Posts Tagged ‘young lions’

It was sometime back in the early 00s when I got into King Crimson. I got to see them live with John Paul Jones when I was a Zeppelin die-hard and JPJ was touring behind The Thunderthief (2001). I got to hear the rhythmic daymare of Thela Hun Ginjeet for the first time in my life. The mix of strange and almost discordant rhythms did more to get me dazed than the contact high and warm pocket vodka. I remember being completely entranced until the song ended and I finally shuddered back to life. At the time, I also was discovering Zappa, and knew their common link was Adrian Belew. Young Lions, the first album I landed on at (thanks good ole Mr. Cheapos!), ended up tucking itself into the folds of my hippocampus in my Personal Museum of Eternally Beloved Music. This album is a mission of optimism with claws, set to vaguely jungle-ish rock drums and Belew’s unbelievable shredding. After now twenty years, whenever some Facebook chain email crosses me asking for my top fives or tens or “I listen to this when,” I instantly see the white-pink hue of my copy of Young Lions.

It starts with this pulsating stomp with bells on its ankles, that give me visuals of bonfire parties and hunting predators. This song always sends me deep into the stories in my consciousness and push up fruits of lush colors and imagery – sometimes a cavewoman lover shimmying for her beau, other times eyes in the bushes in the quiet blue darkness; a stalking foot of a carefully moving something. The driving stomp careens into a solo with a some instrument that I have no fucking idea what it is (probably some genius machination Belew does with pedals and pixie dust). It sears as much as it sings, stomping along with rhythmic grunts and twittering flutes, until the entire jungle erupts in natural rapture. It is a masterpiece of sound and joy and it moves me every time.

From there Pretty Pink Rose takes over. A guitar-crazy wailing pop smash, (the album’s one single and video), Pretty Pink Rose is just a good honest rock song. Total shoulder shimmy danceable. I won’t pretend to understand the lyrics, but they’re Bowie lyrics so they work well on their own just by sounding beautiful, nevermind what world-shaking political meanings Bowie may hide in there if you have the patience to search. “The left wing’s broken, the right’s insane” was one of the easily reachable bits to grasp, and rings even more frustratingly true the further we live through history. Other lyrics call up images of the Russian monarchy and seem to bite. Man, I don’t need to know what the hell the song is about, but the hooks in this song are so fun to sing along to, it doesn’t matter.

Humor me a personal story: There was a long time I didn’t pull this album out for a listen. I’m a sensitive soul and the universe decided to backhand me. When I was about 19, traveling the country with Led Zeppelin fans, I took my all Adrian Belew CDs on one of the coolest music adventures of my life (which I shall save for another post). My copy of Belew’s Op Zop Too Wah was with me, and it was super special. It had been gifted by another Belew fan on the internet with the caveat that I must one day pay it forward to another person who might like it. It was precious cargo, cargo that came with a mission. I wanted to make sure I had a few uninterruptable listens, and flights to and from Ohio were as good an opportunity as any.

So naturally, the airline lost my luggage.

When my bag arrived home 9 hours after I did, it was unlocked and all my beloved CDs and CD Walkman were gone. Heartbroken. I couldn’t bear to replace them, even though members of that Belew group sent me replacements and sympathy. But I felt so fucked up about it that I couldn’t really enjoy them without thinking about the violation of some chode stealing my stuff. And I always felt bad having never been able to complete my mission of paying a Belew CD forward. I sort of just blocked it out like it would be forever sour.

It took me until the darkness of 2020 to be able to see the light in this album again. In one of my many moments of deep orange panic, watching the world fall apart in front of me, I started singing “Looking for a UFO” at the top of my lungs. “Somebody will have to fall out of the sky, somebody to show us how to survive. Wouldn’t that be nice?” It sure felt like it. It came out of me randomly and at full volume like a cry to the gods (in the form of a catchy pop song). After all, it is three and a half minutes of upbeat but desperate hope when everything felt hopeless. Why not call upon the aliens? “I wonder what they see on earth. Do they see the hate and hurt? Or do they see the Christmas lights and mirth, and hear songs of peace on earth? Well maybe they would know, a way to make it so.” Maybe they do! Maybe we do, too. I confused the hell out of my neighbors, but I was happy.

One of the weirdest slam dunks on this album is I Am What I Am, which is a jam-along with cult radio evangelist Prophet Omega. I have always had a personally embattled relationship with spirituality, and this beat and monologue would make me scoff at the same time as “I am what I am, and that is all I am, and I am it” became an arcane mantra I would jot down in my notebooks in college. It’s this narrative of self-acceptance and living in the moment that is really engaging and healthy and light, although the guy also seems a little more than eccentric. I’ve since learned that Omega is some kind of legendary cult figure in Nashville music, and you can download his sermons/buy stuff about him from Genuine Human Productions here:

Genuine Human Productions Bandcamp

“Men In Helicopters” is an assault on poachers, and to some larger extent, the sins of our consumption. Belew’s rage is unfettered and raw in its biting lyrics. “Wouldn’t it be odd, if there really was a god, and he looked down on earth and saw what we’d done to her? Wouldn’t it be just, if he pulled the plug on us, and took away the sun?” I can hear a little extra breath in Belew’s rage, as if mentions of copters come with a snarl, a desire for justice. It gives you a push.

I always listen to this guy start to finish – there’s so much more to get, whether it’s the vaguely ethereal cover of “Not Alone Anymore” of the Wilburys, or “Phone Call From the Moon” or Belew’s personal cover of King Crimson’s “Heartbeat.” It’s a powerful album that more people ought to know about it. I could go on, but I won’t, because this review is already long. But I will say this:

DO YOU WANT A COPY OF OP ZOP TOO WAH? Help me complete my mission. I will send you a copy of Op Zop Too Wah on the condition that you one day pay another Belew album forward to someone else. Help me solve the mission I started 20 or so years ago in the primordial ooze of the internet. Reach out to me on Instagram! Cheers!

https://adrianbelew.net/

Adrian Belew’s Facebook

Adrian Belew’s Insta