Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Features

The Illustrated Armand Schaubroeck

by Julian Cope, 12/01/2003ce
Note: This article originally appeared on UNSUNG in July 2000ce, in an image-less form.


A LOT OF PEOPLE WOULD LIKE TO SEE ARMAND SCHAUBROECK… DEAD. Here’s the first 3LP set from 1975 which stared at me for months before I got to hear it.

A lot of People Would Like to See Armand Schaubroeck ... Dead

In early 1977, I used to wedge myself into the tight space in the back room of Probe Records, in Liverpool, sorting for hours through the import racks filled with shrink-wrapped weirdness, all too overpriced to buy but filling my punk head with mystery to the point where anything shrink-wrapped became desirable for its sheer out-of-reachness. Albums by the Residents and Chrome rubbed shoulders with obscurities like Ron Pate & the Debonairs and the Afrika Corps, and all manner of mighty weirdness, till even the import-only copies of Cheap Trick albums looked good enough to steal. But amongst all those weirdos, one album always stood out as being even weirder. For a start, it was a triple album in a gatefold sleeve, and the front showed a photo of a smiling, curly-haired Lou Reed-ian late-20s punk with a poorly executed fake bullet hole right through the centre of his head, and fake blood cascading down his face. Turning it over, the handwritten lettering pronounced: "Armand Schaubroeck Steals." What the hell was this all about? Even if I'd had the money, I was no way about to pay over seven quid to find out. And so, every Probe visit, this mysterious album passed through my hands until I was desperate to know what it contained. No one at Probe knew, and neither would they open the shrink-wrap to unlock this mystery. And time passed until another album by Armand Schaubroeck appeared with a sleeve of equally weird proportions - hell, in some ways it was even weirder!


The sleeve of I CAME TO VISIT BUT DECIDED TO STAY says it all

I Came to Visit but Decided to Stay

This new album was called I Came to Visit But Decided to Stay, and showed Armand, dressed as a vicar, lying on a grave in a fake cemetery, in fake snow. He was resting his head against the cross, staring at a photograph of a nun in his right hand, whilst his left hand was firmly clinging to a bottle of some alcohol or other. On the rear of this non-gatefold sleeve, a similar shot showed Armand freaking out with grief, and the songs on the album included a Schaubroeck-ised treatment of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells," and a version of "Auld Lang Syne." Again, the shrink-wrapping acted as a natural barrier to my investigation, and this second album also became lodged in my unsatisfied brain. No one else was even interested and all my punk mates presumed that it must be shit because we were living in fundamental times and Armand even had a heavy metal guitar with him in his grief, leaning against the stone cross in the snow.
But more time passed and there were so many records to buy during that period that my from-a-distance obsession with Armand got put on hold. Until early 1978, that is, at which time his new album appeared mysteriously at the back of Probe, and this time with a title which no-one could claim to be unimpressed by...


The Legendary 1977 RATFUCKER LP. Dedicated to Pere Ubu’s suicidal Peter Laughner, this was a cross between Iggy and Kim Fowley’s OUTRAGEOUS

Ratfucker

When I first saw that brand new copy of Armand Schaubroeck's Ratfucker, I knew then and there that it had to be mine. I even tore off the shrink-wrap and looked inside, knowing that this action meant that all the Probe staff now considered it unsellable to anyone else but me. Ratfucker! What genius was contained inside? Straight away, I saw that the album was dedicated to another semi-hero of mine, the late Peter Laughner, who had started Pere Ubu then killed himself one year earlier through sheer physical abuse. And there on the inside sleeve, taped on with love, was a free shocking pink plectrum, inscribed with the single word 'Ratfucker'! Wow! Even Armand had surpassed himself this time. I took the album to the Probe staff, who put it away for me until I could afford it, and, just one week later, I placed it lovingly on to my turntable. Yes, the record was great. A masterpiece. Hell, Armand said "Fuck" at least 20 times in every song. He said it so gratuitously that I was shocked. And his music was a bizarre combination of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and a disgusting bar band. What was it all about? I didn't know, but I didn't care. I was finally listening to Armand Schaubroeck and enjoying it!

The album was meant to depict life on one block of Armand's city, and took snapshots of small time gangsters/hoods amassing their measly fortunes at the expense of terrorised locals. The opening title track had Armand as the underworld boss talking to a bunch of businessmen from a furniture convention from out of time. All are here to get laid by whatever means necessary and, throughout, Armand brags psychotically about being able to bring them anything, just so long as you tell him "what you want, what you want, what you want!" Other songs such as "Gigolo Gigolo" and "I love me more than you" depicted Armand as a rent boy of advancing years, doing anything to keep his over-fucked ass at the top of the pile. "Buried Alive" was pure Iggy wailing and complaining, while the whole soundscape was American rock with wailing siren synthesizers and burning ernie-ernie-ing guitars. Apart from the sicko "Pre-teen Mama", side two was entirely given over to an equally sicko 14-minute death epic called "The Queen Hitter"!

The free RATFUCKER plectrum was a bilious pink affair.

The Shadow Knows

Living in Prospect Vale, off the Prescot Road, I was in a Liverpudlian netherworld of my own, uninhabited by other hipsters. Walking the two miles into the city centre everyday took me past a record shop called Reddington's Rare Records, which was mainly dedicated to Country & Western music. But when you got inside and really looked, it was possible to find Mothers LPs and all kinds of other weirdness for less than £1.50 (at a time when Mothers LPs were at least £1.80 in Probe!), and I even found my first Scott Walker LPs there for 80 pence each. Anyway, this one time spent trawling through the Country & Western brought me face to face with a second hand copy of that Armand Schaubroeck triple album. What the? Who the fuck shells out over £7 quid then sells it to a C&W shop on Prescot Road? I was dumbfounded and even a little scared to imagine the kind of shadowy weirdo who would have done this. Whatever, I handed over £2.50 for the three albums and walked back home directly.

In the cosiness of my Prospect Vale bedsit, the story of Armand's teenage years gradually unfolded over the three albums. It was a fucking autobiographical rock opera with spoken words between each song, and all re-enacting the story of how Armand went to jail for stealing. Of course, now I got it. Armand had been so scarred by this happening that, almost a decade later, he was still writing about it and calling his own band Armand Schaubroeck Steals. Weirdness.

Armand’s first 45 from back in 1965 was this Church Mice rant – a deeply scary and fucked release in a Roughnecks (pre-Velvets) sub-Dylan style. Sounds Eastern-European

The album began with Armand in the confessional box confessing to sex with himself, sex with a girl, and stealing things, committing 32 burglaries, including a church. Then the church theft was re-enacted before Armand launches into a classic Cajun harmonica-driven Velvets song called "King of the Streets". Man, I flipped out at the sheer Gothic nightmarish horribly more-ish obsession of it. He's screaming out to Jesus for mercy; he's walking down the road to hell, and the most beautiful Gospel-meets-Sunday-Morning-Velvets singers are waving him goodbye with big smiles on their faces.

The rest of the album carried on in the same obsessive vein, with wondrous songs like "Streetwalker", "God Damn You", and a mantra-like dirge called "I Wish to see Colour", in which the jail-trapped teenage Armand wishes to leave jail just long enough to get away from the grey prison walls only "to see colour, to see colour, I wish to see colour." Other songs made up of endlessly repeated phrases populated the album, giving to it a devotional, religious feel. One song called "We, like lost sheep are drifting" suggested that Armand was seeing this exorcism through to the end. Even a song about Armand and his girlfriend Suzie making love for the last time before he goes to prison took on a mantric dirge-like quality. I was astounded by the album and wondered where Armand's place in music could possibly lie. Especially in these free-for-all days of 1978.

Dear Julian, Please Kill Me

Reddington's Rare Records soon washed up a second hand copy of I Came to Visit, But Decided to Stay. Of course, it must have been from the same shadowy source as my second hand triple, but every visit to that store saw me eyeing each culty looking character with suspicion. Was he the weirdo who buys, then sells Armand albums? Or is it him with the one leg and monocle?

LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD INN. Always follow up your debut triple album with a live double!

I Came to Visit, But Decided to Stay was yet another of Armand's little unlikely psycho-dramas/rock operas. He played the part of a priest called Father Michael who had fallen in love with a nun named Sister Jennifer. But she was "married to Jesus" and "she was wearing his ring" so it was a sin for them to be lovers. Of course, killing herself would leave Sister Jennifer in purgatory, so Father Michael kills Sister Jennifer to put her out of her misery, then decides to visit her grave. But then he decided to stay. It's a simple enough story if you're a genius/lunatic like Armand Schaubroeck, and the record was never off my turntable. Like Lou Reed at his best, Armand's music transcended his muse. Here, he was pitched into an otherworldly maelstrom of over-reverbed C&W just like taking a mushroom trip at that very second hand record-shop which had delivered him to me.

I was, by now, obsessed with everything Armand. So I wrote to him at the Mirror Records address on his album sleeves and waited. Within the month, a huge file of Armand Schaubroeck-ness came through my door. Press cuttings, stickers and more plectrums. But best of all were the signed photos and the command: "Julian, whenever you're in Rochester, N.Y., please kill me. I ain't never died before." Armand, I love you, man. It's you and me forever.

Armand’s 5th and final LP SHAKIN’ SHAKIN’ was beyond judgement - a meditation on the eternal Sat’day night boogie

Second Hand Ratfucker

Fuelled by personal correspondence and my unknown benefactor at Reddington's Rare Records, I embarked on a policy of Total Armand. When Reddington's delivered to me the inevitable used copy of Ratfucker, my brother Joss got a very welcome X-Mass gift. When my young mate Yorkie one day accompanied me into Probe with too much money in his pockets, I conned him into spending the full seven quid on that first and unbought triple which had lain there unplayed for so long. I even managed to find a rare 45 by Armand's first band, the Churchmice. Recorded in 1965, this ball of phlegm showed Armand and his guys to be weirder than even I'd imagined. "College Psychology on Love" was a raw-cuss and wordy pre-Velvets stumble, whilst "Babe, We're not part of Society" was irate and un-co-ordinated teenage socio-bollocks of the highest order1. Then Yorkie outdid me, and bought a Mirror Records Armand Schaubroeck 7" which featured his mate Jerry Porter singing lead vocal! Whoa!

This was the painting which inspired JEHOVAHKILL’s song of the same name

Double Live at the Hollywood Inn

In the 1970s, any self-respecting rock'n'roller issued at least one double live album, and Armand Schaubroeck was not about to be the exception. And like the Seeds and the 13th Floor Elevators before him, he was not gonna be put off by lack of a big audience or record sales. So when I discovered the paint-splattered Live at the Hollywood Inn [Rochester, N.Y.], I was in no way surprised to discover that the audience was the loudest thing on the record. The audience responds to the gentle opening chords of "Elmira Bound" as though they've seen Mother Mary dancing with the Boss. They're howling and wailing and reacting to every little moment and lyrical nuance that Armand can muster. The version of "Streetwalker" is almost drowned by the fake applause, yet it somehow added to the obsessive over-achievement of those crazy late 70s times in Armand Schaubroeck's life. The monochrome front sleeve shows him looking like a punk doctor about to barf on his patient, and the band plays like permanent outpatients on a terminal Saturday night.

By now, I was up to my neck in Armand Schaubroeck stuff, and still the torture never stopped. A dizzying album called Shakin Shakin was soon to come, the sleeve like some punk take on the Vertigo swirl label, and only three long songs per side: each one an unresolved boogie! Where was his head at? Where was mine at for buying this stuff? I don't know, but I'm so glad that I did. For before you could say "Wha Happen'd?" Armand Schaubroeck was gone. He'd released all these albums between 1976 and 1978, and suddenly there were no more. When I formed The Teardrop Explodes, I searched around America for his stuff and no one had a clue. Only Yorkie and my brother had played his stuff, and we were a weird triumvirate with a backlog of Armand history to share.

Another of Armand’s painting which always chilled me to the bone

Leaving Liverpool, I played Armand to my wife, Dorian, and anyone else who would listen. His songs appeared on any compilation tapes I'd make for friends, and I even used a song title of his for a Jehovahkill song, "Cut My Friend Down". But I've never forgotten any of his music and it still rings through me today, as clear as ever and as brutally poignant as ever. I searched for him on the Internet last month and he's now designing guitars. Looks pretty successful at it, too. Maybe we'll put his live album up for Head Heritage Album of the Month, sometime. Whatever, Armand Schaubroeck - you will always move me!




FOOTNOTES:
  1. If you ever find a copy of Antar Records' garage compilation Gone 1/Colour Dreams, that's my copy of "Babe, We're Not Part of Society" right there which Cally used as his master copy.


Discography:
A Lot of People Would Like to See Armand Schaubroeck... Dead
I Came to Visit but Decided to Stay
Armand Schaubroeck Steals Live at the Hollywood Inn
Ratfucker
Shakin' Shakin'