Robert Calvert

don falcone Don Falcone:
Robert Calvert,
Art Hero and Inventor

Throughout earth's timeline, from acts of heroism to creating test tube concoctions, special moments occur that invigorate our beliefs in the human spirit.
Perhaps, the Robert Calvert that dreamed of being tightly nestled in a cockpit while protecting his country in wartime and peace saw his future brightly in this manner.

The young Calvert may or may not have realized his lifepath was tied to rock 'n' roll, and that from this base, he could truly fly.

We can now look into the crystal ball of the past and sight Robert Calvert, the artist, at times heroic, often inventive, forever singing. It is truly a crystal ball for many, because the visage remains a prediction of sorts; many who look, can never meet the physical man, never talk one-on-one to him.
We experience him in isolation, in our living rooms, our dens, through loudspeakers, headphones, and now on the internet, through computers. The language hinted at in his lyrics is alive for as long as we wish to keep it alive.

Initially, we can only reap from the past: spoken and sung words, written works, music, and the pictorial and verbal memories that have survived.
It becomes the task of those who have been inflicted with the best of his poison pen, to make sense of this past, to welcome all to the present, which eternally becomes the future.

I remember going to see Hawkwind and telling my wife that anything can happen at a Hawkwind concert. Maybe Bob Calvert show up, I said.
Dave Brock put to rest all hope when he spoke up:

"We'd like to dedicate the next piece to the late Bob Calvert."
It was an irony the singer might appreciate. But while I got an anecdote, a man remained dead and unwittingly died again.
A rock fan would do well to remember to temper their emotions. It's fine to mourn the loss of an artist, but one should acknowledge those who have lost more: a wife, a child, all those who were a part of his daily breath.

Still, in life, Calvert made every effort to reach all of us.
Not as a pilot of planes, but as an adventurer of art, specifically within the rock motif. While Silver Machine speaks to our child-like primal fantasies, each subsequent work of Calvert tempts us to dig deeper into other art-forms, closer and closer to a world that has less to do with rock music and more with redefining our lives.

Like many sci-fi rock fans, I graduated from Marvel Comics to sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks. I was already reading Michael Moorcock when I was introduced to the breathtaking tribal chaos of Hawkwind's Space Ritual.
Throughout this sonic expedition, lurked this voice, at one turn calm and clear, at another slightly deranged, so that we might partake in both future states perfect and imperfect. In this beginning, Calvert and company took me deeper into Moorcock's New Worlds. This would soon change.

I was aware that Moorcock greatly admired writer J.G. Ballard, but it would be Calvert's lyrical adaptation of Ballard's High Rise that finally persuaded me to check out the original.
I suspect Calvert influenced many of us to read Hesse's Steppenwolf or to view certain films (Damnation Alley). Some of Calvert's lyrics created their own story, like Spirit of the Age (marrying two of his poems, one about a clone, the other an android); it's spin of unexpected words asks us to exercise our minds in the same manner, albeit a shorter format, that Ballard or Hesse might. In the world of 'serious' poetry, New York poet John Ashberry was busy breaking expectations from line to line (in direct opposition to the language required when he wrote technical manuals for a living), and digging deeper and deeper into a minimalist linguistics.
Calvert was also breaking the language, on one hand twisting lines in a clever manner, but moving headlong towards the minimalistic voice of the city and it's cold machines.

Over time, the original search in space (outer, then inner) becomes an expanded adventure. For me, it would be Calvert and the Hawklords' onstage mechanized persona which introduced me to Japanese Noh Theater.
It was track's like Automoton that really prepared me for minimalist music works by Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, and even the dark ambient works of the 90s. So much so that I might one day pursue ambient soundscapes with Thessalonians and Spaceship Eyes.

Calvert prefaces early industrial music and acknowledges inspiration from Bertolt Brecht and his 'sprechgesang' (Speechsong) "which gives a very Germanic feel to our machine-gun lyrics. . . a lot of people who live in the cities are influenced by what goes on with them, we're influenced by the cities themselves.

As one deciphers the influence that Hawkwind has had on musics like punk, new wave, metal, industrial, ambient and techno, one can then begin to see that Calvert laid down much of the early cement, or at the very least, got us to look at where the cement was being created.

Calvert's adventures, in a Joyce-like manner, say: Check it out, follow me and check it all out, because everything that has existed can lead us into everything that can and will exist.
His adventure asks us to travel beyond rock and conventional art-forms. For fans who have become artists, be it rock or otherwise, Calvert is a teacher, a mentor in absentia.

However, life is not just an adventure, or a box of yea and nay Pandoras to be studied and reshaped. Seeded in many of Calvert's work's are messages, however coded. We can believe the hype, in that we acknowledge that hype exists. We can believe in science that we realize there is both good and bad in this venture. We can see that fantasy and fiction are viable paths that can indeed lead to reality, but that the opposite is true.

Calvert is never about absolutes, only possibilities. His message, at it's most serious, is that the human condition is plagued with problems, regardless of whether we can wrap it up in neat little sci-fi/fantasy packages.

It is at this moment that Robert Calvert becomes the hero. Not as a soldier in armor, but as a rising voice that looks into its own crystal ball, with the text of the world by his side, preparing to pour out his findings.
The hero, here, has but one request: Listen. Listen to the sounds.

Working Down A Diamond Mine, Acid Rain, Picket Line. The adventurer at his twilight now asks us to follow him into reality and enlightenment: Perhaps, if we acknowledge the problems, the fears, then we can begin to deal with them and find solutions.

At the heart of any inventor, is the drive to find solutions. But what happens if there exist personal demons along the way?
For Calvert, sometimes described as a hypo-active, manic depressive, these are potent artistic death traps. He can be admired that he continued to experiment and present musical solutions in such a state.

For those who are afflicted, this is heroic in its own manner. The drive in his vocal delivery, even the lyric/poem on paper, is forever tied to the challenge of feeding this mental duality.

Another great challenge to Calvert, aside from securing record deals and support for artistic endeavors, is the battle for acceptance. Robert Calvert never asks to be considered a hero or even an adventurer. As a musician and poet, his actions suggest that he desires to be acknowledged as an artist; more than just a rock icon.
One reason I believe this: I too began writing poetry before I played music. And as I've had a certain level of success musically, the poet side of me cries for a greater legitimacy for both my music and a poetry I have done little to cultivate in recent years.
For better or worse, rock, at its pinnacle, most often does not fit into the serious art circle; though many have tried to make it so.

Calvert understood this. He understood that music is one form of language. And language is at the heart of serious art.
Calvert, with his Morse code music, his shortwave samples, his megaphone maniacal deliveries, and his cool mechanical computer rhythms, sought to expand his and our personal languages and our experiences with language.
The language of the space pioneer begat the language of the scientist which begat the language of the city which begat the language of the worker.

Given that his lyrics were becoming more serious, and his inner self might have been craving serious recognition, one might expect Calvert to totally leave the muse of rock.
However, at the time when he was furthest from the lyrical language of his Hawkwind origins, his music swung closer to the simplicities of rock 'n' roll than ever before.
One should not be surprised. If nothing else, Calvert never fails to surprise. Or, perhaps, he was beginning to accept that he was and always would be, a rock 'n' roller.

I often wonder what Calvert might have accomplished if he would have pursued the topic of non-vocal music throughout one album; perhaps we would have gotten an ambient adventure of sorts, or even a serious new music.
We do have other paths of language that Calvert realized publicly; in theater, in poetry. But because Calvert is rarely remembered as a a poet or as a playwright outside of rock circles, he seems to float endlessly as

a tragic figure -

an artistic Hamlet if you will.

I was asked to help start a space rock band in the early 90s, as the resident poet. Two years later, Melting Euphoria were still a 3-piece; with a great rhythm section, my keyboard rhythms, leads and pads were required much more than any vocalizations.
However, live and on the band's premiere CD, I got to take on the Calvert poet/vocal threads. Much like he did, I used poems that were not originally written for a rock motif. And like him, I tried my hand at various emotions.
I felt the best Calvert performances were dark clear intonations, the voice futuristic, but striking at the core of our existence. I don't know if my performances on Melting Euphoria's 'Through The Strands Of Time' succeeded toward this goal, but I would not have another opportunity within Melting Euphoria's walls, as I soon quit the band and continued onwards with instrumental projects.

Since then, when I've spoken on record or CD, I've considered the following: Calvert, as his career continued, seemed intent on not just speaking future texts or current issue texts for the sake of it: There was always direction, purpose. I hope that all artists consider this lead.

There is another Calvert influence that permeated into my earlier works, as well as my current work with Spaceship Eyes and space rock band Spirits Burning.
For example, during the Melting Euphoria sessions, I would breathe into a straw aimed towards the mike to produce an eerie wind; or breathe into a straw placed inside a plastic cup containing just a little liquid for a micro-sized test tube concoction; I placed a metal ball with an internal bell on a pillow and recorded the soft tinkling motives of it as I gave it a virtual magical carpet ride.
I don't know if I would trace this type of experimentation only to Calvert. But I do know that it this sense of play from the lyrics and musics of the Calvert's and the Eno's that has influenced many musicians who have followed.

We are often too serious in our artworks. Within Calvert's this: The message may be serious, but that does not need to prevent us from being playful in its presentations, or from attempting new strategies that seem child-like and wide-eyed in their approach.

The rock forum was perfect for Calvert's mental adventures and heroism. Calvert is not a renown poet in most poetry circles. His output in theater was rather minimal. His legacy is in Hawkwind and as a solo rock musician. Herein lies the heart of his artistry.
And each day seems to produce a new Calvert convert to this work, breathing new life into it.
Simply put, Robert Calvert, for those who have looked and those who will be welcomed in the future, is an artist who attempted much and achieved much.
The scales on which we judge this success does not matter. What does matter, is the chord he struck for many, and that it continues to resound.

Don Falcone -- November 15th 1997

more infos on Don Falcone

  • many more infos on the manifold musical projects of Don Falcone can be found on the Collab-Relators pages - incl. a wide selection of soundfiles.

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