“come down easy” – spacemen 3 (1987)

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Sometimes the line between reality and surreality cannot be seen.  That is even assuming you have clearly defined the difference between them.  You also have to consider the idea that both concepts are abstract and relative.  Could one argue and prove that what is real and what is beyond reality differs greatly from person to person? Does reality, in any form, adhere to a universal standard that is clearly defined? Perhaps one can suggest that reality is a spectrum and people can exist on any point of that spectrum, or that even individuals can fluctuate from one end towards the other.

How does all of this translate to music?  I believe music embodies qualities that can confirm realism while also having the potential to heighten experience and transfer it to the realm of the surreal.  And that can be accomplished in many different ways; production aesthetics that convey a lazy river of dreams, an abstract sequence of words that make lyrics seem like poetry on a higher plane, or reimagining a firm tradition to the point of unfamiliarity.  With the case of “Come Down Easy” by Spacemen 3, it certainly is a cosmic blend of all, um, three.

Concerning its aural aesthetics, “Come Down Easy” is a dreamy, psychedelic trip down from a tumultuous, chaotic high.  It is the drifting downward from the stratosphere of cosmic realities, a realm of properties that differ greatly from the grounded principles and laws of nature of Earth.  Spacemen 3 borrows from the traditions of acid rock and skews its identity with their own blend of alternative malaise.

While their acid rock forefathers praised the era of free love, Spacemen 3 represent the potential of what reality can become.  There is always another side of the coin and with every peace sign, there are nightmares and coming down easy becomes an existential journey of survival.  The music is a drug-induced reimaging of “In My Time of Dying,” a gospel staple.  Within the framework of a song rich in formality and tradition, Spacemen 3 expose the central theme to make the idea of coming down from a high a religious experience.  In the backing track, the band stays true to form by making the song’s guitar rhythm the signature piece of the song.  It strums along with some grasp of its origin; a seemingly recognizable face among a crowd of blurred, obscured faces.   Are we in the middle of a gospel sermon or on display naked and exposed to an unidentifiable audience?  The musical arrangement is accentuated with another guitar drifting through the background, tambourines, a steady drum beat, and a descending bass line that is walking you down from this high.

While the music is rich with its reimagining of tradition, the song marks its own paths with the lyrics drenched in the sweat of deep spirituality.  Jason Pierce’s vocals convey a distant remembrance of his journey to his spiritual center.  He is on his way to the Holy Land aided by his shepherd and the intravenous, snorted, and smoked disciples.  His path to internal peace and enlightenment shines through as an authentic spiritual and religious experience.  He has seen the light and knows the way to righteousness.  He yearns for a flock to follow him and experience a centered, universal oneness that only comes with a congregation deeply rooted in unquestionable faith.  Through the sunlit holy mountain and through the dark, shadowy valley of death, you are protected.  You will come down easy.

Spacemen 3 is a remarkable, trippy alternative band that both understands and reinvents tradition.  With a sound that recalls King Crimson and the 13th Floor Elevators, they still create their own unique blend of psychedelic and post-punk alternative rock.  “Come Down Easy” is a real treat on several different levels.  What better ways to express the distortion of reality through drug abuse than dissecting and rebuilding a form of music that takes pride in their adherence to tradition and formality.  “Come Down Easy” perfectly exemplifies just how small the distinction between reality and surreality actually is.

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