Authored by Dale Nickey:
Skip Spence – “Oar” (1969):
“Oar” was one of the weirdest albums of all time, with a back story to match. After getting “dosed” with acid, he had the mother of all bad trips. After attempting to kill one of his Moby Grape band mates with an ax, Spence was committed to Bellevue mental hospital for 6 months. All during his internment he was writing songs in his head. Strange songs. Upon his release, he mounted his chopper and gunned it down to Nashville. He then hired out a studio and engineer and started laying down tracks on the spot. The madness is undiluted by any other musicians or producers. It’s all Spence on drums, bass, guitar and vocals. The song craft is otherworldly and carries the aroma of swamp gas, and madness. You don’t know if he’s channeling Tom Joad or Jack the Ripper. After the hastily recorded sessions, Skip climbed on his bike, hit the gas hard, and rode west off into the sunset. He never released another album.
It’s a topic of debate whether it was heavy drugs, or the six month stay at Bellevue that pushed Spence into the abyss of chronic mental illness. All we have left of Skip Spence is “Oar”. Half cautionary tale, half masterpiece. Spence died of lung cancer in 1999, His legacy is a fractured monument to the Summer Of Love’s” broken dreams and broken sprit.