Weird music lost a pioneer last week: Larry “Wild Man” Fischer, a paranoid schizophrenic street musician from Los Angeles who was “discovered” by Frank Zappa and went on to become one of the leading lights of so-called “outsider music.” Fischer, who hadn’t released any new music since the 1980s, had apparently been holed up in an assisted-living facility in Van Nuys since 2004, where he was taking medication to control his mental illness. Unfortunately, the meds also dulled what he called “the pep,” his frequent manic episodes that were responsible for most of his musical outbursts. He died last Thursday at age 66 of heart failure.
Fischer’s story is a rather sad one, as he was by all accounts genuinely off his nut and never fully reaped the benefits of his cult musical status. Still, he had a Zelig-like ability to turn up all over the place: His debut album, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer, was one of the first albums released on Zappa’s Bizarre Records in 1969. He appeared on Laugh-In in the ’60s and Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2004. When Rhino Records was just a retail store in the ’70s, they got Fischer to record a promotional jingle, “Go to Rhino Records,” and released it as their first single, thus launching what would go on to become one of the biggest novelty and reissue labels in the industry. In the ’80s, Fischer recorded albums with Barnes and Barnes and cut a single with legendary jazz singer (and George’s aunt) Rosemary Clooney. It’s fair to say the man rarely let his mental illness interfere with his productivity.
Los Angeles attracts more than its fair share of wingnuts (like this guy), but the loss of Wild Man Fischer really is a blow to the city’s offbeat charm. No longer will Sunset Strip crawlers and UCLA students be able to “buy an original song for a dime” (a favorite Wild Man sales pitch when he was out busking) on their way to happy hour. Wild Man Fischer might be an acquired taste at best, but his is the kind of crazy that makes the world a richer place (even if it too often fails to enrich the person behind the craziness).
We’ll miss you, Larry.
- dErailRoaDed official site (documentary about Larry “Wild Man” Fischer)
- “Wild Man Fischer, Outsider Musician, Dies at 66” (New York Times obituary)
- Wild Man Fischer on Rhino Records
- Wild Man Fischer on MySpace (unofficial page)
- The Fischer King on Amazon.com (rare Rhino Records Wild Man Fischer compilation)