Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Notorious Byrd Brothers by Ric Menck (Continuum Books 2007)


I'm not sure of the exact reason Gary Usher chose "Artificial Energy" as the first track on The Notorious Byrd Brothers, but it sure sounds like that's exactly where it belongs. A few swift cracks of the snare drum and the arrangement instantly springs to life. It feels as if the band are so charged up they can hardly wait to count the song off and go. The instrumental approach is hard and aggressive, and stylistically it relates to the recently released "Lady Friend" in that a horn section is featured. But while "Lady Friend" comes off sounding all strident and regal, "Artificial Energy" has a darker edge. This is mostly due to the song's lyrical imagery, which deals with the horrors of amphetamine use. Strangely, whereas their 1966 single "Eight Miles High" was banned because it supposedly contained overt drug references, no one batted an eyelash when the Byrds actually did write an honest-to-God drug song.

In "Artificial Energy" the song's protagonist takes his "ticket to ride" (okay, there's a drug reference and a Beatles reference all rolled into one), and sits alone waiting for it to take effect. Slowly he feels an "artificial energy" welling up inside, but as the drug takes hold something horrible happens. Instead of achieving some kind of enlightenment, our hero ends up losing control and, in the song's stark final imagery, kills a homosexual and winds up being thrown in jail.

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