Old Time Relijun: Lost Light

Mark Desrosiers

Old Time Relijun

Lost Light

Label: K
US Release Date: 2004-04-06
UK Release Date: Available as import

Yea, though the tunnel has been long, dark, and wet; though our Mother Earth cried out in terror and awe at the conception; and despite the presence of vampires and tigers as witnesses; we must all rejoice at the rebirth of Old Time Relijun in Lost Light, for it is the unsanctified sound of a Holy Spirit bellowing at the neutered Hell we've made for ourselves. Here follows an accounting of the new clamor bestowed upon us by Arrington de Dionyso.

In the time before a furious persecution of sonic Americans was made under the rule of Bush and Ashcroft, Arrington de Dionyso -- raised in Arkansas of God-fearing Methodist lineage -- came to Spokane and chose that city for the place of his pilgrimage. Following in the steps of Saint Paul the apostle, he endeavored to labor with his hands in order to provide the necessities of life. Apprenticing himself to a local Master, he learned two Guitar Chords and thereupon exercised the art of busking on street corners. In this art he surpassed all others and took by constraint no reward. Instead, he allowed the Holy Flame to alight upon his brow, traveled to Olympia, and, with two disciples, created Old Time Relijun.

People, listen close: inspired by the blessed Captain Beefheart, the first three albums by Old Time Relijun were trapped between lunacy and paralysis. Oh, they had the Spirit, alright. I would never deny that they had the Spirit. Yet, I do believe Arrington de Dionyso was being tested.

But here, on Lost Light, we have a masterpiece. A new drummer, Rives Elliot, forces some martial focus into the songs. And the loud double bass of Aaron Hartman dips into an eternal stream of threadbare riffs that harkens back to the Velvet Underground. Yet Arrington de Dionyso -- his chiming-sliding guitar sound, his feral voice, his fiery eyes and scraggly half-beard -- he marks this album and possesses it. I have compared him to Tom Verlaine, I have compared him to Mojo Nixon, but people, this man has finally come into posession of his own voice, a larynx infected with polyps of ecstasy, warbling, growling vibrations of the Spirit.

Sisters and brothers, Lost Light is an astonishing song cycle that centers on the source of our Creation, the holy Canal that brought us here to earth. I will not spell it out, for it is the Secret Parts of Womanhood of which I speak.

We have all been consumed by Lust, even the most saintly among us. Just as a briar clings to our foot in order to spread its seed, just as bear scat will sprout forth with new plants, so it is with Lust. It is unholy, but the Lord has given us unholy attributes in order to beautify the world. Arrington de Dionyso knows this, and when he evokes his Blessed Origin in "The Door I Came Through Has Been Closed (But I Keep Trying)", we can feel his pain. None of us can climb back into Mother, not until death folds us back into Mother Earth's soil. But Arrington must walk the streets of the city alone in order to find a lover, and all of us know what that entails. He has taken hold of the thoroughly-kicked corpse of Sigmund Freud and turned it into both a hilarious joke and a beautiful, serious song.

Arrington continues this theme in "Cold Water", a hypnotic eight-minute sermon that begins with pleading ("Oh please oh please!"), then tumbles down through trees, mud, roots, and rocks before the phrase "I'm going down" gets repeated to obvious effect. Folks, I cannot tell a lie: it's "cold water" that he seeks. A bracing baptism, a lonely head-dunk. I have sought that cold water myself, when consumed by these demons of Lust.

Rushing past at under two minutes, "Tigers in the Temple" is a paw swiping at your face. "Ten thousand tigers gnashing teeth" have set upon our patron saint, and forced him to walk off the top of a burning tower with a dance partner in his arms. It sounds like a B-movie, but people, he's got a myth to propagate. Lust and discarded bodies. Then comes "Pardes Rimmonim", a feral, bass-driven ode to cunnilingus like you've never heard before. "Open your gate / Open your door / Open your heart / Open your lips / A total eclipse / Taking sips from holy spirits / The sweetest liquor / Slightly bitter". Thus comes the "copulation" and a climax of thrusting slide-emulation guitar riffs. I have heard folksy-punk-blues before, but nothing like this.

Oh friends, the album kicks up, and kicks down; it gives us the sweats, it howls and groans, it evokes back-porch Arkansas, whiskey sacraments, and musky thongs. It shows you the demons, smites them, and then shoves your head into icy water. And I will say this to you: "The Rising Water, the Blinding Light" is the epic post-blues anthem we've all been awaiting since Zep's "When the Levee Breaks" turned into an oldie. "Devil and the angels making eyes at each other / They wanna be inside of each other". At first, guitar strings are bare twigs as Arrington twists and barks this information out to the ether. Then comes the bass. Then drums. Soon we inhabit a propulsive soundscape that is clearly beset by the spirit of Saint Iggy. All of us have inherited the formal conventions of blues, and a virulent strain of "virtuosity" has infected it. I am tempted to recall the spiritual gangrene that plagues me whenever I hear Jon Spencer or Jack White play their instruments. Thus, I must praise the tonic simplicity of Arrington de Dionyso. He takes up the old bodies into his boat, and even without oars he plunges into the roaring flood.

Arrington de Dionyso has not been delivered of his torments. He will likely keep wading into the rising water, just like all of us. But his wonderful creation Lost Light will boil our communal heart in its peculiar kettle, given a wide enough audience. I'm just a cynical record critic, myself, but I was taken aback by these songs. One night, after listening to this disc several times, I dreamed myself an old man, sipping whiskey, stroking my cat, kicking embers to increase the glow, and suddenly out of the blue I heard the feral refrain of "Vampire Victim" ("nape of the neck, nape of the neck!"). I don't know why, but it fit. This is what demented sonic geniuses are for, right? So set down and absorb these tunes, made by a talented, lusty saint whose steamy micturition this time around is pungent and tainted with blood.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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