The Desert Sublime

Posted January 31, 2008 in Music

With all the amazing bands that claim to come out of the IE, it’s easy to forget that the greatest ever to emerge from these here parts was an act so utterly seminal in construct that popular music mag’s like Detroit’s On Radar proclaimed, “they’re like a ten-ton Amboy Dukes being dropped on a super-taut trampoline, only heavier—and possibly the greatest shit to ever come out of Nowhere, CA . . . period.” 

Not bad for an ambient metal band that met on a field trip to the Amboy Crater back in the fall of 1977.

At their height from 1979-1983, the Ironic Cool managed to tour 61 countries while releasing four critically-acclaimed albums on Mason Fiend Records, two of which yielded number one hits in England and Japan—“Savage Boy Lightning” from A Room Full of Ditz and the 23-minute “No Brakes For Tomorrow” (abridged) from 1982’s lager-soaked Cromagnetism Back In. To this day the latter remains the longest-in-length single ever to reach number one in any country, and this largely (and speculatively) due to the fact that then Prime Minister Masayoshi Ōhira, who’d seen the band perform at Cambodia’s large outdoor Prohoc Festival in late ’79, fell in love with Hazelwood Marghis’s seductive charanga playing and used his influence most recklessly. Marghis also shredded on the triple-neck guitar live, later emulated by Steve Vai less effectively.

But the Ironic Cool, despite breaking up in 1984 after harpist/ax-grinder Peter Walla died of a drug overdose while staying at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, is more present today than ever before. These “mack-cats” were Silver Lake before there was ever a Silver Lake, and echo that for Echo Park. They were truly ironically cool, meaning they knew they were cool without any noticeable trace of effort, but were uber-cognizant of how cool not trying must look to the poseurs that attempted cool to such glaringly uncool effect. 

In later days such acts as Krokus, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Eddie Money have made their shout-outs to the IC as being “essential” to their musical growths, while others bit the concept (the Scorps, ELO and early Eurythmics stand red-faced, here) without due recognition. One cannot look the Silversun Pickups in the eye without seeing the Ironic Cool playing just behind the conjunctiva. 

“It was never us, never about what you thought it was about, if you can dig what I’m saying,” says the IC’s death-gurgling screamer and kora player Hemsley Savoy from his home in Twentynine Palms, “we never thought of our brand of music as sensational, even when Rod Stewart told us, even when T. Rex insisted. We always just thought of ourselves as really, really fucking, like, transcendentally fucking good, but had no idea about sensational, as the Joe Strummer told us at the Wolggsgugen Festival in 1982. He said, ‘Savvy, you guys are sensational, and I’m just really happy to exist at the same time as you.’ He fucking said that, can you imagine? Joe fucking Strummer. And it always stuck with me, though for less obvious reasons than that.”

Savoy’s crass delivery combined with his unprecedented lyrical use of dangling participles was documented in the film Be Still, Incognito while the band toured Equator and other bits of South America in 1980. It was in this film that Graham Russell famously quipped, “for them [Ironic Cool] to pull those sounds out of those instruments is like watching somebody purchase a string of pearls and then proceed to use them as anal beads.” It was also the film that exposed the not-so-chaste love affair between Hazelwood and Francisco Mentádos Lo Frias Atádos, the Colombian típle player on the third album, You Worship My War Ship, or Vice Versa. Note: Atádos is also the face-painted doom-n-gloom skinsman behind the death-gripping rumble.

By the time 1983 came around the Ironic Cool was by now a household name as far away as Taipei and old Auckland, but largely unknown in the States, save for a few places like the Deep South—and Alamogordo, New Mexico. That’s where the IC “incited” a riot at the annual Trinity Site Carnival while opening for Michael Sembello when Savoy attempted to “levitate” on stage. The local authorities thought it looked more like “masturbation,” an observation that soon morphed into a conviction, thus beginning the downward spiral of the Inland Empire greatest ever band. 

“I don’t know what they think they saw, but my back was to the crowd,” says Savoy, “the armadillo carapace on Hazy’s [Hazelwood] charanga was said to have shamanic powers, and I’d eaten some area cacti, and it was a very hot day. I think there might’ve been some radiation in the air; they’d dropped a big bomb there years before, you know. Nothing casual about that allegation, though, and I’m not sorry it happened.”

Unfortunately the Alamogordo show signaled the end for the Ironic Cool. After Savoy’s quick six weeks in the clink, the band did attempt a show in Winnipeg to coincide the beginning of hockey season in the fall of ’83, but the ear-bleeding metal had lost its worldly roots, and the IC officially called it quits in early 1984 upon learning of Walla’s demise.

This year at the fourth annual IEMAs, we should remember the band that put the IE on the map, yet never once played an actual gig here at all . . . The Ironic Cool. 









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