Customer Review

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Skip Spence's Tour de Force, November 1, 2002
This review is from: Oar (Audio CD)
"Oar" has the dubious distinction of being the worst selling album in the massive Columbia Records catalog, and it effectively torpedoed the professional music career of Skip Spence. In 1969, Skip was committed to Bellvue Hospital after a drug fueled rampage with a fireman's axe, in a Manhattan hotel, while on tour with Moby Grape. Following his release from Bellevue, Skip headed to Nashville and recorded "Oar" a stunning coda to Moby Grape, the Summer of Love and his career.
Skip cobbled this album together with few resources aside from his own musical brilliance. The frequent comparisons to Syd Barrett really don't hold up. Skip was in full command of his mental facilities during the "Oar" sessions and to praise this album as the work an "acid casualty" is to trivialize the visionary intent of "Oar". True...this album has inspired an entire genreration of do-it-yourself, low-fi, outsider music but Skip's singular talent demands that "Oar" be accepted on it's own terms. Beneath the pastoral feel of "Oar" lurks a knotty tension that threatens to explode, even on a "good time" song like "Lawrence of Euphoria". It's all there...the full range of Skip's struggle with sanity... the creeping paranoia, the mania, the isolation and finally a sense of resignation. "Grey/Afro" a circular drum-driven tour de force is "Oar's" touchstone. This is where all of Skip's conflicting emotions collide in a mantra that slowly builds into a frenzy of disjointed drumming only to collapse and restart almost endlessly. It's listening to a stalled automobile trying to kick over, again and again.
In 1989, I caught up with Skip Spence who had lived in and out of homeless shelters for many years since "Oar". He was using psychotropic medications and finally had his own apartment in San Jose California. Skip never lost sight of the fact that he was first and foremost a musician and was always trying to get back in the game. Skip was writting some exceptional music, which he said was "floating around" on tape somewhere. I hope that music eventually sees the light of day because it is the equal of anything on "Oar". Skip seemed geneuinely suprised that I knew the Moby Grape classic "Omaha" and could sing and play the song along with him. Skip told me he always considered "Oar" to be his ultimate artistic statement and hoped that someday it would find an audience, however small. From time to time he'd send me a funny postcard, even though we'd met only once for a couple of hours. His last postcard said a group of great musicians were recording a tribute album to "Oar" and he was plotting the biggest comeback in the history of mankind. Skip's death went unreported by most of the major news services and I read about his passing on an internet site devoted to noted homeless people, three weeks after his death. I wish he would have stuck around long enough to finish his comeback.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 19, 2007 11:22:37 PM PDT
meiweili says:
This is an important review. Thank you.

Posted on May 28, 2009 8:53:54 PM PDT
if that's true, it's very sad.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 10, 2011 7:13:09 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 10, 2011 7:20:43 AM PST
When I read about his drug-fueled rampage with a fireman's axe I must admit I chuckled to myself. I guess I'm a little sick. On the other hand, had I actually seen it, I most certainly would not have been chuckling.

I agree with Meiweili. It's rare that we hear from someone who has had first-hand experience with the artist whose work is being reviewed. His sending a postcard to you even though he had only met you once is particularly touching. It's an act of thoughtfulness, possibly stemming from the need to connect with another. God knows I've been there-and am not far from being there now.

Posted on Apr 5, 2013 2:34:51 PM PDT
T. Edwards says:
I was fortunate to see Moby Grape live at the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore. I was totally impressed by the whole band they were absolutely perfect and I became an instant fan. They were probably the best rock band in the States with only Buffalo Springfield in the same league. I'd have to say it was the illusion spawned by lots of drugs that ruined this group and took such a serious toll on its' members. Skip Spence was so charismatic and talented as was every original member of Moby Grape. The whole thing sadly kind of broke my heart as I watched the magic fade. Based on the positive reviews I'll keep my eyes open for "Oar" (An incredible title).
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