Amoeblog

Concerning Hobbit Rock: Exploring A Beloved Micro-Genre

Posted by Kells, January 25, 2013 06:41pm | Post a Comment
Given all the hubbub this past holiday season surrounding the opening of Peter Jackson's newest venture into J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I think it's time to shift the spotlight onto a little known sub-subgenre tucked away, much like a hobbit hole snugly abutting a hillside, within Amoeba Music's extensive Rock Various Artists section: Hobbit Rock.



Now, I have to admit the first time I clocked the Hobbit Rock bin card I was taken aback, gagging on the  question: what the heck is this? Browsing though the titles it began to make sense. Much like unfolding a map of Middle Earth to explore a visual representation of the diverse cultures and histories that Tolkien invented to people his fictional universe, browsing Hobbit Rock is to peruse a collection of music that either inspires sincere impressions of Middle Earth or is unequivocally informed by Tolkein's fantasy writings.

In other words, if an artist makes blatant Tolkien-esque references in lyric  (apparently Led Zeppelin couldn't resist slipping more than a little Middle Earthliness into practically every album) or otherwise artistic content (see my list below) then that, friends, is pure, gem mint ten Hobbit Rock.

For something of less Middle Earth-obvious influences to qualify inclusion into this very specific category a decidedly progressive folk (or folkish prog) sort of rock ensemble most definitely seems to characterize the sonic gateway to Hobbit Rock admission. But that's something of a foggy notion, unless one considers the significant formative influence that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings had on the emergent hippie generation, taken together with the dewy-eyed archaisms of British folk of the same era (like Vashti Bunyan's Just Another Diamond Day or just about anything by Bert Jansch), the Prog-Folk wave that followed (think Lindisfarne or Renaissance) and in the more freakish, otherworldly strains of British psychedelia (like Incredible String Band and maybe a little Hawkwind before they went 200% galactic) that would, in time, saturate into the 1970's as Progressive Rock. Peering through the Hobbit Rock lens listeners could, fathoming the above passage, stumble upon some mainstream American Folk-Rock (think Simon & Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair/Canticle") and ultimately stub their big hairy toes on a little something called Acid Folk (like Forest or Jan Dukes de Grey).

Having seen the most recent motion picture adaptation of The Hobbit (or at least the first third of it so it would seem) I feel as though Hobbit Rock selections must and shall promote a hearty harp contingent, erring on the Celtic side of things. Alan Stivell comes immediately to mind as well as a little ditty called "Street Song" on Drag City's recent reissue of Carol Kleyn's Love Has Made Me Stronger, circa 1976. And lets not forget that little slice of Old Forest HoRo chicness Joanna Newsom served up on Portlandia last February, sitting in a little wilderness (with a bunch of crunchy kids) chanting "Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadil" in tune with the plucking of her harp, all awash in golden sunlight. I'd bet Tolkien himself would mistake her for Goldberry, the "River-maid" -- Bombadil's ladylove. In any case harps and their ethereal tones featured prominently in scenes from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when Bilbo & Co. inevitably arrive at Rivendell for a spell. The only element I'd have liked to see incorporated into to the Elvish party scene: copious amounts of boxed Rosé. And maybe also a crystal soaking tub.

Then there is the whole Metal, particularly Death/Black Metal, element which could, or probably should fall into the spectrum of Hobbit Rock in that a Metric Fucktonne of the stuff claims inspiration from the deepest, darkest depths of Mordor, and pretty much Mordor alone. From band names (Amon Amarth, Burzum, Crebain, Cirith Ungol, Gorgorth, and Nazgûl just to name a few) to album titles (like Nightfall in Middle Earth by Blind Guardian, natch), lyrics (Summoning not only base all their albums on Lord of the Rings but also feature Orcish language lyrics), and artwork (like Summoning's second album, Minas Morgul, pictured right), headbangers worship the dark side of Tolkein's universe with as much fervent devotion as they do Lucifer and his brimstone domain. Plainly put, Mordor is Mecca for Metalheads.

But like any map of Middle Earth, there worlds within worlds and nooks crannied with nooks and crannies; Hobbit Rock may be one of the skinniest sections Amoeba stocks for the browsing, but the cap of its mushroom hovers dense, wide, and heavy.

Feeling adventurous? Here are some of my favorites harvested from the Hobbit Rock patch:


Gandalf the Grey - The Grey Wizard Am I

This is the first thing I ever pulled from Hobbit Rock and perhaps one of the most mega-obvious examples of what makes something Hobbit Rock-relevant. In 1972 Chris Wilson made his ultimate homage to Tolkien's literary opuses when he cut this acoustic folkadelica album chronicling his fantastical Greenich Village rambles under the name Gandalf the Grey. It's a treacly relic of bygone weirdness dripping with lyrics inspired by Tolkien's landscapes and shout outs to characters like Strider and Treebeard, particularly in "My Elven Home" and the title track. Definitely not a cup for everyone, but then again anything this chimerical is the kind of cherried obscurity that makes Hobbit Rock worthy of it's bin card.





Gryphon - Midnight Mushrumps

I'll never know what compelled someone to file this in Hobbit Rock but it is definitely one of the most charismatic progressive folk records I've ever heard (reason enough, really). The eighteen minute title track is a sonically impressive piece that incorporates medieval, baroque, and classical-era influences in its shifting structure with nary a dull moment to be met. It is the thing listen to whilst tucking into the beginning of The Hobbit or any other tome of chivalric fantasy fiction. It would also provide a choice soundtrack for anyone gearing up for a Ren Faire, LARP meet, or a costume banquet where the only dining utensils are daggers. Remember: charisma isn't learned. You must roll for it when you initially create your character and then add the appropriate bonuses.





Gandalf - Gandalf

Anyone encountering this record for the first time would likely take no issue with it's being cross-filed under Hobbit Rock until they popped it on the ol' hi-fi for a listen. Gandalf's self-titled debut is about as Gandalf-y as The Hobbits' Down to Middle Earth LP is Hobbit-y. That is to say these two records are prime examples of Tolkien's influence on the 1967 rock scene and it's reduction of his work to light-minded ephemera best pinned to a jean jacket collar. Gandalf's psych-rock covers of Tim Hardin and Eden Ahbez songs and The Hobbits' sickeningly sunshiney corn nut of a pop record with songs like "Treats" and "Daffodil Days (The Affection Song)" are possibly better indulged when mega-baked. Or perma-fried.  





Bo Hansson - Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings

This may come as a surprise but there's nothing that can beat out Swedish instrumentalist Bo Hansson's 1970 record for best adaptation of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in both the Album Title (duh!) and Album Artwork (double duh!) Hobbit Rock categories. In fact, I urge you to check out the alternate covers of this release as they are all bad-ass, especially the 1977 reissue with a mounted Ringwraith on the front. While this record boasts zero vocal tracks it is a pleasant concept album based on Lord of the Rings. Plus it comes with a siiick LP sized insert of Tolkien himself posed on a stump. I wish there were an album of a similar calibur dedicated to The Hobbit that isn't the Rankin/Bass soundtrack with Glen Yarbrough singing "The Greatest Adventure (The Ballad of the Hobbit)".




Comus - First Utterance

Sounding like a blend of everything one could imagine being beautiful and terrifying about  embarking upon an unexpected journey through Middle Earth, Comus' 1971 debut is a fascinating, otherworldly (thus timeless) danse macabre blend of acoustic folk, progressive rock, and pagan psychedelia. Heavy themes pulse like a doom tattoo beneath a skin of acoustic guitars, violin, flute and quasi-elven, almost Arcadian, lyrical female vocal harmonies that cloak tracks like "The Herald" -- a sprawling epic that clocks in at twelve-plus minutes. Though this isn't straight up obvi Hobbit Rock, it more than conveys the sort of Dark/Acid/Folk/Prog/Rock compositional sound/vibe clash that makes it nothing if not a requisite HoRo title.





Starcastle - Starcastle

I think this one was accidentally filed in Hobbit Rock as it is crystal cut, lost seventies progressive Camelot Rock, if anything. I like to think that this wasn't necessarily a mis-file as it was a wishful symbolic gesture cast by someone who longs for similarly sprawling, Yes-like proggy fantasies mirroring Starcastle's excellent lead off track "Lady of the Lake" but with a more Tolkien-inspired take. Or something. At any rate, any track from this record could do worse than to be book-ended with any song from side two of Wishbone Ash's Argus or perhaps the greater part of Rush's Caress of Steel when creating a mix of music to read Tolkien to. Taken all together, with everything else covered here, that Tolkien mix'll surely dominate.


Interested in yet another, totally different take on what Hobbit Rock could be, please see the What's In My Bag? interview video below featuring actor Elijah "Frodo" Wood of The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings fame walking us through some of his digs, treasures and choice selections found at Amoeba Music.


Oh My Hobbit! Official trailer for An Unexpected Journey out now!

Posted by Kells, December 20, 2011 11:23pm | Post a Comment
Ready to get your Hobbit-habit body rocked this Christmas, for next Christmas? The first official trailer for Peter Jackson and company's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey dropped today and you best believe it's got me reeling like a total bro re-upped on that initial super stoke that came of learning that the green light had finally lit for all the folks at Weta Digital and Weta Workshop et al to work this project tirelessly in a living example of epic fantasy film production done right. Keep on keeping on Kiwis, loving what's up so far!

Back in Bag End Again: Keeping Up with the Hobbit

Posted by Kells, April 15, 2011 01:05pm | Post a Comment
Production has begun on Peter Jackson's two film epic adaptation of The Hobbit and what better way to keep geeks (like me) in the know than to keep a Hobbit blog replete with photos and boss video updates:



I love how down to earth (Middle Earth!) Sir Peter is and this first look into what promises to be an unprecedented documentation of modern movie making (3D, yo!) and down-home togetherness (the Maori blessing of the set and hongi greetings portrayed in this, the first, ten minute video blog are heart-warming) the likes of which Ringers the world 'round will lap up with fervor. Keep 'em coming, Kiwis!

Thank you Sir, may I have another: Patrick Stewart and Peter Jackson receive knighthoods

Posted by Kells, January 2, 2010 01:09pm | Post a Comment

My favorite famous people are already like living legends in my mind, so whenever they make the Queen of England's annual knighthood list it's almost not a big deal. I mean, if it were up to me to decide who receives the shining armor Patrick Stewart and Peter Jackson would have been knighted fifteen years ago. I remember falling hard for the dashing Stewart during his Star Trek: The Next Generation years and I recall early hints of my understanding Jackson's genius with my first viewings of his masterworks Dead-Alive and Heavenly Creatures (one of my forever top ten favorite films). From those first impressions all the way 'til today both men have become more dear to me as living artists, as pop culture icons and as all around purveyors of delightful diversions. Besides, there is really nothing that can be done to make a major-hot veteran of stage and screen dream like Patrick Stewart more amazing than having to refer to him from now on as "Sir Patrick." And to honor filmmaker Peter Jackson as well? That deserves as hearty a "good on ya" as do his seventeen Oscars and timeless film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings!

To both "Sirs" with love, I can't wait to see what your respective next moves will be. Sir Peter: if only your lovely bones were taking the helm of the Hobbit film adapatation; Sir Patrick: I'm pretty sure you already know what I wish your next move would be...Captain, my captain!

Books on Film: J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings

Posted by Kells, December 30, 2008 12:07pm | Post a Comment

At the end of every year the urge to take in several hours of epic cinema storytelling never fails at filling my darkest mid-winter nights with adventure. What better way is there to spend all that spare "holiday season" time than enjoying a bit of movie magic? Ever since my childhood I've been romanced by the otherworldly wiles of fantasy films, being always at my most vulnerable around Christmas with an easy schedule and a heightened desire to escape into the imagination I possessed as a little girl where I could be as Grace Jones-crazy (Conan the Destroyer), Tanya Roberts-sexy (Sheena), Nigel Terry-valiant, Nicol Willamson-wise (King Arthur and Merlin, respectively, in John Boorman's Excalibur) and Brigitte Neilsen fierce (Red Sonja.) Surely I needn't mention how easily I took to playing Dungeons and Dragons in my teens or how largely Led Zeppelin figured into my lifelong playlist -- anyone who can claim the feeling of being partially raised by fantasy and sci fi flicks takes to rock 'n' role-play like a good sword to a well-oiled sheath. However, I would like to point out how deeply one Englishman, who was recently voted the 92nd "greatest Briton," John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, has irreversibly influenced contemporary popular culture forever by writing faerie stories to entertain his children. Being a big Tolkien nerd myself, I count him in the topmost of my top ten "greatest Britons," after a handful of musicians, writers and and that Arturus Rex guy.

Love it or loathe it, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga has made a significantly comfy niche for itself within the ever-evolving pop culture realms of the last fifty years. Here's how I figure it: if it weren't for Tolkien's love of his family and, with the same esteem, an Old English epic poem called Beowulf, then there wouldn't be a little story called The Hobbit. If it weren't for Tolkien's The Hobbit there wouldn't be Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. If it weren't for either of these, baby boomers wouldn't have old "Frodo Lives" buttons to stumble upon amongst their keepsakes, there would be at least four tracks missing from any given issue of a Led Zeppelin's greatest hits collection ("Over the Hills and Far Away," "Misty Mountain Hop," "Battle of Evermore," and "Ramble On" offer the most direct of direct references to Tolkien's text), Dungeons and Dragons might be played under the more clunky and less promising moniker Witches and Wardrobes, there'd be no Sindarian or any other languages devised by Tolkien for mythology geeks to flex into their extracurriculars, and the Black Metal aisle at Amoeba would be, let's face it, considerably thinner in theme and content, being bereft of such a deep well to draw their inspiration from. In fact, browsing the Metal section is like to exploring Middle Earth itself (with a heavy focus on the realm of Mordor, of course) with band names like Amon Amarth (the Sindarian name for Mount Doom), Cirith Ungol, Gogoroth, as well as Sauron, Isengard, Nazgul and Cirith Gorgor popping up here and there in a veritable roll call of Lord of the Rings faces and places. Heck, I know of more than one working band at Amoeba that would lose either a handfull of songs (Prizehog claims at least two songs are inspired by Lord of the Rings) or a band name altogether (Crebain is named after Saruman's murder of crow-spies). Then there are albums that owe their creation to Tolkien's imagination, like Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle Earth and songs like Summoning's "Khazad Dum" -- the list goes on and on.

Most of all, and this of the utmost importance, without Tolkien's work I'd be out of roughly twelve hours of tremendously awesome holiday movie viewing, for there would be no Lord of the Rings extended cut, dare-you-to-watch-all-three-DVDs for my friends and I to absorb for days in a row before the year turns in; without this story, New Zealand, along with one of her favorite sons, Peter Jackson, would be masterpiece-less. (Fun fact: Jackson's film Return of the King, based on the third book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, won eleven Academy Awards, sweeping every category it was nominated for, including best picture.)

I love, love, love the Lord of the Rings, both Tolkien's text and Jackson's cinematic interpretation. The two are such separate entities, yet as closely related as a father recognizing himself in the face of his son. The adaption from book to film is nothing less than fantastic despite all the original material that didn't make the cut. Many fans of the books, I'm sure, find their knowledge of the story missing from time to time when watching Jackson's films, moments lost in translation as it were. I, for one, would like to know what happened to Tom Bombadil, that crazy little deus ex machina from the Fellowship of the Ring? I remember sitting in the theater musing on how unfortunately swift the hobbit's jaunt from the Shire to the village of Bree was; in chopping Tom's portion of the tale there'd be no Goldberry, Tom's river-spirit wife, no Old Man Willow to trap Merry and Pippin, and no Barrow-wights to encounter. I really wanted to see that send off where Tom gives the hobbits their long daggers -- treasures exhumed from the barrows, thus arming the halflings before they leave the Old Forest to make for Bree (in the movie "Strider" mysteriously provides the hobbits with weapons as they set up camp on Weathertop, but I digress...). When it comes to fingering out the differences between the yarns spun by Tolkein and the sweater knit by Jackson, one could indulge in a long rut of fault-finding and nit-pickery indeed, but those folks overly concerned with minor details no doubt may find other ways in which to satisfy their interests, like fawning over the work of the genii at Weta Workshop. [Weta Workshop -- the creative visual design and digital/creature effects juggernaut responsible for a heaping helpings of movie magic that transformed everything "normal view" into Middle Earth milieu in Jackson's movies, has since created one of those nerdy trading-card games featuring rather fantastic-looking images of many characters from the Lord of the Rings book that never made it into the movies like, for example, Radagast the Brown pictured above with (cut outs of) his fellow wizards.]

Merely viewing the Lord of the Rings film trilogy this time around wasn't enough; my friend and I proceeded to dig deeper into the saga by exploring all the production featurettes and behind-the-scenes secrets that comprise the six extra discs and we were pleased to discover that not only was it way worth our time, but we learned so much as we sat spellbound while taking in the cleverness of naive camera effects like forced perspective, physically involved innovations like "big rigs," and advanced special effects which in many cases proved to be movie magic history in the making. It was like a film school crash course focused only on the fun stuff. Also, if you love drama, there is no shortage of human pageantry to be absorbed in viewing the many personal stories of connection, stress, love and heartbreak that unfold in much of the less-technical behind-the-scenes features. There is also, both within the films and the special features, no shortage of beautiful men, bearded or otherwise. This is one so-called "dick flick" that has others beat in the manscape department, with a cast of mostly men whose mannerisms and appearances span a broad aesthetic scope. Not to discount the lady actors -- I just have to give up major kudos to the casting director who has impeccable taste. 

For my part, I find myself so pleased in viewing the Lord of the Rings trilogy this year that I equate the experience to a spell of therapeutic healing of sorts. Having watched all the films, and much of the bonus material for extra credit, I feel really good. It feels a lot like that thankful relief I felt at approximately 8pm on November 7th, 2008 -- election night. Maybe this is coming from way out there, and I know it's gonna come off real dopey, but the only word uttered almost as much as the words "ring" or "Frodo" in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy is the word "hope." Make of it what you will, right now I feel as though I just pounded brimming pints of the "hope." And I feel good, even better than the Precious. Here are a few more beards for the road:


Here's hoping The Hobbit (the movie) turns out even half as well....