Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Kim Fowley - Outrageous

Kim Fowley

AOTM #32, January 2003ce
Released 1968 on Imperial (CD re-issued on Ascension Records, 2000)

A Bound God in a Sewer

  1. Animal Man (2.42)
  2. Wildfire (4.08)
  3. Hide & Seek (2.09)
  4. Chinese Water Torture (0.43)
  5. Nightrider (2.22)
  6. Bubble Gum (2.27)
  7. Inner Space Discovery (4.01)
  8. Barefoot Country Boy (2.01)
  9. Up (14.28)
    1. Up
    2. Caught in the Middle
    3. Down
  10. California Hayride (1.17)

Note: It says on the Unsung blurb at the front of this website that, if it’s possible, I always prefer to review a contemporary record for Album of the Month. And so it was to be with this January’s selection, until X-Mass postal services and errant mail order geekiness precluded my achieving the regular high standard of HH subterranean cultural burrowing. Still, ain’t nothing wrong with putting a lost classic on the hob to simmer an extra month, especially when you got several stand-bys waiting in the wings. And in the case of Kim Fowley’s OUTRAGEOUS, it’s probably righteous that such a trickster statement be the doorway between the years 2002 and 2003CE. Hell, Fowley even appears as the Bound God right here on this album sleeve – a chained Prometheus-meets-Loki right there in the town sewer, up to his waist in dirty water.

The Shaman as Doorway

The problem with someone like Kim Fowley is the intellectuals know – that on a long-term sensible career level - he doesn’t mean any of what he says. So they dismiss him because they’ve fallen for the idea that you gotta mean what you say in the first place in order for it to have value. Baloney! The innate truth of rock’n’roll shamanism is such that it can still ooze out and inform the world, even from the works of those who claim to be engaged in nothing more than some form of parody. So whilst the Doors took you to the underworld in a manner that was deadly earnest, the Fugs did it by employing mock incantations and magical chants which had superficially ridiculous lyrical content, but which were still ultimately mysterious enough to entrance the listener in the same way that Latin intoned during a church service can still unexpectedly transport the most secular and un-spiritual of visitors.
In other words, act like a shaman and you may become a shaman. Affect a ritual in your living room, with all the mock solemnity that it entails, but don’t be surprised when half of the people involved become moved and emotional. Hell, if we could persuade Britney to lend us her name for a coupla massive meditational grooves albums, we’d see such an emotional and electric response from Western Teendom that it would feel like Woodstock all over again – wouldn’t matter a damn that she didn’t mean it, because her name on the record would be enough seal-of-approval.

Eat and Run

The shaman has always been the doorway between worlds. The shaman acts as some bizarre bozo-interface mixing the serious and the ridiculous, the sacred and the profane, the super dangerous and the embarrassingly twee. Which is where Kim Fowley comes in. Or, more specifically, where OUTRAGEOUS comes in. Because, on OUTRAGEOUS, Fowley became the ultimate example of that bozo-interface. And, like a petrified rubber figure of Bart Simpson excavated from under one of Stonehenge’s trilithons, OUTRAGEOUS is probably the most unprovenanced piece in the whole history of rock’n’roll.

It sounds like nothing else.
It came out of nowhere.
There wasn’t even an attempt at a follow-up.
Fowley just did it, then walked away.

OUTRAGEOUS has song after song and great ones at that. But, far more than all of this, it was a shamanic rock’n’roll album made by the ultimate chancer/huckster/gleeman. And its lack of commercial success in no way undermines its genius as an album of transformation. Indeed, this album could probably be used as a blueprint for those seeking to create a Pied Piper effect on our contemporary teenage wasteland.

But how could this be? When I make the claim for OUTRAGEOUS lacking provenance, I’m talking about this urine-stained street hustler Fowley guy who, back in 1966, was having hits as Napoleon 14th with “They’re Coming to take me Away” after failing one year before with his bandwagonning 45 “The Trip”. Four long years before that, he’d been the doo-wop producer of naff Leiber & Stoller re-writes such as the Hollywood Argyles’ number one “Alley Oop”. Hell, back in 1960 this guy was writer, producer and performer of that hoary 45 “Nutrocker” – yup, this man was B. Bumble AND the Stingers!
I guess the greed of late ‘60s expectations must have taken over. An opportunist schmoozer-loser such as Fowley must have known he had to act quickly as soon as he clocked other contemporaries from the early ‘60s transforming themselves AND being taken seriously, as did his mate Little Ritchie Marsh, who had become the proto-Flower Child Sky Saxon.

Do It Then Move On

Like Vachel Lindsay, who heroically walked across America at the turn of the 20th century writing poems for bakers and Chinese laundry owners in return for a loaf of bread and clean undies, Kim Fowley was always the gleeman rather than the true poet – the conjuror of words, the raiser of psychic hackles on the backs of the great and the gifted, the self-styled Lord of Garbage as he called himself on OUTRAGEOUS.
Of course, aside from their hugely ostentatious and frantic styles of vocal delivery, the only other artistic elements which Vachel Lindsay and Kim Fowley could be said to have shared was an insatiable desire to encapsulate in their art everything which pertained to be America Right Now. To capture your own culture in its state of flux is to comprehend that culture is always in that state of flux – that culture is always in the act of ‘Becoming’.

And what better medium through which to capture the moment than rock’n’roll? Even in these cynical days of Q Magazine’s Nick Drake Award For Melancholic Unshavenness, most journalists prefer to write about a rock’n’roll which at least attempts to sound as though it captured the moment. And rock’n’roll is still the work of the trickster, though (commercially) he’s now migrated from gormless shite attacks like Stereophonics and the Manic Street Porters to the snotgrobbling one-minute-twenty-six-seconds of Liam Lynch’s “United States of Whatever”. Murky or bright or bass heavy or drumless or stupid or smart, rock’n’roll just is.
You book your studio on a rainy Tuesday morning – you make your classic right then and there. Fuck Memphis and the vibe, the vibe’s where YOU are, motherfucker. Would countless neo-Krautrock bands now be asking engineers to replicate Neu’s drum sound if guitarist Klaus Dinger hadn’t given up searching for a drummer to make the rhythms he kept hearing in his head, and, out of sheer exasperation, done the fucking drums himself? After adoring Can’s legendary EGE BAMYASI and having it inform huge chunks of my whole musical aesthetic for 20 years, did I really need Jaki Leibezeit to let on that, all along, he’d thought his drums were too loud on that record? No fucking way! Did any of us need to hear Johnny Thunders complain that Todd Rundgren’s mix of the first New York Dolls LP was too murky? Hail no! Besides, it just reinforces the image of Thunders as puppet of his more powerful producer.
Which all brings us to Kim Fowley and his spirit of ultra-ultra-ultra-ultra-ultra-ultra immediacy. Hey, and in these neo-Tears for Fears days of Coldplay, and so-called artists like Richard Ashcroft employing Paul Young ‘fugees such as bass player Pino Packadildo, we need as much now now now as we can grasp a hold of. Which (again) is where Kim Fowley comes in. Or, more specifically, where OUTRAGEOUS comes in.

Though its Rent-a-wreck homage to the Doors, the Mothers and Jimi Hendrix is immensely satisfying in a Teddy & His Patches sort-of-way, it wasn’t the music on OUTRAGEOUS which still leaves 21st Century listeners gasping. No no no, the genius of this 1968 album is all contained in the dizzyingly portentous and truly whacked-out vocal delivery which Fowley chooses to foist upon us, And it’s a delivery which, I might add, entirely pre-empted ‘70s Iggy Pop and must have (at least temporarily) kicked Jim Morrison’s dick into the dust. And hearing the various members of Steppenwolf trying to keep up with Fowley’s heart attack vocalese is mesmerising in itself. And all this at a time when iconoclastic recording acts were commonplace enough to be almost expected.

Let’s Go Out of our Minds to get back in

OUTRAGEOUS opens with the brief Gatlin gun drumming and lightweight Hendrix-ish psychedelia of “Animal Man”. Like the Standells playing the Music Machine’s hit “Talk Talk”, the music exists entirely on its own, working well as an instrumental and merely laying down a foundation on which Fowley sets out his stall:

“I’m ugly… Uh-huh… Dirty, filthy, sneaky, horrible. I’m gonna kill you, are you straight? Well, I’m animal man.”

Right now, he’s still courting us. This is pathetic, right? The music here is way too bubblegummy to be anything more than a cute diversion. Verse two is just as lame and the music is great generic psychedelic garage rock at least one year out of date. Cue verse three:

“I’m a love addict… Public enemy number one, I’m gonna butcher all the girls on my loving room floor.” A Suzy Creamcheese-type voice announces: “Oh animal man, you’re so rough and so… big.” Seven seconds of grunting (count ‘em) and Fowley comes like a 16-year-old. “It’s too dirty, it’ll be banned,” he chuckles, and that’s where you start liking the guy.

“Wildfire” really kicks OUTRAGEOUS in. Meaning and meaninglessness shag each other senseless, as a Gothic minor key blues guitar riffs over a slouching lurching drum beat, and the voice of a singing cadaver croaks: ”Oh yayer yayer, some one’s been setting fire in my neighbourhood… an old car has been… somebody tell me… and who’s been setting the fire?” Fowley doesn’t finish any sentence, just leaves a space for us to fill in and moves on. “Wildfire… it’s wild figh-figh-figh-figh-figh-fire. The fire inspector came up to me and he said to me: “How do you know? How do you know? How do you know?” And I asked him: “How do you know? How do you know? How do you know?”

Genius. I’d love to have watched THAT conversation.

Then Kimmy continues: “And I said to the fire inspector: “What bothers you about everything?” Out of the ether, shuffling and shoe-gazing, trucks a reluctant nerd chorus which, at the behest of a cajoling Fowley, reluctantly moos out a truly bovine: “Reality!”. This is done with about the same achingly embarrassing non-conviction that Steve Hanley exhibited when singing “Popstock” on the second Fall LP. It’s fabulous. “What bothers you about everything?” asks Kim. “Reality,” they chunter, slowly warming to his cause. “So what bothers you about reality?” he counters, before answering on their behalf: “Everything!”
Oo yeah. It’s deadly obvious, but it’s a beautiful pay-off. Too beautiful for Kimmy, who gets bored easily and switches off immediately:

“I’m not crazy. I’m going to sleep,” states Kim. “I wanna go to sleep. I wanna go to sleep,” he repeats over and over at Mach 1 motormouth speed. “Help me go to sleep. Help me go to sleep.”

Next up is the let-down. “Hide & Seek” is an excellent funky early Sly-type instrumental and a so-what forgettable waste of your time in context with the rest of this album. Use its inclusion to help inform yourself why Kim Fowley still mainly remains utterly unsung.

“Chinese Water Torture” is the most abject form of genius; a forty-three second “Horse Latitudes” for paranoid teen masturbators. Hilariously contemptibly rubbish fake oriental intoning excites the drummer into stomping frenzy until a super paranoid Fowley paranoically insists that the police have just walked in and made them stop playing, and by the way, we’re all dead. Excellent.

“Nightrider” is a gigantic circular instrumental with an amazing guitar riff and a tripping vocalist coming to terms with the fact that contact lenses really must be cleaned every coupla months, or they’ll dry up like husks right there in your eyes. Aaaaaaaaaargh! Whoaoaoaoaoaoa! Wowowow-waughghghghghgh! Here, Fowley takes the archetypal garage Count Five scream and punishes until his throat is razor raw and his haemorrhoids are inflated to the size of grapes from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Only one lyric in the entire thing:
You say you want me every night,
Running around with the angels of light,
You say you want a natural man, Girlchild

This is a man with Pete Burns up his ass. Unlucky.

“Bubblegum” opens with truly euphoric Robbie Kreiger ever-ascending guitar and an atmosphere straight out of STRANGE DAYS. “Your name is Bubblegum, live for moon and sun,” coos Fowley. Oh, “Bubblegum” is brief, beautiful, deeply sexy and groovy-groovy-groovehhhh!

“Inner Space Discovery” is that bozo-interface I was mentioning earlier where the Fugs meet the Doors (indeed where the Godz meet the Patti Smith Group, and where the Nihilist Spasm Band meets the MC5). One of the engineers, David Brand, flatly states “Take 4 Insane Version”, to which the other engineer (Bruce Ellison) blandly insists that this must be in the “Mark Lindsay voice, Kim”. And so this glorious “Inner Space Discovery” takes off, though utterly devoid of any Mark Lindsay voice whatsoever.
This song – its tones of voice, its solipsistic asides, the whole schmeer – musta been the blueprint for the Iggy Pop of the 70s, but almost a decade before Iggy himself got there. That’s not to put down the Ig – you gotta admire his genius for even recognising that there could be a career to be forged out of this kind of vocal delivery. And Iggy was also smart enough to smokescreen any direct Fowley comparisons by his famous damn-with-faint-praise comment: “Kim Fowley is bullshit, but it’s a better class of bullshit!”

Then comes the flatulence of “Barefoot Country Boy”. What here is basically bog standard proto-retro-rock’n’roll in the style of “Star” from ZIGGY STARDUST and the Plastic Ono Band’s “New York City” becomes possessed and ultra-weird when used as musical support for someone snorting, belching, straining and sneezing their way to a heart attack. As Fowley asserts on the record sleeve, the answer to the city dweller’s neuroses must include acts of ‘animalism, vulgarity, and pure madness’, but the most charming aspect of this method of song delivery is the way in which Fowley occasionally surprises even himself. “Whoa… rock’n’roll!” he shouts in alarm as one particularly ripe greeny whizzes past the mike.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

And finally we’re into the biggie – the transformation freak-out which sets OUTRAGEOUS aside from all but the best. “Up” is the definitive audience-led stream-of-unconsciousness descent into madness; fourteen and a half minutes of soul-review-from-hell ritual abuse by a tripping and paranoid maniac, who may even not be on drugs. And when I say audience-led, I just mean that Kimmy here is totally affected by every look, grimace, whisper and nip-to-the-bog which his hippy studio cortege makes. As always, this is Kim the Observer and everything he sees, even in the safety of his own recording studio, is out to get him. The fat smoking girl who brought in the whip comes in for some particularly strong criticism. A coupla minutes further into this death trip and he screams in apparent surprise, and apparently to no-one/everyone: “You’re not dead”. What a give-away – he’s tripping his socks off. “I just woke up next to Ay-dolf Hitler’s body… Is this hell? Is there a drummer somewhere in hell?” The questions are coming too thick and fast, now. “Do you wanna bury the straight people? Straight People’s Funeral Song, please.” Cue cheesy-cheesy organ theme. “Well, the straight people are going nowhere… and we’re gonna get you, we’re coming after you…”

“I am the Lord of Garbage. I sit in a dirty room next to a gas station. On weekends I wait for local straight chicks to walk up the hill. I have one thing on my mind. You know what I’m gonna do to those straight chicks? What am I gonna do” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, heah, heah, yeah, yurgh, yurgh, yurgh…”

Then he does a tasteless rap about how white guys have to get used to finding black women beautiful because ‘black negroes’ are taking all the white chicks. And still it won’t let up. We get some shit about the Chinese invading the USA in 1987, and what will we say to those invading Chinese troops? According to Kim, American couples will walk up to those troops and scream: “Yeah, yeah, yeahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!”

“Up” dies in echo only to be followed by the insane vocal-only coda “California Hayride”. This brief final track is a whole pre-Altamont, pre-Manson dialogue between the screaming incoherent belching Fowley and the compassionate frankly-unbelievable world-changing charlatan Fowley. Everything that the latter character asserts is instantly undermined by belches and stun-grunts from the other speaker. Fantastic.

In conclusion, Fowley chants: “We’re rough, we’re tough, we’ve had enough!” over and over and fucking over again, before the engineers pull the plug and a strangely delightful silence pervades the room. Transformation, transformation, transformation!

From Y to Z and Never Again

Listeners shaking their heads in wonder at the sheer cantankerous perfection which Kim Fowley achieved on OUTRAGEOUS may well wish to leg it to the nearest record store and attempt to stock up on some more of these gems. However, there are none. Zero. Zilch. Our intuitive non-career mover chose to populate his next album with all kinds of Sunset Strip detritus, dignifying them with cameo roles right there on his own vinyl grooves, and calling the debacle GOOD CLEAN FUN. That in itself is a pretty major statement of intent. Right now, somewhere in the ultraworld, Kimmy is at work formulating the next ‘moment’. He is the world’s truly forgotten boy, but he’s smart enough to know that a genius like his will always have its Dante Gabriel Rosetti waiting in the wings of some future theatre, preparing to champion his skinny ass. As Fowley once wrote:

“I never wanted to be a mainstream rock star! I did succeed.”

Oo yeah.