“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
– Henry David Thoreau
Gnostic artists interface directly with their information. The materials they bring forth are through their own research and from their own experiences. Hearsay is taboo. The SydArthur Festival cherishes the kind of pioneers who not only dared to embark on bold quests, but who returned from their journeys and made good account of themselves and their experiences. What makes Henry David Thoreau a prophet for the modern age is that he not only went to the woods to live deliberately but, upon his return, he delivered such a remarkable testament that Walden has become a holy text. Essential. Only time has shown us the long-term truth of Thoreau’s words. But one thing is certain: with this accompanying text to support Thoreau’s advocacy of life in the woods, he became Authority. The Authority is the one who creates it and claims it within themselves.
Thoreau was our first hippie. Preaching self-reliance and personal responsibility, here was an intellectual who dared to roll up his sleeves and try it all out: a Nature Boy standing fast against the onslaught of the Industrial Age. He saw the whole world through the microscopic lens of his local pond where he set out to “front only the essential facts of life”. Such a deep journey within, he maintained, was “essentially revolutionary”, a way to change the world. His conclusions were prescriptive and, to the future counterculture, offered a viable alternative to the enslavement of the conveyor belt of life through a new path of self-determination and simplification. As the modern Anti-Capitalist’s fountainhead, Thoreau not only challenged the morality of over-consumption, but further he believed that it was only when we simplify that we begin to reach our higher potential. While his way to personal elevation might not be the only way, it is most certainly a way available to all. What a beautiful gift! Henry David Thoreau has obtained in our minds the status of a folk hero, his words and message having long been appropriated by every righteous-thinking conservationist, anti-capitalist and by every believer in non-violent resistance. To the woods!
Today on Day 6 of the SydArthur Festival, let us salute the eloquence and robustness of Henry David Thoreau’s still-modern vision with as grand a musical hymn to the frontiersman spirit as the rock’n’roll era, surely, has yet produced: David Ackles’ incredible 1972 epic ‘The Montana Song’.
Telling the tale of a visit to his grandparents’ now-derelict home, Ackles used his big Elektra Records recording budget to hire London’s enormous IBC Studios and a huge orchestra with which to subdue and entrance his listeners. One-time producer of The Teardrop Explodes, Hugh Jones tells of how, as a young IBC tape-operator assisting in the recording of this track, he was entranced by the backwoodsman demeanour of David Ackles himself, who would every day arrive with his handwritten musical charts for the orchestra carefully piled into the back of a knapsack. None of the Elektra executives had a clue where Ackles went at night. A single listen to ‘The Montana Song’ will allow us to imagine him orchestrating by the glow of his Thames embankment campfire.