Wild Man Fischer is one of the most enigmatic names of pop music. Fisher was discovered by Frank Zappa, named by Solomon Burke, and the first artist to release a single (and later, the first LP) on Rhino Records. He’s appeared on Laugh-In and had a documentary about him — Derailroaded by Josh Rubin and Jeremy Lubin. Unfortunately, Fischer is a paranoid schizophrenic, and can be difficult to live with.
Both Dennis Eichhorn (the writer) and J.R. Williams (the artist) have known this first hand, having each befriended Wild Man. Eichhorn was writing an autobiographical comic Real Stuff and wrote a six-part piece about the time he first met him — he’d booked him for a mini-tour around Spokane, Idaho and Montana. While looking for an artist for the stories, he found out that J.R. Williams had met Fischer at the San Diego Comic Con in the 1980s and been friends with him as well — so it made sense for him to illustrate the Fischer scripts Eichhorn had written.
The stories mostly have to do with Fischer’s insanity, and can almost venture into the exploitative territory folks like Frank Zappa were also accused of. However, though played for laughs — the care and friendship that Eichhorn and Williams have for Fischer shines through and takes away much of the ugly sting. The comic stories themselves don’t come off nearly as sympathetic as, say, Derailroaded, though the documentary focused on Fischer himself while the stories focus on Eichhorn’s dealings with Fischer; which were clearly frustrating and stressful — but still, Fischer’s inner nature comes through enough to make clear that he’s a nice guy who’s as frustrated and stressed by his outbursts and paranoia as the outside world is.
Good though the comics are, the best part about this compilation are the text essays that give much more depth into what Fischer is like — and it’s in these stories where you really can see the benefits of knowing him. It was an important decision to include these writings; it’s much more fair to Fischer. Just from the original six-story run, one might come away with an idea of Fischer as just a mentally imbalanced freak with delusions of grandeur. The essays flesh him out more to be more than that — a real person in a difficult situation.
Perhaps the only problem I had with the book is that it seems that for all the talking people do about the importance of An Evening With Wild Man Fischer (his later albums, particularly the two produced by Barnes & Barnes, my favorites), there tends to be very little about the actual quality of his music. Most of that is played for laughs as well, as sort of an off-key caterwauling from the point of view of a nut from the streets — which is unfair. True, Fischer doesn’t necessarily have the most sonorous voice, and some of his songs ARE funny, but it seems to discount the heart in them. I’ve always thought “Merry Go Round” was a catchy-as-hell song in its own right, and his song “Oh, God, Please Send Me A Kid” from Nothing Scary is absolutely touching. (Rosemary Clooney thought so as well — that was the song to make her want to do a duet with Fischer on “It’s a Hard Business” written by Fischer and Barnes & Barnes.) Though I wish more was made of Fischer’s actual talent, I can understand that it’s hard to get across in a text-based format. It’s still an interesting book, and one that I recommend for those wondering about the work of Wild Man Fischer — particularly those who can’t obtain a copy of Derailroaded.