John Ylvisaker Cool Livin' LP (Avant Garde, 1967)
Crud fan: Prepare to have your day made. I introduce to you John Ylvisaker. I first heard of Ylvisaker via Jello Biafra in Incredibly Strange Music Volune 2. On an enthusiastic roll, Jello talks up Ylvisaker's Cool Livin' as a Christian psych classic in which none of the musicians know how to play, comparing them to the Shaggs. Christian, psych, and Shaggs are three tags that will always suck me in. Mental note taken, the name Ylvisaker fused itself into the primitive part of my brain that remembers names and titles only when I am flipping through records.
A few years later, I call up the local NPR station and ask if they need help sorting records for their annual record sale. The lady says, sure thing, and gives me a time and place to show up. I go out to the burbs and they point me towards some CD and tell me to start sorting. I am with a bunch of seniors and a crew of mentally disabled youth. The youth are given the job of unloading the boxes of donations into the racks; the oldsters and I are to sort the CDs. The blue hairs are a bit slow, not knowing their Thelonious Monk from their Thelonious Monster from the Monster Mash. That is fine. I fly through the CDs and look like a hero. So much so that the lady in charge tells me I have a half hour to look through a couple thousand moving boxes full of records. Great. In my 30 minutes I find some nice odds & ends and a copy of Harry Partch's Delusion of the Fury. Five dollars she tells me. Also for my services I get into the sale a half hour before opening on the first day.
Friday evening comes and I motor it out to the burbs. I go through records and bring home a box of about 100. The lady in charge tells me to come back on Sunday after noon because the records will be a buck each. I come back Sunday and buy another 75. Before I leave, the lady in charge tells me that all the records must go. The radio station is getting new digs and they have nowhere to store the leftovers. I look around and there are at least 20,000 records still in boxes. She informs me that whatever is there at the end of the day will be given away on Wednesday. I get home and call my friend the Flower Vato. We make a date to go back to the burbs.
Wednesday roll around and I am in my truck with the Flower Vato and my handcart. We get to the records fifteen minutes before the doors open. It is us and a well dressed old man. The choice is beat down the old guy or get a cup o' joe. We opt for coffee. Doors open. It is Flower Vato, the old man, and I AND 20,000 free records. We dig for three hours. I come up with 500 records. The Flower Vato nabs 300. He hit the rock & jazz sections and did very well on odd ball soul and off label free jazz. I hit all the other genres. The spoken word and Folkways parts of my record collection got a bit bigger that day. And my avant composition shelf doubled with the addition of 75 records (all from the CRI label, a great imprint specializing in post WWII experimental composers. The NPR station was getting rid of all their classical vinyl. None of this stuff had ever been played). Among the gems the emerged on that day of gluttony was two albums by John Ylvisaker. That stored name rattling to the fore upon seeing Cool Livin'.
Bring home 700 records in three days time and it will be quite a while before you get to even sampling most of them. John Ylvisaker waited a couple weeks before needle dropped on him. I had only Biafra's description of Jesus freak meets the Shaggs to go on, so when a the sounds of a groovy folkster with garage leanings came through the speaker, I was disappointed. However, that let down lasted for about a minute. Ylvisaker's voice is just too unique, too heartfelt to not get sucked in. As the record spun, the music got better. Wildness started to creep in. Ylvisaker puts bible stories to pysch (Do You Know What I've Done?) and makes songs that are as good as any rock song around (My City). And then there are the great groofy groover in A Gay Cliche (which sounds like the Hombres, though with an amazingly unhinged vocal performance) and the garage swing of Let Loose. This stuff ain't Shaggs. It isn't "Real People." No, this is damn good!
Now I know I go on about Sky Gods and organized religion from time to time, but I really don't have much gruff with religious folks, certainly not those who aren't trying to shove it on me. Of all the Christians I've met the most interesting ones are Lutherans. I've got several records by Lutherans and all of them are odd. There is an angle that these folks come from that is a bit abstract, somewhat psychedelic, and even free form. I don't have any idea why this happens but it does. It was no surprise to me to find out that Ylvisaker is a Lutheran (and still performs. Check the church nearest you!).
As with most of the Lutheran stuff I've come across, Ylvisaker does the "soft sell." He doesn't push his faith on you. He presents it. He uses the Bible to supplement his art. He also has a sense of humor about what he is doing. He calls his music "A 'Secular' Liturgy." It is great stuff that he and his wife Amanda (on organ and flute) make. Enjoy.
Been listening to this stuff for the last week.
The beginning to "Let Loose" is damn catchy. This guy had chops. His earnest vocals kick ass.