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My Name Is Larry! My Name Is Larry!
December 29, 2005 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Derailroaded: Inside The Mind Of Wild Man Fischer. Larry "Wild Man" Fischer was a schizophrenic street musician on LA's Sunset Strip back in the hippie daze. Frank Zappa took him under his wing and produced a double album entitled An Evening With Wild Man Fischer (full audio available) [mi]
posted by jonmc (40 comments total)

 
Some considered the album grotesque and exploitative. Others merely gawked. Others saw a scrambled masterpiece shot through with humor and pathos. Some All of the above. After a fall-out with Zappa, Fischer recorded some more before dropping back into obscurity. A resurgence of interest in "outsider music," (and profiles by Irwin Chusid in a recent book and a graphical biography by Dennis Eichorn, have led to renewed interest. The linked documentary purports to tell the whole story and fill in the blanks.
posted by jonmc at 8:37 AM on December 29, 2005


Previous mention of Fischer in this GG Allin thread.
posted by jonmc at 8:38 AM on December 29, 2005


We just had an Xmas get-together where we listened to the full "An Evening With" (remind me to YSI them a no-skip version of the Taster).
I'm parta the Zeitgeist, mom!
posted by klangklangston at 8:39 AM on December 29, 2005


klangklangston: "We just had an Xmas get-together where we listened to the full "An Evening With" (remind me to YSI them a no-skip version of the Taster).
I'm parta the Zeitgeist, mom!
"


Whereas I haven't heard the thing since, oh, 1970 or so. And I've no desire to do so ever again.

But I am looking forward to the movie.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:48 AM on December 29, 2005


At last we can agree, Johnmc. I adore Fischer's recording of "Memories" made for, and never used by, the last episode of Pee Wee's Playhouse.
posted by maxsparber at 9:13 AM on December 29, 2005


I'm a big fan of the whole concept of outsider music, but I have to admit that the prospect of listening to an entire album of Wild Man's singing makes the thought of pouring molten lead into my ears strangely appealing.

I'll probably still check out the film though.
posted by MrBaliHai at 9:15 AM on December 29, 2005


At last we can agree, Johnmc.

Someday, I'm going to make a list of variants of that phrase used on Mefi, and post it on my user page. ;)

One thing revealed in the documentary is that happily, Fischer has recieved medical treatment that has lessened his suffering. Sadly, since recieving it he's uninterested in making music anymore.
posted by jonmc at 9:16 AM on December 29, 2005


Fischer has recieved medical treatment that has lessened his suffering. Sadly, since recieving it he's uninterested in making music anymore.

Well, he probably got sane enough to lose his taste for outsider music. It's why I stay off my meds.

Now back to my MP3s of Shooby Taylor.
posted by maxsparber at 9:20 AM on December 29, 2005


Well, he probably got sane enough to lose his taste for outsider music.

I realize you're just fucking around, but that cuts to the central controversy surrounding music like Wild Man, Wesley Willis, Lucia Pamela and others. Many listeners may be merely gawking and saying "Look at the weirdo!" And I'd be lying if I said I didn't find moments of inadvertant hilarity in all of them. But I also find Wild Man genuinely moving (and often funny on purpose, see "Monkeys Vs. Donkeys," and "Think Of Me When Your Clothes Are Off.") I find Wesley's enthusiasm for his music infectious as hell, and Lucia's loopiness was downright charming. Jandek & Daniel Johnston are more hit & miss, IMHO.
posted by jonmc at 9:25 AM on December 29, 2005


I personally listen to outsider music because I genuinely like it (or some of it, anyway; I really am a fan of Shooby). When I'm in a "listen to the weirdo" mood I go for my Shut Up Little Man CD.
posted by maxsparber at 9:36 AM on December 29, 2005


I highly recommend the Denny (double h) Eichhorn/ J.R. Williams comic anthology, which includes true adventures from when Eichhorn hosted a series of WMF concerts in the northwest. Hilarity ensued, but by the end no one on the ground found Larry's antics very amusing. Still, vicariously, they are a hoot! (disclosure: one of the stories, involving naked Larry, lots of cash, a knife and a bunch of stoned hippies, originally appeared in my magazine Scram.)
posted by Scram at 9:36 AM on December 29, 2005


Now back to my MP3s of Shooby Taylor.

The best ever. To anybody who hasn't heard him link here.
posted by Dr No at 9:37 AM on December 29, 2005


originally appeared in my magazine Scram.

I think I have a few copies of old Scrams lying around my house. Nice work, my friend.
posted by jonmc at 9:38 AM on December 29, 2005


Well, that should be an interesting flick. Thanks for the heads-up!
posted by languagehat at 9:47 AM on December 29, 2005


The Wildman Fischer / Rosemary Clooney duet "It's A Hard Business," is in heavy rotation in this household.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:51 AM on December 29, 2005


I spent some time with Larry back in the late 70s. He was funny, self-deprecatingly sweet and weird, but no weirder than a lot of old hippies were in those days. I've known some schizophrenics, and at least at that point, he was much less crazy than them.
posted by rodii at 10:08 AM on December 29, 2005


Are you going to make 45 comments in this thread, too, MC Johnny?
posted by Plutor at 11:12 AM on December 29, 2005


I realize you're just fucking around, but that cuts to the central controversy surrounding music like Wild Man, Wesley Willis, Lucia Pamela and others.

Goddamnit I miss Wesley Willis. Was I hallucinating or did I see SNL do a cover of Wesley Willis' "Merry Christmas" last Christmas Eve? (I swear I was just channel flipping. Don't hurt me.)

To bring it back on topic, aren't we really talking about gradients, here? I'm having a hard time thinking of any not-boring wholly "sane" musicians. Or artists for that matter. Some are just dorkier/freakier or more outside the norm than others.
posted by loquacious at 11:22 AM on December 29, 2005


I'm having a hard time thinking of any not-boring wholly "sane" musicians.

Well, loq, acting eccentric and hearing voices in your head are two very different things. So that does make the matter a little stickier.
posted by jonmc at 11:26 AM on December 29, 2005


I've wanted to do a post on Peter Grudzien and his amazing album The Unicorn for awhile now, but there's hardly anything online about the guy at all. Too bad - this one ranks right up there with the very best 'crazy stuff' I've ever heard.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:39 AM on December 29, 2005


*waves star-spangled banner somewhere for stinkycheese*
posted by jonmc at 11:42 AM on December 29, 2005


*hands jonmc some kentucky candy*
posted by stinkycheese at 11:44 AM on December 29, 2005


Larry and I were at a Wesley Willis concert together in which he enjoyed. He later got the chance to meet Wesley. Wesley is constantly being compared to Wild Man, and was very excited to meet Larry. Larry was fairly shy as he approached Wesley. Wesley shouted, "Wild Man Fischer! It is Good To Meet You! You Are a Poet!!" Larry surprisingly got offended and walked away! Wesley then began to shout, "WILD MAN FISCHER!! WHERE ARE YOU GOING??" It turned out to be a big misunderstanding. Larry thought that Wesley ACTUALLY thought he was a poet! I told Larry that Wesley meant it as a compliment, and Larry still insists that Wesley has no idea who he is, and has never heard his music!

Like Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta, or Nixon and Elvis in Washington, Wesley Willis and Wild Man Fischer ranks up there as one of the Greatest Meetings Of All Time. I only wish I could've been there to see it.

Wild Man Fischer often got frequent play on the Dr. Demento show when I was growing up. I never realized exactly how mad the man behind "Let's merry-go, MERRY-GO, Merry-Go-Round, TOOT TOOT TOOT" was.

I'm selling peeeeeanuts... for the Doooooodgers....
posted by Spatch at 12:06 PM on December 29, 2005


best xmas present this year was the mp3 double set "An Evening With..." even though it was at least 20 years since I last heard it, the 2nd side, the solo song side, with Eighty Five Times and The Leaves are Falling, not to mention the new bedtime classic Monkeys Vs. Donkeys... Wow. Thanks, Klang.

I used to sing MvD and Cops & Robbers to the boys when they were toddlers. The three of us cackled with glee to hear Larry Fischer sing to us again.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:43 PM on December 29, 2005


Wild Man Fischer was a symptom of the degeneration of 1960s music, and Frank Zappa's delusion that he was creating a popular music less inebriated and self-indulgent than the cocktail glass-clinking, "Caravan with a drum solo" requesting middle-aged music establishment that he satirized and which preceded him. Zappa patronized and elevated the drooling psycho Fischer, for the same reason Frank Sinatra patronized and elevated the mediocre Joey Bishop -- just to prove he was powerful enough to do it.
At the same time, Zappa's music was becoming psychotic in its own right, with its obsessive time signatures, tight charts, and the forced subservience of his sidemen to his mediocre guitar-playing and potty-mouth humor.
As I suggested in a previous post about that other screaming "outsider" bore, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, actual crazy people rank fairly low in the pantheon of 60's weirdness. The real action was with the putatively sane, such as the Godz, the Holy Modal Rounders, the Fugs first two albums, etc.
In any case, the appreciation of "outsider" art is a definitive post-art phenomenon. If you're going to admire drawings by Robert Rauschenberg or Cy Twombly, which look like they were scribbled by a mental case with a movement disorder, why not go and seek and appreciate drawings that actually are done by mental cases with movement disorders?
Why admire artists who play at being primitives, when there are real-life primitives among us?
This is what we see in rap and hip hop. Throughout the 60s and 70s, pop stars played at being superficial, sex-obsessed, misogynist, criminal nihilists. In the 90s, the mass audience migrated to a generation of pop stars who actually ARE superficial, sex-obsessed, misogynist, criminal nihilists.
When I hear Jay-Z or 50 Cent, I get the same queasy feeling I get when I listen to Wild Man Fischer.
posted by Faze at 12:56 PM on December 29, 2005


Why admire artists who play at being primitives, when there are real-life primitives among us?

I think that was kind of Zappa's point, Faze. He took the hippie infatuation with the "unfettered mind," and said "Oh yeah? Are you sure?" by unleashing Fisher on them. This was somewhat cruel on his part, and Wild Man manages to inadvertantly foil him by actually being entertaining in a goofy way, but I think Zappa's intent shows through.
posted by jonmc at 1:00 PM on December 29, 2005


Jonmc -- I'll grant the possibility that Zappa unleashed Fischer as a self-conscious critique of the 60s "unfettered mind." But what was he thinking by sponsoring the GTOs and Alice Cooper? I say it was his ego at work again. Unlike the Beatles, whose Apple Corps actually sought talented contemporaries like Badfinger, Zappa signed almost exclusively pathetic losers. The only non-pathetic-loser temporarily under his wing, Don Van Vliet, fell out with him quite quickly.
posted by Faze at 1:29 PM on December 29, 2005


But what was he thinking by sponsoring the GTOs and Alice Cooper?

With the GTO's, I'm guessing,..nooky.

As for Alice? Alice was for the younger brothers and sisters of the hippies stranded in the detritus of the flower-power era, who just couldn't countenance the hippy-dippy hubris and pseudorevolutionary pretensions. They wanted flash and violence and catchy tunes. And Alice delivered. If you can't see the brilliance in songs like "Eighteen," and "I Love the Dead," I don't know what to tell you.
posted by jonmc at 1:33 PM on December 29, 2005


The only non-pathetic-loser temporarily under his wing, Don Van Vliet, fell out with him quite quickly.

Quickly? They've been friends since childhood. Sure they've had their off & on times but I would call it a falling out.

I'm sure while Zappa could appear as calulating as hell when it came to springing Alice Cooper, the GTOs, Tim Buckley, WMF et al, on the general public but I always saw it as a genuine interest on his part, for outside music. I think you give him too much credit.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:50 PM on December 29, 2005


Paging Freud... wouldn't call it a falling out.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:51 PM on December 29, 2005


Faze, your analysis of the times seems to me like perhaps you are someone who read the era from a book--a little recherche cherry-picking. Don Van Vliet fell out with him quite quickly? How do figure? Their relationship lasted from high school in Lancaster through at least _Bongo Fury_ and that is a period of 15 years minimum. Alice Cooper, whatever you or I may think of him, has proven to be a commercial talent for nearly three decades.

I think a better reading of Zappa's intent with the various entities he promoted on Straight Records was his reaction to the A&R man back in 64-65 who declared that the Mothers of Invention had "no commercial potential." His M.O. was always to put his thumb in the eye of commercial potential.

Zappa's music "got psychotic"? How. The various points your raise--if one can call them points (what, pray tell is "an obsessive time signature"?)--are not co-evolutionary in Zappa's work--that is they cannot be linked to his promotion of these other bands as some sort of attack on you, Faze, the listener.

First, his assault on you the listener was always a part of his music. Second, the various irregular (obsessive?) time signatures are evident on his Verve work and arguably come from his love of Varese and Stravinsky not on some need to speak to you personally. Third, and I'll leave this here for now, Badfinger? C'mon, Badfinger? Apple's back catalog is littered with quite a few questionable picks, but if you pick Badfinger as an even touching Alice Cooper's (let alone Captain Beefheart's) cape, you have suffered already a mortal blow to your credibility.

Oh--I can't let it go there. His "forced subservience" of band members? I won't argue that Zappa was a kind and benevolent band leader--too much says otherwise. But it WAS his band. Underwood (Ruth or Ian) were not forced at gunpoint to stay or to leave. You want a tyrannical band leader? Read up on Charles Mingus. How does "forcing" the band to play what he wanted have any bearing on any of the other issues? Bah.
posted by beelzbubba at 1:55 PM on December 29, 2005


I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but Zappa was about as psychotic and deranged as they come. If he wasn't making music he'd be making real human flesh suits and clitoris soup in his mother's dingy, walled off basement.

"...take the cookie... ...put the cookie into your eating hole..."
posted by loquacious at 2:03 PM on December 29, 2005


Psychosis is a generic psychiatric term for mental states in which the components of rational thought and perception are severely impaired. Persons experiencing a psychosis may experience hallucinations, hold delusional beliefs (e.g. paranoid delusions), demonstrate personality changes and exhibit disorganized thinking (see thought disorder). This is often accompanied by lack of insight into the unusual or bizarre nature of such behavior, difficulties with social interaction and impairments in carrying out the activities of daily living. A psychotic episode is often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality".

Hmmm. Dahmer was deranged, not necessarily psychotic.

Zappa? doesn't fit either definition. Read his autobiography. REad what Groening has written about him. Overblown egomaniac? OK, I'll buy it. Psychotic? Deranged? Yeah, crazy like a fox.
posted by beelzbubba at 2:17 PM on December 29, 2005


Fischer also made a record with Smegma, who were (and indeed still are) profoundly interesting after 30 years. Still play together once a week & have had a resurgence of shows/tours lately, on the back of Wolf Eyes' enthusiasm for their particular type of puke-shuffle-squawk.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:52 PM on December 29, 2005


lordy, when will people learn? vince furnier was a singular talent who was always backed by some of the best bands in rock. shlocky? yes. but amazing.
posted by 3.2.3 at 5:04 PM on December 29, 2005


> At the same time, Zappa's music was becoming psychotic in its own right, with its obsessive
> time signatures, tight charts, and the forced subservience of his sidemen to his mediocre guitar-
> playing and potty-mouth humor.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! Oh, Frankie. Mefi more than takes care of the potty-mouth but I mess the 7/8-against-3/4. Who else is doing it? John Zorn is a pipsqueak and he doesn't work hard enough.
posted by jfuller at 5:18 PM on December 29, 2005


"mediocre guitar-playing and potty-mouth humor."

Potty mouth? OK...so? Mediocre guitar playing? You must be effin' nuts, Faze.
posted by black8 at 5:26 PM on December 29, 2005


Wild Man Fischer was a symptom of the degeneration of 1960s music
posted by 3.2.3 at 11:00 AM on December 30, 2005


Faze, your analysis of the times seems to me like perhaps you are someone who read the era from a book--a little recherche cherry-picking.

In case anyone's still listening, I have since regretted not stopping into that Bleeker Street joint I walked past in --what was it -- 1966? -- with the placard out front advertising something called the Mothers of Invention. I've since heard it was pretty interesting. As it was, I didn't catch up with the Mothers until three years later, when they were on tour supporting their last good album, "We're only in it for the Money." It was a great show, but the band was way, way, way too tight. Tighter than the Buckinghams, for crying out loud. It was clear Zappa was on some kind of control trip, and it made this particular hippy a little nervous. Becuase the music he was making with all that control, was not that all that great. A little more songwriting, and a lot fewer time changes would have helped.
As for the falling out between Zappa and Beefheart -- I would call it an artistic falling out. Zappa couldn't bear the fact that "Willie the Pimp" stole "Lumpy Gravy" right out from under him, and that the young people of America were listening to "Willie the Pimp," and ignored Zappa's naive attempts to become a "modern" composer.
He used to laugh at the A & R man who said the Mothers might be as big as the Turtles, but now that it's all over (and two of the Turtles have done time with the Mothers), I'd rather listen to "Eleanore" by the Turtles, than all the 1001 self-indulgent albums Zappa put out after "Only in the for the Money."
Oh yeah, and Beefheart -- after the brilliant "Safe as Milk," and amazing and accidentally great "Strictly Personal," he made "Trout Mask Replica" for Zappa -- going against everything he had produced before, and acting like a mental retard in order to please Zappa, his old friend, who did not care to have Beefheart upstaging him on his own label. (The only thing on that whole two-disc torture session worth saving is the phrase "fast and bulbus." Throw the rest away.)
Once Beefheart was free of Zappa, he became interesting again, and embarked on a sincere artistic odyssey, well worth dipping into here and there.
If you want to talk about Zappa's biography, ask his daughter, to whom he paid no attention whatsoever as she was growing up, and who had to do "Valley Girl" for him to get his attention.
Now, having said all this, I should also add that I bow to no one in my admiration for disc one of "Freak Out," "Absolutely Free," and most of "We're only in it for the Money."
If you don't think Zappa is a mediocre guitarist, listen to the solo on "Trouble Comin' Every Day." I'm here to testify that even LSD couldn't make that thing interesting.
posted by Faze at 6:42 PM on December 30, 2005


Very late to the party but I just stumbled on this from here:
These are the only known "pre-Zappa" recordings of Wild Man Fischer.

posted by tellurian at 8:38 PM on January 23, 2006


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