In August of 2006, scientists decided to change Pluto, our ninth allied planet, from “planet” status to “icy dwarf” status. In an incredible show of Earth-hubris, Pluto was not only demoted, but killed: “Pluto is DEAD,” said Caltech researcher Mike Brown. What an asshole.
How could science be so bold to strip an entire life form of their heritage? Pluto has its own moon, it swings around as we do, orbiting the same dying sun. Pluto guards the borders of our galaxy and rules the collective mind, egging the individual consciousness on to join the whole. Pluto finds imbalance in our human systems, seeking to root out injustice and replace it with a new vision. Pluto has a message for us. We only have to listen.
And listen we can.
In the early 1970’s, a Plutonian ambassador, Ygarr Ygarrist, left his home planet to settle in pre-punk Los Angeles, landing the ship just outside of Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco. It was in LA that Ygarr found others who shared his vision, banding together kindred spirits to form Zolar X, the most under-rated space rock/glam outfit the world had never seen. Ygarr has never left our planet, and he and his people continue to walk among us.
Ygarr, a/k/a Stephen Della Bosca, founder and original member of LA’s infamous “rocket roll” outfit Zolar X, has never aborted his mission. Conversely, Ygarr and his crew seem to have gained strength from the Earth bumps they have overcome along the way. Everything that has befallen the Earthling has befallen the Plutonian- bad deals; no deals; addiction; incarceration; bad timing- anything that has distracted us has distracted them, yet they seem unstoppable today. In this new century, they continue stronger than ever.
So, why didn't I know about Zolar X then? Why was I not dancing to them in my 70’s bedroom? Ace Frehley knew about them, and was such a rabid early fan that he bit the look (witness early pictures of KISS; this “Space Ace” could have been a Plutonian from the same starship, of the same ancestry). But Ace only stole the look. The sound was all them.
When I listen to those first Zolar X tracks, songs like "Space Age Love” make it clear that this is the band Hedwig was listening to in his bedroom, before leaving Berlin. It took the rest of us a bit longer to catch on. Now, almost thirty years later, I am finally on the train, which- for me- is par for the course. Forgive me the golf metaphor.
In their earlier manifestations, from 1973 to 1981, Zolar X roamed the streets and haunted the clubs of Los Angeles in their spacesuits, getting buzz on the Sunset Strip, always in character and completely dedicated. While Ygarr remained the constant mastermind and frontman of the band, the number of line-up changes in the life of Zolar X is brain-rattling. This mad revolving door of 70’s LA musicians seems to have kept Zolar X going in circles. Della Bosca (Ygarr) was quick to adapt to any shift, but there were so many Earth distractions that, somewhere along the way, momentum waned. With a look and a musical style that was ahead of punk and- if you ask me- not really “glam”, but pre-glam, Zolar X weren’t influenced by anyone; they were the influence, only nobody realized it yet.
From the jump, they were misunderstood. People didn’t think they were serious, even though they lived and breathed as space beings all the time, not just onstage. They had their own language, which only tells me that they weren’t just some “glam show.” Zolar X should not be brushed off as novelty, because they were dead serious, and they are all the more serious today.
Their music was precise, tight, like power prog rock from deep space. Zolar X shared stages with The New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, hell, they even played with Van Halen, but they never got to break through. Until now. The music today is still precise, even more so, and somehow ever more spacious. I realize that this may not even make sense on the page. The story of Zolar X is a long and interesting one.
Struggling through the late 70’s, and unwilling to “go disco” (like KISS tried), time never found Zolar X in the right place to reveal their examinations of the status quo, to reach out to the masses with their message of intergalactic hope. They could never nail down the whole space/time thing, arriving a bit too early for people to understand, and insulated by the tightly woven LA scene. They got write-ups in rock magazines and local music rags, but the angle was always one of “look at these guys!” rather than “LISTEN to these guys.” There was limited exposure then, and no MTV.
After the 80’s rolled in, Zolar X called it quits, dismantling in 1981, right before MTV launched that fucking rocket. Had Zolar X’s “Timeless” been the first song to be a video on MTV, I think the rest of the 80’s would have been much different for Ygarr and Zolar X. They would have been a huge hit, right then, finally sorting out time and being seen worldwide, the real thing. But it missed them, somehow, and soon every other band on MTV had spacesuits on.
Coulda’, shoulda’, woulda’. This is not an “if only…” story.
1981 was not the end of Zolar X.
In 2004, after being prodded by the Chuck Nolan, Jello Biafra took a personal interest in Zolar X, re-releasing their “Timeless” LP on Alternative Tentacles. Jello was admittedly an eye-roller when he read about Zolar X in Lenny Kaye’s Rock Scene, looking at the pictures of these guys marching around in spacesuits in the LA sun, judging them before giving the music a chance. Chuck was persistent, got Jello on board, and “Timeless” was re-released.
In 2007, “X Marks the Spot” (Alternative Tentacles) and “ZAP! You’re Zolarized” (Deliar Spacer Core) were released, and now, after a few more line-up changes through 2007-8, a solid new crew emerged onto the deck of the starship in 2009.
Ygarr is now joined by Rhaine Della Bosca, aka Raidia Visual-X (synthesizers & vocals), and Moto Bass Unit (bass and FX midi’s), forming the solid line-up I had the pleasure of seeing at Gilman Street last year. There was no drummer, so they were working with drum machines. I like a live drummer, I’m always a sucker for the drummer, sometimes literally, and so the drum machine clearly wouldn’t be my favorite way to go. In the summer of 2010, Zolar X played a show with Don Bolles of The Germs on drums, and the sound was incredible. The drums really fill it out. There’s a DVD available of the show, and you can check out bits of it online. Even with the drum machines, the Gilman show was well done.
On our way inside, I saw the band loading in, already costumed. While looking at the line waiting to enter the all-ages venue, Raidia said to her band mates: “This is great! Look at all the kids!” Ygarr looked up and down the line, his antennae twitching with anticipation of the stage. “Wooteeta,” he said (wooteeta means cool in the Zolarian language). “Kids… Wooteeta!” he said, seeming truly delighted at the thought of sharing the music with a new generation. In turn, the kids loved the show.
The current incarnation of Zolar X is set up for some major action in 2012. Thirty new tracks are complete and set for release pending artwork and word from Jello. A documentary, produced and edited by Rhaine Della Bosca, is set for release soon. “Starmen on Sunset: The Story of Zolar X”, has only one more scene to shoot, and it will be filmed on May 21st of this year.
And in the history of the Zolar X, it’s a big scene, pulled from an important chapter of their history:
In May 2012, the band will make room for the return of Zory Zenith a/k/a Billy Myers, the miming robot who made the early live shows the stuff that Hollywood legends are made of. An original member and vital part of the lexicon of Zolar X, Zenith has been incarcerated since 2002, but is still listed as a current band member. Myers was the former drummer for LA’s “Shady Lady” before joining the original Zolar X, and his antics on and offstage made him the perfect fit for the band, a natural Zolarian.
Upon his release from Earth prison, Zenith will hopefully return to that reality, placing his robot frame back on the stage with his comrades, his circuitry adapting to the new tracks and his antennae picking up what Ygarr has laid down in his absence.
And there’s a lot to listen to. With renewed interest in Zolar X over the last five years, Ygarrist/Della Bosca has been busier than ever, writing hundreds of new tracks to unleash on the planet. The starship is now a flurry of activity, more organized than ever before. The mission seems clear, and this new clarity brings a new Zolar X.
I’ve been able to hear a few of the new tracks. “Life Signs from the Stars” features Raidia’s vocals over space chirps from all directions, with requisite guitar solo by Ygarr, the song getting more and more crunchy as it moves forward. “Welcome To Eternity” sounds like a Rocket Roll anthem. It starts clean and sharp, like it was made in a sterile metal room, offset with a jaw-harpy boiiing sound and sudden attacks of synth. Then it becomes layered chorus, building, building, more layers. Like our place in time in the cosmos, everything seems accelerated for Zolar X. “Point of View” is a tight progression, with Ygarr’s vocal lead and Raidia joining in the harmony. It’s true to the Zolar X trademark sound, but more evolved, more defined. More.
The new tracks, which truly seem to come from alien observations of earth music from 1970 forward, reformulated and enhanced, are rocket roll finally defined. Mathematical precision is placed on every change, and the addition of Raidia Visuals vocals give the sound a certain depth, introducing the lyrics to the listener in a way that Zolar X hasn’t done before.
The Plutonians are finally set for earth time to catch up to them. They want to help us; they want us to keep going; they urge us to “Get a Point of View”.
We’d be wise to follow their advice.