Wednesday, June 09, 2010


While looking amidst my ever-aging record collection for long-ignored favorites I pulled this forgotten classic outta the pile and voila, my actions immediately transported me into strange musical vistas that I don't think I've traversed in quite some time. Yes, I must admit that even though I still swear allegiance to and honor the glory of Fowley as laid down on his Norton Records collection of rare and offbeat single sides, I have been ignoring his "proper" releases to the point where I even had ANIMAL GOD OF THE STREETS pulled out and ready to play only to pass it up once again just like I always seem to do whenever an MC5 album catches my eye. And yeah, I know that the entire subject of Mr. Fowley is one to get even the most faithful BLOG TO COMM reader all frothy and foaming at the mouth with blasphemous utterances of "lecherous carpetbagger", "phonus balonus no-talent" and other epithets of that nature so akin to the meek and gentle amongst us but hey, have I ever been the one to shy away from controversy or hold my tongue in the face of a raging tide of anti-BTC sentiment? Have I? HAVE I??? You bet I have!!!

But not this time, because THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is whatcha's call a true underground rock masterpiece, another winner from a guy who was always there on the sidelines developing and nurturing budding talent but never really in the spotlight himself. Recorded while The Master was holidaying in Sweden (probably on the lookout for those loose women over there I've always heard about), THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL ranks amidst Fowley's best, a record that only proves to all of us that the man was (and probably still is) capable of taking whatever move and groove there is on the scene at the time and twisto/changeo-ing it in his own seedy image. Throughout the years Fowley has been in on the teen pop, garage, surf, glam and punk games and although his takes on such seemingly disparate styles have never really made any true inroads with the record buying populace they have captured a certain fun, enjoyable aura that's part teenage exploitation, part serious observation and part obvious put on. That always made for a strange magic in the man's work in which, even when he is attempting new terrain in rock that go all over the boards aesthetics-wise, his special imprint remains, an imprint of quality that tells ya this ain't just another cheap commercial ploy, it's a FOWLEY commercial ploy!

But better he, than onetime colleague Zappa f'r'example, to act as the snide satirical jester of rock & roll. From the late-seventies on Zappa was just floating from one feeble album to another and his disco and punk spoofs weren't anything to sneeze about, making him come off like just anudder snide old hippie who put his subject matter down without giving us a good explanation as to why. And for a guy who defended (more or less) his generation from the elders who did JUST THAT you'd think Zappa woulda learned something about satire like the kind we all used to think he produced! Like DOONESBURY Zappa was way way out-of-touch with any new goings on since his heyday, and perhaps obviously confused about them just as much as any member of the "establishment" was confused about the sixties generation.

Nothing bad about that natch, but the music Zappa was releasing sure reflected a puzzling dismay that almost ranked with Joe Pyne's bewilderment over the same era of youthful exuberance that Zappa sprung forth from. (An aside, I've heard that Zappa's infamous "you have a wooden leg so you must be a table" comment on the Pyne show was never uttered, and for that matter Zappa was never even on the Pyne show! Can anyone [dis]prove any of this?) In contrast, Fowley seemed knew how to take whatever was young, fresh and exciting from sources such as Iggy to the late-seventies El Lay punks and pretty much did his best to osmose it and soak up all of the good influences into his work. That's probably why I can come back to an album like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL while Zappa reminds me of a disapproving prude no matter whether "Mudd Club" or "Disco Boy"'s bellowing forth from your long-suffering speakers.

THE DAY THE WORLD STOOD STILL proves that Fowley's antenna were perked up and that he was more that rarin' to go with regards to making his opinions on the twisted state o' America 1970 political/social affairs known. Thankfully for all of us, Fowley didn't succumb to the vulgar sloganeering that was oh so common nor did he go the folkie introspective route of a James Taylor or Carole King. Fowley was beyond all that so you don't have to worry about feeling like some Red Book-toting bomb maker nor some confused rich kid holed up in a mental ward while you're listening away!

And let me say, even if this makes me sound like an immature sixth grader that big city rockcrits obviously sneer at, this album ROCKS! What else could you say about a platter that opens with a cover of Vince Taylor's "Brand New Cadillac" and goes through such wild permutations (with or without the help of Skip Battin) detailing Fowley's thoughts about Current Events in a oh-so-straightforward way. Fowley even makes Jim Morrison sound inarticulate, while "Visions of Motorcycle" sounds more or less like what Steppenwolf shoulda been laying down (thanks to the appearance of one Mr. Mars Bonfire?) at the time 'stead of the lazy crank out that made up that group's latterday material. Maybe not but, at least through my jaded ears Fowley captures this time and the mood much better'n most of the dated rabble rousers who were making their opines known with volume and perhaps a little bit of ultra-violence back during the 60s/70s cusp.

Much of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL's straightforward 1969-era punk rock, the kind that was being cranked out in suburban garages across the nation with metallic voracity while parts come off smart, perhaps intellectual and a definite downer with Fowley the hip youth commentator telling it like it was as the old canard goes. The country riff of "I Was a Communist For The FBI", with its great punny vocals, Fowley doing Jagger doing a western twang, puts to shame 99% of the cheap antiwar expression that you couldn't escape during the very early-seventies with one deft swing. In fact all of the lyrics on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL are actually poetry anthology worthy (and I'm even talking good poesy, like I'd expect Kendra Steiner to put this stuff out!) and power-packed whether Fowley's talking about rock & roll or "revolution", and sometimes I wonder if the man's detractors are really that venomous, or are they just jealous of his deft way with words or his neverending train of thought for that matter.

My two favorites tracks (if this had only gotten out maybe it woulda fought it out with FUNHOUSE and THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD for best elpee of '70!) are the title track and platter closer "Is America Dead?" The former shows an especially tender side in the midst of all of this raucous punkitude, with ol' Kim uttering some of the most heart-wrenching lyrics of his career which I would love to see reprinted anywhere as a celeste-driven dulcet melody (not unlike "Sunday Morning" or "Stephanie Says") underline one of the few pleas for peace in this world that doesn't make me wanna upchuck. More dramatic, but no less mandatory comes "Is America Dead?", a track so good that it even re-appears on ANIMAL GOD OF THE STREETS which deserves a post in itself dontchaknow... A free-for-all encapsulating more of the radical rumble of '70 (and doing it a lot better'n the Guess Who with their baiting "American Woman"), Fowley rattles and angsts on and on about the sorry state of USA affairs that he's observing from afar as a temporary expat, rambling on about the Generation Gap and whether or not there will be an America when he eventually gets back. Fowley's final take on the entire matter, after musing about and singing his way through about seven minutes of twisted social commentary is that yeah, they like Fowley over there and well, there ain't any toilets or vitamins or stuff like that, but eh, like that's OK! Brilliance that I know will swoosh past a good 75% of anyone willing to devote their time to this album so pride yourself for not being DENSE at least this one time.

Oft chastised as a charlatan, pervert, exploiter of scenes and general about town loudmouth, Fowley has been able to survive using his wits and talent and yes, he has succeeded (at least aesthetically) these past fiftysome years while many others have flopped about even if they have been commercially successful. And an album like THE DAY THE WORLD STOOD STILL only goes to prove, especially after a good four decades of studious hindsight, that it wasn't all of those strange peaceniks and pseudo-Marxist America-haters who really had a handle on what it was to be a teenage American blob cum sacrificial lamb but a guy who I guess was closer to the taproot of it all than any of us would have believed. When it all came down to the bared wire truth those people couldn't care squat about lower-class midwestern farmboys getting blown to bits overseas. In fact, do they really care now? At least Fowley along with the Stooges and dare I say even Lou Reed had more of a thumb on these kids' pulsebeat, and a rec like this 'un sure proves that undeniable fact.

(PS-If you wanna read another hotcha take on this album pick up Bill Shute's article-length writeup which appeared in the twentieth issue of my unfortunately capitulated fanzine BLACK TO COMM. That particular issue, as we say in the publishing business, is long gone but if you don't have a copy you can always find somebody who does and rip if off them if you so desire! If you can't maybe they'll let you borrow theirs, that is after a few swift kicks in the groin! But all kidding aside, any similarities between that review and this one just might not be coincidental since I do have an active backbrain and well, sometimes certain bits of information buried in my cranium does tend to surface to the top leading me to believe such facts, opinions and whatnot are of my own but creation! Later on I usually recall the original source of my various opines which doesn't always lead to catcalls of plagiarism mainly because the doofs I ripped off have forgotten they gave me the ideas in the first place! How lucky can an uncreative sub-hack like myself get anyway?

Not having read that particular ish in quite some time I might be treading upon some of the same territory ol' Grampa Shute had a good seventeen years back [I do recall his comparisons twixt Fowley and Zappa as well as some commentary regarding the closing lines of "Is America Dead?"] so Bill, if you do read this and think that I basically ripped off your old review please don't whomp me! Sue me perhaps, but you know how I abhor physical violence, especially when it is directed against ME!)

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