Friday, 30 October 2015

The Music of L Ron Hubbard

You’ll have all heard about L Ron Hubbard, the mediocre pulp sci-fi writer, bigamist, inveterate liar, convicted felon and racist who founded the cult of scientology… a ‘church’ populated by crazies who believe that anyone can attain immortality so long as they have the money.

I don’t need to go in to details here, but unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll be more than aware of the controversies that surround this so-called religion; the numerous court cases, the allegations of human trafficking, of holding people against their will and the exploitation and blackmail of stupid rich people. As Hubbard once noted: “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion."

I’m not here to poo-poo their bizarre beliefs, to argue about people being dropped down volcanoes millions of years ago, to talk of Xenu or Thetans, to discuss Hubbard’s battle with mental illness (he was diagnosed with schizophrenia: a recent documentary, Going Clear, produced letters Hubbard wrote begging for help with his illness) or even about why Shelly Miscavige, the wife of cult leader David Miscavige, has not been seen in public for eight years – for all we’re interested in today is the godawful ‘music’ made over the years by L Ron Hubbard (usually referred to as LRH).

For Hubbard was not only a writer of fiction, he also fancied himself a musician, writing, producing and helming several ridiculous musical projects in an effort elicit funds from his faithful followers.

Alongside endless albums of lectures, readings and interpretations of Hubbard’s personal philosophy, there are at least four records that fans of bad music need to be aware of: Space Jazz, Mission Earth, the Road to Freedom and the Joy Of Creating.

Space Jazz, conceived as the soundtrack to the book Battlefield Earth, was released in 1982. There were plans too to turn the book into a movie, with Scientology poster boy John Travolta in the lead as hero Jonnie Goodboy Tyler. However the movie did not appear until 2000, at which point Hubbard was long dead (well, his physical body was, anyway) and Travolta – now far too old to play the hero - was cast as the villain Terl instead. The film was a huge flop. However Space Jazz remains an essential listen.

Overseen by Jazz great Chick Corea, the album features dull piano pieces, snippets of comic-book dialogue and childish sound effects. It uses the then-new digital sampling synthesizer the Fairlight CMI throughout – most notably in the utterly ridiculous Windsplitter – an instrumental track that sounds like it was recorded for a ZX Spectrum game and is peppered throughout with neighing horses.

Mission Earth is an altogether different animal, issued as a solo album by guitar great Edgar Winter in 1986. The words and music were written by Hubbard, with the album produced and arranged by Winter. Sessions began in 1985, but were not completed until after Hubbard’s death in January 1986. Apparently Hubbard left detailed instructions and audio tapes for the musicians and producers to follow when making this album, which Winter has described as "both a return to rock’s primal roots and yet highly experimental". It isn’t: it’s perfectly dreadful. Mission Earth was published by Revenimus Music Publishing, the music publishing division of the Church of Scientology, which also published The Road to Freedom the same year.

Credited to L. Ron Hubbard & Friends, The Road to Freedom features John Travolta, Chick Corea, Leif Garrett, Frank Stallone, and Karen Black amongst others. According to the Church of Scientology, the album achieved gold record status within four months of release, although to the best of y knowledge it has jet to be awarded anything like a framed disc from the RIAA.

A March 20, 1986 press release put out by the Church of Scientology announced a series of tribute events in honour of LRH’s birthday, and stated, "Crowds applauded the surprise release of an album of popular music composed by Hubbard entitled The Road to Freedom, featuring leading artists John Travolta, Chick Corea, Karen Black, opera star Julia Migenes-Johnson, Leif Garrett, Frank Stallone, and more than two dozen other recording artists and entertainers." According to Wikipedia, The Church of Scientology directed its’ members to order multiple copies of the album to give to associates as a means to introduce people to the concepts of Scientology. The advertising calls this album "the perfect dissemination tool". Jonathan Leggett of The Guardian wrote that "the lyrics are rotten. At one stage Travolta croons: "Reality is me, reality is you. Yeah, yeah, yeah..." Although praised on websites as 'a musical masterpiece' it actually sounds like the kind of jazz noodle that they used to demonstrate CD players in Dixons in the 1980s." Luckily for us, The Road to Freedom features a performance from LRH himself – the preposterous L’envoi, Thank You for Listening.

And so to The Joy of Creating. Subtitled The Golden Era Musicians And Friends Play L Ron Hubbard, this pile of dross features Isaac Hayes, famously ousted from his role as Chef on South Park after refusing to poke fun at Scientology on the programme – although he was happy to take their dollar when producers Matt Stone and Trey Parker extracted the Michael from other belief systems. Other artists include Doug E. Fresh and our old friends Chick Corea and Edgar Winter.

Cobbled together from Hubbard’s writings and released 15 years after his death, The Joy of Creating (according to the CD booklet) “reminds us that a being causes his own feelings, and this truth alone has revitalized many artists and professionals the world over.” What it actually does is reinterpret the same piece of shabby writing six times, slathering LRH’s words with fake smiles and forced bonhomie. It’s nasty, dated, unnecessary nonsense and sounds like a Cosby Show soundtrack. Just awful.

Anyway, here we have a track from each of these four albums: Windsplitter from Space Jazz, Joy City from Mission Earth, L’envoi, Thank You for Listening, from The Road to Freedom and Doug E Fresh’s The Joy of Creating from the album of the same name.


Thanks to The Squire for inspiring this week's blog post!

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