The album that rose out of Bixby’s spiritual ashes plays out like an autobiographical tale of the scales falling from his eyes.
One of the most celebrated private press loner folk albums also happens to be an intriguing tale of Christian conversion. Ode to Quetzalcoatl, originally released in 1969 and now reissued by Guerssen, documents Dave Bixby’s emergence from a dark night of the soul, a descent into drugs and a redemption that allowed him to become a conduit for what he calls, “the divine power of the universe.” Its lyrics may be too evangelical for some listeners, but with multi-tracked voices and soaring acoustic chords, its music may well sell the message.
The title evokes Aztec mythology, but in the flying serpent creator Quetzalcoatl, Bixby finds a Christ-like figure, and his lyrics and message are resolutely in that vein. The album opens with a melancholy acoustic strum and a sober message: “Life used to be good/ Now look what I’ve done/ I’ve ruined my temple/ With drugs my mine is stunned.” That’s the cautionary “Drug Song,” in which Bixby tells the true story of his struggle with addiction. “Even my guitar wonders why I can’t play.” This is much like what happened to Bixby, who in the late ‘60s found some success with a Grand Rapid, Michigan garage band called Peter and the Prophets. Frustrated that the band was reluctant to perform his original songs, Bixby broke off on his own into the local coffeehouse scene, which led him to LSD. After a period of extensive drug use that lasted a year, Bixby said, “It felt like I had I lost my soul somewhere, but of course I couldn’t describe it at this point because I wasn’t religious or spiritual and I didn’t recognize that I was in trouble religiously or spiritually.”
The album that rose out of Bixby’s spiritual ashes plays out like an autobiographical tale of the scales falling from his eyes. “Free Again” follows with music and lyrics a bit more hopeful as Bixby climbs out of his hell, but still “So many days from growing.” An extended acoustic rhythm guitar break suggests Chris Bell’s solo work or his searching tracks on Big Star’s #1 Record. Bixby’s conversion becomes more explicit on “I Have Seen Him,” as he not only credits a higher power with his physical renewal and creative burst, but is driven to spread the Gospel: “Tell the world that He is still Living/ And weeping for us for we have pushed him aside.”
Such proselytizing may be too much for some listeners; Bixby’s friends were startled by his transformation from acid-head to acolyte. But even if you resist the earnest conviction of his words, it’s harder to walk away from the vibrant, wide-open music. Whatever your beliefs, you can hear that Bixby driven by something positive. These are the sounds of a man who has found his calling and wants to share in the joy of what he has discovered, and the vibrant chords go a long way to spreading that passion.
Ode to Quetzalcoatl is unique in the loner-folk school of private press records in that its singular vision is one not of mere alienation and isolation; although this album begins in that head space, it quickly guides the listener on a warm, healing path. A lot of listeners may find Bixby’s enthusiasm corny, but his haunting tenor and penchant for exuberant rhythm guitar suggest that in another time, he might have been a jangle-rocker. Bixby is alive and well and still playing music. It’s easy to listen to his music for pleasure; if that happens to deliver his message, then that’s all the better.