Oldsters will recall when “import” VHS tapes would cost $59 and you had to have an $800 TV and $500 multi-standard VCR to play them. I always used to see Shadow of Light, a compilation of music videos and some live performances by Bauhaus, in NYC record stores, and I wanted to own it, but the barrier to entry was prohibitively high. Now, of course, it can be seen for free on YouTube:
1. Bela Lugosi’s Dead (live)
2. Telegram Sam
3. Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores (live)
6. In The Flat Field (live)
7. Ziggy Stardust
8. Hollow Hills (live)
9. She’s In Parties
The Identipops box cover is rather perplexing, I spot Mick Jagger, Peter Noone, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon. But who’s the fourth guy on the left? Gene Pitney? Cliff Richard? Is he a weird caricature drawing of Davy Jones? Or is it someone else? I can’t tell.
Anyway, Identipops was a children’s game released in 1969 by by Play Value Ltd. The goal was for kids to build their favorite pop star or create an entirely new one Frankenstein-style. According to the box, there were over 74 press-out pieces which could make thousands of variations of pop star faces.
Art and death are so perfect together that the union at times is wholly symbiotic. Art is all about creation. Some artists even use birth-related terminology when creating new works, such as referring to their various creations as “my children.” Where you have birth, you must have death. Ah yes here they are folks, the bookends of our lives. Death fascinates and frightens us, which is why it can be such a huge thread in so many works of art.
Now there are common ways for death to co-mingle with art. People in their lives die and that naturally will have an effect on their art. The fear of death or even the embracing of it can also be a big ingredient too. But the artist as a man and woman being the literal bringer of death has been a pretty rare thing. You have the obvious examples, like Varg Vikernes from Mayhem and Burzum, Phil Spector and of course Charles Manson.
But to have an actual serial killer get legally released from prison because of the strength of his creative talent is practically unheard of. However that very thing happened in the early 1990’s in Austria with Johann “Jack” Unterweger aka the Poet of Death.
If ever there was one with a classic prone to serial killing childhood, Unterweger was it. His mother had been a prostitute and his father an American soldier that was long out of the picture before his son was officially in it. At some point early on, young Johann was abandoned and sent to live with his grandparents. His grandfather was an alleged severe alcoholic with violent tendencies, though Jack’s Aunt came out later on to say that he had a poor but loving upbringing. Whatever the case, he certainly had a troubled childhood that begat a very troubled young man, whose first crime was roughing up a sex worker at age 16. It was only a matter of time that a serious transgression was bound to happen.
And happen it did, as a young woman was found dead in the woods. According to Unterweger himself, that before his first killing he had already committed numerous rapes and burglaries. It was the murder of 18 year old Margaret Schafer, whom he strangled to death with her own bra, that got him ultimately convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Where this story starts to get really weird is that going into prison, Unterweger was reportedly illiterate. While there, he began to devour book after book, educating himself, as both a reader and a writer. The even more amazing thing is that he unearthed a talent strong enough that he started to get notice from the outside world. Poems, plays and short prose began to emerge, but much like Jack Abbot before him, it was his autobiography Purgatory (Fegefeur) that got him the biggest notice and ended up being a bestseller. How many serial killers can claim to be award winning and best selling?
By the time he was up for parole, he had a bevy of prison reformists, writers and critics championing for his release with the reasoning that this sexual sadist and murderer had been reformed by art. This man’s intellect and creativity along with some well meaning but extremely naïve people got him out of prison and back into society.
Jack Unterweger went into prison an illiterate, poor, ex-pimp psychopathic murderer and came out a media darling and was immediately welcomed into high moving social circles. Book launches and society parties all welcomed the now stylish and handsome ex-criminal. Fegefeur even became a movie, making Unterweger one of the few serial murderers to have a writing credit on the IMDB. To anyone with any real logic about crime, it will come as absolutely no shock that prostitutes started showing up dead yet again in Vienna, a city with a usually very low crime rate towards sex workers in general.
The police suspected him immediately, but despite the surveillance, they couldn’t nail him on any suspicious behavior. Of course, Unterweger, like a lot of serial murderers was far from stupid and knew better than to do anything blatantly shady. (Well, aside from the whole murdering bit.) Also, like a lot of his fellow bloodthirsty spiritual kin, he quickly got cocky. He even challenged the police about what they were going to do about the string of fresh murders, with his bravura being displayed under the guise of a probing journalist. An act such as that either signifies brass balls or brass ignorance. In Unterweger’s case, it was a little bit of both.
Nevertheless, the police had nothing solid on him until Unterweger flew to Los Angeles for research on an article about crime for a local Austrian magazine. During this five week period, the killings in Vienna stopped and suddenly three prostitutes were found strangled with their own garments in the City of Lost Angels. What followed after this was a fascinating case of hubris and fear, with the collaborative efforts of the Austrian police and the LAPD ultimately sealing Unterweger’s fate. He was convicted of murdering 9 women and was sent to prison, where he hung himself with some string he pulled out of his jumpsuit. The ultimate irony was that he utilized the very knot that he had used to murder so many women on himself.
There is something else tied to this figure that makes the story even stranger, all thanks to the very unlikely form of Austrian pop star Falco. In 1985, he released his massively successful Falco 3 album, which included his biggest known song Rock Me Amadeus. Also on that album was a creepy and completely overlooked in the US pop song called Jeanny. This song, inspired by the Unterweger murders, went all the way to number one in Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands. All that despite being banned by some radio stations and being protested by various groups, including some misinformed “feminists.”
Falco is an underrated artist, especially in this country where he pretty much is regarded as a “one-hit wonder,” despite having some moderate success with both Der Kommisaar and Vienna Calling. He did some really strange things under the pop music umbrella that still makes him stand out and Jeanny is further proof of this. The chorus is in English while the spoken word parts are in German, giving the listener a weird dysphoria especially given how near desperate sounding the speaker sounds. Just one look at the lyrics should tell you that this is not your momma’s pop tune:
NOTE: Lines in italics were in English in the original German version.
[spoken] Newsflash, newsflash…
“Official government reports…”
Jeanny, come, come on
Stand up please
You’re getting all wet
It’s getting late, come
We must leave here
Out of the woods
Don’t you understand?
Where is your shoe?
You lost it
When I had to show you the way
Which of us lost?
Or… we ourselves?
Jeanny, quit livin’ on dreams
Jeanny, life is not what it seems
Such a lonely little girl in a cold, cold world
There’s someone who needs you
Jeanny quit livin’ on dreams
Jeanny, life is not what it seems
You’re lost in the night
Don’t wanna struggle and fight
There’s someone who needs you
We must leave here
Your lipstick is smeared
You bought it and
And I saw it
Too much red on your lips
And you said, “Leave me alone”
But I saw right through you
Eyes say more than words
You need me, don’t you, hmmmh?
Everyone knows, that we’re together
Now I can hear them, they are coming!
They are coming to get you.
They won’t find you.
Nobody will find you!
You’re with me.
Jeanny quit livin’ on dreams…
In the last months the number of missing persons has dramatically increased. The latest account from the local police reports another tragic case. It is a matter of a nineteen year old girl who was last seen two weeks ago. The police have not excluded the possibility that a crime has been committed.
Jeanny, quit livin’ on dreams…
Pleasant dreams, right? The best part is that the video is equally unsettling with Falco playing the part of the predator. For anyone used to seeing the man all suave and dapper will be very surprised as he lets go of the pop ego and immerses himself into character. It’s quite reminiscent of Golden Earring’s brilliant and disturbing clip for When the Lady Smiles sans the black humor. There’s no humor here to cushion just subtle queasiness, especially when thinking about the true crime connection to boot.
Sadly, Falco left this plane on February 6th, 1998 after having a fatal auto collision in the Dominican Republic. But he got to leave behind a truly special thumbprint in the pop landscape of the 80’s. It’s sad to think of some of the crap that hit it big in the US while Jeanny was darkening up the European airwaves and dancefloors.
As for Jack Unterweger, perhaps one of the best lessons that one can learn from this is the importance of separating the art from the artists. Phil Spector is a genius that forever changed the soundscape of music but he is also an egomaniacal, abusive individual who murdered Lana Clarkson. Roman Polanski has made some of the best films in the past fifty years but he also drugged and raped a 13 year old girl. And despite what the Modern Lovers claim, a lot of people called Pablo Picasso an asshole. Every human being on this planet is capable of great acts of kindness and beauty as well as total horror. There are no born monsters, just man-made ones.
Go Ride The Music was produced by pioneering Bay Area rock journalist Ralph Gleason in 1970 for National Educational Television - an era in which even TV was on drugs.
The Jefferson Airplane’s segment was filmed on April 2, 1970. The Quicksilver Messenger Service footage is from a performance at Sonoma State University circa August of 1969.
1) We Can Be Together - Jefferson Airplane
2) Volunteers - Jefferson Airplane
3) Mexico - Jefferson Airplane
4) Warm Red Wine - Quicksilver Messenger Service
5) Baby Baby - Quicksilver Messenger Service
6) Subway - Quicksilver Messenger Service
7) Plastic Fantastic Lover - Jefferson Airplane
8) Somebody To Love - Jefferson Airplane
9) Mona - Quicksilver Messenger Service
10) Emergency - Jefferson Airplane
11) Wooden Ships - Jefferson Airplane
“Free happy crazy people naked in the universe
We speak Earth talk
Go ride the music”
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band hit Philadelphia two nights ago and during a performance of “Raise Your Hand” The Boss jumped into the audience and had a tall cold one with his fans.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’d swallow a frosty beverage handed to me by a total stranger. And then again, now that I think about it, there was a time in my life that I drank, licked, sucked and snorted just about everything shoved in front of my face. Yeah, rock and roll makes you immortal…or makes you think you’re immortal…same thing.
But back to the video. This Springsteen clip is Rick Santorum’s worst nightmare. The devil’s music on his front porch and a crowd of 20,000 rock fiends drinking Rolling Rock and chanting “Bahhhhhhhhs! “Bahhhhhhhhs! “Bahhhhhhhhs!
Springsteen is pushing hard on this tour to subvert the messages of the right wing and derail the Republican death train. The Jersey boy has picked up Woody Guthrie’s guitar, the one that says “this machine kills fascists,” and is running with it. And no matter what cynical bastards say about Springsteen being a member of the 1%, his new record and tour is called “Wrecking Ball” for good reason - words won’t do it alone, we need to take action…but first we need to come together and create a sense of community. And historically speaking there’s been no better galvanizing artistic force for the good of humankind than rock and roll and no bigger trigger to change society and consciousness than a big fat beat you can dance to.
Look at the faces in this video. These folks vote. And trust me, they ain’t voting for the forces of darkness. You can’t love life and be an advocate for death. The “Wrecking Ball Tour” is the spiritual counterpoint to the shit coming off Santorum and Romney. I would venture to say that Springsteen could wipe their asses on the electoral floor if he ran against them for President. But the Boss ain’t ready to be THE Boss yet. He’s too busy making people feel good. But he’d make a great Vice President. Obama/Boss-mania in 2012. Being Vice President would still give Springsteen plenty of time to tour. It can be done. I’ve heard rumors that Biden was night-owling in a Gary Puckett & The Union Gap tribute band for the past three years.
Here’s the trailer for the newly restored Yellow Submarine.
The digital clean-up of the film’s photochemical elements was lovingly done entirely by hand, frame by frame. Having seen the world premiere of the restored version at this year’s SXSW, I can attest to its eye-searing intensity and lysergic beauty. While the story obviously remains the same, rather thin with a script comprised of surreal non sequiturs and bad puns, the overall experience of watching the film in a pristine digital format overwhelms the narrative with colors and artwork so you rich you can practically taste it. And the stereo soundtrack sounded wonderful.
Coming out on Blu-Ray and DVD on May 29 with 5.1 surround sound. Expect to be astonished.
Mod Odyssey is a groovy short documentary on the creation of Yellow Submarine. Enjoy.
Although she barely rates a mention in most Frank Zappa bios, Pauline Butcher was Zappa’s secretary during a crucial era of his early career. Butcher was a model and a stenographer in London, when a chance meeting with Zappa in 1967 led to a job offer in America, helping him to prepare a book he’d been contracted to write. Not only was she his employee, she was also a resident of the infamous “Log Cabin” in Laurel Canyon where the Zappa family and several people in their entourage lived.
Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa is, beyond a doubt, the single most revealing book ever written about the private life of one of the giants of 20th century music and the “inner circle” who surrounded him. If you are a Zappa fan—I’ve noticed that quite a lot of DM readers are (I, myself, am typing this sitting below a diptych painting of the original Mothers of Invention wearing dresses that hangs above my desk)—then you will want to run, not walk to grab a copy of this book. I drank it down like a cold beer on a hot day. Freak Out! is a well-observed and well-written memoir that never forgets who the reader is there for. First-time author Butcher has a novelist’s eye for detail, seems to be blessed with an elephant’s memory and had the extreme good fortune that her mother kept all of her letters from 40 years ago so that she could draw from them.
It’s a great read. Zappa fans will love this book.
I posed a few questions for Pauline Butcher over email.
How would you describe your role in the life of Frank Zappa?
My role in the life of Frank Zappa was restricted to a five-year period, 1967 to 1972. During that time I was originally employed to help Frank write a political book for Stein & Day who’d given him carte-blanche to write whatever he wished. In the event, the book was never written partly because Frank developed other interests in setting up his own record companies, Bizarre and Straight, but also because he had a sneaking suspicion the FBI or CIA would use its contents against him.
As a result, I was left with secretarial work, running the fan club United Mutations, road-managing the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) an all-girl singing group which one might say was the predecessor to the Spice Girls, and helping to set up the record companies. I also think Frank used me, in the beginning, as a sort of therapist, unburdening his worries about the Mothers of Invention. I think he felt I was someone he could trust.
What was the impetus to write this book? Why now and not, say, twenty years ago?
If only I had written the book 20 years ago! Book sales would be greater not only because Frank had just died and more people knew who he was, but also because the book market was healthier then.
So why now? I had always wanted to be a journalist/writer, but after I returned to England from America and went to Cambridge University, I met my husband and our son was born. I spent the next 18 years devoted to looking after him as well as teaching A-level psychology. But when our son went to university and I had given up teaching, I no longer had any excuses. I began writing radio plays for Radio 4, had them rejected, wrote again, got encouragement, wrote again until a producer told me, ‘the only way you’ll break through is if you write something that no one else can write,’ and I thought the only story that no one else could write is my experience living and working with Frank Zappa.
It began as a five-part radio serial for Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 but half-way through the first draft, I was told Germaine Greer had been commissioned to do a documentary programme on Zappa and the BBC wouldn’t consider two in one year. I was so angry I wrote off to every publisher and twelve wrote back asking for chapters. Of course, I hadn’t written anything but I knew I had a marketable product. It took nine months to type up the letters I’d written home which my mother kept in a shoe box for forty years, two years to write the book, another year almost to find a publisher, and one year to get it published. Hey, ho, ten years after my son went to university, my book, Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa was born.
Gail Zappa is known for being a fierce protector of her late husband’s legacy. This book is certainly the most intimate book written about Frank Zappa to date, and it’s very revealing about their marriage. I didn’t feel that she was portrayed unfairly or unsympathetically at all, but I’m wondering how Gail has reacted to your book? I would imagine that you might have been a little apprehensive about her opinion.
I’m wondering how Gail has reacted to my book. I have no idea. Many people have asked me this question, but no one it seems has asked any of the Family Trust members directly.
I was hoping that Moon might read it as she has written her own thinly disguised portrait of her parents in America The Beautiful which I think is brilliant, but neither she nor any of her siblings have spoken publicly about it. I visited Gail in Hollywood in 2007. She gave me her e-mail address and I wrote to her but she didn’t reply. Therefore, I have not written to her about the book. I hoped Dweezil, Ahmet, Moon or Diva would be interested in reading it to find out about their parents’ early married life. I personally would love to read a fly-on-the-wall portrait of my own parents when they were first married, painful though some of it might be.
Are you back in touch with any of the Mothers or GTOs on Facebook?
Four of the GTOs, Lucy, Cinderella, Christine and Sandra have died. I contacted the three remaining girls, Sparkie, Mercy and Pamela. I sent copies of my book to each of them and have had a favourable but short comment on Facebook from Sparkie, none from Mercy, and Pamela wrote on FB, ‘lurved your book darlink.’
I am in constant contact with Art Tripp who in turn has been in touch with Roy Estrada. I was in contact with Jimmy Carl Black before he died because he was writing his own book; I have spoken to Bunk Gardner who told me he was sued by Gail twice for wanting to play Frank’s music, and to never write to her again after he wrote condolences following Frank’s death. I am also in touch with Ray Collins whose song I have used on the soundtrack of my video which is posted on You Tube and FB. I failed to trace Motorhead before he died, nor have I had communication with Don Preston. Ian Underwood wrote a brief message on FB that he was pleased to hear from me but made no further reply. I failed to find Ruth Underwood until just recently and have not as yet contacted her.