg, is in wrong cradle
The hand that cradles the rock, makes egg gooey
I am Damo Suzuki (14)
Is this West latent pattern? (15)
Run it, says Damo's spirit
Is this lesser European?
Speak it, says Damo's spirit
I am Damo Suzuki
1. A tribute to the second lead singer of Can, one of MES's favorite bands. The artists that MES has expressed unqualified appreciation for over the years are relatively few, and generally, perhaps always, are acts that preceded the Fall. From memory, this category includes, aside from Can, Gene Vincent, Link Wray, Captain Beefheart, Bo Diddley, The Monks, The Velvet Underground, and The Stooges. Damo apparently liked the song (from The Wire):
A piece of latterday Can fandom resulted in Suzuki being 'immortalised' by Mark E. Smith in The Fall's "I Am Damo Suzuki", from the 1985 album This Nation's Saving Grace. What does he think of this tribute?
"When I first heard that song I thought there must be someone else called Damo Suzuki," he replies. "I never thought someone would make a song for me. I met Mark E. Smith twice after that time, when I was playing as Damo Suzuki Band. And that piece was really great. He also made a cover version of "Oh Yeah" [from Tago Mago] but in their own style."
Despite the "also," Suzuki later qualified this statement in the Fall fanzine The Pseud Mag:
The Fall did the song 'I Am Damo Suzuki', which sounds like 'Oh Yeah', but did they also record The Can song 'Oh Yeah' as a straight cover version? [I ask this because some Fall fans understood you to mean this in a previous interview, and have been looking for this straight cover version of 'Oh Yeah'.]
No, I was not that meaning they did real cover version.
They developed "Oh yeah" in thier style.
It's not only "Oh Yeah" if you hear "I'm Damo Suzuki"..much more compliation of feeling that Mark felt about me.
"Sic" for pretty much all of that.
"Oh Yeah" is indeed the song "I Am Damo Suzuki" is most obviously based on, featuring a similar drum part and vocal line. The descending changes that form the main theme of the song, however, do not come from "Oh Yeah," although they are, fittingly, a recurring pattern in Can's work, spanning several years: they first first appear on "Don't Turn the Light On" from Soundtracks, and the same descending chord figure appears in "Gomorrah," and later in "Bel Air" and "Midnight Men," and a similar pattern appears in "Hunters and Collectors." So it is a recurring theme in Can songs...
The chord progression that appears in the aforementioned Can songs is also found more or less identically in "Mark of the Mole" by the Residents from the album Assorted Secrets. See also "Old Loggerhead" by Sand (thanks to Tempertantrum from the Fall Online Forum).
MES's vocal imitates Suzuki a bit, exaggerating the Japanese accent a bit in the process, but the song is clearly intended as a tribute rather than a mockery. Reformation has helpfully reproduced the following information:
The ultimate namecheck to Damo came on The Fall's 1985 LP, This Nation's Saving Grace . Its skeletal yet oddly familiar riff was overladen with wordsmith Smith's trademark northern English surrealism.
"The moment I saw this I thought, 'There must be another Damo Suzuki," recalls Damo in amusement. "That same year I had a conversation with Mark E. and his wife Brix in their hotel room until early morning. I told them I thought their song was really good fun. He wrote quite a good lyric, which is based in part on my past life and quotes a Can song called 'Oh Yeah' "
On the original Tago Mago track, the band's gently urgent riff perfectly matches Damo as he builds from his serene delivery to a whelping scream. His allusive, almost-but-not-quite English lyric sits on the edge of sexual intimacy. MES took the 'Oh Yeah' riff and overrode it with a speed-freak surrealist tribute to Can and Damo himself while throwing in an oblique reference to Fritz Leiber, one of a number of supernatural horror authors who also obsessed him.
"It's quite amazing what he made out of it," praises the man himself, "if I listen to 'I am Damo Suzuki"', I think that Mark E. Smith is the real Damo Suzuki. " Given how personal an obsession Can were to him, for a while Smith may have felt that way himself. Damo, after all, had been just a rumour, a faint outline of legend, for a long time.
Christianity came into Damo Suzuki's life by way of a psychedelic epiphany. The more he tripped on acid, the more he perceived a spiritual light...(p118)
"Nowadays I'm reading The Bible every day, but that began in 1971 when I met Gitta, my future wife, whose mother is a Jehovah's Witness. Their world seemed to be believing in The Bible." (p119)
"I found the truth somewhere else," Damo says of his present-day spirituality. "I am not really interested in any church and any organisation. I like to find the real truth, which is starting from The Bible - not influenced by American-established organisations." (p119)
and, on the spiritual window that was opened in the early 1970s:
The book notes that Gitta still gets upset when people repeat the idea that she was responsible for turning Damo away from music - that was his decision. Of course, we often hear such things said about women breaking up bands, don't we? The book says that "his wife was left entirely in the dark about his reasons for quitting." (p123).
It was a window opened for him by his mother-in-law - not, he insists, by his less spiritually devoted wife of the time. (p119)
I’m a Jehovah’s Witness no more, but I believe in their God and I do believe in the Bible, which gives me a way of truth. Also, it’ll never die whilst the morals of today are changing and changing.
You’re losing, you’re losing, you’re losing, you’re losing your vitamin C!"
9. I'll tell you who--Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was an avant-garde composer who was known for electronic and aleatoric music. "Aleatoric," incidentally, is not an English word, but is the result of a translator's error ("aleatory" means "by chance" in English). Two of the founding members of Can, Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt, were Stockhausen's students (Stockhausen's contemporary and fellow experimental composer, Luciano Berio [1925-2003], taught at Mills College in Oakland where two of his students were Phil Lesh and Tom Constanten of the Grateful Dead; the influence of avant-garde classical music on psychedelic music of the time would be an interesting subject to explore).
10. Soundtracks is the second album by Can, and the first one Suzuki appeared on (Malcolm Mooney also sings several songs on the album). It is an album of music Can made for various movies, and the liner notes state "Can Soundtracks is the second album by the Can, but not album no. two..." Thus, the band considered Tago Mago (with Suzuki on vocals) to be the authentic follow-up to Monster Movie.
11. Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) was a fantasy author. Initially a Lovecraft acolyte, Leiber became a widely influential author in his own right, coining the term "sword-and-sorcery" for the kind of stories he told. The name, without the hyphens, has become accepted terminology for the subgenre of which Robert E. Howard and Leiber are considered major founding figures. Leiber is perhaps best known for his Lanhkmar stories. MES is a reader of Leiber, but I cannot find anything to suggest Suzuki is; an obvious presumption is that the "listener" here is MES himself.
13. Can signed with Virgin records in 1975, a year after Suzuki left the group. Robert points out that this may be a fan's lament that the Virgin material is inferior. Also, there may be a little joke about becoming a virgin again, although "pre-Virgin" in this case would have to be prior to birth or something, so maybe not...
BLESSINGS on the hand of women!
Angels guard its strength and grace.
In the palace, cottage, hovel,
Oh, no matter where the place;
Would that never storms assailed it,
Rainbows ever gently curled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
It goes on like that.
And from "Diamond Mine" by Higher Elevation, "The hand that cradles the rock/Can certainly roll the world" (thanks to maleslate from the Fall online forum).
And Darrg makes a suggestion; I have never seen or heard of this, but it may be relevant:
"'The rock that was an egg' bit might be a reference to Monkey, the late 70s/early 80s Japanese TV show (based on a 16th century novel by Wu Ch'eng-En) about the mischevious Monkey-god who was 'born from a [stone] egg on a mountaintop' (as the theme tune tells us; Darrg added "stone" in brackets, as the book and TV series specify that this was the type of egg from which Monkey was hatched). The series had quite a following in the UK, where the characters' voices were dubbed by Brit actors using broad mock-oriental accents. Perhaps MES was reminded of this school of dubbing by his own attempts to emulate Damo Suzuki."
15. Does MES's Damo Suzuki come off a bit like a paranoid crank? I am not sure how much of this relfects the latter's character, and how much that of the former...I don't mean to suggest that MES is himself a paranoid crank, but he does seem to consistently get a kick out of paranoid crankitude.
Having read I Am Damo Suzuki, his biography, I think "paranoid crank" would be a not entirely kind but not entirely inaccurate description of Damo.
His views will have changed a bit since the 1980s, but probably not radically.
MES, of course, did not know Damo when he wrote the song.