Clip: dErailRoaDed review
A 60's Singer-Ranter Who Fell Short of Fame
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: November 3, 2005
Outsider art is the gentle, nonjudgmental term applied to the output
of musicians like Larry (Wild Man) Fischer, the psychotic songwriter
and performer (found to be both paranoid-schizophrenic and bipolar)
who is sympathetically profiled in Josh Rubin's documentary portrait,
"dErailRoaDed." Not everyone who watches this sad, disturbing film
with its flashy, animated embellishments will agree that what Mr.
Fischer does is art, whether outsider or any other kind.
Some of the most extravagant claims on his behalf come from Mark
Mothersbaugh, the lead singer of Devo, who compares Mr. Fischer to van
Gogh. The dreaded word "genius" is trotted out. Be assured, there's no
sign of that.
Musically, Mr. Fischer occupies the same marginal territory as Daniel
Johnston, another troubled musician whose raw, jingly effusions are
also revered by a fervent cult. Mr. Johnston, who is much less
aggressive than Mr. Fischer, also happens to be the subject of an
adoring documentary, "The Devil and Daniel Johnston," shown earlier
this year in the New Directors/New Films series in New York. That film
showed how easily pity can masquerade as adulation.
Once a skinny, wild-eyed hippie with a mischievous grin, Mr. Fischer
has grown into a bearish, middle-aged man with a bush of unruly gray
hair and a distant resemblance to David Crosby.
Frank Zappa discovered him nearly 40 years ago on the streets of Los
Angeles, where Mr. Fischer was peddling made-up songs on the spot for
spare change. Signed to Zappa's Bizarre record label, he put out a
double album, "An Evening With Wild Man Fischer," in 1968 that sold
12,000 copies and made him a minor figure of the psychedelic era. The
album cover showed him holding a butcher knife to a cardboard cutout
of a woman labeled "Larry's Mother."
At the height of his notoriety, he appeared on "Rowan and Martin's
Laugh-In" as a noisy, grinning kook dragged offstage by Ruth Buzzi.
The closest he came to rock star glory was an appearance at the Rose
Bowl on a bill with Janis Joplin and Joan Baez.
"One thing you've got to remember is that he actually is a wild
person; Larry is dangerous," Zappa declares in an old interview. Their
relationship ended when Mr. Fischer, in a rage, hurled a bottle that
barely missed striking Zappa's daughter, Moon Unit.
The movie, which includes generous snippets of Mr. Fischer's singsong
rants (one of the best known is the nagging, childish ditty
"Merry-Go-Round"), tells the unhappy story of his life in and out of
mental institutions, and of how his allegedly promising recording
career fizzled out.
Years after the Zappa fiasco, he was given a second chance. His
spontaneous jingle for Rhino Records, a Los Angeles record store that
expanded into an independent label, became the company's first single
and was followed by three albums, "Wildmania" (1977), "Pronounced
Normal" (1981) and "Nothing Scary" (1984). Each sold fewer copies than
the one before.
"We wanted to give him his 'Sgt. Pepper,' " says one of his producers,
Bill Mumy, with an apparently straight face.
Mr. Fischer eventually went to live with an aunt and later to an
institution for the mentally disabled. There he received medication
that treated his psychoses but curtailed his creativity - a happy or
unhappy ending, depending on how you look at it.
Opens today in Manhattan.
Directed by Josh Rubin; director of photography, Bryan Newman; edited
by Mr. Rubin, Jeremy Lubin and Howard Leder; music by Wild Man
Fischer; produced by Mr. Lubin; released by Ubin Twinz Productions. At
the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, 155 East Third Street, East Village.
Running time: 86 minutes. This film is not rated.