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Bobby Brown's 1972 LP The Enlightening Beam of Axonda is a holy grail for collectors of rare psych, and one of the most idiosyncratic works to emerge from the West Coast petri-dish of psychedelics and self-motivated outsiders. The LP was originally issued in a small run on Destiny Records, and today trades hands for absurdly inflated prices.
Most people associate the DIY musical aesthetic and attitude with the early tremors of punk rock, but it goes back much further than that. You could make a case that it stretches back to early folk and gospel, where each artist literally had to do everything themselves; there is certainly precedent for blues, as well. But for the sake of this article, we’re going to look at the early ‘70s—and 1972, to be exact.
It was a far cry from the LSD-fueled psych-pop of the previous decade. And while many artists found success in compromise, there were still isolated segments of the musical populace who were determined to continue doing things their own way.
And one of these musicians was frequent Hawaii resident and psych auteur Bobby Brown.
I first came across Brown through some online forums and the recommendations of a few random users. At the time, I was listening to musicians like Tim Buckley, Jackson C. Frank and The Incredible String Band; and so, based on my appreciation for those artists, I was directed to Brown’s 1972 record, "The Enlightening Beam of Axonda."
As I searched for any information on the album and Brown himself—and precious little was forthcoming—I slowly began to get a relative picture of the man and his music. With echoes of primitive new age, folk and pop, Brown created music that attempted to detail the natural beauty of the landscape around him, which at the time were the pristine shores and verdant forests of Hawaii. This was even evident in the titles to songs like "My Hawaiian Home" and "Oneness with the Forest."
"The Enlightening Beam of Axonda" was less about a strict musical formalism and more about the evocation of time and place. The songs tended to run together, as there were only slightly discernible breaks between some tracks. But that’s not to say the record sounded overly homogenous. Within each track were acres of fertile musical landscape, just waiting for some person to come along and dig in. And that’s what Brown wanted—observation of the world around you and an appropriate reaction on the part of the listener, whatever that reaction might be.
There was no exclusivity in his music, only an inherent humbleness and communal inclusiveness. And yes, he did have the requisite hippie lifestyle and wide-eyed ‘60s ideals, but these things never felt out of place in his life and music. If anything, they lent the album a naiveté that paired perfectly with the often-abstract lyricism.
Brown's tendency toward spoken-word, stream-of-conscious soliloquies and overt Middle Eastern instrumentation can occasionally feel a bit more fey and dated than some of his psych peers, but "Axonda" sounds far more complete and wonderfully detailed in its depiction of man and his place within the world than many of his '70s musical cohorts. Each individual song goes through numerous iterations and forms, which present a series of cyclical melodies and atypical rhythms.
And while I was immediately intrigued by Brown's use of harmony and musical didacticism (his views on the conservation of nature are quite evident through his lyrics), the album required repeated listens to completely get its hooks into me. The ways in which he twisted melodies through his homemade instruments required a primer period of adjustment. This wasn't the Bee Gees, after all.
But the album felt honest and open and even seemed to revel in its transparent intentions. Brown signed a good many of the original LPs he sold and included his home address and phone number in case you wanted to get in touch about setting up a performance. These were the actions of a man who honestly felt the need for connection with his audience. There was no musical subterfuge here, only an open invitation to his fans.
Look past the obvious '60s mystical allusions and less-than-subtle views on the environment, and you'll find an album of curiously optimistic insight and impulsive musical creativity. Like his instruments, "The Enlightening Beam of Axonda" helped to define the continued spirit of artists who removed themselves from the artifice of mainstream music. Brown was never going to find acceptance as a radio star or arena headliner. His music was too raw, too unpolished. But that's exactly why this kind of music—and his, in particular—should be cherished for the absence of synthetic emotion and rote sentimentality. Though 40 years removed, this album retains its ability to surprise and inspire and manages to evoke a more genial time, when all someone had to do to be heard was pick up a guitar or possibly a "one-man orchestra" and sing.
For the past fifteen years, Bobby has stuck with his vision of a "one man show", always creating new instruments and new styles of singing and playing as he went along. Bobby's voice is perhaps his most remarkable instrument. Covering a six octave range (possibly the widest range ever recorded) it is capable of creating almost any texture he desires. But his "one man band" orchestra is not to be overlooked.
Originally composed of about fifty instruments it contained 311 strings and took three hours to set up and tune. Instruments varied from a tiny electrified spring to a monstrous fifteen foot electrified drone. Some were of original invention, while others were electrified versions of instruments found around the world. With this set, he recorded his first album THE ENLIGHTENING BEAM OF AXONDA. An extension of his doctoral thesis begun at UCLA, it contains a story about possible new discoveries in physics that could lead to technological advances that would in turn lead to a very unique and very optimistic view of the future.
01. I Must Be Born
02. My Hawaiian Home
03. Mama Knows Boys A Rambler
04. Mambo Che Chay
05. Oneness With The Forest
06. Tiny Wind Of Shanol
09. Goin'On Through
10. Preparation Dimension Of Heaven
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