Ian Anderson 12:30 p.m., Oct. 15
R.I.P., Larry "Wild Man" Fischer, Frank Zappa's Discovery
I have dozens of answering-machine messages from Larry "Wild Man" Fischer, onetime Frank Zappa protégé and Doctor Demento perennial.
We became friends while he lived at various downtown flophouses in the late '80s and early '90s. Fischer made occasional public appearances, including a 1988 performance at the San Diego Comic-Con with Bill Lost in Space Mumy's band.
I helped the filmmakers behind DeRailroaded — a 2005 documentary about Fischer — track down film footage of that rare and unexpected concert (which I was lucky enough to attend with my then common-law wife Heather). I was thanked for my efforts with a (collect) call from Larry, whom I hadn't heard from in several years.
"They made a comic book about me," Larry announced. (The Legend of Wild Man Fischer, released in 2004, immortalized tales such as the time Fischer supposedly took a dump in a fan's closet.) We chatted about mutual friends, and then Fischer asked if I've played any of his records for anyone lately.
I reassured him that, yes, I still spin his stuff a lot and, yes, my guests are always amazed.
Okay, sometimes horrified. But always amazed.
DeRailroaded made its Southern California debut in West Hollywood a few weeks later. That was the last time I spoke with Larry.
I was just notified that Larry passed away yesterday at UCLA Hospital, from heart related complications. My own heart is heavy with sadness at this (not altogether unexpected) news. He was 66 years old.
DeRailroaded co-producer Josh Rubin says "Even though Larry never did reach the pinnacle of fame and fortune he so yearned for, he was successful in inspiring and influencing people from all over the world with his unique brand of music and expression."
The Fischer family is requesting that if you wish to honor Larry's memory, please make a donation to the National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://www.nami.org/
Here's a feature article about Larry that I did for the Reader a few years back. Please excuse the present-tense references, but I'm not ready to edit to reflect his passing.
AN INTERVIEW WITH WILD MAN FISCHER
Long before David Peel, Weird Al, Mojo Nixon and The Rugburns, Larry "Wild Man" Fischer was carving out his own distinctive niche in the history of rock 'n' roll novelty and cult music.
A street singer living on the obscure fringes of the L.A. subculture, in early 1968, Wild Man would sing anyone an original song for a dime. He offered these improvised and somewhat off-key ditties to anybody who'd listen, serenading unsuspecting passerbys with his most singular brand of certifiable loonyness.
Wild Man had been in and out of a few mental institutions, but he cut a charismatic figure, barely keeping his voice below a shout as he sang about his life, his dreams, his girlfriends, his family disowning him and any other subject that came into his head at any given moment. Disturbing and introspective songs, with lyrics which made it frighteningly easy to understand the sadness and desperation of Wild Man's merry-go-round world.
Already a cult figure among the city's rock 'n' roll intelligentsia, Wild Man came to the attention of another musical madman with an eye toward the satiric and outrageous: Frank Zappa.
Zappa had just recently begun his own record label, Bizarre, and something about Wild Man's rants intrigued him. In a move which seems strange even for Zappa, he put Wild Man in a recording studio. And let the tape roll. And roll.
Wild Man couldn't play any instruments, though he'd occasionally pick up a guitar and pound on it for sonic punctuation. He rapped and sang to empty air, about his mother and mental hospitals, about fame and circles and how he could move so fast that not even a cat could see him.
Zappa filled up a double album of material and then brought in The Mothers to record some musical accompaniment for a few cuts. The GTO's (Zappa's groupies-turned-rock-stars) and wunderkind producer Kim Fowley helped out, and thus was born the most unique album in the history of rock 'n' roll, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer.
Released in late 1968, Evening With was somewhat of a sensation, with songs like the a cappella "Merry Go Round" destined to become Doctor Demento staples. "Circle," with The Mothers, was even put out as a single, and Wild Man began playing fairs and clubs all over the country.
Rolling Stone even lent credibility to Wild Man's growing rep with a positive review of Evening With, saying that the double album "captures the total being of one strange member of the human community."
Wild Man would sing about his relationship with Zappa in later songs. He still complains that he never made money from the album and he can't recover the rights to his own masters, which are currently controlled by the late Zappa's wife, Gail. Yet he surprised most everyone by bouncing back in a big way.
Then-fledgling Rhino Records was just working toward their first album release, and it was decided that an LP of new Wild Man music would be their premier project. Wild Man had already penned their theme song, "Go To Rhino Records," and next came the full length stream-of-consciousness experiment known as the Wildmania LP.
A comprehensive overview of Wild Man's recorded output is unlikely, since Gail Zappa has publicly proclaimed her unwillingness to release the Evening With masters, citing it as a poor example of Frank's work. Wild Man kept landing in off the wall projects, however.
One new friend and compatriot named Mark Mothersbough, then of those robotic spudmeisters known as Devo, recruited him for an afternoon, to record a song (still unreleased) called "Fun With Your Body."
Except for the occasional concert, Wild Man withdrew almost completely from the music industry around 1985, and he's still disputing royalties owed by Rhino and Paramount (his lawsuit against Paramount was covered in Variety and elsewhere). He moved to San Diego to get away from the city where almost everyone seemed to know who he was.
Moving around between low key and low budget downtown hotels, he quietly became a San Diego street fixture, though he introduced himself only as "Larry" so people wouldn't connect him with his still somewhat famous Wild Man persona.
In August 1988, Bill Mumy came to town for the big San Diego Comic Book Convention, along with a few musician friends, all of whom were also moonlighting as comic book creators. Their new band was called Seduction Of The Innocent, after a famous 1950s book which had tried to cite comics as the source of all juvenile delinquency.
Wild Man was coerced onto the stage long enough for an incandescent set which included his doo wop ditty "The Taster" and an a cappella rendering of "Merry Go Round" ("I'm getting a little sick of that song" he now says about his best known tune). The crowd was rowdy and responsive, even those who weren't familiar with Wild Man. His ever increasing volume, enthusiasm and his spasmodic on-stage body language proved infectious, and the audience handed Wild Man the most earnest and sustained applause of the evening.
It was a rare performance, one of only two dozen or so "pro" gigs Wild Man can recall playing (he'd backed out on many more, becoming so undependable that few bookings were offered to him after so many no-shows).
Few are aware that, while in San Diego, Wild Man appeared in a locally-shot Rugburns video - the clip was only televised once, on local public access TV, and remains virtually unseen (no, you can't have my copy).
Wild Man was offered the chance to appear in the Rugburns promotional video by Bob Duffy, a friend of the band that Wild Man met at the local record store Garage Rock. The video project was being cooked up for the band's major label debut on Priority Records, Taking The World By Donkey.
The longform promo was shot in various locations around San Diego, interspersed with live clips and interview sound bites with the group, but it is Wild Man's running narrative which propels the oddball project. After airing the one time, nobody at MTV or VH1 was clamoring to show the video, and it was shelved.
Today, Wild Man can't decide whether he wants to ever record again. There is, in fact, some question as to who would even offer to do the recording. His fan base was never large enough to give him hit records, though his notoriety and fame was and is widespread, especially among Zappa's legion of admirers.
His psychological problems, like those suffered by Arthur Lee of Love, Roky Erickson of 13th Floor Elevators, and other Wild Man contemporaries who've never quite adjusted to the world around them, make it difficult for him to deal with the idea of getting back into the music industry.
I asked him if he was happier then or now.
"That's a hard question to answer," he offers after a rare and thoughtful pause (Wild Man's non-stop verbal barrage is, by his own admission, overwhelming to many). "I was younger. But now I don't have all the pressure, I'm not always trying to track down royalties and get work. My fame kind of subsided after the seventies. Now I don't get depressed as much."
He does enjoy San Diego and says "I'd like to spend the rest of my life here!"
He also likes San Diego 's yearly comic book convention, and even hopes to become involved in comics some day, perhaps with his good friend and biggest rah-rah supporter Bob Burden (creator of the well known Flaming Carrot comic book). He's been drawing primitive cartoons all his life, including illustrations for the jacket of his own Evening With debut.
To Wild Man, finding kindred souls in the cliquish comic book community was like finally finding himself a home on the Island of Misfit Toys, with all the other social outcasts and decidedly quirky comic fans and creators.
"I like the people in the comic business," he says. "They take me for who I am and I feel like I can relax at a place like the comic con. They're different from people involved in the music industry. I like them better because...because I'm not doing business with them!"
If he were to record another album, Wild Man does have new material.
"I wrote this song the other day, about this guy James, he used to be in The Penetrators. I met him at a bookstore." He then sings me the verse of another new composition, "Nobody's Happy":
"I'm walking down the street and nobody's happy
Yes they are, yes they are
No they're not, they're not happy."
He sings with alternating glee ("yes they are") and glum ("no they're not"). Up and down, back and forth, from depression to manic joy and back again.
Another autobiographical insight from a man who wears his heart, his emotions, and his entire self on his sleeve like perhaps no other performer in rock history.
Wild Man Fischer is happy.
No he's not.
Yes he is.
DeRailroaded recently aired on the IFC Channel and is now available on DVD. YouTube clip above is a bit of animation created for the cartoon, set to audio clips of Larry. All the imagery relates to his life and career. This is actually the full, unedited cartoon - only a portion of it appears in the DeRailroaded film.
The "mean bee" and "happy bee" drawings are by Larry himself. He drew the comic characters for me when he pitched a comic book series featuring his bi-polar bees (Flaming Carrot creator Bob Burden, a friend of Larry's considered publishing it).
I lent Larry's Bee drawings to Rhino Records for a CD set I wrote liner notes for, only they never returned the art to me. I knew I shoulda sent them a Xerox...
Here's Larry on the Jimmy Kimmel show in October 2004:
More like this:
- The Day Bob Dylan Called Me, plus My Best, Worst, and Fave Celeb Interviews Ever — May 30, 2008
- Interviews: Corky Laing, Edgar Winter, Wild Man Fischer, Joey Molland/Badfinger, Mojo Nixon — March 11, 2008
- Tattoos that rock and Wild Man Fischer finally talks — Dec. 26, 2007
- Locally-made John Lennon documentary film — Oct. 9, 2007
- His Name Is Larry — Dec. 15, 2005