The Legend of Wild Man Fischer |
by Dennis P. Eichhorn & J.R. Williams
(Top Shelf, 2004)
Wild Man Fischer is a star of "outsider" music. The exact definition of the term and what should be included in the genre has been debated, but this explanation should suffice:
"Outsider musicians are often termed 'bad' or 'inept' by listeners who judge them by the standards of mainstream popular music. Yet despite dodgy rhythms and a lack of conventional tunefulness, these often self-taught artists radiate an abundance of earnestness and passion. And believe it or not, they're worth listening to, often outmatching all contenders for inventiveness and originality."
That quote was taken from the introduction to the website of Irwin Chusid, who wrote Songs from the Key of Z, generally considered to be one of the definitive books on the subject.
Fischer is certainly an outsider. Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, he was known on the streets of Los Angeles for accosting strangers and asking if they would like to hear an original song for a dime.
Frank Zappa heard about Fischer and recorded a double album with him in 1968, An Evening with Wild Man Fischer. This began the legend, which came to the attention of amateur concert promoter Dennis P. Eichhorn.
This book has both text and graphic novel sections. The text remembrances and background are by the authors, another friend of Fischer, and Josh Rubin, who contributed to a documentary about him. There is also an afterword by Chusid.
The graphic novel portions are most of the book. They go over a bit of Fischer's history, but they mostly cover Eichhorn's personal experiences with him, illustrated by Williams.
The stories are both funny and sad, as might be expected given Fischer's condition. Fischer sang a cappella without a band, a difficult act for any entertainer to put across. Sung by the out-of-tune Fischer, songs like "The Taster" (a new dance craze) and "Jimmy Durante" did not appeal to everyone, and some of the results are chronicled here.
On the other hand Fischer's habits, maddening for those who had to deal with them, make for hilarious reading. And Williams has a gift for comic drawing, with exaggerations that recall the glory days of Mad Magazine.
One story has Fischer knocking on house doors looking for a bathroom. By chance, he finds a fan who admits him. Fischer uses the closet instead of the bathroom. Instead of becoming angry, the fan preserves the waste and charges admission to see it. This may not be true, but it is part of the legend.
The authors have a genuine affection for Fischer. They accept him and his music without intellectual meandering. It is unlikely that a scholarly biography will ever be produced, so this short book may stand as the best-written work about this remarkable individual. It is a worthy tribute.