Music Reviews
Ed Sanders

Ed Sanders

Sanders’ Truckstop and Beer Cans On The Moon

Collectors’ Choice Music

One of the sad guarantees of this puzzling reissue of a puzzling phase in the anti-career of one of the great agent-provocateurs of American 1960s counterculture, Ed Sanders, is that if you are a fan of his seminal work with those masters of proto-punk black comedy, the Fugs, then you might be put off or let down by Ed Sanders, country troubadour. Here’s what happened as near as I can figure it.

After the dissolution of the glorious Fugs (THE preeminent New York band, before the Velvet Underground), Ed Sanders was offered a solo record deal with Warner Bros. Records. After snatching it up, he decided, in the thick of psychedelic-hippy-counterculture, to head back to the country – and not get his head together. Yep, he headed out to the country, most likely metaphorically, and discovered that it fucking sucked. It was boring, the fresh air was overrated, and the people who lived there were close-minded, ignorant squares. What to do, what to do…Sanders didn’t ponder for too long. He cut a fucking country album that mercilessly mocked every bedrock foundation that the American heartland is built on. With an atonal, nasal warble and/or Dylan-like sing talk over surprisingly authentic country instrumentation, Sanders viciously tore into middle America and good country folk with twisted parables laden with equal degrees of surreality and stoned “fuck the squares” guffaws/freak power celebrations.

To me that sounds like a fucking winning premise, but the performances are lackluster. Sounding like a deranged Dylan circa New Morning, bad Frank Zappa, or even bizarrely, Ray “The Streak” Stevens, I can’t believe that this is the same Ed Sanders who was working on THE definitive piece of Charles Manson new journalism reportage, The Family, in the Tropicana Hotel at pretty much the same time.

That brings us to the more country rockin’ Beer Cans on the Moon. Sanders re-entered the marketplace with a tighter band and a more rollicking set of roadhouse-worthy tunes that are less self-consciously twangy than Truckstop. Not only that, but Sanders even toned down his delightful cruelty, expanding his subject matter to straight-up celebrations of the counterculture (“Rock and Roll People” and “Nonviolent Direct Action”) and environmentalism (“Pity the Bird”). But, then there are smack-downs of Henry Kissinger (“Henry Kissinger”) and a suburban household that in fact houses an S&M cult – so it ain’t all love beads here, bucko.

It’s not as much of a concept album – the material is tighter, and the songwriting is stronger than on the looser, sloppier Truckstop – it’s really just a matter of what side of Sanders you’re in the mood for (sloppiness and tightness is not a value judgment here, just a note), but the whole thing is just lackluster and the production is a little light. Beercans has not aged very well – either that or the songs were never strong enough in the first place to really resonate three decades later. It’s an amusing curio and an occasionally fascinating documentary of the restless creativity of one of the more interesting, but sadly fucking overlooked, characters who came out of 1960s New York. It’s just that these platters ain’t that fun to listen to.

Recommended for Fugs completists only. Neophytes should begin elsewhere.

Collectors’ Choice Music:

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