Dennis P. Eichhorn and J.R. Williams, The Legend of Wild Man Fischer (Top Shelf Productions, 2004)

"I'm a Christmas tree, I'm a Christmas tree,
People hang their ornaments on me.
I'm a Christmas tree, I'm a Christmas tree...
people throw me out on New Year's Eve..."

(Wild Man Fischer and Dr. Demento)

If you have never heard of Wild Man Fischer, or heard Wild Man Fischer sing, stop reading this review, bookmark the page, go immediately to this Web site, search on Fischer, then scroll down and listen to a couple of samples from their limited edition (now sold out) anthology of his recordings. It's important that you do this. Only then will the rest of this review make any sense to you whatsoever. I'll wait while you do that.

(foot tapping ... tuneless whistling ... humming ... shuffling of paper ... tiptap of keyboard)

Oh, you're back. You took longer than I thought you might. You had to listen to more than one right? You couldn't believe that the first track was representative of his oeuvre. You just knew that somewhere down that long list there'd be a rhythm section and maybe a guitar solo. Hmmm. Well, keep going down the list and you'll find some spare musical accompaniment, but no Claptonesque virtuosity. Nope, this is virtuosity of a different sort.

"Go to Rhino Records" was Wild Man Fischer's first single. "Go to Rhino Records on Westwood Boulevard ... they have nice people there, they'll show you where the records are...." We are not going to have to spend a whole lot of time interpreting Wild Man's lyrics. And we're not here to discuss this Rhino Handmade CD collection either. This exercise was simply to provide a frame of reference for a book which, on the back cover, asks to be displayed in "graphic novels/cult music/music biographies." How's that for esoteric?

It's wrapped in a tie-dye paper cover with a cartoon Wild Man Fischer leaping and singing. Incredibly lifelike! And inside there's a copy of a receipt that states "I, Larry Fischer, acknowledge receipt of $200.00 cash as an advance for the comic book entitled The Legend of Wild Man Fischer, by Dennis P. Eichhorn and J.R. Williams. Larry Fischer will receive a 1/3 share of the creators' royalties on this book." It's signed in scribbly hand by Larry Fischer, and dated 4-19-04. That's good, don't you think? After all, the Wild Man should make some money from the exploitation of his legend by these guys.

The first story in the book is J.R. Williams' first hand account of meeting Fischer. It was at a comic book convention and the Wild Man was none too pleased that Williams had used his likeness in a comic book. "He seemed to think he'd been exploited and had somehow been cheated out of money -- which wasn't really true: the small amounts of money Denny and I made on the the stories (which appeared in Real Stuff) hardly made up for the amount of time and effort we put into producing them ... Larry also felt that many of the ... stories ... were not true." These articles appear with a photo or two which show creator and subject together, and then the comics start. Young Larry is shown in sequential cartoony strips developing from street singer to street singer with a record deal. Frank Zappa appears, Ed Sanders (of the Fugs) shows up, and a poor tortured waitress from North's Chuck Wagon makes an unforgetable turn in one story. What follows are stories about Larry touring, performing, acting goofy, being rude, eating too much, being very rude, singing, eating way too much, being unbelievably rude, and singing in that howling, ranting way that he does.

The drawings are head comix style cartoons, clever and very recognizable. The writing is straightforward and very funny. The stories? Well, they are hilarious. This is a person with paranoid and unpredictable behaviour trying to function in the world. A cautionary tale? Perhaps. An inventive and perceptive introduction to the world of Mr. Fischer? You bet. Is it any wonder I wanted you to listen to him before you read about him? Now that you've listened, and looked at the pictures, and read the tales, you'll have an idea of why this guy is a legend. Weird, eh?

[David Kidney]