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Wild Man Fischer, a Madman’s Madman


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Lawrence Wayne "Wild Man" Fischer, born in Los Angeles, on 6 November 1944, as one of three offspring of middle-aged parents, was a mentally ill street musician who became a darling of the pop music industry in the 1960s and as a result enjoyed four decades of strange, intermittent and often ill-fitting celebrity. I wouldn't say that he had a high-profile personality but as consequence of some curious circumstances, he became kind of a “cult figure”.  A man of modest talent (if any) but an unshakeable need to sing and shout, singer and songwriter “Wild Man” Fischer was sometimes called the grandfather of outsider music, but he was an outsider even by outsider “standards”.


FYI: Outsider music is created by musicians who are not part of the commercial music industry. They ignore standard musical or lyrical conventions, either because they have no formal training or because they disagree with conventional rules. This type of music often lacks typical structure and may incorporate, what is then perceived as bizarre lyrics and/or melodies.

He attracted, and still retains, a cult following, which over time has included well-known figures in the music business.


He experienced huge mood swings from an early age. When he was “up”, a manic state he called "the pep", he would sing any hit at the top of his voice and improvise and memorize his own compositions. But when he hit rock bottom, he heard voices and turned on his family. He was institutionalized at age 16 for attacking his mother with a knife. He escaped from the hospital and looks no one ever bothered to take him back there. He was later diagnosed with severe paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.


Fischer wandered Los Angeles singing his songs on the streets “a capella” for spare change to passers-byes. He had come to Frank Zappa's attention, another musical madman with an eye toward the satiric and outrageous, in the mid-sixties for his performances of energetically-performed, half-sung half-shouted, nursery rhyme-style impromptu compositions on the hippie-populated Sunset Strip, Los Angeles. By 1967, with medication, Fischer's condition seemed to have stabilized – or maybe he just fitted in more with the freakier elements of the music scene in and around Hollywood.


Promoted by Zappa, he became soon an underground concert favorite. His "freak" status chimed with the West Coast counter-culture movement and, though bafflingly hard to pin down, his appeal was undeniable. He began entering talent contests and he gained enough of a following to open, among others, for Bo Diddley, the Byrds, Iron Butterfly and Solomon Burke, who reportedly came up with the "Wild Man" nickname.


"I thought from the first day I met him that someone should make an album with Wild Man Fischer," said Zappa, who arranged for him to take part in a Christmas show also involving The Mothers of Invention, Alice Cooper and The GTOs at The Shrine in December 1968.


Typically, Fischer sang a breathless, demented version of "Circle" while lapping the auditorium. A subsequent appearance on the TV sketch-comedy programme Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In baffled hosts and viewers singing "Leaves Are Falling" and "Merry-Go-Round" but the show failed to turn him into the next Tiny Tim.



In 1968, Frank Zappa released the double album An Evening with Wild Man Fischer with him and with musical accompaniment by Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. Its 36 tracks comprised anything and everything from busked songs accompanied by rough acoustic guitar to fully fledged psychedelic workouts. They were simply accurate representations of Fischer's street performances (sung and spoken), a undeniably manic performance which took up the whole of the fourth side. On this, as elsewhere, Fischer's voice swooped from full-throated bellows to hoots and grunts, leavened by occasional snatches of tuneful singing. The album remains a period curio rather than a seminal work while Zappa's guitar and production helped make tracks like "Circle" and "The Taster" easier on the ear than the unaccompanied second side of the original vinyl album.  The release was a flop, with critical reaction ranging from bemusement to Rolling Stone's conclusion that it was of interest only to the "socially callous".


His best-known song, from this album, was almost certainly “Merry-Go-Round”. The tune has a faint Caribbean lilt with instrumental accompaniment of Zappa. The lyrics, on first hearing, can strike the listener as a joke:


Come on, let’s merry-go, MERRY-go, merry-go-round.

Boop-boop-boop. [This is Mr. Fischer making a calliope-like noise.]

Merry-go, MERRY-go, merry-go-round.

Boop-boop-boop. ...



In the end, though, the joke — postmodern and self-referential — is on the listener: Once heard, the song circles unremittingly around in the head like a carousel that can never be stilled.


Fischer gained a number of friends who would initially let him stay with them but his aggressive behavior and tendency to throw things in frustration often meant that the visits were short. It was after one such throwing incident that Zappa refused to have anything more to do with him. It happened while visiting the Zappas to ask about the royalties he thought he was owed after selling 12,000 copies. Fischer rather overstayed his welcome and threw a bottle at their infant daughter, though thankfully he missed. His relationship with Zappa never recovered. In fact, Gail Zappa, Frank's widow, had refused to sanction the release of An Evening with Wild Man Fischer on CD.  The album was reissued only after Gail, Zappa’s widow.


Fischer took the rejection hard, claiming later that Zappa consistently withheld his recording income: "Frank's got my publishing rights. You could say he's on my mind all the time".

On his side, Zappa commented on the Star Special radio program:"...that guy in there asked me to say something about Wild Man Fischer and one thing that you must remember is that he actually IS a Wild Person. He lives in the street and, er, sleeps in places where, er, it is possible for natural objects to accumulate in his hair; and on his clothes; and elsewhere in secret parts of his personage that you don't find out about until it’s too late if you're a girl."


"And Larry Fischer IS dangerous; er, he has brothers and other relatives and some of them have been attacked by Larry. I think it was his brother who had his chest-bone broken with a ball-peen hammer at UCLA shortly before this album was made. They were walking towards each other on the campus; Larry had the hammer; and his brother had the bad luck."


In 1974 Larry appeared as a guest vocalist on noise band Smegma's album Sing Popular Songs but he might just have stayed an eccentric footnote in the Zappa story were it not for his involvement with Rhino Records in the mid-1970s: he recorded the novelty song Go To Rhino Records for the retail outlet of the same name on LA's Westwood Boulevard. The song became so popular that it gained a full release and set the label on the way to what it is today, one the world's most prestigious reissue imprints, part of the Warner Music Group.


When this became a local hit, Fischer recorded for the Rhino label Wildmania (1977). In the 1980s, Fischer worked with comedy rock duo Barnes & Barnes, in real life Robert Haimer and Bill Mumy, to produce two additional albums for Rhino, Pronounced Normal (1981) and Nothing Scary (1984).  “Wild Man” Fischer’s songs include “My Name Is Larry,” “I’m Selling Peanuts for the Dodgers” and “I Wish I Was a Comic Book.” That aspiration, at least, was realized: he was featured in several comic books over the years.


The records for Rhino helped craft Fischer's reputation as a naive visionary, music's ultimate "Outsider" artist. His slender catalogue now attracts devotion from fans the world over, despite his low public profile and the fact that he never performed outside the United States.


In a twist as bizarre as any other in Fischer's life, he then formed a telephone friendship with the singer and actress Rosemary Clooney, aunt of the film star George Clooney that began after Clooney heard Fischer's song "Oh God, Please Send Me a Kid to Love", and recorded with her the 1986 duet It's a Hard Business.


Fischer's relationship with Rhino deteriorated when he was barred from the record shop for pestering customers to buy his releases, even going so far as to snаtch purchases out of their hands and substituting them with his own records.


In 1988 a judge awarded him royalties for his song "Merry-Go-Round", a track from the album recorded with Frank Zappa and included in the soundtrack of the movie Medium Cool, but the attorney representing Fischer did not know how to reach him, as he had become homeless again.


By the end of the ‘90s “Wild Man” was rediscovered when almost all of his records were released in a two-CD pack by Rhino Records except An Evening with Wild Man Fischer, for which the Zappa family still held the rights. He even was the subject of a comic book in 2004 entitled The Legend of Wild Man Fischer by Dennis Eichhorn.


By 2003, he started living on the streets again as consequence of a six-month-long paranoid episode, convinced somebody was trying to kill him. One of his fan saw him in 2004, outside of a 7-Eleven store on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, unconscious, рissing himself. This was at a time when none of his family even knew where he was for several months.


Fischer eventually moved in with his aunt Josephine, but some weeks later she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Larry and his family consented to move him into an assisted-living mental institution. The medications he was prescribed helped him control his behavior. He died at the age of 66.  The cause was heart failure, said Josh Rubin, a filmmaker whose documentary portrait of “Wild Man” Fischer, “DeRailroaded - Inside The Mind Of Larry "Wild Man" was released in 2005. The film’s title, taken from one of Fischer’s songs, is a word he coined to describe the radical dislocation he often felt.



"You've gotta have talent, you've gotta have luck and you've gotta have persistence," said Fischer, who never achieved his ambition of being bigger than The Beatles."But, he said, "I'm famous in England, Germany, everywhere."


DeRailroaded co-producer Josh Rubin says "Even though Larry never did reach the pinnacle of fame and fortune he so yearned for, he was successful in inspiring and influencing people from all over the world with his unique brand of music and expression."



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