Saturday, November 04, 2006

JUST AN AMERICAN DAD

My KSFR colleague Sean often turns me on to crazy, obscure music. (You can hear his wonderfully ecclectic musical vision on his show Undercurrents, or as I sometimes call it, "Undergarments," 10 p.m. to midnight on KSFR.)

This time, Sean introduced me to some crazy music with a sad story.

He had noticed a wire story The New Mexican published recently about "Azzam the American." Azzam's father, Sean explained, was a guy named Phil Pearlman, a hero of the "psychedelic underground."

I was intrigued. Sean loaned me some CDs.

Pearlman was in a band called The Beat of the Earth, who released a self-titled album in 1967. It has two untitled 20-minute-plus tracks, originally the sides of an LP. It's hypnotizing raw psychedelia jams. You hear traces of The Velvet Underground, The Incredible String Band, Sandy Bull. Pearlman's voice reminds me of The Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kanter.

I'm wondering whether Yo La Tengo isn't aware of this music.

Sean loaned me two other Pearlman projects, The Electonic Hole (from 1970, again, untitled tracks, though I recognize one as a cover of Frank Zappa's "Trouble Every Day") and Relatively Clean Rivers (1976), some of which has a slight country-rock flavor. Both are slightly more mainstream sounding (well, "mainstream" is hardly adequate. The tracks are shorter than 20 minutes) but still fascinating stuff.

But I hadn't seen the stoy about his kid. So while listening to The Beat of the Earth I Googled "Azzam the American," which I'd assumed to be some cheesy hip-hop moniker or band name.

Wrong.

My first clue was that most of the sites that showed up on Google were Fox News or right-wing blogs. Turns out Azzam, 28, last month was indicted on charges of treason, the first American citizen to face this charge since World War II.

According to a story on the CBS Web site, Pearlman's kid,
"appeared last month in a 48-minute video along with al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, calling on his countrymen to covert to Islam and for U.S. soldiers to switch sides in the Iraq and Afghan wars.

"It was the second time he appeared in the same video with al-Zawahri. In a July 7 video marking the one-year anniversary of the terror attack on London commuters, (Azzam) appeared briefly, saying no Muslim should "shed tears" for Westerners killed by al Qaeda attacks."
That's serious stuff. A lot more so than that American Boy John Walker Lyndh, who was younger and always seemed to me to have been confused and gotten involved in something over his head. I don't think Steve Earle will be writing a song for Azzam.

Azzam has been indicted, but not captured. According to one account, he hasn't been in the U.S. since his grandfather's funeral in 1998

Many of the stories and blog posts I read emphasized the fact that Azzam's grandfather -- Phil Pearlman's dad -- was Jewish, by all accounts a kindly doctor, who was on the board of the Anti-Defamation League.

Hearing Phil Pearlman's visionary music makes this story even sadder. I don't have much sympathy for the kid. He's old enough to know what he's doing. But I can't help but wonder what kind of hell his father is going through. Does he blame himself? Is some of that blame justified? Did he resign himself to the fact he lost his son years ago?

It's ironic looking at the verse on the back cover of Relatively Clean Rivers:

Hoping we can all get together, the Arabs and the Jews,
And melt down weapons into water sprinklers,
Tractors, shovels and hoes,
Irrigation pipes

Hippie-dippy utopian doggerel for certain.

But dammit ...

The best article I found on this sad story is on Pop Matters.

And here's a good interview, apparently done years ago before the world knew of Azzam the American, with a former member of The Beat of the Earth.

UPDATE: Sean just sent me a link to an eBay auction where an original Beat of the Earth LP sold for $711. (Plus $7.50 shipping.) But, hey bargain hunters, there's an eBay store selling the LP for a mere $599 (and only $4 shipping.)

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