A quick rise to fame followed by a sharp decline into drugs and obscurity is such a rock ’n’ roll cliche, it’s hardly worth documenting in most cases; The Seeds are not “most cases.”
The Los Angeles band’s poppy-but-sinister sound, fully realized on their only serious hit, the 1965 single “Pushin’ Too Hard,” helped define the era’s garage-rock genre alongside contemporaries such as The Sonics, The Standells, Question Mark and The Mysterians, The Troggs and The Monks.
The story of how The Seeds reached those heights — and how they fell from them — will be on the big screen in Yakima on Tuesday as documentarian Neil Norman brings his 2014 feature “The Seeds: Pushin’ Too Hard” to town for two screenings and question-and-answer sessions.
“I saw the effect they had on people,” said Norman, whose father founded GNP Crescendo Records, the small label on which the band found stardom. “I’m old enough now where I want to start telling the stories. Some of them are mind-blowing. It was like Beatlemania: women screaming and ripping off their clothes and throwing their underwear up on the stage.”
That was at The Seeds’ commercial peak in 1967, when “Pushin’ Too Hard” rose to No. 36 nationally, hitting No. 1 on regional charts up and down the West Coast. The band made television appearances, spread the notion of “flower power” and reveled in the adoration heaped upon them by teeny-bopper fans.
As Norman’s documentary shows, though, that fame was fleeting. Archival footage of the band at its rocking best is cut with band-member interviews detailing the growing fissure between charismatic frontman Sky Saxon (nee Richard Marsh) and the rest of the group.
Saxon, whose sneering delivery influenced Iggy Pop and whose darkly mystic undercurrent influenced Jim Morrison, spiraled into drug abuse and eventually joined the fringe religious commune The Source Family.
“I remember stories of Iggy and Sky being passed out on the floor together in the ’70s when they were both doing drugs in their dark days,” Norman said.
The Seeds released its last GNP Crescendo Records album, “Raw & Alive: The Seeds in Concert at Merlin’s Music Box,” in 1968, the same year drummer Rick Andridge and guitarist Jan Savage left the band.
In 1970 keyboardist Daryl Hooper, whose playing did as much to define the band’s sound as Saxon’s singing, also left. Saxon soldiered on with replacements, but by 1972 the band was no more.
All of that turmoil is explored in rich detail in Norman’s film, which features modern-day interviews with both active participants such as Savage and Hooper and with those who watched it happen, such as influential Los Angeles disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer and rock Svengali and cult figure Kim Fowley. Norman, who runs GNP Crescendo now and has had a long recording career himself, also speaks in the film.
Rounding up notable figures for interviews was easy, he said. Potential interviewees recognized his credibility as a documentarian because he was there in the 1960s and toured as a roadie with the band before attending UCLA film school. Besides which, recording artists such as Iggy Pop, Bruce Johnston (The Beach Boys), Johnny Echols (Love) and Susanna Hoffs, Debbi Peterson and Victoria Peterson (The Bangles), wanted to appear in the film because they’re fans of The Seeds.
“Iggy Pop, he jumped right on the bandwagon,” Norman said. “He said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll do that.’”
Those interviews speak to the band’s lasting legacy in general and that of the single “Pushin’ Too Hard” in particular. That single, which has a place on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list “500 Songs That Shaped Rock,” is viewed these days as a protopunk landmark and credited with helping to lay the foundation for punk rock.
“In retrospect, everybody loves their work,” Norman said. “The Seeds were just kind of underground. It’s not the same old stuff, so people have a respect for that.”