(Pour mémoire, une version française, sous forme de récit, est parue dans le Ratcharge 28)
Any music fan with a soft spot for geniune weirdos, out of this world fucking mutants, what the hell were they on about types, will get the same kinda kick outta coming across a picture of the electric eels ("It should be all lowercase. You know, like ee cummings.", as expressed by their singer, who came up with the name) – some would call it "being moved", others "gaining an instant interest", but the most romantic types will just say it straight up – the eels are a band to fall in love with.
One of their most famous pictures features singer Dave E looking like Gollum from Lord Of The Rings, sporting his kick-ass afro while smiling like the retard son of a confused antechrist; guitarist Paul Marotta is dressed up like a hip grandma, his face truely seems gender-neutral, like an ageless queer character from the movie Gummo, 'cept from a time where there were no "queer characters" in any movies; in the middle, holding both of his bandmates in his gigantic hands stands the man you're about to hear talking inside your head, the white-trash glam-rock longhair spiritual father of all devos himself – ladies and gentlemen, Sir John Morton.
Now, before we go on, you gotta look at the picture really closely, for five or ten minutes, then close your eyes, and imagine – you're in Cleveland, Ohio, in nineteen-fuckingseventy- two. The sixties just ended, we haven't even celebrated the thirty year anniversary of the end of WWII yet ; Richard Nixon is president for the second time, Ronald Reagan is best known for being the main actor in Bedtime for Bonzo; hippies still rule, but the four dead bodies found at the Altamont Stones concert, at the the tail-end of 69, plus the Manson family trial in 71, have started to show the limits of blind beliefs in peace, love, or anything at all; those are times of post-happiness and cold war, proto-close-mindedness and closed eyes, but in Cleveland, Ohio, times don't move at the same pace as the rest of the world. Morton says it best: "Cleveland is and was a vacuum, a place to leave." There is no need for yet another description of the industrial wasteland the city is, was, will be, but let's just say it's the midwest, ok, it's 1972, ok, you got your wife and your kids and your bar and your shitty job and everything's fine but suddenly, something catches your eye on the corner of the street, something you can't describe, something there is no words for – yet – you see three motherfucking punk-rockers. Wait, what? In 1972? Yup, the hippies have mutated faster in Cleveland than anywhere else, pal. Better get used to the idea 'cause it is here to stay.
Aesthetically, musically, the electric eels were pure punk-rock when "punk-rock" didn't mean shit to anyone apart from a few rock critics who were playing around with the term. They had it all – the sound, the songs, the clothes, the attitude, the nihilism, the impossibility to be reduced to a cliché, a postcard, something that would be easy to buy. Between 1972 and 1975 they did something that's usually refered to as "writing history", and they did so by fighting whoever was on their way, including their own selves; they did so by playing the most avant-garde raw rock'n'roll there was at the time, toying around with freejazz, bringing sledgehammers and power lawnmowers on stage and playing them, but also by writing some of the best, most primitive, most catchy straight up punk songs ever – listen to Agitated, listen to Cyclotron, Anxiety, Safety Week – that shit hasn't aged one iota in forty years – in fact those songs sound as modern as they ever did, and it isn't the growing number of young bands citing the eels as influences who will argue that fact. So now, what? sun ra
Now, seat back, relax, grab a beer or two, read on, as guitarist John Morton agreed to answer some questions for Ugly Things, in hopes of achieving what should remain as the definitive electric eels interview. For such an important (albeit shortlived) band, to say the eels are under-documented by punk history books is an understatement. The rare sources giving them their due props (handfull of fanzines, few blogs, a couple message boards) usually seem pretty confused on a number of crucial details (exact number of gigs they played being the most obvious one.) Of course it would have been great to get other versions of the story, for instance to hear what Dave E (one of the most memorable voices in punk, ever – listen to his other projects The Jazz Destroyers and The Cool Marriage Counsellors by all means necessary)had to say about it all, but as any fan of the band knows, Dave doesn't want to talk about the band, busy that he is living the christian, ahem, "dream". We thought of tracking him down for a while, we actually found out some crucial infos but after thinking about it we decided to respect his privacy and his right to remain silent. As for Brian McMahon, should he contact us, we will gladly talk to him.