Take a light shining on the land
Off the wall
Up and down, free everything
What you feel is all gone
You can make everything
You’re OK and be aware
Everywhere with your mind.

The opening lines to the hallucinated-psychedelic groove of ‘Paperhouse’ speaks volume. There’s no denying that CAN were one of those bands that broke the door down and inspired bands and artists such as Radiohead, Joy Division, The Fall (‘I Am Damo Suzuki), The Mars Volta, Magazine, Public Image Ltd, Brian Eno, and Julian Cope who described CAN in his sixth chapter from his 1995 book Krautrocksampler as “One of the great 20th century bands”.

And Julian is right. Whenever you put an album on by CAN, whether its on your phone, record player, or CD player, and playing it from beginning, middle, and to the very end, it puts you in this hypnotic trance. There are the neo-classical influences, funk, free-jazz, avant-garde, proto-post-punk, and the early beginnings of new wave. CAN were no flukes when they got down to business.

On February 9th of this year, Damo Suzuki passed away at the age of 74. And what a legacy he left behind. His run from 1970 to 1973 with CAN remains a tour de force. Born as Kenji Suzuki on January 16th, 1950 in Kobe, Japan, Damo traveled to Europe in 1968 and started busking. In 1970, two years after he traveled to Europe, Jaki Liebezeit and Holger Czukay spotted Damo at a nearby café in Munich, and asked him to join the band after original singer Malcolm Mooney who sang on the 1969 debut album Monster Movie left the band.

And the rest as they say is history. When Damo joined the band, you could tell that everything started to click right there and then. His first appearance with the band was on the band’s compilation album Soundtracks released in 1970 singing ‘Don’t Turn the Light On, Leave Me Alone’. The album consisted compositions the band wrote for five films which include; Deadlock, Cream – Schwabing Report, Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Brutes, Deep End, and A Big Grey-Blue Bird.

Suzuki was able to improv with his vocalisations as the rhythm section follows him to see where he would go next. There would be moments where he would shout, having a calming momentum, scat, the Kabuki-sque atmosphere, setting up the trains by going into this chugging momentum, or never knowing what will happen next.

He gave the band total carte blanche when it came to the full-throttling attack on Tago Mago. Between the clock-ticking nuclear war to happen on ‘Mushroom’, ‘Oh Yeah’, and the intense loose cannon that has exploded out of the blue with the 18-minute ‘Halleluhwah’ in which John Lydon chose as a Guest DJ (he also played songs from Kevin Coyne, Nico, Captain Beefheart, Third Ear Band, and of course Peter Hammill) when he was interviewed by Tommy Vance on Capitol Radio on July 16th, 1977.


Between Ege Bamyasi and his last album with the band, Future Days, he kept everything on this dangerous tightrope. And you never know what will happen if you’ll make it or not. Bamyasi was a turning point for CAN as it reached critical acclaim when it was released on November 29th, 1972 on the United Artists label.

It inspired artists like Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, Pavement’s Stephen Malmus, and the band Spoon which took their name off the seventh track from the album. But it’s more than just ‘Spoon’ and ‘Vitamin C’ than CAN are known for.

The improvisation behind ‘Soup’ which features Holger’s tick-tocking bass line and straight into the Funk-like punch by giving Karoli’s guitar a massive rhythmic attack between chords and fret-bending shrieks. I can imagine Iggy Pop listening to this during the time he was in Berlin making both Lust for Life and The Idiot for inspiration behind songs such as ‘The Passenger’, Suzuki goes completely mental with his spoken and sing-song approach before it goes into this chaotic hay-wiring effect that Irmin does on his keyboards.

There are some nods to The Faust Tapes which comes to mind and the first two Cluster albums also in the mid-to-last section of the piece. CAN goes absolutely batshit crazy when it comes to improvisation. Not only that, but on ‘Pinch’ they channel their take on writing a score to a ‘70s blaxploitation film. Suzuki chants through this trance as the music becomes this action-packed groove for Pam Grier to make her next move for killing the baddies between Coffy and Foxy Brown.

And she doesn’t pull any punches, she gives them the punches like there’s no tomorrow. Damo’s last album with the band entitled Future Days which remains a favourite of my mine from CAN, sees a departure from their improvisations and going in a direction where Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze were taking in their ambient approach.

They were moving away from their improvisations in which they were known for and heading into something more surreal, more mysterious, and beyond your meditated dreams. From the pre-Kraftwerk Trans-Europa textures of the title-track, the train-chugging avant-pop groove on ‘Moonshake’ and the search for the spiritual guidance on the 19-minute closer ‘Bel Air’ it’s a mixture of jazz, funk, Terje Rypdal, and landing back to earth and being free from all of the stress you went through at work.

When Future Days was released, Damo left the band to take a long hiatus throughout the ‘70s until 1983 when he came back into the music scene, which would later be known as “Damo Suzuki’s Network”. Where he had toured, improvised with various local musicians, and collaborated with Radio Massacre International, Dunkelziffer, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Sixtoo, and Safety Magic to name a few.

His music has touched so many people. With Damo, it’s more than just his run with CAN, but what he had accomplished by inspiring the next generation to keep his legacy alive with the Network. His smile, soul, and spiritual intelligence, Damo was everything. Heaven just got bigger as he jams with Michael Karoli, Holger Czukay, and Jaki Liebezeit for the sake of Future Days.

And to paraphrase the late Mark E. Smith, we are all Damo Suzuki.

Photo by Paul Verhagen.


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