Beginning Extremists Week on Mostly Film, Sarah Slade looks at the musical output of the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard
Say what you like about Scientology, but L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi belief system has attracted some pretty talented musicians. Beck; the late, great Isaac Hayes; Chick Corea and…er…Leif Garrett have all taken the wisdom of L. Ron into their lives and, who knows…maybe even jammed with the great man. You see, Ron’s musical talent is an aspect of his life that I had never heard of before, but there it is, on his website – Ron, the Music Maker. I wish I had the time to read Ron’s words on Country Music, an analysis of Rock Music, Composing on The Road, or even Space Jazz, but I think we’d be better off cutting to the chase, and listening to the man’s music.
Thanks to some bloke off the Internet, you can download and experience the full majesty of the 80s classic Road to Freedom yourself, but, to spare your engrams, I’ve done it for you.
Not to be confused with the Chris de Burgh album of the same name, the production list for the Road to Freedom is eclectic and impressive: John Travolta, the opera singer Julia Migenes-Johnson, jazz legend Chick Corea and…er…Frank Stallone. All have gathered in Ron’s state of the art studio to make a rock album that spread the truth of Scientology through the medium of song. Ron’s songs.
The album was released in 1986, which makes it contemporaneous to The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths, and Life’s Rich Pageant by R.E.M, both of which were in constant rotation on my Walkman at the time. and probably explains why it has taken so long for me to find out about it.
Anyway, enough of my yappin’. Let’s boogie.
As I downloaded this off some bloke on the internet’s website, I only have a tiny little gif of the cover. It depicts a many-arched bridge, stretching off into the sky and apparently ignoring the laws of gravity. I think this is the road to freedom. It looks like a viaduct to oblivion to me.
1 “The Road to Freedom” John Travolta, Leif Garrett, Frank Stallone, Lee Purcell
You know that bit in Fame, where Bruno the misunderstood young musician plays his rather polite synthy rock-type music to his peers for the first time, and they all go, “Wow, that’s amazing!”, and start dancing on cars and stuff, while the audience is thinking, “WTF?! They live around the corner from CBGBs and they’re listening to this?”
2. “The Way to Happiness” Leif Garrett, Gayle Moran, Nicky Hopkins 5:43
I don’t remember much about Leif Garrett. I remember that he always seemed to be in the pinup section of Jackie magazine, but the only image in my mind is one of masses of blonde curly hair and and denim. Like a male Farrah Fawcett.
This track starts with a slightly soupy electric piano sound. Leif Garrett and a lady (possibly Gayle Moran) sing of life being hard, but Soul Truth is the moral way to happiness. Leif actually tried very very hard to inject a bit of actual soul into this. Well done Leif!
Am counting the minutes before the Chick Corea. Chick will be good. Oh yes.
3. “The Worried Being” Amanda Ambrose 4:05
“Bad Dream honey? Well…Mama’s gonna sing you a lullaby…”, lulling us into the belief that this one will be a slow and gentle as the previous track except, no! The synthesized horns burst into a frenzy of corporate funk, and a chorus of children sing”Ooooh…what a sad song” every now and again. Amanda tells of a man fed lots of false data and going dumb, dumb, dumb, getting made sad sad sad by psychologists, and being forced to plot plot plot by his inner evil purpose. That is, until he encountered Scientology, which made him freeeeeee.
I’m pretty sure that this entire album, except for the odd guitar and sax parts, is played on a Fairlight synthesizer: at the time this was a full-on bleeding edge slab of technology that required a degree in electronics to work it. My dad’s recording studio had one, a bank of red and green lights that winked ominously in the corner.
I started thinking about what other musicians could do with a Fairlight.
4. “The Evil Purpose” Frank Stallone 4:28
Anyway, on to the rock stylings of The Evil Purpose. Like Tracks 2 and 3, the lyrics are concerned with the general awfulness of modern life. People cower in city streets, and scientists’ heads are “dishevelled” apparently, and there are demons draining spirits all over the place. The biggest revelation of this track is that Sly’s brother Frank has quite a decent rock voice. There are many power chords.
5. “Laugh a Little” Michael Roberts, Pam Roberts, Margie Nelson 3:37
Oh that’s a nice title. After all that evil, we need a laugh. But maybe not the maniacal cackle that kicks off this track. The middle eight seems to be hundreds of people laughing at…something. Is it me? Are these the outtakes from the first reading of Ron’s lyrics? It ends with a whistle and a giggle. I have no idea what that was about.
6. “The Good Go Free” David Pomeranz 4:28
After whimsy, comes a driving guitar (a real one, I think) and a much faster beat. We’re rockin’ out like it’s Greenbelt 1979. This song is offers direction on leading a good life, telling us that “all vices are a trap and put you in a coil of sin whose tentacles will enwrap”. You need to be “stern-willed and very skilled”, and make sure you plan your day.
All good advice, and not the usual sort of thing you find in a rock song. Even a Christian rock song. I think Ron may have changed the face of rock music here.
7. “Why Worship Death?” Chick Corea, Julia Migenes 6:16
Aha! the Chick Corea! Well we start rather nicely, with a nice set of jazzy chords that sound like the sort of thing you used to hear on Jazz FM around teatime. Then Julia starts singing about Death being an invention to rid the universe of life. I’m not sure who or what invented Death, and I’d like to have a word, considering the trouble we had to go through to take my grandad’s ashes back to apartheid-era South Africa. If he wasn’t really dead, he could have saved my grandma a lot of hassle. Julia’s also angry and calls the inventors of Death cowards. Why believe such cowards, she says, when you have to believe that you are not a piece of meat, so live, my friend and enjoy the shriek. I think I’ll stick with the cowards; the singing scares me.
There follows more of what my piano teacher would call “whiffling”, and a few decent bits. But even the genius of Chick can’t save this track, which is quite…awful.
8. “Make It Go Right” David Pomerantz 3:59
Oh we’re back to the rousing synthesized horns, and 80s sax. The car won’t drive and the food is cold, and the computers won’t work, driving you berserk. But, you have to make it go right and win the day with a freaky saxophone solo.
I liked “berserk”. We should have more “berserks” in pop lyrics.
9. “The ARC Song” John Travolta, Karen Black, Jeff Pomerantz, Frank Stallone, Lee Purcell, Gloria Rusch
Did you hear that door slam? That was my will to live, fleeing down the stairs. I’m not even going to gussy up my notes for this one, so here are my thoughts, as they happened.
Nice gospel opening and John Travolta going “ooooh” and “mmmm…” and “yeah…”. Affinity for me, Affinity for you, yeah yeah yeah we love Affinity.
At this point I’m singing “Duff beer for meee…Duff beer for youuuu….”.
Oh, John’s telling me to Wait a sec, we’re not through.
Reality is me, reality is you. Yeah yeah yeah…he is real too. Who is?
Oh, we’re still not through. OK, John, what’s next.
He seems to be in pain. Has somebody got an aspirin?
John wants me to come to him, and to you. The chorus are coming too. And they’re singing about what communication will do for you.
Oh we’re still not through? Really John? What next? Oh, you appear to be in pain again. Karen Black doesn’t sound too clever either.
Ooooh…that’s what ARC means! Affinity, Reality, Communication…I can feel those engrams sloughing off like dead skin on coir matting.
10. “L’envoi, Thank You for Listening”
At last! The leader himself sings. The backing music is almost a pastiche of 80s corporate jazz, that it sounds like he’s singing while he’s on hold to a call centre. Ron stops short of saying that your call is important, but he does thank us for listening (bloody right – and I want a discount off my toxin reading the next time I bump into those canvassers). He writes just for us, and does not sing what he believes, he “only give(s) them fact. If they believe otherwise, it will still have impact.” Wasn’t this man supposed to be a writer?
The Hugging and Learning Bit.
I’m not sure how much you learn about Scientology from this album. Naturally, I worked out what ARC was all about, but the main thrust of the songs was that the world is an apocalyptic mess, full of fear and loathing and false data, from which you can only escape by getting on the road to freedom, and presumably paying lots of money to get yourself audited and cleared, and then you will laugh maniacally like the chaps in Track 5.
Also, what a waste of a Fairlight.