East of Eden were, originally, an early British jazz-rock band, founded in Bristol in 1967 by Dave Arbus (trumpet, saxophones, flute), Ron Caines (alto saxophone), and Geoff Nicholson (guitar). As it turned out, Arbus' main and best instrument was violin, and once he tried amplifying it (inspired by seeing a young Jean-Luc Ponty), it would become an important part of the group's sound, experimental pop/rock that incorporated elements of jazz, blues, Middle-Eastern music, and a touch of Bartok (or so said the sleeve notes on their debut disque), and punched little holes in the song form, leaving plenty of room for improvisation and sudden twists and turns of style and mood.

Their first LP, on Decca's "underground" label Deram was Mercator Projected (1969), which probably got more attention for its cover star, Alf Naked (with, IIRC, a map of the world projected on her back), than for the very good music within, innovative (for its day) early progressive rock. A lost semi-classic of late British Psychedelia, neither as epic as the debut of their contemporaries King Crimson, nor as magical or clever, respectively, as those of (The) Pink Floyd or (The) Soft Machine.

They gigged and gigged in the UK and on the continent, and released an equally-wonderful second LP, Snafu (1970), to slightly greater notice. But then, a strange thing happened -- they became pop stars, if only for a moment; "Ramadhan" from that album became a top ten hit in France, while the album lumbered into the lower reaches of the UK top thirty.

Then, a year later, "Jig-A-Jig", a fiddle-driven Celtic number they'd play live as an encore, and recorded, presumably, to fill out Snafu, hit the UK top ten. Arbus also gained some ubiquity around that time for his tour-de-force on The Who's "Baba O'Riley", for which he's probably most remembered today, even if you don't recognize his name. By this point, the original East of Eden was no more; Decca put out a "greatest hits" LP, to try to cash in, while Arbus, now signed to Harvest (EMI's "underground" label, though in 1971 there wasn't really such an underground) formed a new, dull, just-plain-rock East of Eden, perhaps a cash-in attempt of his own. It didn't work -- A New Leaf makes a fine black-vinyl frisbee.

The original founders reunited a few years back, and have put out a couple of CDs, but nothing to rival what they did in their early years.

East of Eden
by John Steinbeck
Paperback: 608 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books; (June 18, 2003)
ISBN: 0142004235

Recently, this book is more well-known for being the one that resurrected Oprah's Book Club. However, even before then, it was certainly not lacking in acclaim. In a letter, Steinbeck wrote "I think there is only one book to a man" and "always before I held something back for later. Nothing is held back here."

Beginning in 1862, the novel opens with Cyrus Trask, a man who enters the Civil War and swiftly leaves it again when he is grievously wounded in his first glimpse of combat. With almost fanatical zeal, he raises his two sons, Charles and Adam, to aspire to the glories of war that he never attained. However, the two boys are different as night and day. One will win their father's favour with seemingly effortless ease and the other, despite all that he tries, will be left only with his own envy and hate. Thus begins a cycle of brotherly rivalry that echoes the relationship between Cain and Abel, a cycle of tragedy and jealousy that is only heightened by the arrival of Cathy Ames. The cold, manipulative Cathy quickly worms her way into Adam's arms, driving the brothers further apart.

Adam and Cathy come to settle in the Salinas Valley where their lives become entwined with those of the Hamiltons, poor but honest, salt-of-the-earth people who refuse to let their barren farmland spoil their love for life. Once she gives birth to twin sons, Aron and Caleb, Cathy leaves in search of greener pastures, leaving Adam behind, a broken and empty shell. With almost painful inevitability, the twins fall into the same fatal patterns that plagued their father and uncle. With the loss of Cathy, his Eve, Adam does not have enough love left in him for both his sons. One of them can never do enough to win his father's love. In Adam's eyes, he will always remain in his brother's shadow. His love for his father spurned, out of rage and spite, he turns on his brother.

The heart of this book is revealed by one of its characters, Lee, the Chinese servant of Adam Trask. He discusses the story of Cain and Abel and says, "I think this is the best-known story in the world because it is everybody's story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul." East of Eden similarly shows the universality of the Cain and Abel story, that humans want to love and be loved in return and when faced with rejection, it can just as easily turn to hate. However, it also proposes a solution, that we are not simply slaves to the past, forced to perpetuate the sins of the father. With compassion and forgiveness, there is hope that we can break out of the cycles of guilt and pain that imprison us and one day find our own happiness.

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