Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bearns & Dexter's Golden Voyage: An interview with Ron Sukenick




The image above is a cell-phone photo of a rare performance shot of Robert Bearns and Ron Dexter, the artists behind the pioneering New Age album series The Golden Voyage. Ron Sukenick, who now runs the Relationship Strategies Institute, used to play bass for the duo and sent me this. He can be seen on the right behind Dexter. 

Bearns and Dexter released six Golden Voyage albums from 1977 to 1987, all but one of which (volume 5) were instrumental albums designed for meditation and transcendence. Volume 5 was a vocal album. The duo started making New Age music before New Age even existed as a genre—the photo above was taken in 1975. 

In recent years, collectors have started to reappraise early, privately issued New Age albums, because these albums are great sources of otherworldly vision, primitive synthesizer sounds, and downright weirdness. The Golden Voyage albums, for example, were covered with unusual inspirational slogans and Bearns' hand-drawn psychedelic artwork. The compositions had fanciful titles like "The Starlight Raptures of Shangri-La" and "Garden of Levitation," and the music was a home-recorded mixture of space music, easy-listening music, and environmental sounds with stereophonic effects and other flourishes.

Bearns had previously written a book of poetry, The Awakening Electromagnetic Spectrum, that was a blueprint for the Golden Voyage albums. Many of the song titles came from the book, and the kind of geometric illustrations and drawings of hummingbirds that appeared in the book later appeared on the Golden Voyage album covers. 



The original albums have been out of print for over 25 years, but on June 3, 2014, Real Gone Music will release The Best of the Golden Voyage, the first-ever anthology of this influential series of albums. I worked on this reissue and wrote the liner notes, which feature an interview with Ron Sukenick and tell the untold story of Bearns and Dexter, both of whom died in the 1980s. You'll have to get the CD to read the full story, but for today's Music Weird, I've excerpted some parts of my interview with Sukenick that I didn't use in the liner notes.

My interview with Ron Sukenick took place on 
March 5, 2014.


What were Bearns and Dexter like? 

Ron Dexter was a dancer on a Broadway play. He used to dance a lot. He was one of the dancers on a Broadway show with… [trails off]. 
Ron was in that show where he wore overalls. What was it? Lil’ Abner? I forget the name of it. He was always talking about that. Was always talking about what dancers did, and he’d always dance for us. 

You know, dancers always go from point A to point B. So he would always bring out the dance to illustrate a point.

They were a gay couple. I never really looked at them as that, but they were close and they were living together. Very upbeat, very positive. 

Ron was a music guy. He wrote a lot of stuff on the piano. Robert was the guy who wrote the words and did the artwork. Ron was just really adamant about getting it done, and doing it right. 




What were their performances like? 

Lots of energy.

We didn’t play a whole lot. We played a fundraiser for Findhorn at the Bachelor Hotel in Los Angeles, and we played at the Randolph Hearst mansion a couple of times. We played at the Ice House in Pasadena. Bearns and Dexter were like forerunners of the New Age, so a lot of their audience was people who were attracted to the New Age. 






What did you do?

I was a backup singer for them. Robert Bearns did the singing with Ron Dexter, so they did their singing together. I was the backup singer. I was the bass player. We didn’t really play a lot of gigs, so it wasn’t really the best-paying gig of all time.

[Bearns] was a teacher. It was about 1975. I was about 26 years old. I was a young guy, trying to make it. Trying to do something.

Do you know Meher Baba? Meher Baba left his physical body about ’69. He was like a guru and was a pretty big hit in the West. He’s the guy that’s known for coming up with the phrase “don’t worry, be happy.” I always had the impression that Robert Bearns was some reincarnation of somebody. It was almost like he had a direct connection to God. That’s my definition of a prophet. He really wanted to teach.
Bearns was just a philosopher. 

 



A lot of people were just really attracted to them. Findhorn, as I mentioned, was this unbelievable New Age community in Finland. And they would do fundraisers. We did two of them. That was kind of interesting. We didn’t gig a lot.

We weren’t the mainline players. It’s not like we were going where people would dance.

They looked great.


They had great mustaches.

That’s right. They did.

It was great stuff. They were ahead of their time. People were attracted. They made an impression on me. Ron was always dancing. Robert was always talking about what we were doing, what the meaning was.

When we practiced at the Randolph Hearst mansion in Bel Air, I remember you had to go across some moat, but Robert would always dance across. Even though he wasn’t a dancer, he would always kind of take the moment. He wouldn’t just walk across it—he would kind of flow across it.

The guys had a vision. They said what they said. They died early. 





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