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The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: An Afternoon with Wild Man Fischer

Larry "Wild Man" Fischer, who has died of heart problems at the age of 66, was one of rock's true outsider artists. Signed in 1968 to Frank Zappa's Bizarre label, he enjoyed a brief renaissance in the late '70s, when Sandy Robertson interviewed him for Sounds--Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages

The first time I met Larry Fischer was early one Sunday morning in the shadow of the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood, at the fabled once-monthly "swap meet," where record-collecting crazies of Los Angeles get up at 5 a.m. to wander round the parking lot and cream their jeans over Kinks B-sides and hard to find albums like Debbie Harry's Wind In The Willows epic and Rick Nielsen/Tom Petersson young and long haired in a pre-Cheap Trick band called The Fuse.

The folks from Rhino Records introduced me at my own risk to a frizzy-haired and bearded fellow clad in a brown leather coat, who spent the next twenty minutes or so pacing, rolling his eyes, gesticulating and generally berating me for allowing Frank Zappa to put him down in the pages of Sounds. I made an excuse and said I'd call him about an interview.

Several days later I primed myself for the onslaught, but was surprised to find that the man whose own mother had him committed to a mental institution (twice) was in a (reasonably) calm mood.

For those who don't know the story, Fischer was a shy kid who decided to write his own songs and sing them to people. "People" thought he was a complete psycho, and after his asylum bouts (nothing to do with David Geffen) he ended up singing for dimes on the streets of Hollywood, a situation which prompted Francis V. Zappa (a famed social commentator and collector of weirdos) to record him. All this is documented on the sometimes funny/sometimes harrowing audio verité  Bizarre/Reprise double album An Evening With Wild Man Fischer, issued in 1968.

Almost ten years went by before Fischer got a chance to do a second record, Wildmania (put out a while back by L. A.'s enterprising Rhino label), and not surprisingly he still feels that Zappa wasn't much better than the rest of society, in that he used him as a vehicle for some kind of sub-Mothers social commentary and then ditched him back in the gutter to struggle along on welfare.

"He did help me. I mean, nobody else wanted me, but at the same time he.... after a while I started thinking he was just trying to blow people's minds any way he could." Ahhh, do you think your stuff is too weird to be accepted? "No. I thought my stuff was very good, in fact...I guess it is kind of unusual, though".

The best Wild Man music (in this writer's opinion) occurs when he gives up his on the spot street hollering and uses overdubs/instrumentation, like the psychedelic 'Circle' or the Fifties-ish 'The Taster', where Zappa got to manufacture song structures to his heart's content. So why don't you get a regular band together? "It's difficult for me to work with other musicians, I'm too nervous...

"Everbody," he muses, "likes music 'cause it uplifts them, right? That's why so many people like Bob Seger's 'Night Moves,' it makes 'em feel good. OK. So my next album'll be with all music, yes it more than likely will be...maybe, 50/50 chance, if I ever make another album." Doesn't he want success then?

"Yeah, but it's hard. I lived in a fantasy world, I thought I was gonna be a star. Zappa...HE'S the big star and you're just the person that's being produced by him." He suddenly asks, "You like the first album better, don't you!? 'Cause you think of it as a Zappa album?!"

I do prefer the Evening album, but I'm no fan of Mr Z., especially after meeting the idiot.

"Did you call him an idiot to his face?"

Nope?

"You shouldn't have done that...You're jealous of Zappa!"

Heyyyyy! I just thought he was a really boring person.

"Everybody's jealous of Zappa because he always winds up with the money, and most people who play his kind of music don't get anything, right!? Bonzo Dog Band, or someone like that..."

I try to explain that I just don't enjoy cynicism in any form...Trying for another tack I push him on questions about his mother and the cruelty of the world towards anyone who dares to step out of line, but pinning Larry down to one subject at a time proves difficult, to say the least. He does offer some observations on his, er, roots, however.

"My family...look how my life turned out. It was embarrassing for them'. Y'know, I'm Jewish...they teach you to become accountants and lawyers and doctors and stuff, so I didn't become that. The music business's difficult, OK? How many people pull through with flying colours? And when they do how long does it last? Like, whatever happened to the Dave Clark 5? You've either got to be exceptional or forget it, right? So would you say Kiss was exceptional?"

This guy is no fool...

Alright, alright, Kiss just have a good management deal and an innate grasp of hype. "So, you've either got to be exceptional or have exceptional management to survive the music business. My family knew I wasn't exceptional 'cause I didn't have any musical training. And you gotta have lawyers. I regret that I didn't do all that stuff".

All these doubts don't stop Fischer performing where and when he can. See him entertain the baseball crowd on the cover of Wildmania. "You go to Dodger Stadium. Everybody just loves me out there. I admit there's a lot of 5 and 6 year olds..."

Nothing wrong with that, I say. Most Kiss fans are about ten, and anyway you came before Jonathan Richman in the kiddiesong stakes, right? I mean, Richman's a success, kind of, so why not you?

"Is he neurotic from it, is he paranoid, is he depressed?! Have you met the Bee Gees, are they positive thinkers?!"

Next he asks about the fate of Eric Burdon, and wonders if all interviewers are sadists by nature. Maybe a guy this left-field would appeal to the punk crowd?

"Yeah...but I'm from a different generation, so they wouldn't accept me".

They accept Lou Reed, don't they?

"Yeah, but he goes and plays the Roxy, not the Whisky, so he's playing to '60s people. Oh they'll go over there and pay eight bucks to see him 'cause he's still a star...

"I went to see this psychiatrist and he told me I was in danger because I had all my eggs in one basket. He said, 'You think your songs alone are gonna make you a living. Larry, you're not living for success in the future or now, you want success in the past. You don't want success in 1980 or 1978, you want success in 1968.' And in a way that's how I think. I wanted that success, but I wanted it then, I really did....

"Let's put it this way: if you made an album with Frank Zappa you'd have stars coming out all over your head, wouldn't you? You'd be going wahaaaa! Here I am already! So you can't look down on me for that, right?! To think you're ignorant enough to think you're gonna become a star. It's like one of those guys who made an album with Jackie Lomax or something, and he never becomes a star...So nobody can really make you that star except yourself...right?!"

Right.

"You can get Herb Alpert and Jackie Lomax/For 40 cents"
- Larry Fischer, "Go To Rhino Records"

Both Larry Fischer's albums are still around. Full price.

 

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