Let Me Free No More

A highball in the afternoon lasted until the early morning and somewhere in the middle we ate steaks. My idiocy knowing no bounds and I was regretfully looking at my phone waking up on Sunday. I made peace with myself while rinsing off the scent of tobacco. Finally showered and dressed at 11am, I grabbed my sunglasses in an effort to replicate being asleep as much as respectably possible. Reaching for the door I passed through scattered artifacts from drunkenly forcing my roommate to listen Can the night before.

It’s the short walk from the coffee shop to the record store that seals my fate every Sunday morning. I was only halfway through my cigarette by the time I made it there. I lingered off to the side of a farmer’s market that shuts down a block and causes traffic jams on 5th, both attracting and dissuading visitors. Sipping my coffee, I passed a guitar and harmonica duet of ‘Blue Turning Grey Over You.’ I took a seat and watched from between two tamale stands. The guitarist smiled as people passed, and reacted with appropriate horror when a vagrant drunk was nonchalantly escorted off exposing his own dick, but never lost beat, even while firing off lyrically sophisticated solos.

I made my way through the wrought iron gate into the shop behind me and stopped to spin the magazine rack in a childlike fit for stimulation and felt compelled to pretend I was interested in reading one. I thumbed a few and moved on. Approaching the record section from the rear, Future Days was tauntingly displayed on the wall opposite, exciting my Can fetish. But what I really was wishing for was a Future Days I hadn’t heard.

Looking through the bins, I saw some newly received bootlegs. Marbled, labelless wax packaged in a translucent set of thick sleeves labeled B13 Presents. The owner didn’t know much about them, but had been able to grab some from a distributor. He mentioned having picked up some Miles Davis and Kraftwerk live shows and recommended them highly.

I made a canal excavating the new arrival bin and felt like Howard Carter when Monster Movie Live first caught my attention. It was too good to be true, apocryphal documents from Can’s secret library. Can are not only known for their pioneering use of tape and establishing the blueprint for its possibilities, they were also terribly prolific and almost everything is on tape somewhere, waiting for me. When I returned my eyes to the bin they fell on something enticingly cataloged B167  and titled Future Days Live. 

Reading the bottom left corner of the clear sleeve, I saw the record consisted entirely of a lengthy version of ‘Doko E’. A song I know from a just under 3 minute edit. There it was, a Future Days I hadn’t heard! Cradling the LP in my arms while my hands were occupied with my coffee and cigarette I started to make my way home.

I noticed the sidewalk was uncharacteristically crowded with people who smelled like soap and saw there was a craft fair in the arcade of my building. Immediately, I found the records. Mostly hip-hop and drum and bass vendors, there was a booth consisting of three tables and one of the best collections I’ve ever seen.

Every punk record worth hearing was on one table. A $160 copy of Roky Erickson’s The Evil One on another. However, looking through his crates I came across a B13 bootleg section, and more Can bootlegs. Adding to the mystery behind this label, or maybe just to the fact that this guy wasn’t going to move very many records, each was around $45. More than triple the price of the one I was holding.

As I would find out, actually determining exactly where these come from is difficult. The cyrillic script on the bottom of the sleeve would seem to indicate they were pressed by Putin himself, but some put the origin in Germany or Japan. There seems to be some agreement that the limited edition claim of 500 copies may be bullshit given their wide availability.

Returning home, I placed Future Days Live on my turntable and turned the stereo up. It was nearly impossible to tell which was side 1, the translucent deep purple marbled wax being labelless save for a small bright red sticker at the very center of the album. I guessed correctly and grinned from ear to ear as my smoldering joint fell to the floor. The drums take a hold of the center speakers, while unusually melodic and constructed guitars pan from below the mix. Soon enough, you’re undeniably caught in the primeval and nearly mystical grip of Can’s classic era.

Composed at the same time as Future Days, ‘Doko E’ is an extension of those sessions. A glimpse into what was working behind those ideas, and one of the last things recorded with singer Damo Suzuki. Where Future Days slinkily meditates, ‘Doko E’ propulses. Without the benefit of Holger Czukay’s tape manipulations and editing, the structured yet improvisational nature of Can’s music has nowhere to hide. It’s stunning. Somewhere between Tago Mago‘s Cro-magnon ritualism and the focused melody of Soon Over Babaluma I wouldn’t call this material ‘transitional’ but certainly a missing link.

Confusingly, B13 has this bootleg catalogued twice. B167 titled Future Days: Live In Cologne, 1973 and B167 Future Days: Live in Köln, 1973. Different spellings aside, they are each issued on purple vinyl. Are they different pressings of the same recording? The completest in me is suddenly aroused.





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