I tell you, Notary Sojac didn't just disappear for these almost 30 years, they were buried !!! When what Steve Koski has described as the "Phinal Phase" of the band evaporated in 1976, the collective consciousness of the band and their fans dissolved as well. For seven years, the band and its fans had hung on while the world around them changed, finally sucking the whole experience into a black hole of nothingness. Sojac was dead, and without a single release to prove that they had even existed.
For most of those 30 years, I (and, I assume, scores of other Sojac fans) bemoaned that lack of output, until... (pregnant pause)... reality headslapped me a good one! While digging through boxes of cassette tapes, I uncovered (drum roll, please) the recorded link to Sojac's musical past! There, sandwiched between self-titled road tapes, lay Notary Sojac's one and only public release: The Return of Zoid . How had I missed it!!!??? And more importantly, how had I forgotten it!!!???
After giving myself a solid ten second flogging, I vaulted the chair and slapped the tape into the deck while slipping on headphones. I didn't remember this. I doubted that I had played it. A few notes in and I knew I was wrong. It was comfortable, recognizable, pure Notary Sojac! It became obvious. I had played it. More importantly, I had heard it. Not on the tape, but on stage. Not complete songs, but core components of them.
It slowly occurred to me that what this represented was the band's creative process. I nodded my head as I listened. I could hear flashes, mere embryos of what became later integral parts of songs... great songs! Most notably, "A Cat's Joorny" (later, confirmed by Steve Koski). Still, movement after movement reflected licks or time changes or moods which had worked their way into later Sojac repertoire.
I envisioned a Winterland or a Fillmore East, light show and all, a loose and flowing Notary Sojac working their way through this long, involved composition: Two hours or thereabouts worth of improvisation, call and response, advance and retreat--- all of it broken up by the occasional cacophony of instruments searching for a purpose. Yes, at times the music became a bit disjointed, but no more than that of the Dead or Phish or Widespread Panic or any of the other bands which have lived on the edge. This was a group effort, understand, without sheet music or organization or anything beyond a feel of what was right. Sometimes, it seemed more right than others, but when they were right, they were right !!!
Digging through the liner notes, I saw the composition was broken into twelve parts, called phases, fit so well together that they could not have been improvised. I mean, with subtitles like "Bolero del Zoid" and "Mode of the Lost Realms" and "More Than One Way to Trap a Zoid" (get it?), it seemed the work of a real composer and not a musical happenstance. How wrong I was.
In the first place, the venue hardly rivalled the Winterland. Captain Coyote's was a simple, unassuming tavern located in Olympia, Washington, home of the famed Evergreen State College. A medium-sized stage inhabited one end of the room with a dance floor of sorts and tables and chairs. No ghosts of prime hippiedom there, rather the smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke.
Previous to the band's six-night stand, they played a concert at Evergreen State. Just prior to that concert, they had been interviewed on the college's radio station and that night played to a receptive crowd. After the concert, the weeklong stint at the tavern must have looked promising. Five nights later, the promise was gone. The band played to mediocre crowds, both in numbers and enthusiasm. Were it not for the friendship and support of friends of the band (Toni Dreyer housed the band for the duration and Lynda Myra laid at least one table of great food), the week might have been written off. And the first five nights were, musically. Steve Koski remembers the band misfiring on cylinders constantly. One evening, they ended a set with "Louie, Louie", not a Sojac standard. "Between sets, loud Rolling Stones music drove me outside for peace and fresh air," Koski wrote in his journal. A letter from Drippy Moon (Chris Bliss) lifted spirits during the week, but the drone continued.
Then, the Night of Zoid! The afternoon was spent playing softball and pulling typical Sojac pranks (each band member has multiple personalities, probably helpful in surviving such a week). Jim Lowry, in "Rudy" persona, was a self-confessed softball playing disaster and a source of many laughs. Playing in black Oxfords (those are shoes, for those who are fashion-challenged), he claims to have been "a blur of kinetically displaced energy", quite unlike his laid back stage presence. By the time the game and laughs had subsided, a somewhat exhausted band headed to Captain Coyote's for the last night.
Arriving to find only a handful of people in attendance, the band decided to not play from a set list. Instead, they played an "extended, improvised 'jam' set" during which "band members would play for awhile, leave, come back and join in with whatever Zoidal wave was rippling." An honorary (and integral) member of the band, Mark Schneider, was included on keyboards when not engineering sound and for the first time since the college gig, Notary Sojac was once again a whole.
The music that night was varied, to say the least. Each member of the group stepped up to lead when the notes fell into place, others bowing out and/or stepping in to support. Each step was a movement itself, giving way to the whims of Zoid. Experiments sometimes worked, sometimes not, but success was not the end-all. The music was. How to describe...
To be honest, there is no way to describe Zoid to anyone outside the Sojac realm. Indeed, it is doubtful that the band even understands it, though they would argue. Zoid, you see, is a very personal place and seldom obtained even by the chosen. To give you an idea, let's delve into an email give and take between Steve Koski and Jim "Rudy" Lowry. The night was especially notable for Steve, who suffered the weeklong musical struggle. "Then came ZOID in answer," he wrote. "Zoid, a connected, inspired flowing energy answered. The music that happened was for us --- for what Bob Koski calls The One Inside ." Jim agreed and wrote back, "As for the audience, I personally didn't care. We had played our normal sets of original music all of the previous nights with a mixed reaction from the crowds. I think we figured, tonight's the last night here, they can't fire us now, we're going to play what we want to. And what we did was basically along the same lines of many of the more experimental jams that we had been doing at the Casa del Zoid studio/rehearsal space. We just did it onstage and it was recorded. It wasn't a total cosmic accident. We had been working at this kind of communication for months, even years, and playing experimentally with odd time signatures and textural changes for some time. That night we used those ideas as a launch pad for the improvisations and whenever musicians truly play in the moment, magical things happen."
See? It's not easy to understand, but let us delve a little deeper. Jim remembers, "I do recall some elements, primarily a section in D minor which had harmony guitar parts with Steve and Tom. I remember listening to the tape, maybe it was after the gig while packing up, and at one point, Bob turned to Steve and said, 'What &$#*(@ is Rudy playing there?' to which Steve replied, 'He's playing off the 5th.' I had perfected a method of playing a moving ostinato bass line that didn't completely commit to a specific tonality center. That way, if Steve or Tom or even Willie suggested a different tonal center, I could shift to it and incorporate it into the groove." (I have musician friends who have played for years and even studied music at accredited schools and they have little idea what that means, either)
But are you getting the idea? Well, catch Steve's email remembrance of that night. (To Jim): "Your approach to the tonality of our improvisation (where will it go next?) was quite sophisticated and 'outside the box' for that period of time. You were prepared to go to various tonal centers and have your cake and eat it too. In 1977, I composed (for jazz guitar trio, originally) a piece called 'Aboview' which was built on a suspended chord such that in the solos, the player could go between three keys and it all fit equally well, broadening the available tonal 'playground.'" Hey, if that doesn't give you an idea of Zoid, what would?
I'm kidding, of course. The truth is, any attempt to describe Zoid involves words and words, my friend, are Zoidal only when used as music. The old Catch-22. But don't take my word for it. It's on tape!
That tape was, to my knowledge, offered to the public as an insert in Sojac's newsletter, Point of View #4. Released mainly on reel-to-reel tape (listed as "also available on cassette" at the end), the offer was printed thusly:
Now available--- exclusively to our POV readers and friends--- is "THE RETURN OF ZOID," music by NOTARY SOJAC. This music was recorded in live performance, in May, 1973, and is available to you on normal (reel to reel) tape, with a "comprehensive program" enclosed. If you are one of those people who are waiting patiently for NOTARY SOJAC to get an album out, this tape will give you something to listen to while you wait. Indeed, this unique (approx. 2 hrs.) set of music is as representative of NOTARY SOJAC's distinct instrumental style as any album could be. The recording is in stereo and has clear fidelity and good balance. "THE RETURN OF ZOID" is a remarkable example of the band's efforts in the realm of ZOIDAL music. "ZOID" is the infinite, ever-changing continuum. In the medium of music, the elements are abandoned to the forces of universe and nature. The music becomes improvised spontaneously and changes constantly and whimsically. The musicians become components of a single plasmic organism. each tuned-in to the center of the ZOID (which has been defined as "the higher aggregate formed by gemmation of merides"). Turn off the lights, put "THE RETURN OF ZOID" on your tape player and follow ZOID on its travels through countless atmospheres, musical styles, and new sonic levels--- an uninterrupted journey through delightful, haunting, warpoid, comical, and ethereal forms of music. (Yes, even the state of "Mapes" is attained at one point) As you listen, you may recognize the musical soundtrack to one of your latest dreams or fantasies. (BONUS!!! Send an extra 25 cents and we'll include NOTARY SOJAC's instrumental "SPIRO TRIBUTE"--- recorded on the day Agnew resigned. A real bargain!!)
A bargain, indeed. One of my personal favorite holidays...
"The Return of Zoid" was inevitable, but could have been consigned to memory had not the musical gods smiled upon Notary Sojac that night. No doubt, each member ended the night elated, none more than Steve. "...we hatched out of a stagnant egg," he wrote, "and grew wings that evening, playing unconventionally, spontaneously, FOR US... The ripples from that recorded set moved forward into some of our later musical arrangements: multiple irregular time signatures, 5/4, 7/4, harmonized riffing, melodic twists and hooks, textural ideas... it was a pure Notary Sojac garden from which to harvest inspired themes and modes of interplay."
Steve remembers selling maybe ten reel-to-reel tapes and doesn't know if there was ever a cassette tape ordered. If you have either, you indeed have a valuable antique from the realm of Sojac. Check your reel-to-reel boxes and if your box has this cover, designed by David Koski, contact the Sojac Antique Roadshow. You have a gem!