Portrait of a freak

By Tom McGrath

International Times, October 31 - November 13, 1966

KIM FOWLEY is a hustler. He telephoned International Times and bombarded me with  ideas. His main idea was that I should interview him and give his big personality a suitable space in the paper. To encourage me to do this, he helped arrange for EMI to put an advert in.

I decided to be tough about it: if I thought Fowley was a big lie, neither he nor his advert would get any space in the paper. Fowley arrived, height approaching seven feet, handsome face, and showered me with more ideas and more information about himself. We made a long tape in a cold basement room. By the end of it I had come to this conclusion about Kim Fowley: he is pretending to be a psychedelic freak who is pretending to be a pop singer. He is on everybody's scene and nobody's. If he cares about anything, it is himself. Yet with all that, I liked him and decided that whatever the hell it is he is doing, I go along with it. The safest description I can think for him is "a 1960's phenomenon;" the description I think most fits his aura – unidentified flying object.

Below are some extracts from the tape I made with him.

"I've been in London for five months off and on. Off and on means I went over to Paris to do some television, I did some television in Holland, Germany, Sweden, and I did a song called "Underground Lady'' which is only available on a French EP called "The Trip". plug, plug. "The Trip," of course, is a song that I recorded a year and a half ago in a happening in someone's kitchen in California. It sold 16,000 copies in California and approximately nine to ten throughout Western Europe. It is an improvisational happening describing what my friends and their friends were doing at the time ... It got on the radio by mistake and it sold very well. Then it got taken off deliberately. Eventually it was issued here on the Island label. It got banned by the pirate stations. One pirate station said that The Trip was the most evil record ever recorded.

Because of its connections with LSD?

"I don't know. As far as I'm concerned, I always tell the people who ask me if I've ever taken LSD, I always tell them that LSD is three initials that not only stand for your money system but also stand for Lingering Sex Drive. Have I taken LSD or has LSD taken me ... anywhere.'

"I came over here because ... when you make records that aren't played on the radio, Tom, you're in trouble because you have to get it exposed. You have to sell it yourself. Then you are competing with the rock and roll teenage idols at the same time. And that's hard. It got to a point five months ago where the record companies refused to take me seriously, or the music seriously, and I came in exile to Europe."

You don't consider yourself a rock and roll singer?

"No I would say that I'm concerned with awareness expansion. You can't say this in rock and roll as such, but you can use it as a vehicle for any ideas people want to hear. There are people who want to hear things that I might be able to put into some form. It's easier to go dancing with your friends than it is to sit down and read it. I think we might use rock and roll ... drumbeats to accentuate what's happening. The attention span of the average person who buys records ... its not limited but it's short: there are so many distractions in the mechanical age. Maybe 40 years ago you could have had your book. You had your F. Scott Fitzgerald, now you have Bob Dylan ...

Don't you think that what you're trying is already happening anyway? The Beatles on a recent LP had one track with words taken from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There's "Say that you'll be with me every day" which is a song about a trip of one kind or another.

"Yes, I think these things are breaking through the barriers of conventionality – especially musically. And they're stimulating a lot of people to ask what's next, what is good and bad, what's happening ... they are more or less conscience probers. Take your Chalk Farm happening last weekend. I think a lot of the people there were grooving on the anticipation ... that it would continue to get better. I don't think people were concerned with the actual happening ... they all were kind of trembling pleasurable and saying 'Hey, man, we're really all together here'. They were looking for things to unite this feeling and I think they looked to the music ... I think you'll find that the happenings in England here are going to get more ... happening. And I hope that the people who play the music can get into the fact that there is violence afoot in the world ... and I don't mean negative violence ... a positive violence which has to get together. When it happens it's very groovy. In America we're getting to "freak outs" with between seven and twelve thousand people in Southern California with the Mothers of Invention. You take them around from happening to happening.

Can you tell me more about the Mothers of Invention?

"The Mothers of Invention are headed by Frank Zaffa [ :) ] who is the Orson Welles of psychedelic freak music. Their musical roots are pre-Elvis. They were playing Spanish-American-Negro-Summertime-Cheek-to-Cheek music for a while and evolved to Louie-Louie, Wooley-Bully, Midnight Hour, and so on, then came out to Los Angeles from the hinterlands, at the tail-end of the folk-rock protest movement. In their negativity of protesting against conventionality they stumbled on a form of positive expression – freaking out. The very things that society said was wrong, they turned around and made right. Frank and the group saw the need to express this feeling musically.

They invited me to join their group which I did for approximately six weeks. The highlight of our association was when I guested with them at the Vietnam Artists' Peace Tower [1] project on Sunset Strip, this was a tower five storeys high, all paintings. The artists rented the land themselves and erected this. Sunset Strip is very similar to Soho. All the right-wing bulldogs came beating along and there were several pretty bad scenes there. At one point in this project the money was getting low. So we decided to have a dance. While we were on stage a brick was thrown at us the size of a football. It was during the guitar solo and it was caught. While the tower was up all the people from national television came out and asked why the paintings which had taken months to prepare were rotting away in the elements. And the artists said it was because there were people rotting away in Vietnam.

How about your latest record?

"My latest record starts out: See the sun shining in the midnight sky, high up in the clouds where the pretty airplanes fly ... whatever that means. I don't know. I found a melody about 300 years old and I found another melody that was from equatorial Africa and I put it together with the instrumentation of a German marching band and a negro baroque band and I imagined I was ten years old, eating chocolate candy and looking awestruck into the air. And that's what the records about ... And the other side is poetry recitation.

1.Los Angeles artists build the Artists' Peace Tower in Hollywood in January-February 1966. The opening was in February 26. Artist's Peace Tower War Protest - 1966

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