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From the De Stijl website:
Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted.
The issuance of The Psychedelic Saxophone of Charlie Nothing by Takoma Records in 1967 marks a point of interest on the time-line which runs thru the 1960’s folk music boom. Home to then emerging acoustic guitar players John Fahey and Robbie Basho, Takoma had also published recordings by bluesmen Bukka White and Robert Pete Williams, a roster which situated the small Berkley imprint alongside bigger fish like Vanguard and Folkways as one of the era’s premier folk and blues oriented labels. While each Takoma release was presented with increasing esoteric flair, The Psychedelic Saxophone of Charlie Nothing quite simply ignored any standards of legitimate presentation. A near formless sidelong title track was backed w/ the slightly more ominous “In Eternity with Brother Fred”, both essentially sax instrumentals w/ touches of flute and swelling cymbals. Housed in a homespun black and white op-art jacket, these titles were the only information provided to accompany 35 minutes of music that despite it’s instrumentation owed little to jazz, and was certainly not folk. Seeming like a West Coast answer to the then fledgling ESP label in New York , the LP marked a departure for Takoma, who would go on to issue other non-folk/blues LPs (notable were two by Phil Yost, Bent City and Fog Hat Ramble, both also horn-oriented, eclectic instrumental records, albeit slightly more conventional than the Nothing LP). Perhaps a sign of the times, The Psychedelic Saxophone of Charlie Nothing remains the most enigmatic release in the original Takoma catalog, one that seemed destined to obscurity even in it’s inception. An anomaly in it’s setting and a seldom seen artifact.
So who was Charlie Nothing?
Considering an auspicious debut such as this as an indication of things to come, tracing the “career” which was to follow is nothing short of an invisible history lesson. A 7" single was made in ‘68, followed by a second LP in ’69, though gone now for good was the saxophone, along with the affiliation with Takoma. The We Are You EP was issued privately, documenting a barely discernable scat testimonial accompanied by plucking, bongos, and bells. Again, two sidelong instrumentals, this time flute-based, comprise Outside/Inside, the second and only other Charlie Nothing LP, issued by Everitt Enterprises. As to what extent either of these titles saw the light of day, it is difficult to gauge. With Venice Beach ca. ’60’s as the backdrop, a California Assemblage feel can be seen register in the presentation of these and subsequent releases. It would be likely, were you ever to actually see an original Charlie Nothing release, that it would bear the markings of having been mailed, addressed and otherwise customized by Charlie right on the jacket or sleeve. The resemblance of this practice to that of collage artist Wallace Berman & co. at this time helps to place Charlie’s operation in context, and sheds some light on the otherwise shady reasoning for committing this music to posterity. Suffice to say that as an indication of the goings on in certain West Coast sleazenick poetry circles, the documentation is invaluable. While in the case of David and Tina Meltzer’s Serpent Power lp, as well as Malachi’s Holy Music, there are certainly indications, nowhere on wax will you find more palpable preserved air of a real-time dropout scene than with these sides of Nothing. It is a wonder that these records circulated at all outside the vacuum in which they were created. Nothingness, a California existentiality looping back on itself, preserved and disseminated as evidence. There are indeed very few records like these.
There would not be another Charlie Nothing release until 1974, a lone single, and then again not until ‘79, when he would publish his first cassette, featuring a 10 minute field recording of honeybees. Another single and a string of cassettes followed. Not surprisingly, the cassettes exhibit a Punk influenced packaging aesthetic, and it is rumored that the single was only sold at a grocery store. It’s title, “Ain’t No Fascist” is reminiscent of Woody Guthrie’s “This Machine Kills Fascists”, which in the case of Charlie Nothing would refer to the Dingulator, a hybrid guitar made from car parts, which became Charlie’s weapon of choice in the field. Living outside Santa Cruz, he recently did his first ever Chicago gig, playing Dingulator and offering sociological observations. There was no indication that based upon this appearance anyone knew anything more, or anything at all about Charlie Nothing, other than that he had something against bucket seats, and that he did apparently exist. After the gig it was as if nothing had happened. And perhaps it had. And perhaps this was what Charlie wanted. It may be, in the words of Michael McClure, still “poised on that same crack, outside the consumer loop.”, and if so, then perhaps it is not you who have found nothing, but Nothing that has found you. And that kind of Zen is hard to come by.