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Malcolm Mooney & the 10th Planet

Wednesday, Oct 11 2000
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From the late 1960s on, German experimental rock band Can was an influence on countless artists, including but by no means limited to Roxy Music, Pere Ubu, Chrome, the Fall, and '80s Berlin industrialists Einstürzende Neubauten (and that list doesn't even contain bands from the last 15 years!). The seminal group took to new, mind-blowing extremes what the Fall's Mark E. Smith later referred to as the three R's of rock 'n' roll -- repetition, repetition, repetition. Drummer Jaki Lebezeit's hypnotic metronome beats and Holger Czukay's one-note bass figures drove the monolithic rhythms, while guitarist Michael Karoli and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt added the sonic colors. American expatriate Malcolm Mooney, who served as the band's first lead singer, was the loose cannon.

"Yoo Doo Right" -- the most enduring song on Can's debut, Monster Movie, and a sibling of sorts to the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" -- was driven by Mooney's never-ending wail. With a flat, raspy voice that could go from beatnik-speak to soulful croon to chanting madness, Mooney practiced rock 'n' roll as surrealist primal scream. He sang nonsense nursery rhymes, blues rants, and poetic odes to butterflies, water lilies, and spaceships. On "Little Star of Bethlehem," he repeated, "Froggie and Toadie carried off tangerine seeds one by one/ And came back for the popcorn after dinner." What this stuff meant was anybody's guess. It just sounded good shouted over clanging guitar and trance-inducing drumbeats.

After leaving Can and Germany in 1969, Mooney made his way as a printer, painter, and teacher, among other things. Except for a brief Can reunion in the late 1980s, Mooney stayed out of music until the mid-1990s, when a renewed interest in Can brought him out of retirement. Now, with the aid of Bay Area art-rockers the 10th Planet (which features members of MX-80 Sound), Mooney offers lengthy free-form freakouts and dismantled versions of Can classics, full of blustery bass winds, skittering free-jazz drums, prog-rock guitars, and his own unhinged recitations.

About The Author

Glenn Donaldson

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