– Autumn/Winter 2008

Former Reflections Enduring Doubt

Will Bradley

Tags: The Red Krayola

The Spacemen 3's 1987 cover version of 'Transparent Radiation' was my first introduction to the music of The Red Crayola. That track led me to The Red Crayola's first record, The Parable of Arable Land (1967), and an image of the band as the archetype of late-1960s rock experimentalism, their shambolic psychedelia both too wayward and too studied to deliver the calculated psychotropic hit or three-chord flower-child bliss-pop of some of their contemporaries. It was some years later that a friend, who had begun his conceptual art career in the mid-1970s, took it upon himself to straighten me out with the gift of a casette tape containing Corrected Slogans (1975) and Kangaroo? (1981).

It is difficult now to reconstruct my first reaction to these recordings, but I remember that Corrected Slogans in particular hooked me with its odd, esoteric completeness, its presence as a fully formed artefact from a world that I hadn't known existed. Somewhere, it was clear, were people whose relationship to these fragments of Marxist theory and disjointed musings on twentieth-century history was so direct that they evidently could not only entertain themselves by moulding them into an approximation of the rock idiom, but also turn this sense of purposeful mischief, of pleasure in reverent transgression, into the subject of their enterprise. The songs, if you could call them songs, used the expectations of the genre to tell you that the genre itself was under attack; the rousing chorus 'we will be fed with breakfast in bed, and served by a fat millionaire' that leads off 'Keep All Your Friends' was followed not by a pounding drum fill but by the obscure, deadpan disclosure

  1. Frederick Barthelme, 'The Red Crayola. All we wanted to play was the crack-ball stuff', Oxford American, n.d., available at http://www.oxfordamericanmag.com/content.cfm?ArticleID=287 (last accessed on 15 July 2008). The name of the band was originally spelt with a 'c'. By their second release, God Bless The Red Krayola and All Who Sail with It (1968), the name had already changed to The Red Krayola. The original spelling was occasionally used during the 1970s and 80s.

  2. 'Thompson's Twins', Dallas Observer, 17 June 1999.

  3. F. Barthelme, 'The Red Crayola', op. cit.

  4. Mayo Thompson, 'Baghdad on the Bayous?', n.d., available at http://www.scarletdukes.com/st/tmhou_mayoart.html (last accessed on 15 July 2008).

  5. 'Thompson's Twins', op. cit.