Merrell Fankhauser: Calling From A Star

Gonzo 2014

Riding the crest of a wave, surf rock veteran looks back at his life and the scene that never goes away.

Merrell Fankhauser - Calling From A Star

Calling From A Star

Rock ‘n’ roll can’t live without its own mythology, so no one can blame Merrell Fankhauser for making a legend out of himself. The guitarist’s reputation was built on a classic instrumental “Wipe Out” by THE IMPACTS, but the artist’s life has been much more eventful, and this book is Merrell’s attempt to tell it all straight, albeit with a healthy dose of self-aggrandizing. It’s not solipsistic, though, as he regards many other people as universally, not only personally, significant and considers others’ local musical successes as hits, so there’s a nice dissection of a Californian’s state of mind in the ’50s and ’60s. Also, it’s an account of the man in search of his dream realization, which takes Fankhauser on both a beaten showbiz path and a spiritual quest, all told in detail here – in too much detail, perhaps. Never tending to overplay when it comes to peeling notes off the fretboard, the veteran digs into minutiae that his reader may not be interested in, and while it’s good to learn the background of LPs such as "The Maui Album", the trivia regarding meals he had and minor characters he met only distracts from the main line.

There are heroes and villains in this story, Merrell’s collaborator and ex-SPIRIT drummer Ed Cassidy falling into the first category, and Don Van Vliet, the future Captain Beefheart, fitting the second as an extremely cruel leader. But then, Fankhauser easily confesses his own not-so-ethical decisions as he gives up on Jeff Cotton, the very same friend he’d saved from the MAGIC BAND prototype, and on his younger son, and somehow justifies that, yet love fills these pages, too, and not only when the artist describes his hippy, if not always happy, existence in Hawaii in the ’70s. Still, his islands explorations sometimes feel funnier than the expression of toil behind cult ensembles as MU and FAPARDOKLY, the business acumen and creative possibilities of his TV show "Tiki Lounge" or the description of his grass-induced trips. Not a riveting, although strangely engaging read is marred with a terrible grammar and the lack of editing with regards to repetition, too – which goes to show that Merrell wrote the tome himself and didn’t have a hired hand to hold a pen – whereas a discography appendix, had there been one, could have made the text much more palatable and clear up the labyrinthine issue of Fankhauser’s releases.

As for the similar jumble of his adventures, they’re aplenty and these include quest for the lost continent of Lemuria, digging into ufology, chasing record deals and much more. So calling from a star is not a statement of the artist’s stellar disposition but the echoing signal sent to higher ground. Myth, then? Sure, yet a good one.

**1/2

July 19, 2015

Category(s): Books
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