All Gates Open: The Story of Can By Rob Young & Irmin Schmidt
Published Jun 08, 2018All Gates Open: The Story of Can tells the story of a band cobbled together from oddball pieces in times of great tumult. As founding members, there are Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay (both students of Karlheinz Stockhausen) who were looking to break new musical ground. Drummer Jaki Liebezeit needed a change from the free jazz scene he was involved with, and Can's fresh Krautrock sound came along at just the right time.
Even original singer Malcolm Mooney was somewhat adrift when Can was being formed. His story, which is by far the most interesting, involves draft dodging, auctioning off other people's art without permission, and an eventual slip into crippling mental health issues. Although, the tale of second singer Kenji "Damo" Suzuki, featuring a stage production of Hair, a small Swedish village, and some "real juicy" cake, does give Mooney's story a run for its money.
This is just the beginning of Can. All Gates Open takes you on a journey with a band that progressed through some heady eras: hippy backlash in the '60s, the European Union coming together, and '70s open-mindedness as a "post-war generation sought enlightenment," to name a few. Simultaneously, they dealt with a plethora of personal problems too — singers leaving, tours being cancelled, shady managers tripping them up — which made for a hectic life and incredibly riveting music. All Gates Open does a great job of gluing together all these scattered elements to explain the truly seminal music that came out of Can's studio.
The book is comprehensive, almost to a fault. It clocks in at just under 600 pages (including the index), and the hardcover is heavy enough to rob a bank with. Basically, this is only for true Can fans. It's great to read details about classic records like Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi, but these descriptions often come with a track-by-track review that gets a tad tedious after a while. There are also a ton of tidbits and cul-de-sac narratives that are likely only going to interest those who've already gone deep down the Can rabbit hole. If you do find the band an intriguing topic, however, then All Gates Open is an absolute treasure trove.
One thing we will say is, when you think the book is over, do keep reading. After Young's Notes section there are transcripts from a few interviews that actually have some of the best content in the book. There, you have interviews, not just with Schmidt, but with Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto), Bobby Gillespie and Geoff Barrow of Portishead — there's even a full conversation between Mark E. Smith and Schmidt in a crowded London bar that makes opening this can of worms totally worth it. (Faber & Faber)