Terrell’s Tuneup: KIM FOWLEY’s GOLDEN GARBAGE
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 30, 2010
By far the most interesting aspect of this movie, which concerns the rise and fall of the underappreciated band that gave the world Joan Jett, is the villain of the story, Kim Fowley, portrayed by Michael Shannon. And even more interesting is how the real-life Fowley, instead of responding with threats of defamation suits, has thoroughly embraced Shannon’s portrayal of him as an abusive, exploitative eccentric. This shouldn’t be surprising, though. After all, Fowley has described himself as a jerk, a genius, and a pig.
The genius and the jerkiness can be heard on the recent two-disc compilations by Norton Records. The first volume is called One Man’s Garbage, and the second is Another Man’s Gold. The discs are sold separately, and both are subtitled Lost Treasures From the Vaults, 1959-1969.
Flashback: I once met Fowley at a South by Southwest Festival in the mid-’90s. He was walking around the Austin Convention Center wearing a psychedelic coat of many colors and was in the company of a sexy young songbird he claimed was “the next Janis Joplin.” I don’t remember how our conversation started, but Fowley was pitching this singer to me so intently you would have thought I was a major record-company exec. Some film crew from God knows where approached us, so naturally he addressed his pitch to the camera. Fowley ranted, and the next Janis Joplin slinked around looking lovely. I just held up the singer’s tape with a stern expression, nodding my head, as if I were the muscle in the entourage. What I’d give to have that footage now! I eventually listened to the singer’s cassette. Alas, Fowley’s sweet young companion was not the next Janis Joplin.
Present tense: Although Fowley is most famous as a producer — besides The Runaways, he has worked for artists ranging from The Germs to Helen Reddy — he was also a performer. America first heard him on a goofy 1960 novelty tune called “Alley Oop,” credited to a “band” called The Hollywood Argyles.
That’s even more evident on “The Worst Record Ever Made.” Here Fowley talks over a girl group called Althea & The Memories. Elsewhere in the collection this group sings sweet straight-faced doo-wop ditties like “Daddy Said” and “Dedication.” But on “Worst Record,” they do a call-and-response over a “Louie Louie” riff while Fowley rants “Hey surfers are you listening to me? … Do you think there’s ever been a dance called ‘The Wheelchair’? … Do you know how hard it is to yell in a microphone for two and a half minutes? It’s pretty hard. It shows how desperate we are. It shows you how desperate you are to be listening to all this.”