... Dino Valenti "Dino Valente" 1968--
- In the pantheon of non-essential records there lies a special hallway for those of us who perversely search thru piles of shattered and shrugged off careers to find time capsules that supply the soundtrack for another over-caffeinated Saturday morning... It's a simple truth that some musician's backstories are more interesting than others who's music is more worthy of speculation. One of the kings of the backstory is Dino Valenti. His first and only properly released solo record was famously mis-spelled 'Dino Valente' and "buried under an avalanche of non-promotion";.. but being as shady as he was, the name was most likely assumed (some think his name was Chester Powers, another name he used for copyrighting). Fame would sidestep him in many ways. He founded Quicksilver Messenger Service but ended up spending a good bit of their heyday in jail for a reefer charge. He was positioned to become one of the original members of the Byrds (and is also credited for naming the band to some extent) but chose to form a band around his songs. And by the time his solo album came out, the label was already preparing to delete it from their catalog.
An ominous vibe surrounds the stories about the ex-carney/gypsy; people have said that Valenti holds the title of the single most difficult person to deal with in music history. Although he was equipped with barely any musical knowledge beyond a few chords and no interest in learning to play to consistent tempos, Valenti was known for hypnotizing large audiences with only a microphone and his endlessly floating, droning songs. Being a close friend and ally with Dylan, Fred Neil, Richie Havens and many others on the ground floor of the folk revolution, it seems he held his own and commanded a respect from the heavyweights. To his credit, he did pre-date much of the early 60's folk boom, probably already experimenting with his style in the late 50's, but any and all branding as the 'underground Dylan' is totally laughable. Rather than sing about larger political issues, Valenti's song-style was largely characterised by a central mission to score naive teenage hippie girls. Never has an album so transparently veiled the attempt to realize and maintain that fleeting mid-60's opportunity to have a bohemian harem around a bogus guru. The record has been compared to the reverbed-out revelation of Skip Spence's 'Oar', but that's an insult to Spence's purity and soulfulness; it's probably closer to the intent and sound of Charles Manson's 'Lie'; and in it's way further reveals that truly crazy people often play a much more conventional-sounding music than many cult fetishists would have you know.
Truthfully, the album does display a few moments of what you might call brilliance; but it sinks under an almost insidious insincerity. However, insidious insincerity can, at times, breed a great Saturday morning cult record. I feel a little strange about the new generation of folkies who are beginning to eulogize tenuous movements like the 'british folk' era when, to me, a lot of it smells of failed experiments. That is, I'd rather see it for what it is, not an arrival point, but a footnote in a larger dialectic that could still yield better results. The first time I heard about Dino Valenti I was re-visting the life of David Crosby in his book "Long Time Gone." My memories are foggy but I think it said they lived together on a houseboat, before their careers got going. There was a very odd anecdote that Crosby told about Valenti supposedly having an operation on his brain to remove a 'fistula' of nodes that had previously only been found in serial-killers..? From then on his name remained lodged in the back of my mind until later on when I read about his legendary fuck-up of selling the rights to what would become the world famous song "Get together" (which is still being bought and sold by the faceless suits that own the livelihood's of casualties like Dino).
All the shit-talking aside, I keep coming back to the song "Something New" on 'Dino Valente.' The album is somewhat encapsulized in this document of his finely-honed sense of the vulnerabilities of the hippie nymph and how to exploit youth's need for guidance. ..Perfectly produced by Bob Johnston, with contrasting verbed and dry intertwining serpentine guitar lines, the verses are sung with a subtle snarl that set up a killer chorus soaring over the classic E minor to F formula (see Bowie's 'Space Oddity' or Young's 'Will to love') dripping with slothfulness. ..Ridiculous lyrics steeped in sexual innuendo, calculating and creating a philosophical platform for a one-night stand, that have to be heard to be believed...
"There is a garden, unicorns knowing, the sudden enchantment of the ever now!"
"Here there's a tower, straight and tall/ Somewhere to run to when you fall."
(this all culminates to a part where he belts "You can't stay there girl, those cats are square babe!" ... making me lose my shit everytime.)
The more I listen to this song, the more it reveals itself as one of the ultimate time capsules left from the 60's when the pendulum swang deep into that fashion-cloaked hippie insincerity (which is somehow rearing it's head again out of the fog of the new lost bohemia).
For more odd tales about Dino Valenti that will leave you shaking your head for a few days read the chapter on him (among others like Fred Neil and Randy Holden) in "Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers" by Richie Unterberger.