GATHERING OF THE TRIBE: The Many Roads To Musical Mind-Alteration

There is a lot of music, particularly music recorded during the second half of the 1960’s, that is considered to have mind-altering properties.  That said, such music is often thought of as an accessory to a larger experience that usually involves rituals and/or drugs.  However, that opinion overlooks the fact that certain kinds of music can alter your mind without any other accessories.  If you give it your full attention, it can take you to other lands, other eras, other states of mind without you ever having to leave your chair.

And that’s the kind of music that Gathering Of The Tribe is dedicated to. Subtitled Music And Heavy Conscious Creation, it explores a wide variety of albums from many different genres that find the artists involved using their musical abilities to transform the listener’s mindset.  The result is a book that’s pretty mind-expanding in both the wide amount of territory it covers and the challenging, sometimes scary artists it covers.

The album entries were primarily penned by Mark Goodall and he divides into thematic sections, either by musical style (jazz, soundtrack, etc.) or theme.  Goodall explores each album thoughtfully, starting with a discussion of its relevance to the topic at hand before giving a detailed description of the album’s contents and a final analysis that sums up its significance. His writing has a complex, often academic style and it sets the tone for the book: don’t expect zine-style flippancy or any other excessively relaxed approach here.

A consistent theme running through the book is the role that the occult can play in the creation of such music.  Keep in mind this is not just the “scary movie” definition of the occult: indeed, the book covers everything from Eastern religion to alternative life philosophies.  For instance, albums by John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane are analyzed in terms of the religious mysticism that influenced the way they were created.  There’s also a fascinating account of a recording by George Gurdjieff, a spiritualist who used keyboard improvisations as part of his daily routine.

That said, devil worship and witchcraft play a role in this occult theme. Obvious choices like Black Sabbath and King Diamond are avoided in favor of those who espoused genuine devotion to the occult in their personal lives. For instance, there are looks at albums by “professional” witches like Alex Sanders and Louise Huebner (her album is the alluringly titled Seduction Through Witchcraft).  Even more interesting are accounts of Black Widow, a band that did a kind of rock theater by performing a Satanic mass onstage at concerts, and Coven, who did a concept suite on one album depicting such a mass.  Soundtrack fans will be happy to note there also in-depth entries on the soundtracks to films like Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man and Blood On Satan’s Claw.

However, the most interesting section in the book is the one entitled “Mindf**kers,” devoted to the recordings of those considered outside artists.  This section is particularly notable for its entries on Charles Manson’s Lie album and He’s Able, a gospel music recording by the People’s Temple Choir (i.e., the house band for the infamous Rev. Jim Jones and his cultish church).  To Goodall’s credit, he doesn’t go in for the kind of easy sensationalism or lurid details that could have dominated these entries.  Instead, he intelligently explores how the music on each album reflects the personalities of its creators, their worldviews and the ways they chose to engage the rest of the world.  The results allow these outsider-culture totems to be seen in a fresh, genuinely insightful way.

It is also worth noting that a handful of other writers have been brought in to explore particular titles.  For example, Mick Farren turns in an entry on a Nick Cave album that serves as the springboard to a fascinating thought-piece on the relationship between rock and roll music and the devil. Richard Woodcock also contributes an excellent piece on Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica that mixes journalism and critical insight to go beyond the usual “whoa, this is weird” cliches that rock critics often use when dealing with that album.

The most fascinating outside essay comes from Thomas McGrath, who contributes an amazing essay on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return To The 36 Chambers.  It explores the album in terms of the relationship between hip-hop and the beliefs and practices of the Five Percenters.  Along the way, it reveals astonishing insight into the Muslim religion and the urban culture that gave birth to the Wu Tang Clan.  The results are truly mind-blowing, even if you aren’t a hip-hop fan.

In short, Gathering Of The Tribe is much like the music it chronicles.  If you give it your time and attention, it offers many ways in which to expand your musical consciousness.  Whether it is dealing with a classical piece by Debussy or a confrontational industrial music album by Throbbing Gristle, it applies the same levels of ambition and thoughtfulness throughout – and the results offer many dividends for the musically adventurous reader.

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