On the 'tube

Assault, Grace, and Battery


Not to mention testosterone, aggression, technique and dexterity, brutal virtuosity, stamina, exorbitant display of incandescent energy, virile innocent youth, uncanny musicality (frequently bordering on or crossing into brilliance), and great good humour. This show is a record of a moment which could never be recaptured - not even by EL&P, whose stellar fusion here at the core would burn (often brilliantly) through its fuel, expand into a bloated caricature of itself, and collapse into a dim burned-out hulk over the course of the following 7 years.

It's good to be reminded of the mingled violence and beauty of the trio's birth.

One has to overlook the fey and disruptive psychedelic cinematography, titles, and other self-consciously weird markers of the day in the production. Also, it may hard going in the first 15 minutes or so (laced with various sorts of amazement though they are). Watch the whole thing for the merit badge. (And the full measure of what ELP started to be about.)

(I'm listening to and not watching it as I write this, and the musicality is much more apparent without the visuals. But had I not watched it through and seen how it was done, I would have missed the point: it's a great huge pile of sheer fun. These fellers are having the time of their lives.)

It's funny this was called "prog." There's easily as much noise, industria, jazz, punk, and rock & roll in here as classical. Maybe it was the fusion of it all which created the energy - and put those goofy grins on their faces.

NOTE: No guitars were harmed in the making of this film - but coming in 1970 as it did, it may have hastened Laurens Hammond's 1973 demise.


I had heard a few ELP songs on the radio and at friends' houses, and couldn't figure out why they didn't quite grab me. Having started as a classical pianist, then orchestral French Horn player, then rocker, jazz dabbler, and even studied piano with a guy who was DEEP into electronic music (former student of Karlheinz Stockhausen), I felt as though I SHOULD have liked them more than I actually did. "Lucky Man," "From The Beginning," some of "Tarkus," and others were memorable enough, although I found their treatment of Mussourgsky's "Pictures At An Exhibition" (a piece I had studied on piano) nothing but soulless gimmickry.

I saw them live once, at Winterland in 1971. I went to see the middle act --- the first West Coast performance of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Mahavishnu's set was mesmerizing, astonishing, otherworldly, and jaw-dropping. I felt obligated to stay for ELP's set, even though I wasn't sure I could digest any more music that night. I only made it through a few songs --- when Keith Emerson and his Hammond were hoisted by cables into the air and rotated end over end, and he started carving the keys with a hunting knife, I split. The difference between the two bands couldn't have been more stark. Jan Hammer (who I've since learned has the same birthday as I do) made his Moog sing, soulfully and expressively, where Keith Emerson sought to dazzle with technique. Carl Palmer was amazing on drums --- but Billy Cobham played outside time signatures and made them feel as funky and effortless as 4/4. And John McLaughlin's guitar playing was impossibly fast and precise --- but it was WHAT he played with that technique that blew me away. I felt as though I was witnessing entire galaxies being created, expanding, and collapsing into black holes (and mind you, at that point I had never ingested any mind-altering substances). Mahavishnu was pure music; ELP was Showbiz. Within a few years I was studying with the same meditation teacher as John McLaughlin and met him several times --- and played with several members of Mahavishnu's second "big band" incarnation.

In the years since, I've come to appreciate ELP more, for what they were. They certainly pushed some of the musical envelopes of the time, and Keith Emerson deserves recognition for his part in creating the vocabulary of rock synthesizers. Who knows, if I hadn't seem them back-to-back with Mahavishnu that first time, I mighta dug 'em more. But even then, at 17, I knew I was seeking the higher and deeper --- music that could change people's lives, ignite the Inner Mounting Flame and give us a glimpse of what lies Between Nothingness and Eternity (see what I did there?), not just entertain or amaze for an evening.

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