Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

The famous first and last words of Kim Fowley

A respectful nod in his passing to Kim Fowley, animal god of the streets, six foot five inch polio victim, Anglophile “rock Svengali” and so on, who died last Thursday after a long and stubborn battle with cancer that saw him still defiantly promoting other people’s mediocrity from his death bed. Forget The Runaways; what’s not to appreciate about someone who started with Alan Freed in 1959 and kept on till the bitter end, who gave us Nut Rocker, the earliest versions of The Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner, his own stellar Invasion of the Polaroid People, and ten thousand other tunes running the spectrum from genius trash to frankly ignorable trash and everywhere in between?

I wonder where we stand now on his projected three volume autobiography. Part one, Lord of Garbage, appeared in 2012, but shows signs of being written in haste. Part two, Planet Pain, is long overdue, while the third instalment was reputedly scheduled to appear on the day of his death (“good marketing”). In Lord of Garbage Fowley recalls a short spell around 1960 as a teenage poet:

“I remember going to Venice [in Los Angeles] … Back then, it was Beat Poetry, Black Turtlenecks and Bongos. It was a whole lot of post-war angst. Kim Fowley would go there in sports clothes and hustle thirty-three year old women, and people would drink apple juice and smoke reefers and recite long-winded poems about nothing … So anyway, I went to the coffee house in Big Sur and there they were, the Venice guys … I got up there and did my Poetry Duel with whoever was around … and it was one of the Beatnik Hot Shit Gods banked against me, and he couldn’t beat me, so we celebrated that night by going to Jack London’s house …”

He doesn’t say who was the Hot Shit God beat poet; it would be interesting to know. Fowley admitted to being beaten in improvised “poetry duels” only by stand-up comedian Redd Foxx and by Buddy Guy, the blues guitarist. Today it would be called a freestyle rap battle. In a self-penned magazine piece circa 1967 (“Kim Fowley Rides the Flower-Love Movement”) he claimed to have had two books of poetry published: The Earth is Really Flat and The Oblong Tiger. If they existed, these must have been extremely small press and must be now fabulously rare, as they are invisible to Google.

IMG_0001To be honest, the autobiographical “poetry” that frequently punctuates Lord of Garbage is far poorer stuff than many of his song lyrics. If Fowley was a poet, he was a performance poet, and his sardonic-apocalyptic delivery is usually what lifts the words. He had a knack for employing or improvising a form of spoken verse as a musical lyric, often – at least in his own personal output – laid over found “scrap tracks”, abandoned backings recorded by anonymous musicians. All surprisingly post-modern.

I am the goat-man, Gorgo the dog boy, talking about everything he saw when he was stoned in high school, shooting up in the boys’ room at Dog High School, Dorkville, U S Ay-ay-ay-ay-ay …
Behind yellow mountains, there’s thorns among the roses, women in hiding –
Wait, it’s women in hiding! Airheads are going riding. Someone tell me when they start to scream.
It’s no simple expedition, it’s a special red condition – it’s invasion.
It’s the invasion of the Polaroid Peepeepeepeepeepeepeople …

At any rate, he was a talker. But did the infant Kim Fowley really talk at ten months? And were his first words really: “I have a question. Why are you bigger than me?” – an intro that, according to Lord of Garbage, so shocked his mother that she promptly put him into care? Perhaps not, but it’s a good anecdote.

Fowley may not have been entirely the obnoxious, exploitative scumbag he would have had us believe. Among the many YouTube snippets, this is one of my favourites. From his hospital wheelchair a year ago, KF improvises a sentimental little song with a couple of teenagers he has just met. No great song, but it’s very sweet.

“I’m cancer. You’re eternal. You’re immortal. And you’re a friend. Thank you.”

Not quite his last words. But they’ll do.

 

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