Moby Grape by Moby Grape


Are you sorting the economy out?” Dean asked Sunak.

“Well, that is exactly what I am trying to do,” the Prime Minister replied while serving him breakfast.

Dean: “Best for business.”

Sunak: “Do you have … do you work in business? Do you want some fruit?”

Dean: “No, I’m homeless. I am actually a homeless person. But I am interested in business.”

Sunak: “Yeah? What kind of business?”

Dean: “I like finance. It’s good for the city. When finance and stuff does well, we all do well in London.”

Sunak: “Yeah, that’s absolutely right. So I used to work in finance actually.”

Dean: “Yeah, I heard. Ex-investment banker.”

Sunak: “Is that something you’d like to get into?”

Dean: “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind. I don’t know. I’d like to get through Christmas first.”

There are two ways to look at this exchange. The obvious way is to consider that Rishi Sunak has no idea what it’s like to be a homeless person. This is a publicity stunt that backfired. Angela Rayner (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) called the video “excruciating” and Lisa Nandy (Shadow secretary of State for Levelling Up), said: “How much more out of touch could this prime minister be?” Rishi Sunak is not a “man of the people” – he wears £450 shoes and £3500 suits and trying to empathise with some of the most needy people in the country is patronising.

However, there is another way to consider this exchange. Rishi Sunak does treat Dean with respect and doesn’t assume he is stupid or has no aspirations. Those of us who sneered at Sunak may have more prejudices than we care to admit. There are lots of reasons that people become homeless, including relationships, work, accommodation and mental health. And yes, the Tory party policies of the last 13 years and their lack of compassion is a significant factor in the rise in the number of homeless people. But the actual words that Sunak uses are respectful, they are not patronising and they treat Dean like a worthwhile human being. In contrast to the policies that the Tory party have imposed on the country. Whoops!

Labelling me “retired” or a “pensioner” doesn’t say very much about me. In the same way, labelling someone “homeless” doesn’t describe who they are, only their current situation. So there is no way of knowing who someone is, merely by applying a convenient label.

You never know that the homeless person you dismiss as a dosser may be a heroin addict with an alcohol dependency. He may have estranged himself from the people he used to work with and he may have spent time in a psychiatric ward. He may be someone like Skip Spence of Moby Grape.

Skip Spence was recruited by Marty Balin to be the drummer for Jefferson Airplane after playing briefly in Quicksilver Messenger Service. After taking an unannounced vacation to Mexico, he was fired from Jefferson Airplane and together with Matthew Katz, he founded Moby Grape, switching to guitar. Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead and Moby Grape became an essential part of the San Francisco sound of 1967.

During the recording session of Moby Grape’s second album, “Wow”, in 1968, Skip Spence attempted to break down guitarist Jerry Miller’s hotel room door with a fire axe, while under the influence of LSD. A similar incident occurred a few months later, as recalled by guitarist Peter Lewis. “We had to do our second album, “Wow”, in New York because the producer, David Rubinson, wanted to be with his family. So we had to leave our families and spend months at a time in hotel rooms in New York City. Finally I just quit and went back to California. I got a phone call after a couple of days. They’d played a Fillmore East gig without me, and Skippy took off with some black witch afterward who fed him full of acid. It was like that scene in The Doors movie. He thought he was the anti-Christ. He tried to chop down the hotel room door with a fire axe to kill drummer Don Stevenson to save him from himself. He went up to the 52nd floor of the CBS building where they had to wrestle him to the ground. And Rubinson pressed charges against him. They took him to The Tombs, a notorious prison in New York, and that’s where he wrote his solo album, ‘Oar”‘”

As stated earlier, Moby Grape was co-founded by Skip Spence and Matthew Katz and the story of the latter is equally alarming. He was the manager of Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape and It’s A Beautiful Day and in October 1966, when CBS Records offered a contract to Moby Grape, Matthew Katz coerced the band into giving up ownership of their name and all of their publishing rights or else he would block them from signing with the label. Although he was fired in 1967, he continued to collect all of Moby Grape’s royalties for himself until 2005, when the Superior Court Of California decreed that he should pay back the royalties. A similar law suite between Matthew Katz and Jefferson Airplane didn’t last as long – only 21 years.

The record company decided to release five singles from “Moby Grape” on the same day that the album was released and of course, this publicity stunt backfired as sales were diluted. On the cover, drummer Don Stevenson is shown “flipping the bird” on his washboard. Skip Spence, Jerry Miller and Peter Lewis were arrested by police in California with three under-age girls, although charges were later dropped. Despite all this, the album is now considered to be the best album released by a San Francisco band in 1967, mixing psychedelia, country rock, glam, power pop and punk.

The group opened the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17, eleven days after the album’s release. The first song they played “Hey Grandma”, is the opening song on “Moby Grape” and sets the template for the subsequent British pub-rock movement. Due to legal and managerial disputes, their performance was not included in the film of the event, because Matthew Katz demanded one million dollars for the rights.

In 2008, Skip Spence’s song “Omaha” was listed as number 95 in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time”. The song was described like this: “On their best single, Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis and Skip Spence compete in a three-way guitar battle for two and a quarter red-hot minutes, each of them charging at Spence’s song from different angles, no one yielding to anyone else.”

Moby Grape released five albums between 1967 and 1971. Skip Spence died in 1999 of lung cancer. Producer David Rubinson described Moby Grape as the American Rolling Stones. “Skippy was always in motion. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. He was the Brian Jones figure of the band.” In more ways than one it seems.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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