Fill Up on a Rock-n-Roll Legend
You may know of Led Zeppelin (and other bands as well) having had practice sessions in Clearwell Castle following Robert Plant’s personal tragedy, but you may not be aware of the band Helium Submarine and their lower-budget recording sessions high in the Rocky Mountains. As I complete my research and begin writing the script for the major motion picture based upon their story, I’d like to invite you to crack open a fresh bottle of whiskey and bring yourself up to speed on one of the greatest rock-n-roll fables never told.
The fabled band, having begun as a side project of three roadies from Black Sabbath, the next-door neighbor of an ex-girlfriend of a guy who changed the oil in Deep Purple’s tour bus, and a guy who knew the guy who scored the pot for a batch of brownies that never made it backstage to the band Sweet, Helium Submarine began as a cover band, but soon found their sound and inspiration via a shared interest in Pre-Columbian history, Biologist Trofim Lysenko, and Tesla’s third cousin Lepzig, inventor of the “Purple Nurple”. Composing such epic tracks as “Overcoming Gravity: The Pharaoh’s Phallic Pleasure Palace (The Ballad of Hefferendendanum, Stone Mason and Footballer Extraordinaire to the One and Only True Descendant of the Beer God, Pete)”, “Hybrid Turnip Yield Failure”, “Lysenko VS Mendel’s Giant Pea in the Lair of Common Sense”, and “Jacob May Have Had a Ladder, But I Have a Really Long Fireman’s Pole, But It’s More for the Chicks” (Parts I-VII), which in and of itself comprised three sides of the quadruple concept album …and a side of open-mindedness for my date, please (which tells the story of an astral-projection date gone terribly awry when one of the couple’s silver threads becomes entangled in the power lines following a time-traveling misadventure), the band was not getting commercial radio play, most likely due to the length of their songs (27 minutes on average). Or perhaps an affinity for screaming the word “pisspussy” repeatedly each time a cymbal would crash following a piccolo solo in an arrangement. By their second major release, “Captain Squeaky’s Sandwich Disaster”, the band was pursuing new roads, accidentally inventing “sampling” when they had a tambourine stolen, and the sole remaining recorded track of the missing membranophone was found to have, in the background, their neighbor, one Ms. Elsa Sheranislovsky yelling at her cat to stop peeing on the rug (and thus the birth of the aforementioned catchphrase “pisspussy”).
In any event, their A&R guy, Jerry Bettleford-Volume (heir to the Volume Family fortune – his great-Grandfather was one Chas. Whitwether Volume II, inventor of the volume knob, and who, having the foresight to not only Patent the device, but also managed to retain the forward rights for all future inventions, including what he described in 1904 as a ‘moving picture box” 1, was able to leave a very sizable empire and thus provide a comfortable life for his family to engage in pointless endeavors such as being an A&R guy) had suggested that the band try a more “radio-friendly” sound, and the band sought to head to the famed Clearwell Castle. Naturally the label denied the trip on grounds of “absolutely zero budget”, and as DoubleCross Records Senior VP Sol D. Seitowicz was quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t trust those morons in a garden shed, much less a castle.” Ever forward-thinking, Bettleford-Volume bartered with a neighbor to use a cabin that he had won in a game of high-stakes Hungry Hungry Hippos after-hours in the zoo he worked at, located in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains, deep in what is now known as Colorado, just slightly upriver from where Coors gets its water. The cabin, of course. Hippos cannot survive in the mountains. Not for lack of trying, mind you. We’ll cover that in a future post, “Noah’s First Ark: Big Waves Tend to Carry Things a Long Way From Home” (Scholastic Designation: “The Engineering of a Storm-Induced, Sea-Faring Vessel, While Having Obvious Similarities to a Regular Ship, Like Say for Instance a Barge or Something Like That, Would Logically Dictate Notable Structural and Functional Differences From One Designed to Endure a Storm of Sea-Making Potential While Carrying a Pair of Every Known Species for an Undefined Period of Time, Allowing for Storage of Fecal and Other Matter of an Undetermined Prior Mass in Advance of Setting Sail and Thus Begs the Question as to Just How Many Versions of Said Ark There May Have Been Before Noah Got it Right, and Just How Many Really Cool Animals Didn’t Survive to Make That Final Journey, Assuming That Said Animals Weren’t Just Complete Douchebags, and That Then Begs the Question of Whether or Not it Weren’t Simply a Case of Choosing the Wrong Animals to Bunk with One Another, as We Have No Record of an Official Bill of Lading for Any of Said Ark Versions, Or the Ship’s Crew, Most Notably the Social Director”; Remedial Title: “Big Animals on a Boat”).
What was to come of that trip is now a part of Rock-n-Roll folklore. At nearly any festival, you can hear it being re-told in hushed tones over the hypnotic crackling of a campfire roasting Fritos and S’mores-flavored Hot Pockets… and the gasps for fresh air between breezes carrying the foul body odor of the attendees far along to the next campsite.
Following a two day hike to the cabin (which, had it not been for lead singer Ashton Mung’s severe leg cramps and the band’s insistence on using a place mat treasure map taken from a Denny’s near Loveland Pass as the only form of navigation, would have taken approximately nine minutes from the frozen lake their plane had set down upon), the band settled in, and began writing what was to be their first commercial album. According to the manic scratchings and crudely-rendered cartoon penises in bassist Paul-Jean-Pierre Gowenbrowski’s journals, many of the songs were of an absolute genius not seen or heard since the Beatles and their secret “K-Mart” sessions, which bred over 4 million hits worldwide. The band had truly found their stride. Drummer Steve “Ukulele” Marzipone was experimenting with new forms of rhythm, as well as time signatures based on the numbering system for describing sexual positions. Lead guitarist Todd “Lozenge” Lozengensen was discovering new sonic frontiers alongside the string section they had liberated from a Czechoslovakian cover orchestra (hailed in their time as “The Closest You Can Get to the Philadelphia Philharmonic Without Having to Deal With People From Philly”), and rhythm guitarist Jim Freuchelisnki was working to harmonize with synthesizer wizard Vinny “The Organ” Quinn. The lyrics were of a deep personal nature to lead singer Mung’s heart, but dumbed-down just enough to rhyme and repeat per and over again, making them ideal for radio and the idiots listening to it. Things were progressing beautifully. Even the dozen oil painters brought along to create cover art were finding inspiration in the spectacular views and many varieties of hallucinogenic plants growing in the area.
Then it all fell apart.
As storms blew in, the band refused to leave. While ninety four of their entourage sought refuge in the town at the base of the mountain, and the remaining seventy-seven musicians brought along left on planes over the next three days, the band pressed on, writing and arranging their magnum opus. During this time, the weather worsened, blowing in Arctic air and temperatures reaching 70 below zero… But not before dumping forty-nine feet of wet snow upon the tiny two-room cabin.
Over the next five days, travel was impossible, and the resulting horrors I will spare you here. Having burned all nine of the drum kits, Marzipone was close to a percussionary breakthrough, using the skin and bones of Quinn; it being decided that his services were no longer needed, especially with the power being knocked-out and all. Suffice to say that in a Donner-esque turn, only one band member was to survive the ordeal… although left an empty shell of the fun-loving poet genius he entered that cabin as.
The resulting solo album, 1-8-5 (the cover art was an assemblage piece; a collage of the surviving pages from the journal that escaped burning on day two, and released overseas as Wiping You Away) has been hailed as a “remarkable work of lyrical inventiveness and very unique arrangement, paying little, and at times absolutely no attention to things like music theory”, and rare copies can be found in the bargain bin at weird little record stores that you wander into named “Spinners” or “Deep Tracks-n-More”, thinking that they may have a public restroom you can use while attending local art fairs and drinking far too much lemonade.
1I should write a bit here about the controversy surrounding the demise of the volume knob, and the resulting drama surrounding that, more commonly referred to in scientific circles as “The Great Volume Button Controversy”, but let’s be honest here, and accept that this has gone well beyond where it needed to, and save that for another day, shall we?