The scene from The Mothers-in-Law figures prominently in The Seeds: Pushin’ Too Hard, a loving but not fawning documentary chronicling of the swift rise and swifter collapse of this classic American garage/psychedelic/blues ensemble. Formed in L.A. in 1965, the lads were regional favorites in California but had some national success with the title song, as well as “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine,” “Mr. Farmer” and a few other cuts. The original gang had broken up by 1968, but in their brief time they were able to lay claim to originating the idea of, and possibly even the phrase, “Flower Power.”
Directed by Neil Norman (son of GNP Crescendo founder Gene Norman), the documentary is old-school in style, using little in the way of the cutesy graphics currently in vogue in pop documentaries. We just get some narration, by Pamela Des Barres, plenty of old footage of the band, and warm, funny, slightly bemused interviews with surviving Seeds and their families, cronies and admirers. Unsurprisingly, the most amusing talking head out of the latter category is Iggy Pop.
Inevitably, the focus is on Seeds vocalist “Sky Saxon” (aka Richard Marsh, a Mormon kid from Salt Lake City). Combined with the tinny keyboard riffing of Daryl Hooper (very similar to Ray Manzarek’s playing for The Doors), it was Saxon’s haunting voice and his longing, mystical/romantic sexuality that gave The Seeds their evocative sound. Iggy Pop remarks, of Saxon’s voice, “He couldn’t really sing, and neither can anybody else who’s any fuckin’ good.”
After the original Seeds breakup, Saxon took the franchise through several new lineups and reunions, changed his name to “Sunlight,” joined the Source Family religious commune, drifted in and out of touch with this particular plane of reality, was homeless for a time, and had a late renaissance in 2008 collaborating with Smashing Pumpkins before he passed on, at 71, in 2009.
Norman’s movie gets at the comic side of all this—there are times when it can’t help but feel like a real-life version of a Christopher Guest flick. But (also as with Guest’s films at their best) it gets at the poignant beauty in this story as well. It’s a quintessential rock n’ roll tale, and a quintessential California tale, well told.
Q: The Seeds were very much part of the LA mid-to-late ‘60s club scene. What was it about that time & place which fostered groups as diverse as The Turtles, The Doors, Love, Buffalo Springfield, The Seeds, The Byrds etc?
A: It was a combination of several different factors, the baby boomer surge, the rejuvenation of the record business sparked by the Beatles and the British Invasion, and the shift of the record industry’s base from the East Coast to the West. Los Angeles was already an entertainment mecca and southern California had a swelling, music-hungry teenaged population to cater to. Many of the new breed of musicians gravitated to Hollywood because that was where you could be seen and get a contract, and the disposition of the West Coast fostered innovation and tolerated eccentricity. A label like GNP Crescendo, with its eclectic catalogue, played right into that by signing the Seeds.
Q: One of the oft-told tales about The Seeds is that “Mr. Farmer” was on its way to being a “Pushin’ Too Hard”-level hit. Then some DJ or other noticed the lyrics and declared it a Pro-Drug Anthem which stopped the momentum. Any truth to this or is it some ancient PR which has become gospel through years of retelling the tale?
A: This is a myth, but not a PR generated one: more likely from the over-active imagination of a fan. Sky actually intended “Mr. Farmer” as an early paean to the back-to-the-land, sustainable health-conscious mindset of the nascent hippie movement, but in the mid-60s many songs were often misinterpreted or given unintended meanings.
Q: What was the connection that landed The Seeds on The Mothers-in-Law?
A: This came from Nick Grillo, then agent for the Beach Boys, who at one time was actually going to manage the Seeds. Desi Arnaz directed the episode the Seeds appear in and the clip is featured heavily in the movie.
Q: Did I miss it, or was “Up in Her Room” never referenced in the movie?
A: You hear it in several places on the soundtrack, but the song is never specifically discussed. It was however covered in the original interviews (quoted in the liner notes). Whenever they performed this live doing they got a standing ovation, even from Supremes fans at the Hollywood Bowl!