Friday, July 02, 2004

[This blog ground to a halt on June 30, 2004. For the last two days of this week, I'm rerunning old posts. I decided to end with some of the rarer albums I covered. That's kind of contrary to the original intention of the blog (which was to point out overlooked albums that aren't rare) but c'est la vie. In the grand scheme of things, nothing I've covered is particularly rare. Today's column originally ran on March 10, 2004. I've added a couple of mp3s that I didn't have room to host the first time around.]

I've given a lot of thought to trying to figure out how best to explain Kim Fowley, but in the end I realize that it's just beyond the scope of this blog. And when I think about it, he was just a name to me when I first bought his album Sunset Boulevard (as a cut-out from the Vassar College bookstore...the tentacles of Kim Fowley extend everywhere) and that didn't stop me from realizing he was something special. I guess the important thing to keep in mind is that "special" doesn't always equal "good," but at the same time, it's overly simplistic to assume (as the Allmusic reviewer of Sunset Boulevard does) that Kim's appeal lies solely in his weirdness. In a way, I like to imagine that if Lou Reed had never formed the Velvet Underground, but had instead remained at Pickwick as a staff songwriter (and therefore never decided that he was an Artist) he might have produced albums something like Kim's solo records (assuming that his bosses let him do whatever he wanted). Oh, you'd also have to invert Lou's proportion of talent/bullshit, though in recent years Lou seems to be taking care of that himself.

I have a relative who actually worked with Kim Fowley in the seventies, and the owner of the dearly departed Holy Cow record store was a friend of Kim's as well. Despite this, I don't have any good stories about Kim Fowley. The response I usually got to my questions was an eye-roll and something to the effect that Kim was an "interesting/weird guy." I get the impression that he seems sort of surreal to the people who've met him, and that when they try to explain him in the light of day, they feel like they're trying to explain a dream that they had. His web site is here, and it does a good job of 1. showing the scope of his involvement in the music industry over the past four-plus decades and 2. demonstrating what an inveterate name dropper and self-promoter he is.

Enough introduction. Most of the Kim Fowley solo albums that are currently available on CD are interesting for their crass and exploitative nature, with the occasional good song seeming more like an accident than anything else. But clearly you can't stay in the music business for four decades without some talent, however strange and twisted that talent may be. International Heroes came out in 1973 and it's by far Kim's most normal (and competent) solo album. Some of this is probably owing to his collaborators (I'm especially curious about Kerry Scott, who co-wrote some of the best songs). Some of this is probably due to the fact that Kim mostly eschews his habit of singing in a funny/creepy/"rock-and-roll" voice, and just sings like himself (which basically sounds like someone trying to imitate Iggy Pop trying to imitate Bob Dylan, or vice versa). Here's Kim's original version of International Heroes, a reasonably inspired homage to All The Young Dudes that was later covered by some remnants of Mott The Hoople.

The second song on the record, E.S.P. Reader, actually manages to be pretty -- something that it's almost impossible to believe Kim to be capable of. And here's the last song on the album, Dancing All Night, which is a really great glam-rocking song with fantastic female backing vocals. There's really only one song on the whole record that displays Kim's usual tendencies: So Good, Wish You Would features Kim on free-form grunts, enlivening an otherwise relatively normal pre-disco ode to a "woman" who's "got the groove" 'cause she's a "sister that has to move." (I wouldn't want my praise for this album to be construed as a claim that it's bullshit free). [I have room to host the song now. Hurrah! - MB 7/2/04]

I've read that this record was a big influence on David Bowie in his glam period, but I'm not sure that that makes sense chronologically. Certainly Bowie didn't take any sartorial advice from Kim Fowley: the photo on the back of the album is a really funny shot of Kim wearing a T-shirt that says "Space Age," platform shoes, blue hip-huggers and a fur coat, and looking like someone who was given five minutes in the Salvation Army to throw together a "glam-rock" costume. When you think about what Kim might have done with the concept of a space-age-moondream type record, it's even more amazing that International Heroes is as good as it is. International Heroes isn't available on CD, but you should be able to find a copy of the record for $15-$20 at the most. Honestly I'm not sure I'd want to see this on CD... some records are meant to be records. Also, the cover face-shot of Kim wearing make-up deserves to be as large as possible.

[Before I settled for the strained metaphor of "Mystical Beast," this blog came within a mouse's whisker of being named Teenage Death Girl, in homage to one of my favorite Kim Fowley songs. Here's the track, which originally appeared on a great Fowley album called Sunset Boulevard.]

[You're still here. Ok, today is a Friday and long-time readers know what that means. Here's a teaser from a No Wave Friday that I planned to run upon my return. The song is called Let's Compromise. I'll give more Information when/if I write the piece, but let's just say that you'd be much more likely to know this if Brian Eno hadn't been brainwashed into deciding that he could only fit four bands onto a certain album documenting a certain music scene. Just so you know, some of the other songs on the tape that this song comes from can really give you a blinding headache.]


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