A couple years ago, boredom drove me to the lunatic fringe. New music had gotten stale, the cutting-edge, dull. Eager to explore new frontiers, I immersed myself in the fascinating world of music made by artists with varying degrees of mental illness or eccentric behavior, music truly on the edge (and often, a few steps over). Whether they're crazy, troubled, or confused, these artists produce songs, no matter how crude, that are heartfelt, soulful, unpredictable, and often unaffected by outside influence. What follows is a short list of artists who rock my record collection.
The Madcap Laughs
Barrett was the genius behind Pink Floyd until his Herculean intake of acid had him tripping right out of reality, never to return. In and out of lucidity, Barrett made this fantastic document of someone dangling over the threshold of sanity. As brilliant as it is, it's also upsetting when considering the future that Barrett dosed away.
Poultry in Motion
The boogieman of Boone County, West Virginia, Adkins has been knocking out primitive rockabilly records from a shack since the '50s. Among his muses: chicken. Be it a dance craze ("Chicken Walk") or a culinary delight ("Cookin' Chicken 1999"), Adkins has built an impressive body of work clucking in the chicken coop.
Larry "Wild Man" Fischer
"Music Business Shark," The Fischer King
A true raving loony, Wild Man Fischer was discovered by Frank Zappa, who produced Fischer's debut in 1968 (but apparently never paid him). Fischer can neither sing nor play an instrument, but he can improvise and bark (like a horny sea lion), which is what earned him people's pocket change on L.A.'s streets. This 1980s recording broaches a recurring theme in the life of Fischer: Having felt he was robbed by "music business sharks" (Zappa), he was ever paranoid of not getting paid for his "talents."
"Walking the Cow," Continued Story
The most heartbreaking and sublimely melodic pop song ever put to tape. Johnston, an oversized manic-depressive man-child, penned this number in 1985 and it's still his best.
Crispin Hellion Glover
"These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," The Big Problem
Everyone saw this actor lose it on Letterman, demonstrating his martial artistry on Dave. On Nancy Sinatra's "Boots," he goes totally psycho. Glover doesn't sing the lyrics as Nancy would; rather, he sobs, wails, and screams them like one whose boots are marching straight toward a mental meltdown.
Greatest Hits Vol. 2
A chronic schizophrenic, Willis uses a canned synth track as the foundation of his songs. Predictable as the music is, what spills out of his mouth is anything but. Greatest Hits Vol. 2 is, so far, the definitive Willis collection, featuring a wealth of songs highlighting the tuneless singer's social commentary on street violence ("Birdman Kicked My Ass"), fashion ("Cut the Mullet"), and thuggery ("I Broke out Your Windshield").
"Hello Lucille, Are You a Lesbian?"
Hello Lucille, Are You a Lesbian?
If a bloodline could be traced from Wesley Willis, it would lead straight to this R&B catastrophe, who in 1982 dedicated this song to his wife after she came out of the closet. "I hate all lesbians," T. Valentine emotes with a pronounced lisp (hmmm).
"Fall Breaks and Back to Winter,"
One can only wonder what was coursing through the troubled, drug-addled mind of Brian Wilson when he composed this strange instrumental. Alternating between haunted (the ghostly Beach Boys harmonies) and downright cuckoo (when "The Woody Woodpecker Song" chimes in), "Fall Breaks" was derived from the spooky Smile number "Fire."
"New Young Fresh Fellows Theme"
(PopLlama, 7-inch single)
You've probably seen the large-statured Peterson blowing his trumpet around town. Peterson, who could have played the lead in Sling Blade, has recorded four albums and this 1992 single, in which he wrote and arranged a new theme for YFF (which is musically brilliant), insisting in the lyrics that YFF should add Peterson to the fold.
It's Hard to Believe: The Amazing World of Joe Meek
(Razor & Tie)
Meek was the British equivalent of Phil Spector in the '50s and '60s, a producer who crammed more into a four-track than just a meager wall of sound. Sadly, the sexually frustrated creator of "Telstar" ended his brilliant career by shooting his landlord and himself in 1967.
Honorable mentions: Tiny Tim, Lucia Pamela, Kids of Widney High, Roky Erickson, Skip Spence, Congresswoman Malinda Jackson Parker, Legendary Stardust Cowboy.