WILD MAN FISCHER
It was around 1969, or 1970, when I received my copy of "ZAPPED" in the mail. It was a promotional offer from Warner/Reprise. The 33-1/3 album offered a selection each from the roster of Frank Zappa's two labels, STRAIGHT and BIZARRE.
The performers offered were some of the most innovative of the times. Tim Buckley, Alice Cooper, Lord Buckley, the Mothers of Invention, the G.T.O.'s, Judy Henske and Jerry Yester, Captain Beefheart, Jeff Simmons, and Time Dawe were all included on this compilation. One of the singers seemed quite outrageous. On the record, he was described as " the most thoroughly original pop crooner in the Western Hemisphere." Of course, I'm referring to Wildman Fischer. He had a goofy little song called "Merry-Go-Round." The song was catchy, and odd, and it was just perfect for me and my friends who all suffered from a certain kind of lockeroom mentality. This was the kind of tune that we could all chant together while prowling around the town kicking cans and generally wasting time.
Anyway, we became Fischer fans and always maintained an interest in his career. We bought his double album on Warner Brothers, and then, several years later, his "Wildmania" album on Rhino. Eventually, my friends and I began to mumble his new songs. "I'm a Truck" became something of a late 70's mantra for us. 70's rock stars like John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana had Sri Chinmoy; Allen Ginsberg had his Buddhist Rinpoche, but we had our own guru, our own teacher, our own mind numbing mantra to chant. Instead of the typical "OM," We would think of Sri Fischer and chant "I'm a truck rhumm rhhumm, I'm a truck rhumm rhhumm...."
Anyway, in around 1978, Darwin Spaysky, one of my friends and a fellow Fischer fan, made a trip out to Los Angeles. While there, he paid a visit to a little store called Rhino Records. It turned out that the label of the legendary Wildman Fischer was actually a small operation run out of this record store. The clerk told Darwin that Fischer often came into the store and that Fischer could be found living in some hotel named, as I recall, the St. Francis. Darwin continued on with his vacation and was really anxious to get out of the entropic Los Angeles area, so he didn't bother to track Mr. Fischer down. In fact, I don't think that he even considered it as a possibility until his return to Michigan.
One night, after gathering his courage, Darwin called the hotel and left a message, also leaving his home phone number, for Larry Fischer. At about 3AM EST, he received a return call from Larry. Darwin called me up the next morning and asked me excitedly if I could guess who he had spoken with on the phone. Of course, with my lack of imagination all I could offer as a guess was, "Ummm, yer mom? Ummmm, yer sister?, how 'bout yer Dad?" Needless to say, I was extremely excited when I realized that Darwin had spoken to the man we considered to be the Master, the Professor of Street Theater, the One and Only, the fabulous Artist Known As...well, anyway, you get the idea.
So as Darwin told me about the conversation, he explained that he had offered Wildman the opportunity to play a show up in Michigan if he were interested. Well, Darwin never thought that Larry Fischer would say yes, and could barely believe it when Larry not only said yes but also sounded genuinely enthusiastic over the opportunity to perform for his fans in Michigan. Now Darwin had to scramble to figure out a way to actually back up his offer. He had to come up with a place to play, and someone with some money to venture. Fortunately, that is where a local, industrious, young entrepreneur by the name of Bob Zilli came in.
Zilli worked in a small record store in Pontiac. He also managed a rock band called the 27 and put weekend concerts on at a place in Pontiac called the Latino Ballroom. The Latino was a place quite similar to anyone's local VFW hall. It held around 150 people or so. It had a stage and was really fairly roomy but had that 1960's teen club atmosphere. It was really the perfect place for a Fischer performance. We approached Bob, while he was working at the store, with the idea of bringing Fischer to Michigan. Entrenched as he was in the local music business, Bob was pretty excited about the possibility and wanted to talk to Larry directly to work out the details.
Soon the show was set for January of 1979. Darwin and I had a goofy little group together called the Tulsa City Truckers. We sang primarily Darwin originals and covers of Fugs classics. We had always been pretty indiscriminate about where we played. We had performed on sidewalks, in art fairs, gong shows, rock concerts, Soupy Sales telethons, bachelor parties - just about anywhere people would let us play. We had released one single, Pull My Daisy, which a local critic called 'esoteric.' We called ourselves 'apocalyptic be-bop' and easily convinced Bob that we should be the warm-up act for Larry (the living legend) Fischer. I designed a flyer for the show and gave a stack of photocopies to Bob to pass out at the Latino. I also went to record collector conventions, being held in both Royal Oak and Farmington, and slapped the flyers down under people's windshield wipers. Bob had also made his own handbill, but, as it turned out, Bob was so afraid that Larry wouldn't show up that he didn't pass many of the flyers out because he was afraid that too many people would come and accuse Bob of a hoax if Wildman Fischer pulled a no-show.
Larry contacted Darwin with his bus schedule, and Darwin arranged to pick Larry up at the Greyhound station in Detroit. The plan was for Darwin to put Larry up on the couch of his condo in Pontiac. Of course, that plan changed quickly when Darwin, his wife, and his son met Larry at the bus station for the first time.
At the station, Larry stood there, in apparent conversation with himself, wearing jeans, torn up shoes, a light windbreaker type of jacket, and a little paper bag that held his toothbrush and toothpaste. This was January in Michigan. The snow and ice were heavy, and the temperature was close to 0 degrees F. Larry had been riding on the bus for 3 days and was in serious need of a shower. In fact, it appeared that he may have been in serious need of a shower even before he boarded the bus. In spite of the frigid cold, Darwin's wife, Heidi, insisted on rolling the windows down during the drive back to Pontiac. When they reached their home, Heidi instructed Larry, in no uncertain terms, to hop in the bathtub to which Larry reluctantly consented. All this time Larry's behavior was, well, let's just say that it was larger than life. I could go into detail, but, if you know Larry, or have carefully listened to his records, you know what I'm saying here. Around this point, Darwin realized that the persona of the Wildman wasn't a mask at all, that, in fact, Larry Fischer was the real thing. His records only captured brief moments of Larry's personality. Larry was those recordings 24 hours a day - every day, every hour, every minute, every second. The recordings weren't just Larry's art, Larry was God's art and God's art was too expansive for Darwin's little condo, so Darwin called Bob and said, " We gotta find this guy a motel!"
The motel that they found was kind of a low budget place near the Pontiac Silverdome. This wasn't far from Darwin's place, Bob's store, or the Latino. It was close enough to keep an eye on Larry and keep him comfortable with his own room and television. Darwin gave Larry a heavy winter coat, a knit cap, a pair of boots, and some thick gloves. Bob paid for the hotel, bought Larry some medication from the local pharmacy, and took Larry out to a nearby restaurant for dinner. During dinner Bob discussed recording Larry's live show for release on his record label, ATC Records. Larry was very excited. Larry couldn't wait to tell his friends at Rhino how he was now on a label "even smaller than Rhino!"
The day of the big event started out a little rough. Our bass player refused to play the show, so we contacted a friend of ours to fill in. His name was Jem Targal. He was a bit of a local legend himself having recorded a Sam Charters produced album with his group, the Third Power, on the Vanguard label back in 1969. Fortunately, Jem was happy to fill in, and, as it turned out, he and Larry got along like long lost pals. Also that day, Larry started to get cold feet. Bob went to the motel room early that afternoon, and Larry was huddled into the corner of his room crying and expressing what could only be described as considerable self doubt. He drew a chart, like the one from his first album, which showed the hierarchy of the Rock & Roll kingdom. It showed the Beatles and the Stones up at the top with, maybe, Elvis. Down below it showed a range of performers with increasingly less popular artists as you neared the bottom of the chart.
"I always thought I was up here," Larry said pointing toward the top, "but I'm not, am I Bob? I'm really way down here." Larry pointed to the very bottom. "I can't do it Bob. Leave me alone. I'm no good." Larry sat in the corner crying.
Fortunately for all of us, Larry turned out to be a big fan of Peter Sellers. In fact, Larry was a big fan of comedy in general, having himself appeared on Rowen and Martin's Laugh-In television program. That evening there just happened to be a Peter Sellers movie on the TV, although I don't recall which one, and Larry was laughing so much that he was upbeat, happy, and really ready for anything. Bob came to pick him up at just the right moment!
I remember sitting in the area we used as a dressing room when Larry and Bob came in. Larry was happy and smiling, wearing Darwin's big coat, boots, and knit cap. He took off the coat and cap. Underneath, his hair was thinning and he wore a modest flannel shirt. He looked middle-aged, soft, and kind. He didn't seem to be the Wildman holding the knife that we saw on the cover of the Warner Brother's album. He was anxious to do his show, and we were excited about being in the presence of a legendary performer who actually knew other gifted artists like Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, the GTO's, and so on.
The turn out was quite good considering that we had really done little to promote it. Our handbills had, at least, got the word out to a core group of fans who really did love Wildman Fischer. They knew all of his songs, and when he performed, they sang along with him. Larry received several encores that evening. I think people must have lost their voice cheering and singing. Larry even played to the crowd by doing a cover version of Bob Seger's Night Moves! The fans crowded around Fischer at the end of the show asking for autographs. Larry left the Latino Ballroom as a very happy man that evening - successful, popular, the one and only King. At that moment, he was at the very top of his chart.
The following morning Darwin, Bob, Jem, Larry, and I all had breakfast. Larry told us stories about Frank Zappa, Phil Spector, Miss Mercy, Miss Pamela, Tom Waits, and more. Jem told Larry about the time Tim Buckley came over to one of the infamous parties at the 3rd Power farm, how Ann Charters cooked the band dinner while they were recording their LP, and stories of Jem's cousin Ahmet who founded Atlantic Records. The entire breakfast was a fascinating feast of rock trivia and gossip. The sadness was heavy as we drove Larry to the bus station.
At the station we all shook hands. We were already beginning to miss Larry. I gave Larry a sandwich and some fruit that my mother had packed for him. She had also slipped in 10 dollars so he could pick up a snack on the long ride back to Los Angeles. We could tell that Larry was sad, too, shyly waving from his bus window as it pulled away. We walked back to our car, gloved hands deep in our pockets, wondering, wondering about the machine that is the music business, wondering about Frank Zappa's relationship with Larry, wondering about what was kind and what was cruel, wondering what would become of Larry Fischer.
Two years later, ATC records released a limited edition recording of that evening in Pontiac. Bob took my handbill illustration to use on the record's front cover. He used Larry's set list from that evening as the rear cover illustration. You know, I don't think that ATC ever earned a dime off that recording, but, if you ever find a copy, hold on to it, because, honestly, you have a priceless wormhole through time briefly returning you to a very special evening.
1. Ragnar Kvaran Group MP3s can still be located here at this new location. More will be added in time.
2. Jive Diamond News - this page is a collection of newspaper links taken directly from "My Favorites" pull down menu on my very own web browser. These are the very same papers and magazines that I read on a frequent basis.
3. Warren Dunes - photos from a March 2003 visit to Warren Dunes State Park located on the South Eastern side of Lake Michigan
4. Larry 'Wildman" Fischer once visited Michigan. Here is the legend
5. PARADE 2004 View the parade
6. Basketball Camp See the games
7. ARCHES NATIONAL PARK, MOAB UTAH See the future of the modern world
8. A Few Photographs taken in Montreal, Canada 2004 Do you think French Made Easy will help?
9. Jem Targal, once a bassist for the Michigan Power Trio Third Power has an early biography recorded here
10. Short Story Award Ceremony recorded here
11. Recent photograph of Stuart Dybek and Beth Andersen view here
1. Ragnar Kvaran Group MP3s can still be located by clicking right here at this new location. More will be added in time.
2. Jive Diamond News - this page is a collection of newspaper links.
4. Larry 'Wildman" Fischer once visited Michigan. Here is the legend
10. Jem Targal, once a bassist for the Michigan Power Trio Third Power has an early biography recorded here
11. Jem Targal, once a bassist for the Michigan Power Trio Third Power played in a band called Sheavy recorded here
14. A song download, in mp3 or wma format, by The Rabble. The song is called Heart On Fire please click here
15. Ragnar Kvaran Group articles can be found by clicking on this text
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21. Ragnar Kvaran on MySpace Includes 4 Ragnar Kvaran Group tunes in streaming format
22. Jem Targal - The Lucky Guy An obscure recording by one of the most creative of Michigan's artists
22. Jem Targal - The Butterfly and the Flower The Butterfly and the Flower - a song by Jem Targal recorded in 1975
23. Jem Targal and Sheavy Click Here for more Jem Targal mp3s