Gemini Rising


Burrowing through the hidden recesses of Tivo’s “Video on demand” menus, past the usual high-profile Amazon and Netflix offerings, I recently tripped over a set of sub-menus that surfaced lo-fi, low-profile offerings pulled straight off the web. It was there I stumbled on Gemini Rising, a web-only mini-series about a mythical ’74 band that looks like a bit like Skynyrd, sounds a bit like Tull (or is that Deep Purple?), and acts like everyone you knew in high school (assuming you went to high school in the 70s/early 80s). The elevator pitch:

In 1974, progressive rock band “Gemini Rising” returned to the studio to begin work on their second album and were never heard from again…until …

A somewhat more detailed back-story can be found on the band’s MySpace page, if you squint hard enough through the background images:

Welcome to the rise and fall, and rise again, of one of the most progressive of the 1970’s progressive rock bands: Gemini Rising. A rare American act, the McKenzie brothers of Levittown, Pennsylvania, created a unique blend of celtic/blues/space/carribean/utopian rock fusion that propelled songs such as “Electric Lady of the Lake” and “Golden Star Showers” to the top of the FM radio play lists. Tragically, the Mckenzie brothers recorded only two albums together, but due to the rediscovery of rare archival footage partially assembled here, you may experience the triumphs and tragedies of this unique band of talented troubadours.

Beyond that, little is known about Gemini Rising. The rest you’ll have to divine from the clips.

Gemini Rising is not a garden variety Spinal Tap or Mighty Wind knock-off tackling ’74 prog rock — it’s more subtle than that, and quite a bit more believable. In place of satirical concert footage, Gemini is more inclined to show the band hanging around a scuffy apartment smoking weed in anticipation of a pathetic-looking vegan Thanksgiving dinner, which is brilliantly interrupted by a band-mate bursting into the room clutching a copy of the latest Genesis record. To accompany the sonic unveiling of what they all agree is “the future of music,” lead singer Robert (Righteous Jolly) eats some bad acid and freaks out in the tub, questioning his worth as a real musician. Pathos ensues.

When Gemini Rising retreat into the wilderness (with guitars) to “find themselves” and end up noodling mindlessly to the accompaniment of birdsong, their manager claims that a nearby goose is making more music than they are. Robert, whose fatal flaw is a volatile temper, counters with a powerful philosophical rejoinder to which no rational reply is possible: “The goose is an artist. The goose is a @#%$^& artist!”

My 6-yr-old son shot this image of Righteous Jolly off the TV screen. Really.

The band’s epic photo shoot climaxes when a world class photographer none of them have heard of gets them to stand around in loin clothes in knee-deep mud, going for a set of publicity shots that will give them a more “authentic” look.

The series really gets down to business in episode 5, If Encounter Group, which plays on the shaman-as-sheister theme of EST and other self-help groups of the time that purported to be about self-improvement, but turned out to be about getting the spiritual guru good and laid. The “Pillar of Self cocoon,” aka gauzy-make-out-booth-in-the-woods sequence is just ridiculous enough to be believable. The episode also includes the excellent conflation of bongo-ist “Blind Cleve Jefferson” with “Blonde Cleve Jefferson.”

The footage is all hand-held, verite’ style. And, like all cheaply developed film from the 70s, the film stock is yellowed and scratched, with the random stray hair stuck to the projector lens. A cheap trick, but it works.

Mouth watering, right? The mini-series can be viewed in all its weed-fogged, amber-tinted, vegetarian glory here. The Gemini Rising blog is also worth checking. A single track from the mythic band is available on iTunes.

About Scot Hacker

Scot Hacker is a web developer, teacher, and blogger living in Northern California. He is the author of Can You Get to That? The Cosmology of P-Funk and Understanding Liberace: Grooving With The Fey Heckler. He works by day as webmaster at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Knight Digital Media Center, and runs Birdhouse Web and Mail Hosting on the side. Hacker is the author of The BeOS Bible and MP3: The Definitive Guide, and posts near-daily on random stuff at Scot Hacker's foobar blog. He's ecstatic that we're sitting on 100 years of recorded music history. How I Got Stuck When was the last time you bought a record because of the cover? 25 years before MP3s, I used to make a weekly pilgrimage to Cheap Thrills in San Luis Obispo with friends, where we'd surf through dusty wooden bins, de-flowering ourselves in a mist of vinyl, grabbing piles of cut-outs about which we knew virtually nothing. Junior Samples, Temple City Kazoo Orchestra, The Buggles, Paul Desmond, Instant Chic, Smithsonian collections, Robert Moog, Dream Syndicate... didn't matter. If the cover was cool, we assumed there was a good chance the music would turn us on. And we were often right. In that humongous wooden warehouse, between around 1977 and 1984, my musical universe bloomed. There were also duds - dumptruck loads of duds. The lesson that a great cover doesn't tell you jack about the music inside was a long time coming (the inverse correlation - that great music was often hidden behind terrible artwork - came much later). But it didn't matter, because cut-outs never cost more than a couple-three bucks, and all the good shit we uncovered made it worthwhile. In high school, I (for the most part) ignored the music going on around me. The jocks and aggies could keep their Rick Springfield and their Jefferson Starship - we were folding papers after school to The Roches and Zappa and Talking Heads and PiL. But inevitably, some of the spirit of that time stuck with me. ELO and McCartney wormed their way (perhaps undeservedly) into my heart. No one escapes high school without an indelible tattoo on their soul describing the music of that time. When I went away to college, the alt/grunge scene was being born, and getting chicks required familiarity with The Pixies and Porno for Pyros. I couldn't quite figure how these bands were supposed to be as interesting as Meat Puppets or Cecil Taylor or Syd Barrett, but I went along for the ride for a while, best I could. But I never quite "got" alt-rock. Never understood why The Pixies were elevated in the public imagination over a thousand bands I thought were so much more inventive / rocking / interesting. What exactly was Frank Black offering the world that Lou Reed had not? In general, I like music carved in bold strokes - extremely rockin', or extremely beautiful, or extremely weird... I like artists that have a unique sound, something I can hang my hat on. I love Mission of Burma and The Slits and The American Anthology of Folk Music and Devendra Banhart and Bowie and Nick Drake and Eric Dolphy and Ali Farka Toure and Marvin Pontiac. If you were to ask me who was the last great rock and roll band, I'd be likely to answer "The Minutemen." I know it's not true, but I'd say it anyway. And yet, in a weird way, I totally believe it. Today while jogging, I listened to a long interpretation by the Unknown Instructors: "Punk Is Whatever We Made It To Be" - half-spoken / half-sung sonic collage of some of D. Boon's best stanzas. Boon's powerful words rained like hammers and I felt like I was back in 1980, careening down the highway in a green VW bug with The Stooges blasting. It was that spirit of amazement that I used to live for - the one I never got from the 90s indie scene. And then, just as quickly, I thought "God, I'm living in the past. I suck." I'm stuck. I have vast collections of LPs, CDs, and MP3s. I listen to music for hours each day, and yet I'm completely out of it, musically speaking. I confess -- I've never listened to Guns-n-Roses or Pearl Jam or Prince, and I've only recently heard "Nevermind" in its entirety. If it weren't for Twitter, I wouldn't even know Lady Gaga existed. I'm oblivious to the stuff that supposedly matters to "music people." It's not like I'm totally unaware of pop music. I just have a finely tuned ability to tune out whatever doesn't interest me. I don't quite know how to explain it. I can only say that my friends register shock when they learn that I've never heard of Elliot Smith. And yet I do not feel thirsty. I'm always open to being turned on. But I learned long ago that, unfortunately, you can't trust beautiful cover art to promise great music, and you can't always trust your friends to push your music buttons. I'm happy to listen to damn near anything. And every now and then, that "anything" will turn into something that will become important to me over time. Something that will last. I like music with staying power. Belle and Sebastien have a certain appeal, but I don't think they're going to occupy even the tiniest slot in my consciousness in 20 years. But the power and inventiveness of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Fahey, Robert Wyatt, Can, The Carter Family, The Clash, will never dissipate. I have little interest in the "new" factor. I could not care less whether this year's model is the baddest thing going on in Atlanta or a rare gem rescued from 78 rpm oblivion by Robert Crumb. It's all the same to me. Just squeeze my lemon / 'till the juice runs down my leg. Please. A friend once said that he felt lucky to have been born so late in history, because the later you're born, the more history you have to work with. I don't think I really understood what he was saying until I was about 40. It's not about being born late, it's about this massive archive we're sitting on - the entire history of recorded music under our butts, which we can either choose to ignore or to mine for all it's worth. Every hour I spend checking out the flavor of the month is an hour I haven't spent with David Thomas or Richard Hell or Shuggie Otis. Life's too short. I'm going to use this site to drift back and forth through musical history, modernity be damned. You turn me on, I'm a radio. Let me know what I'm missing. shacker's station at

2 thoughts on “Gemini Rising

  1. Very entertaining find. But how can emulating Spinal Tap be described as garden variety? They opened for a puppet show!

  2. great find! the green side of things sound a bit forward-ro (opposite of retro) but i love that these tropes are becoming the chewing cud of pop culture.

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