Active in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio from 1972 to 1975, the electric eels were one of America's quintessential proto-punk bands.
Though they only played five shows, the unhinged energy of their live performance, that often included vacuum cleaners, chainsaws and assault on audience members, became stuff of legend and helped cement the eels as one of the most important musical anomalies of the 70s.
Inspired in equal parts by The Kinks, Stooges, The Fugs and composer John Cage, founding members Dave E. McManus, vocals and clarinet, John Morton, lead guitar, and Brian McMahon, guitar all had strong personalities and were true originals.
The band broke up in 1976 without having released a record– their classic single "Agitated" was posthumously released in 1978 –but not before blazing a trail of loud and primitive low-concept rock.
Published by Hozac books, Jaguar Ride is Brian McMahon's detailed narrative of growing up weird in 60s suburbia and his experience in the eels and Cleveland's underground music scene of the 70s.
The 300-page memoir features previously unseen photos as well as stories and anecdotes from the inside circle of the electric eels and the freaks who ended up having such an enduring influence on the the international music underground.
Before the launch of Jaguar Ride we sent Brian some questions.
Noisey: The writing style, like the Eels music, takes a little while to adjust too but it is affective in presenting what was a weird and interesting time. Did you keep journals and diaries?
Brian McMahon: Thanks for complimenting my writing style in that way. As for journals, yes, I've always committed ideas and thoughts to paper and tape in disorganized fashion, all the while adding original sketches, photos, and found clippings along the way. Mary, who designed the book, identifies my natural writing style as an orchestration of words in visual counterpoint. And so she encouraged that same duality be extended in the book by pacing the visuals as tempos for the reader, an idea I more than like. Given the density of some passages, I allowed her full autonomy in selection and placement of all images to help readers' minds wander a bit. What we have then is a perfect fusion of my writing and her impressions.
The band's legacy is well documented but there is still a certain mystery and conjecture. Was the book a way to help break this down?
Yes, the musical legacy is well documented. The electric eels started as a myth that became a band, let us swirl forever in mystery and conjecture. I expect inclined readers will decide for themselves whether my book breaks the myth down or builds it up. My intentions were broader than a band book. Less a story about selling the who and more about telling the why.
The title is from your song. "Jaguar Ride." But it's kind of ironic as one of the song lyrics is "I got no words to describe my Jaguar ride, I don't know if it's wrong or right, all I got is some plans I made today for tonight."
Mary immediately caught the irony. She laughingly explained it to me, while giving general absolution for missing the straightforward point of it. Then she described the book as being the long form of a short song. But book and song have zero to do with one another. Save that I chose Jaguar Ride to be the book's title because it's the most well known of songs I wrote for the electric eels.
Where did you get the idea for the dOgMaN voice that keeps popping up in the book?
dOgMaN fell, exactly as you see him, from a suitcase full of miscellaneous papers, notes, drawings, set lists, and landed to stay on my writing desk. As work progressed, his personality began to take form, influenced by my usual writing companions, The Corgis: Lautrec and Emmett. But true to his adoptive inCorrigible Cardigan breed, dOgMaN not only inserted himself into the pages of the book, he gradually wrestled more face time than anyone else in the memoir.
Reading the book you realise that the band was made up of three very unique and colorful personalities. It's read as a number of stories rather than chapters. Dan Stewart described it, "as if Lou Reed's fantasy of collaborating with Raymond Chandler came to light."
Reed and Chandler are top shelf tastes in the joints where writers I read drink inspiration- so, yeah, I liked the ring of that right off! Thanks and appreciation to Dan Stewart, and other respected artist/reviewers who lit up my back cover.
Has John or Dave read the book? If not what do you think they will make of it?
Having not kept in touch much with John or Dave for the past few decades, I can't even guess if either of my old friends has read it, has any interest at all in reading it, or will make something of the book without ever reading a word of it. On the other hand, dOgMaN, says you could have asked him! ...Too late now.
'Jaguar Ride' is available for pre-oder now at Hozac Records.