Tag Archives: H. L. Menken

R.I.P. Wild Man Fischer

One of the great things about college radio – at least back then – was that you could play anything you wanted to. I had a late night radio show where pretty much anything hit the airwaves depending upon my mood, whether it was progressive rock, powerpop or comedy. Since there were no commercials – and since I refused to play the news that was recorded and scheduled for the top of the hour – four hours of programming was a shape-shifting blob of whimsy.

Except for times when I would play a lengthy prog tune (often an entire album side) to buy myself time for a snack and a bathroom break, the world was my aural oyster. The station was serviced by most record companies, although thanks to collegiate theft, we usually had to bring our own vinyl. The station was usually staffed by the DJ and no one else, so many of the classics disappeared not long after their arrival.

One album that didn’t was An Evening With Wild Man Fischer.

Look at that cover. And this was an effort blessed by Frank Zappa? If you’re a college DJ in the early 70’s, you have to put that on the turntable. And when you did, the first thing you heard was a deranged man yelping the refrain of  “Merry Go Round” over percussion supplied by paint buckets and tambourines. You really don’t want a song like this stuck in your head:

Come on, let’s merry-go, MERRY-go, merry-go-round.
Boop-boop-boop.
Merry-go, MERRY-go, merry-go-round.
Boop-boop-boop. …

Video: “Merry Go Round

And it just got stranger from there. Of course, when you’re young and immature, you’re not thinking to yourself  “here’s a guy who’s obviously suffering from a mental disorder; this is sad“. No…you’re playing this for anyone who will listen and laughing your asses off in disbelief that anyone this atonal actually had a record deal. Given the times, an itinerant street poet dumping his thoughts into a microphone was perfectly acceptable. This was the counterculture, after all.

Video: Wild Man Fischer on the streets

But in reality, Larry Fischer was a man suffering from both acute schizophrenia and manic depression who had been institutionalized as a teen and now took to the streets selling songs for a dime whenever he felt the pep (his word for muse/inspiration, likely when his manic side kicked in). Soon his window of fame with Zappa would close, although he would later get more notoriety via Dr. Demento and by collaborating with Barnes and Barnes; he was also immortalized in comic form.

A quarter century later, on a much bigger stage, the entertainment industry would use William Hung for its own amusement in a far sicker display of public humiliation. But then again, as all television producers have learned, Americans will do anything to get on television, including debasing themselves, in pursuit of what is mistaken for celebrity. Several of the most popular shows on television are based upon the concept of people exposing their faults or fabricating a lifestyle to feed the voyeuristic, isolationist society that we have become. H.L. Menken once said that “nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public“. I don’t think he realized an entire industry would be created in the process.

But these celebretards are all too eager to volunteer. Larry was drafted.

Knowing all that I do about Frank Zappa, what was once a benign thought is now a curious question. Was Frank simply flipping the bird to the pop culture establishment by posturing Fischer as a street poet genius while putting some coin in his and Larry’s pockets? Or was Frank so prescient about the banality of pop culture that this was simply another absurdist cash cow, a latter day Elephant Man who would be carnival-barkered to the public for a short shelf-life and then disposed of when done?

Larry released three records for Rhino, but this original album has never been issued on CD because Gail Zappa owns the rights. (Apparently, Larry once threw a jar at her daughter’s head, terminating his relationship with Frank. Gail can hold a grudge.)Ironically, last week I stumbled across a documentary about Larry’s life entitled Derailroaded. While waiting for my copy to arrive, I hit the Internet on Friday in search of some reviews and comments about the film, which is how I learned of his passing on June 16th.

Larry Fischerdead at 66.

The words rest in peace have rarely been more appropriate.

"My name is Larrrr-y..."

***

And just as was set to release the above post, I learned that The Big Man has sadly left us as well. Clarence Clemons died last night from complications following a recent stroke.

I’ll let Bruce Springsteen’s words say it for me:

Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”

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Filed under Comedy, Editorials, Music

TV or not TV? That’s always the question…

Hey you! PUT DOWN THAT REMOTE!

Hey you! PUT DOWN THAT REMOTE!

I don’t really have that much time to watch television, nor have there been many recent shows that have me glued to the screen. And that’s probably a good thing. People (especially here in America) spend far too much time sitting in a chair mesmerized by the Idiot Box. The networks have increasingly offered to meet us more than halfway by offering such a slate of vapid, soulless programming that one would have thought they were trying to clear the room, not build an audience. But what’ s that famous quote?

“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

Ah, yes, H.L. Mencken. Touché, sir. Talent shows controlled by massive ego-maniacal D-listers. Balding rockers swapping spit with living, breathing breast implant shelves. Overly dramatic game shows. Embarrassing confessional group therapy hosted by people with only first names. Celebretards basking in their shallow celebretard lives. And yet America laps it up like a starved pack of feral monkeys. (I’m not certain that feral monkeys would ever be that hungry, but I like the way that sentence rolls off the tongue. Back to my story…)

Of course, if anything does work, the networks are quick to clone it ad nauseum. We’re probably a season or two away from CSI: Little Rock and Law And Order: Traffic Scofflaw, but if we keep buying, they’ll keep selling. However, I have found a few new moments of fun amid all the hospital sleepover camp dramas and the hyperbolic news magazine exposes. But one is already dead, and the future doesn’t look bright for the others. So tune in quick!

 

fringe-tv

Fringe, like The X-Files, combines elements of both science fiction and cop shows, and has an appealingly quirky lead actress paired with a sarcastic and smart partner. I thought they went way over the top with the character of Walter, who interrupts normal conversations with childlike tangential observations, but John Noble has brought great sympathy and depth to a character who could have easily been a cartoon. The cast is first-rate, the Outer Limits plots surreal, and it looks great. Definitely one where you want to revisit all the season’s episodes once more prior to the finale.

castle-tv

Castle initially looked like the bastard child of Moonlighting and Murder She Wrote, but it’s growing on me week by week. Yes, the female detective is by-the-book (and smokin’ hot) and the charming newcomer is a wise-ass with a brain behind the clown facade. A good supporting cast that’s underused, with one exception. Susan Sullivan is a fine actress and probably a nice person, but her “Mom” character needs to fall down an elevator shaft ASAP – the show stops dead in its tracks when her character is in focus. Good chemistry between the leads and a smart kid who seems like a normal kid, not a prop.

better-off-ted-tv

Better Off Ted was initially very disappointing; perhaps I was underwhelmed after all the hype (I tend to do that) or maybe the first episode just wasn’t that funny. But I stuck with it because the jokes that were working were so sly and the dialogue delivered so dryly that I hoped they were just finding their voice. I’m glad I did – the last couple of episodes were not only hilarious but politically incorrect. Many critics compare the show to Arrested Development, and while I think fans of one will like the other, this show – hell, any show – has a long hill to climb to get to that level. But the writing is great (creator Victor Fresco was also behind Andy Richter Controls The Universe) and the cast is perfect; I hope they give it time to grow. (Bonus: The Veridian Dynamic commercials are killer!)

parks-and-recreation-tv

Parks and Recreation will sink or swim on Amy Poehler’s efforts, and she is one comedienne who is unafraid to make a complete fool of herself in the process. But the supporting cast is also strong, especially Aziz Ansari as her self-serving peer in the department office. Shot in the same mockumentary style as The Office – and slotted immediately prior to it on the schedule – it should appeal to the same audience if it can somehow make an uncommon setting seem familiar to viewers. I suspect we’ll meet the oddballs of the town (read: star cameos) to help boost interest. Looks like it has potential, has been very funny in spots.

life_on_mars-tv

I already waxed poetic about Life On Mars in an earlier post, so I won’t rehash that here. I just hope there is a DVD complete with the brilliant musical selections that helped make the show as enjoyable as the acting and plot. Obviously not many people saw it the first time around, so if that was you, don’t mess up twice.

Most of the above shows have episodes available online – check them out when you have a chance. I’ll have thoughts on my favorite returning shows of the season and my biggest disappointments in an upcoming blog.

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Filed under Editorials, Film/TV, Reviews