Currently Reading: Peel Doped the Pope

NYC musician has been hot-boxing the scene for more than 40 years

“Technique is not talent. A jazz musician with a million chords can go all over the place and end up no place.”
– David Peel

He was a pioneer of “Street Rock” or what he called ‘Junk Rock,” later dubbed “protopunk.” He had three chords, a raspy voice and screamed most of his lyrics about marijuana use among New York City yippies.

“Technique is not talent,” Peel told the New York Times a few months ago. “A jazz musician with a million chords can go all over the place and end up no place.”

John Lennon produced his biggest major label success, “The Pope Smokes Dope” which was banned in most countries for its incendiary title making it a coveted vinyl treasure for record archeologists. Lennon insisted Peel was capable of recording hit records if he was so inclined, and defended his musical chops when critics called his play sloppy and his voice toxic.

“Picasso spent 40 years trying to get as simple as that,” Lennon was quoted as saying.

In 1971 Lennon strolled Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village with anti-estblishment superstars Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. He met Peel as he busked with his band the “Lower East Side” on a cozy piece of sidewalk. When they played to their celebrity audience a huge crowd sang along and it required police intervention to subdue the masses.

Closing in on 70 years of age he was a fixture of the Occupy Wall Street protests at Zuccotti Park and Union Square in Manhattan in the past few years. He recorded new material like “Up Against The Wall Street,” a reference to Jefferson Airplane’s infamous muddled curse ‘Up Against the Wall, Motherfuckers” in the chorus of their song “We Can All Be Together.” As well as the anarchist direct action group of the same name in the late 60s on the Lower East Side, who originally took the line from an Amiri Baraka poem.

This group referred to often be it’s abbreviated acronym (UAW/MF) was known for setting up crash pads in NYC where people could stay rent free, and the use of obscenity in their name was to prevent media from writing and speaking about them.

When asked about his cannabis consumption these days he rattles off a one-liner worthy of Don Rickles, “Lose dope, lose hope,” effectively answering the question without removing his tongue from cheek. His sarcasm has not wilted under the weight of father time. He insists he will be playing on sidewalks and park benches on the Lower East Side until the day he dies.

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