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Monday, 23 June 2008

Derailroaded (2005)

There are many rock musicians with problems, so many that it often seems to be part of the job description. Wild Man Fischer, prolific outsider musician, is a manic depressive paranoid schizophrenic, whose mother committed him to a mental asylum at sixteen years of age. Needless to say, his music is a little unique. Unlike other prominent outsider musicians, like Wesley Willis or Shooby Taylor, Fischer is often difficult to listen to, but the reasons behind that difficulty are precisely why he's so fascinating. He's raw and brutally honest and that truth is sometimes uncomfortable.

I'm a confirmed fan of outsider music but I've not heard too much Wild Man Fischer, beyond the theme for Rhino Records. This documentary provides some of the music but mostly provides background to Fischer as a person. We're shown who he was in a more lucid era, his heyday being the late sixties when he went from popular street performer hawking original compositions for a dime to recording a legendary double album for Frank Zappa, An Evening with Wild Man Fischer. We're also shown who he is now, often subject to paranoid delusions and alternating between revelling in his own failure and entertaining a small but rabid following. Mostly we're shown how he got from then to now.

Most telling are the stories we hear about him from those who know him well, including people I'm very aware of, including not just Zappa, but outsider chronicler Irwin Chusid, Dr Demento, Weird Al Yankovic and Mark Mothersbaugh. There's a stunning consistency between all these stories, but most telling are those from Barnes and Barnes, famed for songs like Fish Heads and long term fans of and collaborators with Fischer. Barnes and Barnes are Bill Mumy (yes, that Bill Mumy) and Robert Haimer and they're so in tune with who Wild Man Fischer is that I learned plenty about them too.

It's patently obvious that Fischer is a lovable lunatic and a very difficult man to work with, but when he's on what he calls his pep he's magnetic and irresistible. Mothersbaugh described him as a 'force of nature'. In many ways the film is a mirror of Fischer himself: points at which we want to ring the guy up and sing with him and record him and make him known to everyone, and points at which we wonder how anyone could possibly cope being around him. It's raw and it's honest and it's touching, just like him.

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