David Fricke – “The Savage Rose: A Lifelong Fan” (2001)

February 28, 2010 at 6:26 am (David Fricke, Music, Reviews & Articles)

This February 2001 preface to the book “The Savage Rose Story” by David Fricke talks about his lifelong love of this Danish psych band, and how Lester Bangs turned him on to them. Their album In the Plain has many excellent examples of psych madness…

It was the late, great rock critic Lester Bangs who made me a lifelong fan of the Savage Rose. He did it with a review of In the Plain, that ran in the October 18, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone. On page 42, to be exact.

“This is a rather peculiar album,” Bangs said before rolling out a set of juicy metaphors in praise of the singular electricity of the band’s powerhouse singer Anisette: “Grace Slick at 78 RPM”; “Minnie Mouse on a belladonna jag.” He also wrote about organ notes “pouring like star drifts down from vast black skies” and made flattering comparisons to old Bela Lugosi movie scores and the 1960s doo-wop exotica of Rosie and the Originals. “This group isn’t coming on in a blaze of glory,” Bangs signed off. “They are working very hard at the incredibly difficult process of learning to sing their own song.”

I knew what he meant when I heard In the Plain. The Savage Rose were a band of rare beauty and courage – formed in Denmark, singing in English but rapidly inventing their own rock & roll tongue, a new soul born of psychedelia, Beatlemania, Harlem gospel and European art song. In Anisette, the Savage Rose possessed an extraordinary instrument of confession and jubilation, a mighty R&B angel packed into a slender stick of hellfire. There was rich drama, too, in the group’s exquisite keyboard interplay, the avant-garage tension of their riffs and rhythms and the dynamic songwriting of Thomas and Anders Koppel.

I still shake with awe and relish when I listen to In the Plain – to the exuberant salvation song “Ride My Mountain” or the bittersweet gypsy dance “Evening’s Child.” I also think about what might have been. The Savage Rose seemed ripe for big things in America then. They shared the stage with Jethro Tull and James Brown at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival; the albums Your Daily Gift and Refugee were underground sensations here. In his 1971 Rolling Stone review of Refugee, Lester Bangs cited it, alongside Who’s Next, as a reason to keep believing in the magic and life force of rock & roll.

I feel the same way about the Savage Rose music that has followed: the bluesy 1972 diamond, Babylon; the explosive title song of 1973’s Wild Child; the band’s powerful Danish-language reading of Thomas Koppel’s ballet score, Dødens Triumf (Triumph of Death); the 1984 set of acoustic political-action songs, Vi Kæmper For at Sejre (We Struggle for Victory). And I find sweet irony in the fact that while the Savage Rose are now remembered in America mostly as an acid-rock curio, a colorful echo of Europe’s hippie renaissance, Thomas and Anisette currently live in Los Angeles, where they are writing and recording some of the finest music of their lives. The Savage Rose are not prisoners of history – because they never stopped making it.

Lester Bangs died in 1982. I never got to thank him for turning me on to the Savage Rose. But a few years after his death, I found a worn, apparently well-loved first edition of The Savage Rose, the band’s Danish 1968 debut, in a used-record store in Greenwich Village. On the back cover, written in blue ink, was the name of the original owner: “Bangs.” That album now sits on my record shelf, right next to my original 1969 copy of In the Plain. I think he would appreciate that.

David Fricke


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