The Time Will Come: Lee Kerslake (1947-2020)

English musician Lee Kerslake died today at the age of 73, after a years-long struggle with prostate cancer. He was a long-time favorite of mine, holding down the groove and delivering the beastly beats for decades with a variety of acts I appreciate. He was best known as the hard-hitting drummer (credited on occasion as “The Bear” for his physical stature, grizzly beard and thunderous paws) for Uriah Heep and a pair of seminal Ozzy Osbourne solo albums. But there’s a bit more breadth and depth to his catalog and creative contributions than that, including some mostly-forgotten gems that get a lot of spins about our household. Let me share a few of them with you in a spirit of tribute and respect.

I’ve written before about my love for what I call “heavy organ music,” which I described thusly in 2001:

You can generally describe it as mid-tempo, choogly rock (complete with appropriately widdly guitar and ram-a-lam drum solos), fortified with strong, typically baritone male vocals and cemented together with swirly, gurgly organ parts, usually played on classic Hammond B-3 or Vox Continental organs. Or other combo organs of the era, Farfisas and the like. You know the sound. Organy.

Lee Kerslake played on a lot of Heavy Organ Music classics over the years. He began his recording career with The Gods, whose various lineups between 1965 and 1969 included Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones), Greg Lake (King Crimson, ELP), Ken Hensley and Paul Newton (both Uriah Heep), Brian Glascock (The Motels) and John Glascock (Carmen, Jethro Tull). Kerslake joined the group in 1967 as drummer and vocalist, part of the briefly stable quartet lineup with Hensley, John Glascock, and guitarist Joe Konas who recorded the group’s two official album releases (Genesis in 1968 and To Samuel A Son in 1969), along with the notoriously raunchy 1970 Orgasm, which was pseudonymously credited to Head Machine. Here’s a classic cut from The Gods, co-written by Kerslake and Konas:

R&B singer Cliff Bennett (ex-Rebel Rousers) joined The Gods near the end of their run under that name. A re-tooled ensemble called Toe Fat emerged in 1970, featuring Bennett, Hensley (primarily on guitar, rather than his usual keyboards), John Glascock and Kerslake. Their eponymous first album is an utter stormer, with some truly bizarre early Hipgnosis art work on its cover. Here’s its opening cut:

Kerslake and Hensley left Toe Fat before the group’s less exciting second (and final) album, Hensley heading directly into Uriah Heep, and Kerslake joining the woefully under-appreciated National Head Band, whose sole album, Albert 1, is a lost near-prog classic, filled with unusual styles and structures, and ballsy playing and singing throughout. Kerslake contributed on keyboards, vocals, drums and composition. Their best cut, to these ears, was this one:

After Uriah Heep had chewed through four drummers over the course of making their first three albums, Hensley recruited his former bandmate for Heep duty, soon cementing what most would consider to be their “classic” lineup: Hensley, Kerslake, Mick Box (guitar), Gary Thain (bass) and David Byron (vocals). That quintet released four studio LPs and one live album over three years, during which time the group scored their highest sales and spins figures in the UK and USA. There are many classic cuts in that great creative period, but I’d cite this one as my perpetual favorite of the era:

That stable run ended after Thain’s onstage electrocution, followed by his untimely death of a drug overdose. He was replaced by my much-admired (and missed) John Wetton for a pair of albums, which most Heep fans don’t particularly dig, but I think are under-rated. I picked the fitting title of this post from a song of that era, co-composed by Kerslake and found on the B-side of the “Return To Fantasy” single. (I appreciate that the current most-recent comment on the Youtube page linked below praises the complexity of Kerslake’s drum work).

The late ’70s found Uriah Heep in a state of churn and devolution following the departures of Wetton, Byron, Hensley and Kerslake, leaving Mick Box as the sole founder and still standard-bearer for the group. Lest that sound negative over the long-haul, please note that I am most fond of much Heep work since that time, grateful that they never stopped growing, and thankful that they never ossified into a stale vintage rock tribute show to their earlier glories. I saw their current line-up a couple of years ago in a Chicago-area venue, and would cite that show as one of the best I saw during my four years of living there. I also consider their latest album, 2018’s Living The Dream, to be one of their all-time career highlights.

But back to 1979: following his Heep exit, Kerslake went on to join a super-group originally dubbed Blizzard of Ozz, featuring Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Bob Daisley and guitarist Randy Rhodes. By the time their debut album came out, however, things had morphed into Ozzy receiving top billing as a solo artist, with Blizzard of Ozz being repurposed as the title of the 1980 disc that ended up selling in quintuple-platinum quantities. How many times have you heard this choice Kerslake drum opening in sporting events and other “gotta pump up the crowd” moments, live and on television?

The original four members of Blizzard of Ozz co-wrote and recorded a second album, Diary of a Madman, for a 1981 release, but relationships had soured between Ozzy and his manager-wife Sharon on one side, and Daisley and Kerslake on the other, leading to Diary‘s original release crediting a replacement rhythm section for the work done by the original members. It got worse a few years later, after Daisley and Kerslake sued the Osbournes to receive their due creative credit on that pair of immensely successful commercial releases, only to see Ozzy and Sharon literally re-record and re-release the records with yet another rhythm section, completing erasing Kerslake and Daisley’s contributions from what they apparently hoped would become the permanent record. Eventually, saner heads prevailed and the original recordings have become commercially available again. During his final illness, Kerslake cited a dying wish to receive his due credit for his work on those famous discs, a request that Ozzy honored, finally providing him with the platinum disc awards that he’d certainly earned all those years before. A small gesture, but better late than never, I suppose.

As it turned out, Kerslake’s departure from Ozzy World aligned timing-wise with a complete retrofit and relaunch on the Uriah Heep front. Kerslake re-joined his former band, bringing Daisley with him, for their first post-Hensley release, 1982’s Abominog, which opened with this cut:

That record was a surprising commercial and critical success, and after another few years of personnel churn, the band’s longest-stable lineup emerged in 1986, with Box and Kerslake joined by singer Bernie Shaw, keyboardist Phil Lanzon, and bassist Trevor Bolder, once of Bowie’s Spiders from Mars, and also a veteran of the late ’70s Heep era. Kerslake’s last songwriting credit with his long-time band appeared on this cut, from 1998’s Sonic Origami.

Lee Kerslake continued to play with Uriah Heep until early 2007, when his health had declined to the point that he was no longer able to serve as the engine that drove the high-powered outfit he’d anchored for so long. He was active in other capacities as he was able in the years that followed, with some live work, some studio work, some writing, and some nice tributes to and interviews with him peppering web and radio spaces in and around the Heep community.

I return to Kerslake’s early career with The Gods to end this post, offering a closing track below that my music-nerd statistics tell me was the seventh most-played song around our household over the period from May 2008 to December 2019. Lee Kerslake plays drums on “Lovely Anita,” as per usual, but he also wrote it and sings lead vocals on it, and it’s an extraordinary little pop-rock gem, ably displaying a sensitive facet of his creative work that’s not often celebrated. But I love it dearly, and I applaud its creator, for this and so many other works. Lee Kerslake may not be the most famous musician we’ve lost in recent years, but he was well-loved among Heepsters, and someone whose name always made me pay attention when I saw it and/or heard his work. I hope you’ll join me in lifting a glass (real or virtual) in his direction upon the time of his flying away. May Lee rest in well-deserved peace.

Five Songs You Need To Hear (I’m Only Bleeding)

In 2004, I took on a self-imposed project to write and post a poem a day on my website for the entire calendar year. I got it done, but it was a slog. On August 31, 2004, the day’s bit of poesy was called “Twice As Far Behind As Yet To Go,” noting that the year had hit its two-thirds mark, and how it was feeling a bit endless on one plane, but with an end visible ahead on another. With a little editing, it’s a perfectly apt sentiment for August 31, Anno Virum, as well:

It’s summer, yet an illness falls like snow,
atop an ice of hatred hard below.
The dire year drags relentlessly, although
there’s twice as far behind as yet to go.
The joys of friendly discourse are benumbed.
We’re isolated, bludgeoned, stricken dumb.
But as we plot the “to” against the “from:”
there’s twice as far behind as yet to come.
Off in the distance, maybe, we can see
a shoreline from this sea of misery.
Perhaps we can feel hope, to some degree,
with twice as much behind as yet to be.
(The writer sighs on reaching a plateau,
with twice as far behind as yet to go).

If all goes as planned, Marcia and I will wave off 2020 from a new house somewhere in Northern Arizona, knowing that we’ll be in the final three weeks of the worst Presidential term in American history. Please Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Brahma, Flying Spaghetti Monster, [Your Deity Here], let it be so. It’s harder to predict the state of the virus and the festering sores of institutional inequity at that future point, though I suspect that with an anti-scientific, greed-fueled, sexist and racist administration perhaps twitching in its death throes, its purveyors and enablers may purposefully make things worse before they have any possibility of getting better. But again, LORD willing and the creek don’t rise, come the end of January, we will most hopefully be in a place where those who steer our collective colorful caravan are actively interested in seeking a path toward health, justice, social equity, security, safety, stability and charity. We’re desperately in need of a new compass pointing that way.

A stirring soundtrack for that trip wouldn’t hurt either. Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to this installment of my ongoing “Five Songs You Need to Hear” series. Which was motivated primarily because I just nabbed one particular song that you most definitely need to hear, right now: Public Enemy’s 2020 remix of their towering 1989 anthem “Fight the Power,” from Spike Lee’s equally thrilling film Do The Right Thing.  The core riffs, beats and rhymes of the original version of “Fight the Power” are just so iconic all these years on, and I am most pleased that P.E. have returned to this classic with a topical and timely update, involving some of the many talented folk they have inspired over the years.

I vividly remember hearing “Fight the Power” for the first time when Marcia and I saw Do The Right Thing (one of my all-time favorite films) in Washington DC on or very near its release date, and it opened with Rosie Perez dancing and boxing on the big screen with that song just absolutely kicking!!! It remains the only time I can ever recall an audience clapping, standing and whooping for an opening credit segment. (You should watch it now). As provocative and inspirational as the song was in and out of its original context, it’s dismaying to think that it’s been 31 years (“1989, a number . . .”) since Spike released that great film, in which the climactic scenes hinge upon a black man being choked to death by a police officer. I guess I hoped, dreamed, maybe even believed in 1989 that things would have changed by 2020 in ways that such acts would be inconceivable, not commonplace. But nope, we’re not there yet. And we’re maybe not even twice as far behind as yet to go on that front. We’ve got work. Let’s do it. Voting smart would be a great step, for starters.

The other four songs in this month’s installment are also 2020 cuts with topical themes, food for thought, fuel for action. You can click here to get all of the previous “Five Songs” installments (scroll down after you click that link to move past this current article), which are now at 18 posts and counting. Loads of musical wonders and weirdness await intrepid explorers there. Get down to the sound of the funky drummer!

#1. “Fight the Power: Remix 2020 (Feat. Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG and Questlove)” by Public Enemy

#2. “Amoral” by Napalm Death

#3. “Asylum Seeker” by Gordon Koang

#4. “a few words for the firing squad (radiation)” by Run The Jewels

#5. “Please Don’t Fuck Up My World” by Sparks

Mask Music

It has been an annoying week in Iowa since Marcia and I returned from our wonderful trip to Minnesota. The weather has been mostly disgusting, with hot winds and high humidity making our daily walks a sweaty slog. Our Governor and junior Senator were among the cast of clowns dancing in center ring at the Von Trump Family Circus, both of them spewing the half-truths and nonsense required as acts of fealty to their ignorant overlord. Diligent and persistent community watchdogs pressed the state to admit that it has been miscalculating, doctoring and/or misrepresenting our COVID case numbers. (I’d long been observing that Iowa’s official outcomes and trends seemed improbable compared to neighboring states and other states of similar sizes, so this did not surprise me). Once adjustments were made, Iowa immediately moved into the number one national position of new case incidence by state over the past seven days.

Which also isn’t really surprising, given our proximity to several major access highways for the Sturgis Coronapalooza, the fact that we are in the bottom ten states in the nation for mask usage, and in the bottom three for social distancing. Which I experience every freaking day in our apartment building, where I swear that Marcia and I are the only people I see who conscientiously wear masks whenever we step out of our unit. Polk County (where we live) leads the state in case load, about three times higher than the second-placed county, and over 50% of cases reported are in the 18-40 year old demographic, which overwhelmingly defines the East Village neighborhood where we live. To give credit where it’s due, the Mayor of Des Moines did issue a mask mandate this week, which I appreciate, though I haven’t seen any changes to the behaviors among our neighbors. On the flip-side, after returning home from her circus performance, our Governor made a relatively short-term proclamation closing bars and making other minor concessions in only six of Iowa’s 99 counties, but still refused to make masks mandatory, because freedoms and liberties.

It’s just exhausting and sad, at bottom line. And it’s lethal. If the Governor would impose a mandatory State-wide mask requirement, and people would abide by it, the projection for cumulative COVID deaths in Iowa by December 1 would be about 1,900. (We’re at about 1,100 deaths now, officially, though I believe the state is fiddling with the reports there, too). If things just continue as they are in terms of required protective measures now, then that cumulative death prediction rises to about 3,100. And if the limited restrictions in place are lifted or reduced (which the state has done every time it has the chance to do so), then the death count is forecast to rise to 4,700. So we’re looking at a situation where our elected officials have been and will (likely) be making policy decisions that will result in killing a couple of thousand Iowans, for no lucid or cogent reason beyond currying political favor with racist rich people, most of whom don’t live here, and who don’t believe in science and social justice. Ugh! Marcia and I are (safely, distantly) counting the days until our next out-of-State trips, and until October 22, 2020, when our household goods will be packed and picked up and we will leave Iowa for good. It’s been a nice run here since we first arrived in 2011, positive for a variety of reasons at different times, but at this point, enough is enough. Stick an ethanol-subsidy-powered fork in us. We’re done.

I don’t normally rant like this here on Ye Olde Blog, but I put all of that forward just to give you a sense of my head-space as I was out driving between errands this morning, and this song queued up on the car stereo:

It’s a beautiful song by a favorite artist. Like most great art, its complexity and layers of meaning made me feel better and worse at the same time while it spun, and in the quiet afterward. The lyrics are adapted from the poem of the same title, by Paul Laurence Dunbar. The author wasn’t writing about protecting himself and his neighbors from infection, but rather about the experience of being Black in America in the post-Civil War years, and the ways in which people are forced to wear happy and harmless masks to cover their real faces, which may be wrenched in suffering and pain by their own circumstances, internal and external. So it works on many levels today, with pandemic and institutional racism vying for top-billing in the Nation’s news feeds, between the steady stream of malformed blurts that our Grifter-in-Chief barfs upon us throughout his waking hours, with no mask worn (and none strong enough anyway) to filter the infectious virality of his awful words and sentiments.

Me being me, listening to “We Wear The Mask” got me to thinking about what other mask-related songs might be found in my collection, and whether they carry explicit or implicit resonance with the spirits of our age, malign, benign and/or sublime. I came up with the following playlist about masks, veils, and other face coverings, literal and figurative. Maybe if I crank it off of my apartment balcony it might subliminally inspire my oblivious neighbors to cover their faces before they go bumbling into the hallways which we all share. Probably not, though. I guess I’ll just have to enjoy it here in my home office. Do you have some other good recommended mask songs for me to add to the mix?

The Madness Of “With Which I Am Well Pleased” III

With so many things to be stressed, obsessed and/or depressed about in recent months, those little escapes, thrills and distractions that can brighten the hours and days are to be cherished, without doubt or question.

First and foremost in our family’s case, of course, is that none of us have had any medical emergencies to contend with during this our anno virum. Marcia and I were additionally pleased when Katelin called us earlier this week to tell us that she had received a very nice work promotion, demonstrating that her chosen work-remote situation in Nevada is clearly acceptable and sustainable to her employer, atop the satisfaction that she and John are feeling with their new Western lifestyle. We gave ourselves Six Parenting Gold Stars for that one. Very pleasing.

Marcia and I continue to have our own work opportunities to keep the mental juices and financial benefits flowing, I continue to find things to enjoyably think and write about, and we both continue to prioritize daily woodland and countryside walks of five-miles-plus to keep the body tuned along with the brain.  (I’m also cycling when I can to further that physical component, with ~650 miles covered over ~15 rides since May). We will be heading back up to Minnesota next week to see family in socially safe circumstances, so another change of scenery in Marcia’s beloved home state will feel good, for sure. Keeping on with keeping on, at bottom line. As one does.

Beyond those macro existential things, there are lots of smaller thrills that have delivered me the joy juice of late as well, so it seems fitting to provide a third installment to my “With Which I Am Pleased” series, building on this one and that one. As with the earlier posts, I feature 15 items in various categories, and commend and recommend them for your attention and (maybe) enjoyment as well. May they distract you from distress, alleviate your duress, and/or prepare you to safely impress your social (distant) circles with hot fresh content. Got recommendations for me in return? That’s what the comment button is for. Hit it!

FILMS

MUSIC

WEBSITES

Going Medieval

Daily Abstract Thoughts

The Diversity of Classic Rock

BOOKS

Five Songs You Need To Hear (It Felt Like A Kiss)

It’s been a little while since I did one of these ostensibly-monthly featurettes, so today seems like a fine day to return to form and schedule. For this installment of “Five Songs You Need to Hear,” I’ve picked cuts that are all from 2020 releases, and are by bands who I’d never heard prior to This Foul Plague Year. I’m always pleased to find exciting new artists of interest, in keeping with my “the best music ever made is being made right now” ethos. While I didn’t specifically intend it to be that way, after compiling this list, I noted that there’s a decidedly international feel to the selections, with the artists featured representing Mexico, Canada, Norway, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. That’s been fairly typical of my listening this year, and I suspect my year-end Best Albums list will be fairly multi-culti accordingly. Beyond those thematic links, the five songs have nothing else in common stylistically, but I am loving them all, I doubt you’ve heard them all, and I think you will enjoy them once you give them a spin. You can click here to get all of the “Five Songs” installments (scroll down when you get there to move past this article), which are now at 17 posts and counting. Loads of musical wonders and weirdness await the brave and intrepid there. Get ’em in your ear holes!

#1. “Chapter III: The Mortician’s Lamenting Dirge” by Deathnoisefrequency

#2. “Relativistic Jets” by Par Ásito

#3. “Texas Drums Pt I” by Pottery

#4. “Spiritual Change” by Etuk Ubong

#5. “The First Thing I Remember” by Slow Is The New Fast

Self-Descriptor

I learned a new word this week: autotelia, which is the state of being autotelic. It’s a 20th Century construction merging the Greek roots autos (self) and telos (goal). No, that’s not a fancy soccer/football term for kicking the ball into the net your own team is defending, but is rather a term used by T.S. Eliot to describe texts which are self-contained and independent of the author, and later adopted and adapted as a clinical descriptor by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Per Wikipedia, Csikszentmihalyi describes people who are internally driven, and who as such may exhibit a sense of purpose and curiosity, as autotelic. This is different from being externally driven, in which case things such as comfort, money, power, or fame are the motivating force. Csikszentmihalyi writes:

“An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding. Because such persons experience flow in work, in family life, when interacting with people, when eating, even when alone with nothing to do, they depend less on external rewards that keep others motivated to go on with a life of routines.”

This term and definition resonated with me as a good descriptor of how I function much of the time. Take this website as a good example, with thousands of posts written over the years, many of them later destroyed, with few of them created for any work purposes or financial benefits. I just like to write (among other pursuits), I regularly enter flow-state, I am happy when that’s the case, and many (most?) of my topics are not “useful” in any meaningful way, but are rather products of me becoming interested in or curious about something and wanting to process and/or preserve it. There have been loads of other examples like that over the decades, back to when I was a fairly young child, creating things (e.g. stories, games, songs, pictures, websites) for my own amusement, even if they look like absurd time-wasters to parents, friends, teachers, and work colleagues. I am a big fan of novels, stories, artworks and films that are fundamentally based in expert-level world-building, and I think that’s at least partially because I so enjoy building little worlds myself, even if I’m the only one looking at or inhabiting them.

I think another reason that autotelia resonates with me, at least in the ways that Csikszentmihalyi decribes it, is because it’s presented as an acceptable personal trait, and not something to be apologized for, or explained away, or to be given up or outgrown to free up time and energy “better” spent pursuing external rewards. I note that I do not mind external rewards when they are offered to me. I appreciate feedback on my little creations, and if someone wants to pay me for them, that’s fine too! But I seldom, if ever, make decisions expressly for those reasons when it comes to my writing and reading and researching and other creative activities. I just do them because that’s the way I am wired, finding them satisfying in their own rights as end products, even if I never share them, or even if I share them, then later remove them from the public domain. I’ve written online for over a quarter-century now, so I do have some strong sense of and data about what types of things are going to generate the most response from and interaction with my readers, but I very, very rarely expressly plan to write and post such things just to pursue such responses, excluding pieces written for work purposes or other publications, then reproduced here. (For the record: this type of personally philosophical post is not from one of my more audience-pleasing categories of writing).

I hope that being drawn to the concept of autotelia as a self-descriptor does not make me sound self-aggrandizing. I know that if I read an article by someone explaining how they were self-actualized (or worse, transcendent) per Abraham Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, my gut emotional reaction would be to want to chide them for being presumptuous and pretentious. Such an article would also imply to me that the author did not actually understand self-actualization (nor transcendence), the achievement of which would, by definition, preclude such public grandstanding about their ascension to a state of being that most of us never achieve. I feel the same way about people who unilaterally declare themselves to be successes in the material and public worlds without external evidence to the same, especially when they then want to teach you to follow in their footsteps, for a modest fee, of course.

In both of those examples, the claimed “higher plane” is something that can only be achieved through a lot of work and reflection, whereas I read autotelia to be something that just is. I have green eyes, most other people do not. I am tall and thin, many other people are not. I was born in South Carolina, they vast majority of people were not. And I am autotelic, which some other people are not, though I have no idea as to what that percentage may be. It’s just the way I’m built, and not how I built myself. I don’t perceive that as a value judgment, nor as a self-congratulatory back-pat, nor as a humble brag. In fact, it’s really easy to make an argument that being autotelic is a bad thing, at least as far as my writing goes, with me having given away product of value for decades instead of having parsed it out for paying customers or public acclaim. But it’s an accurate assessment of my personal quirks, and I like having a single word to describe something about myself that has more typically required paragraphs or pages to explain. Makes life simpler that way, yeah?

In closing, I need to acknowledge where I learned the word: it’s the name of a musical group, and I read a review of their new album on an excellent website I frequent. Which then led to a long online research effort to get a better grip on the topic, eventually resulting in this article, which pleases me, and may also please others, but that’s just gravy if it does. Did I waste precious time in this little endeavor? Or was my exploration valuable simply because I found purpose and satisfaction in the acts of reading and thinking and writing? I know my own answers to those questions, though I leave it as an exercise for the reader as to whether I’m right or not about them, or anything else stated herein.

Click the image to hear Autotelia (The Band).