Monday, January 10, 2011

Darwin is the way

I forget exactly where I first witnessed the painted nature scene cover with it's sideways exclamation of "IT JUST IS!" and the little tiny duck, at first glance seemingly holding up a sign with it's wing, but I'm certain it was on one of the then-few "bad album cover art" sites which introduced many of us to the wonderful world of weird listening pleasures.
And like everyone else, I was hopelessly baffled not only by WHAT just was, but what the hell was an "eck"? 
A first assumption based on the little sign and familiarity with belief-system terminology directs one to think it's a religious album (some spirit-guide is always "the way"), but wtf is "eck"?! Most would dismiss the connection since eck is more of a gutteral sound of disapproval than anything offering comfort from within.

But religious is exactly what it is, as I discovered one fine day in the local Value Village, already somewhat out of spirits from flapping past a few too many dusty Manilow, Roger Wittiker (sp?) and Baby Beluga jackets. 
Then I suddenly froze, eyes popping, iris' expanding, senses alerted immediately with my mind tallying up noises and peripheral movements so as to detect any human presence about me ready to leap over my shoulder, grab the disc and flee to the cashier before I could snap out of it and give chase.  
I should point out that my cratedigger-ninja skills have since been honed to the point where an intrusive hand would be disabled and broken in sixteen places before reaching my pick, so beware.

There it was. THAT cover. Like right in front of me. A 'famed obscurity'. 
Still in partial shrinkwrap and otherwise in mint condition - previous owners not sufficiently moved for repeat listenings I guess. 
I feverishly kept it clasped to my chest as I rummaged through the rest of the swill in hopes more manna was left by maybe the same donator. Nothing else, but I was happy enough anyways, giggling and skipping to the checkout, flippantly knocking over old ladies with armfuls of ceramic owls and officious-looking argyle-nerds and their Power Rangers retro-fetish accumulations. (no offense to either parties, but ceramic owls suck and there's this one local argyle-nerd who just...  I won't get started.)

As for what Eck is... well, it stands for Eckankar, and after that, please Google it. I did, and trying to give a synopsis here would be like giving a two-sentence overview of the Roman Empire. 
I recommend several of the links you'll find on the first page of searching, though: plenty of history from both the Eck believers as well as former members with their own anti-Eck pages with bizarre tales of cult behavior as well as news reports on recent rather large gatherings of Eckists in Nigeria, supposedly converting thousands of people as they move around. You'll also read of how this 'lost' religion was re-found and the conflicting tales about Darwin Gross' emergence as the Eck movement's leader, and how some of the more vocal ex-ecks have purportedly been harassed by group members who want things kept on the QT. 
So I guess it's like Scientology, but with less billions of dollars. And like Scientology, that paragraph above sounds like something I totally made up, but it's all so weirdly true.

And hey! Vancouver has or had its own eck-centre (albeit very tiny) on Kingsway in Burnaby: 

Abandoned for several years, it seems. About a block away from an abandoned taxidermy shop whose flourescent lights still burn away behind locked doors. Very creepy. Is there a connection!? Perhaps not.

Okay, what does the record sound like?
The first side (or 1-4, here) is Darwin singing the sacred love songs of eck. Lush orchestra, female group-vocal back-up... like easy listening of the 50's, but with Darwin Gross' soft words of enlightenment wafting through the lilting melodies.

Darwin (972nd Living Master of Eck btw) has a not-unpleasant voice that is fine on the higher end but tends to flatten on the lower notes. Mebbe comparable to an Andy Williams who got strep-throat as a kid & the pipes got damaged, or Vince Neill crossed with a young Bing Crosby after one of those tours you take through a helium-factory. 
So where was Gross' head during all of this? Was he just some guy who wanted to sing, a little spiritually towards the 'E' in the gas-tank of the soul, just wanting a little assurance at the pump, maybe getting a little bag of those pink-colored 'Jolly Time' pistachios while he's there? Off-handedly mentioning to the grease-smeared attendant that he thinks he'd make an alright balladeer and the guy says to him he says, "Sure, why not? I always thought I could do it myself, but, y'know - who's gonna man the pumps all day 'way out here? Folks gotta have their gas, right? Hey - I say go for it!". Gross - one elbow leaning on the dirty formica counter-top - slowly smiles, strokes his chin thoughtfully while throwing his tweed sports-jacket over his shoulder, shakes the attendants hand with a "Thanks, brother!" as he makes ready to leave and they agree to meet up later for a few games of canasta, but you just know it never happens.

Eckists are s**t at canasta.

Track list:
A1     It Just Is    
A2     With Eckankar    
A3     At The Grass Roots    
A4     Oh, How I Love The Bless Sugmad    
B1     The Law Of The Self    
B2     Purity

Download here:

And if you just want a sample track and not all of them, I would suggest "At the Grass Roots", mainly for the female chorus lyrics. 

(EDIT: Since posting this, the aforementioned taxidermy shop burnt nearly to the ground - possibly from the lights being turned on for ten years straight - and the Eck office has been leased! I think to a high-speed internet company)


Lars Schmidt said...

Haha love this wonderful review! You nail the art of cratedigging and all the related tasks such as building a mythology..... love it!