Bizarre 1968 / Gonzo 2016
Leper messiah from the streets of LA brings a string of weird scenes to the studio for Zappa to dissect.
There’s no better illustration of music being ingrained in American psyche than Larry Fischer’s debut album. Mentally unstable urban vagabond, the dangerous young man performed for passers-by before MOTHERS OF INVENTION embraced him, but Larry was no genuine gem like Alice Cooper to be plucked from obscurity by producer Frank’s sense of bizarre and become a star – all due to his illness and the conflict over royalties. The real reason, though, for Zappa estate’s refusal to reissue “The Evening” on CD – until Gail’s passing made it possible – seemed to have stemmed in the genius’ use of a person with a weaker disposition.
Yet that’s the very gist of this record: Fischer might be hailed as a prophet in “The Madness And Ecstacy” where Kim Fowley and Rodney Bingenheimer join in the play, but musical value of most of his compositions is close to zero. Not counting references to “Help Me Rhonda” and few other ’60s classics, what Larry comes up with is repetitive patterns – which, of course, is the root of blues and country, the very American genres – that, especially with often returns to the “Merry-Go-Round” demented ditty, tend to jar. They can be funny, albeit sad, too, and “85 Times” would have been a hit if somebody cared to polish it and wrap the a cappella approach in an instrumental fusion, as Zappa did on “Circles” leaving it to “Monkeys Versus Donkeys” to show commercial potential as well, whereas murder numbers “Jennifer Jones” and “Who Did It Johnny” add gloom to the proceedings.
Presented in several thematic bouts and interspersed with spoken word and surrealistic dialogues, some of the 36 pieces touch on Wlld Man’s autobiography including his institutionalization, and while in “I’m Not Shy Anymore” he admits to having adapted to the public attention, the desperate cries “I’m not insane!” and the rumination on the future in “Why Am I Normal” are where Fischer’s ultimate vulnerability is revealed. It’s also deep in the bop of “Which Way Did The Freaks Go” that Larry cuts out of the “Wild Man On The Strip Again” collage, one of the tracks from the “Some Historical Notes” section of the second disc, giving background to a few songs – and the all-ensemble meat to “The Taster” – and allowing Fischer take to the strings in “Larry And His Guitar” for an occasional strum.
Still, for all the merriment on offer, “Success Will Not Make Me Happy” demonstrates how shrewd Larry was in predicting his destiny. In 1975, Fischer’s second album became the inaugural release of Rhino, and some more LPs followed, yet in the end it was back on the streets and to madness, although Wild Man passed away peacefully in 2011, “The Evening” remaining a curio and a comic testament to this oddball figure.