Friday, January 16, 2009

The New Creation: TROUBLED on eBay, plus the story of A UNIQUE DISASTER

My favourite story that I wrote during my two year tenure with the sadly defunct, much-missed Nerve Magazine was my feature on the recording of the New Creation's second album, A Unique Disaster. It was the follow up to Troubled, the Christian garage rock band's uber-obscure 1970 vinyl debut, thought lost to the mists of time; the story of the rediscovery of that album, partly due to the fine instincts of much-missed Vancouver record dealer Ty Scammel(l?), warms me in very strange ways, and the renewed creative impetus its welcome reception, come its CD re-release, some thirty-odd years later, kindled in Chris and Lorna Towers and drummer Janet Tiessen, positively delights me. I'm very glad that Tunnel Canary came back to life; I'm thrilled there's a new Spores compilation CD; and it's great that the Pointed Sticks reformed to tour Japan (and have a new CD coming soon!) and that the Subhumans are back in force (and are working on their next release as I write)... but the New Creation comeback story remains my favourite local resurrection ever, and probably always will.

The article that I wrote about said resurrection is no longer online, because of the collapse of the Nerve site. I thought I would do the world a favour and re-post it.

I also thought I would do this guy on eBay a big square favour and tell the world - hate me though you might, if you thought you were the only person who noticed - that a fine-looking copy of Troubled, the LP, is currently on eBay. The copy, in fact, looks much better than this one - the usual pic one sees. I didn't want to lift buddy's image:

Yes, folks - Troubled, the LP, is on eBay. Right now. It looks like a really nice copy of it, too. I don't really think I'd win, anyhow, so I'd rather at least have an influence on the outcome of the auction. Please don't kill me: it was probably going to go out of your price range, too.

Since it's so timely, then, here's my New Creation story from a couple of years ago. Chris Towers sometimes peeks in on my blog, so feel free to say hi to him. He provided the photos - I'm not sure who took them - Oliver, maybe?

Have fun.

The Resurrection of the New Creation

By Allan MacInnis

Ty Scammel was an elfin old hippie who specialized in selling psychedelic rock LPs; for years, he was a fixture in the back of the Vancouver Flea Market. Ty died of cancer awhile back, but he’s left a legacy with us – an utterly unique Vancouver band who were snatched back from thrift-store oblivion when he found one of a mere 100 extant copies of their first LP, Troubled, in a bin in 1988 and began to share it with his hipper clientele. The band was the New Creation, a musically eccentric Christian garage band, currently being marketed as “outsider music.” Their new CD, A Unique Disaster, was recorded more than 30 years after Troubled, and is partially dedicated to Ty. I’m delighted that the attentive scavenging of “one of ours” has actually made a mark on the world of popular music – albeit a rather odd one. I hope, wherever you are, Ty, there’s lots of good weed and a turntable – I liked you a lot, man.

“The New Creation’s Troubled is just a terrific album, a showcase of raw, inventive musicality,” writes Irwin Chusid, WFMU disk jockey and author of Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. “Categorically, it’s – I dunno – 60’s Garage Godcore? Yet it transcends being a mere period piece. The band’s songwriting is deliriously brilliant, their lyrical perspective haunting. The band’s sincerity is unquestionable, even if its meters are unfathomable. If you don’t like Troubled, you’re a spineless micrococcus. You’re a barnacle beneath the yacht of aesthetic cognition – a Philistine – in every sense of the word – and you deserve to be heaved face-first from the Temple of Analogue Bliss.” The hyperbolic Chusid is one of several outsider music enthusiasts who got behind the 2003 reissue of Troubled, along with outsider music “scout” James Brouwer (whom Ty turned onto the record) and Companion Records’ Will Louviere and Troy Peters, who chose the CD as their label’s first release.

“It’s an amazing thing, y’know,” the soft-spoken Chris Towers tells me. Now in his 60s, the retired postal worker cuts an imposing figure, looking like a heavy-set and slightly shaggy Michael Moriarity and wearing a huge colourful sweater that his mother Lorna Towers (also in the band) knitted for him. “We recorded it in 1970, made 100 copies, and mailed them all, except for those given to family members, to Christian ministries all through Canada and the United States. Never heard a word, and then 32 years later, Will phones up from San Francisco... It was a thrill, such a thrill!”

Back in the day, Chris Towers was a fan of Christian rockers such as Larry Norman (who penned my favourite couplet of the genre, “No more LSD for me/ I’ve met the man from Galilee”) as well as secular acts like the Doors, Cream, and the Rolling Stones. He got to talk with Ty at his Mount Pleasant home shortly before he died and give him copies of the CD. “We had tea” – tea tea; trippy as his music sometimes gets, Towers is not a drug user – “and talked over recordings and such. He had a fantastic collection!”

In 2004, energized by the rediscovery of their music, Chris and Lorna Towers got the idea of recording again. “Mom and I started drafting songs, hinting at the Last Times. It was Mom’s message, she was really concerned to get something out. And it’s all to do with Armageddon and the Apocalypse and that kind of thing.” They flew original drummer Janet Tiessen out from Toronto in August of 2004; they hadn’t been in touch, and nor had any of the members kept up their instruments. The trio required more than an average amount of help from producer Oliver Conway, of Aero Music ( and the Yale bands Oliver and the Elements and Incognito. “He was really marvellous,” Chris says. “He was patient, he was a mentor, he taught us things as we went along. He had suggestions for guitar riffs and for adding the keyboards,” which “added another sound and depth to it. He was just marvellous. I can’t thank him enough for the time and the patience he showed us.”

The album, which will be distributed locally by Scratch Records, is, Chris warns, “dark. It is really dark – doom and gloom throughout.” At one point, for the song “Jokes and Games” – about contemporary decadence – he uses Grieg’s “Norwegian Dance Number 2,” which sounds basically like carnival music, as a way of lightening the mood, but for me, it only serves to darken it further. I asked if it was meant as an ironic commentary on people who might regard the New Creation like a circus sideshow, and Towers laughed. Nothing of the sort was intended, he assured me.

Another of the peppier numbers, “From the Roman Shores,” is probably my favourite song on the disc, with Lorna singing “'Cos he’s the Antichrist!” and Chris chiming in with a background “6-6-6” in a bizarrely singalong chorus. It is catchy enough that you could imagine people clapping time over a campfire, if people sang songs about the Antichrist over campfires. Maybe somewhere they do. I ask Lorna Towers, now in her 80s, to explain a bit about the Antichrist to me.

“He’ll be human – just a very suave gentleman at the beginning, and exceedingly brilliant,” she says with conviction. “And he’ll take over. People will have to trust him. They’re going to have to trust somebody! What’s happening here, gridlock all over the place! This place has been decimated, almost, of everything that we love and know...And all of a sudden people will begin realizing that this guy is going to take charge, and they’ll flock to him. And things will get real steamy, when he’s going to demand everything of humanity...”

The Antichrist will rise “from the Roman enclave of nations – or whatever Rome has touched,” including England and Germany; “so it’s been decreed in scripture.” (see Daniel 12:11-12 and much of Matthew 24. The New Creation have helpfully annotated their sophomore release with scriptural references). “The thing is, with the CD, we tried to just put it out and not so much make people scared of what’s going to happen, but to know this will happen!” Lorna says. “There’s no point in refuting it. If you go against the word, and suddenly this whole group of people around the world is gone – it will be too late then to start thinking you can be a part of that. Then the wrath of God does descend in the tribulation. If you have not believed, if you have not been moved in this general exodus, it’s too late. It’s hard to tell you about the general exodus because we don’t really know how it’s done, but we’re talking about God, the creator of the universe. It’s easy for him!”

The authors of the Left Behind series draw on the same pool of beliefs as the (Baptist) Towers. Lorna calls the series “excellent.” “They DO get it right,” she says emphatically. “All the way through.”

For those wondering, the US cannot be read as a new Rome – Lorna Towers makes this very clear. Her son is no fan of the way things are going in the United States, though. (He emphatically asks me to print that he is speaking for himself, and not the other band members, in what follows). “I loathe George Bush,” he says, to my delight. “And I’m fearful of the religious right. My neighbour to the one side is a Muslim – we’re the best of friends. My neighbour to the other side is a Sikh – we’re the best of friends. I embrace everything and all, though I still believe our message is so essential and important... but I have no ill will toward anybody, no matter what their faith. Except that I get very agitated listening to George Bush and the coterie he’s got with him in Washington, because I think they’re just destroying more than they’re doing good in this world. You know, the charter of rights in this county guarantee everybody the same rights, and they’re getting trampled in both countries, I think.”

Chris believes gay marriage is a right, doesn’t like Stephen Harper, and has always voted New Democrat – far more left-liberal views than one might expect, though again, he is speaking just for himself: “Jesus was more of a socialist than he was a capitalist, that’s for sure. I think that’s been lost. To call the United States and to call Canada Christian countries is just... it’s not an abomination; it’s perverse, because there’s nothing Christian about the politics of either country. Money is all.” He believes that the teachings of Jesus, with their “love your neighbour” message, are “special and meaningful today as always.”

How does the band feel about the fact that at least some of their fans are drawn by more voyeuristic desires, peering into the strange world of People Who Are Not Like Us?
“Well, so be it!” Lorna says. “I’m sure that listeners will pick up something in Troubled and A Unique Disaster, with the intensity that we feel, the truth that we feel – especially when times are a little bit hard and bewildering. But you know, I really just leave it to the Lord...!”

Chris agrees: “I guess subliminally the message is there, whether they’re just enjoying it for the offbeat music or whatever.” Towers, still a music fan, has been slowly exploring the world of outsider music – he’s read Chusid’s book, and has listened to the Shaggs, Jandek, and Daniel Johnston, and is working his way through Companion Records catalogue. “It’s interesting music, you know! The ideas behind what they’re doing, their slant on things... The musicianship doesn’t live up to it sometimes, like ours, but it’s very interesting!”


mcas said...

Wow-- thanks for the article, even though I'm finding it years later. Just learned about Troubled a few months ago from Cosmic Hearse and have been completely rocking it. Glad to know there's a 2nd album, since there isn't much other information (even on Companion Records page about Troubled, strangely)...

Unknown said...

It's cool to google search my cousin Janet and find out something new about her...lost touch over the years but am renewing contact.

Dennis J Tiessen