GEORGE KINNEY / THE GOLDEN DAWN

9 May

We would never be able to say who the “best” band was at Austin Psych Fest (whether this year or any other). First of all, like all art, music is personal and subjective – who can quantify such enjoyment? Second, the answer is Brooklyn Raga Association.

Yet the most personally meaningful performance of the entire weekend – and one that will no doubt rank in our rapidly filling memory bank as among those we feel most fortunate to have witnessed – for us was that of The Golden Dawn.

We’ll make no attempt here to tell the story or the long history of The Golden Dawn, who they were, or who they are now. Both of those things have been done previously, and more ably, elsewhere. Nor can we find the words to describe exactly what made their performance so compelling – it has something to do with time and the persistence thereof, and it has something to do with evolution (the tagline of this ridiculous website is, after all, “Evolved As One”).

“Evolution”? Maybe. Or was it “Starvation,” the brilliant “Power Plant” number that for years has sated our hunger with the line, “You’ve got to be in love if you want to see / It’s a gift to you, it was given to me.”

Or maybe it was the absolute affection and gratitude contained in singer George Kinney’s voice as he surveyed the response of those assembled for The Golden Dawn, noting, “They say it’s better to give than to receive, but I have to tell you – it feels pretty good to receive.”

Or maybe it was just the perfect near-end of three days of music and communion – three days that saw gifts of all varieties given, received, appreciated and reciprocated (a special tip of the ape-mask to Ancient River, who started the last day of the festival as the first act on the same stage in which The Golden Dawn would be the finale, announcing that they had much music to give away for free – the spirit of which was noted by the Brooklyn Raga Association as solidifying the mettle of their set).

Or maybe it was that our trip in Austin was punctuated by reading the occasional passage from Lewis Hyde’s enduring book “The Gift,” which ends with the following words from poet Pablo Neruda, reflecting on the meaning of gifts in our lives and art:

“This exchange of gifts – mysterious – settled deep inside me like a sedimentary deposit. I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses – that is something greater and more beautiful it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.

That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all humanity is somehow together … it won’t surprise you that I have attempted to give something resiny, earth-like, and fragrant in exchange for human brotherhood.”

We absolutely could not feel more fortunate that George Kinney and The Golden Dawn assembled – then and now – to give the gift of their music, nor could we feel more fortunate to have the opportunity to share this interview with Mr. Kinney himself. Enjoy.

What is the earliest musical memory you have within yourself that still resonates with you on a personal level? What was it about that experience that makes the feeling still accessible now, years later? How – if at all – does that experience impact you today?

My first musical experience is easy to remember. I was four years old and my mother was the director of the Austin Civic Theater (now called the Zack Scott Theater). She arranged for me and my sister, Ginny, and older brother, Gerry, to form a singing group, The Kinney Kids. We dressed up in cowboy costumes and sang popular western songs between acts at the theater. I performed two songs solo, “Old Chisolm Trail” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” I had to stand on a bar stool to reach the mic. So, I guess you could say I started pretty young.

I loved the attention and the feeling of being the center of attention. Perhaps solipsistic, but true. I never lost that thirst for admiration from others.

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By contrast, can you think of the most recent time in which you were truly moved, inspired or otherwise compelled by a new piece of music (or a piece of music that was “new to you”)? What made this music stand-out in your mind? Broadly speaking, how do you think your relationship with music has evolved over the years? In what ways has it remained a constant?

To be perfectly honest, and at risk of sounding snobby and close-minded, I really haven’t felt that “WOW” feeling that accompanies the experience of hearing a new artist or song that really, really hits home … hard and deep … in a long time. I really can’t remember when. I came up amidst the incredible music of Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones, Donovan, The Elevators, Townes Van Zandt, and unknown greats like Jerry Lightfoot. So I was severely spoiled from the beginning by being close to such music, perhaps the best since the classical greats Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin.

The thing about the music back then was that the lyrics meant something that ushered in a complete innovation of new genres of music. Although  I can appreciate many of the new artist today, and there are many very good examples … Adele comes to mind … I just don’t think the originality, depth of feeling, intellect, and genuine force has been captured in most modern music. I do not meant to slight the fine attempts that are being made to do so today. I have good friends in modern bands and I enjoy their music and the courage they express in their performances. But “truly moved”? … not really.

So I guess my tastes may not have evolved as much as perhaps they should. It is through no fault of current performers that such high standards have not been achieved … it is what it is. I better leave it at that.

Certainly, it’s difficult for us to speak with any authority about a time and place where we simply didn’t exist, but we are curious about your perspective on the time just before and just after you formed The Golden Dawn. One of the things we’ve heard mentioned by more than one of your contemporaries is the fact that it’s hard to realize today that joining a rock and roll band was something most people simply did not do (and did not even consider!) in 1965-1966. Was that your experience as well? Did you have a sense that listening to and performing this music cemented your status as an “outsider” to the world at large? How did that feeling manifest itself in both the music and the behavior of you and your band-mates?

I’d like to compliment you on your selection of questions for this interview. It is not often that journalists approach an interview with such honesty and desire for meaningful answers and information.

You are entirely correct in your assessment that joining a rock and roll band in the mid sixties was a rebellious act that propelled the participants in to and on to an uncharted path, with totally unpredictable outcomes. The police were openly hostile  to rock bands, as were the local rednecks, of which there were many in Austin,Texas, back then.

I definitely felt I was an outsider, but I enjoyed the feeling, because I had always had that image in my social circles anyway. I was always seen as a rebel, a teachers nightmare, and one who resisted authority of any kind.

So rock and roll was perfect for me. Romance and its prime reward, sex, was always my prime objective and the girls loved rockers, especially lead singers.  I learned early on, however, that there was much, much more to the genre than just getting laid. When I figured out the profound connection between music and the expansion of awareness that was possible for us humans, I was committed for life to the exploration and expression of the concepts that I believed were highly beneficial for the betterment and perhaps even the salvation of my species. Some of my band-mates shared these feelings to some extent and some of my contemporaries shared them. However, it is true that to embrace such far-reaching and evolutionary ideas is a lonely task and those who follow this path are essentially alone much of the time, even among loved ones.

The fog of memory makes it hard to recall for sure, but we’re relatively certain that the still-astounding and energetic “My Time” was the song that first introduced us to The Golden Dawn, and it remains one of our very favorite rock numbers of all time. What can you tell us about the origin of this song? In our mind, we’ve always viewed the song as somewhat of a direct celebration of the “outsider” status that we mentioned above. Can you tell us a little more about these lines is particular? “I haven’t seen the light shining from your eyes/That signifies that your disguise/Has not been lifted from your face.” Do you think you were addressing a particular person, or the world at large in those lyrics?

Again, you are asking just the right questions. “My Time” is perhaps the most time-resistant song I’ve written. Ironic in a way that the title speaks so directly to the profound idea of time itself and our relationship to such a broad and mysterious idea.

All of  my songs have multiple levels of potential understanding. Often a song is written about a specific person or event or sequence of events and turns out to have parallel meanings that transcend the specific and embrace the universal.

“My Time” started out as a song to my father, who was intolerant of my decisions to pursue the path I chose, justifiably worried about the perils of such a life. He was an actor and knew the powerful allure of show business and the tragic disappointments and downfalls of such endeavors. He was very disappointed in me and thought I was wasting my life in trivial, non-productive activities. He had been a powerful influence in my life and, all-in-all, was a good father. He taught me how to fish, fight, and shoot birds on the wing. He was a ladies man and this caused serous difficulties with his marriage.

I suffered from that same malady most of my life. Anyway, the song was meant to identify that relationship and ended up being a statement to most of society in general regarding the outsiders, specifically those who chose to rock the boat, so to speak, and follow a path that led away from the status quo. It is all about the “metanoia” (wrongly translated as repentance in the bible) that must be experienced in order for mankind to evolve into a more aware, majestic and honorable creature.

What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what’s your favorite Buddy Holly song of all-time and why?

I love Buddy Holly. Though his music is not profound in some of the ways I mention above, it is surely profound in its simplicity and clarity. “Not Fade Away” is my favorite. Love is the one eternal emotion. Hate and other negative emotions fade with time, but love remains. It is not subject to time. It is transcendent by nature. Even after a breakup, the love remains. I still love the young 14-year old girl with whom I enjoyed my first serious kiss. And this in no way detracts from the love and commitment I have with my dear wife, Nancy. See?

We were fortunate enough to see you perform at the second Austin Psych Fest in 2009, a performance memorable to us for a variety of reasons, not least of which being that, A) your voice sounded absolutely remarkable (no reduction in power from the Horseman of Time that we could hear!) and B) the more recently written songs fit snugly sitting next to the “Power Plant” classics. Is there anything in particular that you credit with keeping yourself in fine voice?

I thought the performance at the Psyche Fest this year was one of our best performances ever. The crowd was really great. My voice has benefited from me not smoking cigarettes all these years. Roky once told me that it helped to think one note above the note you were singing. Somehow, I understood that and it does help. I heard that he lost his voice during a recent performance and the crowd helped him out by singing the  lyrics to “You’re Gonna Miss Me” for him.

That was moving in my view. But I have noticed a little drop in my voice range and I guess it’s just part of the deal after so many years of belting it out. Anyway, I loved this years Psych Fest … it was awesome and  I am glad to have been invited to perform.

Can you tell us some more about the songs you’ve written, recorded and performed in the years since you started with The Golden Dawn? How has your approach to songwriting changed over the years? What can you tell us about the song “Step Down Satan,” another favorite of ours?

Sure. In a way it’s hard to talk about writing. It’s a mystical experience and  I don’t really know how it all happens. But it does and that’s what counts. I can’t seem to quit writing songs, even though I’ve been doing it so long. But no, the process has not changed. I try to stay open to genuine experience, combine that with reading and studying, and then just let it all gel in my mind … then somehow a song emerges.

“Step Down Satan” is one of my favorite all-time songs. And, just for the record, my songs  are my favorite songs, even though I have favorites by other artists, as I mentioned earlier.

The song is a direct admonishment against letting oneself be ruled by evil. And by evil,  I mean anything that doesn’t resonate with the will of God or, in more specific terms, resonate with the ground of all being, universal, all pervading consciousness … the absolute intent of goodness.

A key idea is that we don’t need a concept of “outside” evil, just like we don’t need a concept of “outside” God. Both are false ideas. As good ol’ Jesus always said, the kingdom of heaven is within us. It is false and tragically misleading to think of either God or Satan as some force outside of ourselves. So the song just tries to clarify this error in our thinking about these profound and thoroughly tangible aspects of our experience.

It’s dangerous to assume, but we’re going to go ahead and assume that you never even considered the idea of performing the songs from “Power Plant” in the year 2012. Is that the case and if so, what emotions go along with considering such an occasion?

Well, the answer is now history. We did it. But again, you are right on in asking about the emotional aspects of doing the songs again. I loved it, but I really wish we could have had more time so we could have done some new songs after doing “Power Plant,” like we did three years  ago. As a songwriter, I operate on the assumption that my last song is my best yet. Otherwise, what’s the point? I am working on the material for a new CD. That is what I am excited about. If I ever get past that, then it will be time to hang it up.

George Kinney and The Golden Dawn at Bandcamp

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One Response to “GEORGE KINNEY / THE GOLDEN DAWN”

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  1. BAND OF THE WEEK: ANCIENT RIVER | Revolt of the Apes - May 28, 2015

    […] when we watched Ancient River perform at that very Fest in 2012 that they solidified their place in the heart of these apes, watching them announce from the stage that – dig this – they wanted to share their music, […]

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