An Evening With Wild Man Fischer (1969)

Larry “Wild Man” Fischer, a cult musician who suffered from mental illness, died earlier this month from heart failure at age 66. Fischer made sporadic recordings and television appearances beginning in 1968. A performance artist from the enigmatic genre known as outsider music, Wild Man Fischer may have been best known to fans of the Dr. Demento show. He had the distinction of being the very first artist to record for Rhino Records, beginning with a 1975 single called “Go To Rhino Records”. But the first person who was bold enough to give the Wild Man a record deal was Frank Zappa. In 1968, Zappa “discovered” Fischer while he was performing his songs on the sidewalks of L.A.’s Sunset Strip for passersby for ten cents a song. On his Bizarre label, Zappa produced and released Fischer’s two-record debut album titled An Evening With Wild Man Fischer. Recorded on a sidewalk in 1968 and released in April of 1969, the album is, by turns, a performance album by Fischer, a concept album about Fischer, and a documentary recording about Fischer. Zappa ended his association with Fischer after an altercation in which the Wild Man threw a tantrum – and a bottle – in Zappa’s home, understandably frightening Zappa’s family. As a result of this incident, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer did not stay in print for long, and it has never been released on CD. This long-lost album is decidedly not for the average listener’s taste, but for connoisseurs of outsider music, comedy records, and all things Zappa-related, it’s a must-listen.

The first of the album's four sides begins with the absurdly catchy “Merry-Go-Round” (which we are told “is Wild Man’s theme song, sort of”), followed by three tracks of the busker interacting with people on the street. The side closes with seven minutes of goofy Beat-style poetry by Kim Fowley and Rodney Bingenheimer, pretending to exalt the Wild Man.

The second side reveals Fischer’s bizarre song craft: it contains fifteen tracks which display Fischer’s often hilarious manner of street singing. The songs are mostly a cappella, give or take some tuneless guitar strumming on “Taggy Lee” and the amusingly creepy “Think Of Me When Your Clothes Are Off”. In his raspy and uninhibited voice, Fischer spouts oddball lyrics – sometimes using multiple voices to simulate dialogues between different characters – and imitates instrumental sounds with surprisingly good rhythm and timing. Most of the songs are sub-two-minute samples of the Wild Man’s strangely entertaining shtick, although the absurd black comedy of “Jennifer Jones” proves that he could stay on the same track for four minutes if he wanted to. It all plays like a stand-up comedy act from society’s fringe.

The third side sounds like a bizarre episode of VH1 Storytellers, as Fischer tries to tell the stories behind three songs he wrote as a teenager, all of which he thought could be pop hits. “The Taster” features full instrumental accompaniment by Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, and is surprisingly accessible. Another song, titled “Serrano (Sorrento?) Beach”, sounds like it had the makings of a good surf-rock tune. Unfortunately, this side is padded with filler, namely the incoherent medley “Success Will Not Make Me Happy” and another seven-minute recording (like the one on the first side) of Fischer interacting with people on the Sunset Strip.

The fourth side is the one that really serves as a twisted documentary about the Wild Man. Aside from the Zappa-assisted song “Circle”, a manic psych-rock psych-out which is probably no worse than many other such songs from the period, this is the side where Fischer candidly bares his troubled soul. “The Wild Man Fischer Story” is a tragicomic piece of performance art in which Fischer tells us (in multiple voices) the tale of how he was twice committed by his mother to mental institutions as a teenager, and about the doubts he was having at age 23 about the possibilities of a career in music. The spoken-word tracks on this side find Fischer rambling about his philosophies on life, women, music, and why he is “normal”. But the final track ends the album on a tellingly sad note: on “Larry Under Pressure”, we hear an exhausted Fischer anxiously acknowledging that he was not normal, and felt that he probably never would be. Quite a revealing Evening, indeed.

Wild Man Fischer - An Evening With Wild Man Fischer

Wild Man Fischer “An Evening With Wild Man Fischer” (Bizarre/Reprise 2XS 6332) 1969

Track Listing:

Side One: The Basic Fischer

1. Merry-Go-Round (This is Wild Man's theme song, sort of)
2. New Kind Of Songs For Sale (live on the strip)
3. "I'm Not Shy Anymore!" (Larry relives the past in the studio)
4. "Are You From Clovis?"
5. The Madness & Ecstacy (Kim Fowley & Rodney Bingenheimer provide an introduction to, and make prophesies about the future of Wild Man Fischer)

Side Two: Larry's Songs, Unaccompanied

1. Which Way Did The Freaks Go?
2. I'm Working For The Federal Bureau Of Narcotics
3. The Leaves Are Falling
4. 85 Times
5. Cops & Robbers
6. Monkeys Versus Donkeys
7. Start Life Over Again
8. The Mope
9. Life Brand New
10. Who Did It Johnny?
11. Think Of Me When Your Clothes Are Off
12. Taggy Lee
13. Rhonda
14. I Looked Around You
15. Jennifer Jones

Side Three: Some Historical Notes

1. The Taster (Fancy Version)
2. The Story Of The Taster
3. The Rocket Rock
4. The Rocket Rock Explanation & Dialog
5. Dream Girl
6. Dream Girl Explanation
7. Serrano (Sorrento?) Beach
8. Success Will Not Make Me Happy
9. Wild Man On The Strip Again

Side Four: In Conclusion

1. Why I Am Normal
2. The Wild Man Fischer Story
3. Balling Isn't Everything
4. Ugly Beautiful Girl
5. Larry & His Guitar
6. Circle (Larry’s first psychedelic hit)
7. Larry Under Pressure