Kim Fowley - off his trolley
Kim Fowley portrait, as published in Bizarre Magazine. Here is the article:
'I once rode a hippopotamus with a crocodile saddle,' declares Kim Fowley, who resembles a steroid-pumped giraffe on roller skates, a waif-like, real-life Irish-American Frankenstein monster. 'The hippo got a hard-on, but it didn't move too much as a girl started masturbating it - all to the sound of the band playing and people laughing.'
The underground record producer, publisher, songwriter, publicist, talent scout, occasional recording artist and legendary scenester is regaling all asunder his tales of heady nights at hedonistic Hollywood parties. Makes sense, as we are currently perched outside the Rage club on Santa Monica Blvd for the birthday celebrations of another party monster, James St. James. Now aged 67, and using a cane to walk (he suffers from positional vertigo which affects his balance), Kim Fowley is still hip with the Los Angeles in-crowd.
The musical renaissance artist has failed, struggled and triumphed in the entertainment industry for nearly fifty years, an eccentric figure that has always been on the pulse, whether mainstream or underground audiences were aware of it or not. From rock and roll to psychedelia to punk and to metal, Kim Fowley's been there, bringing his unique, intense and otherworldly personality to music. Doubly stricken and doubly conquering both polio and cancer, he has a survivalist attitude where each day should be lived like its his last. Often seen in garish fashions and make-up, he's like the bastard alien father of David Bowie with the libido of Hugh Heffner on crack. He's also sold over 100 million records by working with the likes of The Byrds, Cat Stevens, Helen Reddy, The Plastic Ono Band, The Runaways, Alice Cooper, Kiss and Guns 'n' Roses, to name but a few. He's also the man in the United States that first spotted the talent of a certain guitarist called Jimi Hendrix. Unsurprisingly, he has a tale to tell about every single rock and roll encounter.
'I produced Gene Vincent,' he recalls. 'One day, two members of The Doors, their producer Pauley Rothchild and three surf girls walked into the studio. Gene shouted, "Who is in here uninvited?" "The Doors and their producer," I replied. Gene pulled out a gun from his boot and coldly whispered, "I'm a sharpshooter; I can shoot anybody who is not invited to be in the studio. If you are smart, you will leave immediately so I can do my business. I don't invade other people's studios, nor should you invade mine." He continued. "Doors band members - Linda Rondstadt, a food runner who has asked to observe my techniques and work schedules is more rock and roll than your fucking band will ever be. Now get out!' Linda Rondstadt smiled, "Yes! Yes!" She was just beaming. The Doors, the producer and the girls walked away quickly. Gene put the gun back in his boot and sang a great version of 'Sexy Ways' by Hank Ballard and the Midniters. And there I stood. A great moment in rock and roll.'
By the way, Kim doesn't take any drugs, smoke or drink (even caffeine). Yet at the rapidly descending anarchy of the party revelers around him, more tales of intoxication flow unselfconsciously from the raconteur's thin lips, one involving a death cocktail mix of Quaaludes and beer.
'I had to fuck four lesbians on my dining room table, each of us individually falling to the ground as we orgasmed. We took the drugs and alcohol until one of the girl's heart stopped. Then two of the lesbians came in her mouth and we all masturbated. When the girl revived she said,"What have I missed?" A heart beat," I answered.'
After our own exhausting party, we make a coffee and pancakes trip to Canters, the famous Jewish deli. Since he doesn't care to drive a car, Kim is riding shotgun with one of his many 'Hollywood mommies', attractive twenty-somethings who he hires to take care of business that he would rather avoid. Fair enough if you can afford it, but there's a certain irony in his employment of the bewitching death-rock vocalist Vera Miles Jr., whose grandmother is the famous Alfred Hitchcock heroine, a film director often accused of misogamy. Such stones have been cast at Mr. Fowley by many a folk. In fact, some members of Los Angeles-based all-girl punk band The Runaways whom he managed and collaborated, accused him of more.
'The girls were young teenagers and I was 36. Younger people always view authority figures in a mixed way. If some of those people were drinking or drugging they may have a distorted view of what they saw or heard,' he earnestly explains. 'I didn't socialise with them because they were 20 years younger. I don't know what they did or didn't do, but it was labour versus management, authority versus adolescence.'
'But I'm not a misogamist. I'm just dirty bastard and I like dirty girls. There's a fondness between filth on a beauty and the beast level. I'm not afraid of a strong or dangerous woman. When you have sex with me you get even with your parents. You have the chance to take a sexual shit. You do something forbidden. Then they can take that and fuck up their next partner.'
His penchant for perversion could perhaps all be blamed on fifties' blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield, who he encountered as an eleven year old in Tinseltown.
'I went up to her in her pink jaguar and said, "I want to have sex with you,"' he remembers with a glint in the Kim Fowley eye. ' "I know I'm too young but I would enjoy it if I could get a hard on." And she replied, "If you're going to hit on me and you can't fuck me, you're a man. When you are an older man, you're gonna do fine. Adult men are watching you talk to me and they don't have the balls." So it was Jayne Mansfield that encouraged me to be a lady's man.'
Everyone in our group in Canters has finished their food and drinks for some time. Kim is getting impatient and literally screams as loud as he can, 'Boy!' Everyone in the busy late-night restaurant puts down his or her cutlery and turns. The waiter scampers to the table looking rather flustered, but then pauses.
'Aren't you the guy in that movie?' the employee asks, writing out the check.
Kim was a major interview subject in the documentary The Major Of Sunset Strip about KROQ disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer, who was the first in the US to play the likes of David Bowie, Blondie, The Sex Pistols and recently Coldplay. It seems the 'John Peel of America' is a regular at the deli and was actually eating there the previous day.
'Tell Rodney I say hi,' smiles Kim, tipping generously. 'Actually, we hate each other! Rodney is a male groupie turned DJ who is challenged in his speaking. It's his charm, I suppose. I was brought in to move the movie along a bit and was edited into being Darth Vader opposite his Luke Skywalker. He's a vulnerable little elf and I'm the disturbing older, cynical rascal who is appalling but you can't help but laugh with me. But we don't get along at all. Rodney is the Pinocchio of Hollywood minus the nose.'
Fowley was in fact the original self-proclaimed 'Mayor' of Sunset Strip, from 1965 to 1969 when as a groovy music producer he toured the scene with an entourage of hipsters, crashing all the A-list parties and grand openings.
'I did it so I could get into clubs for free,' he explains. 'It was easy with a couple of girls half-naked and guys that looked as if they were movie actors. I was in my twenties and looked like Boris Karloff. I would do weird dances and do dry fucking on stage with dirty bitches. My other friends would do kung fu and karate poses, some judo chopped tables and even did acrobatic moves. People were jumping around screaming, and all of this was before the first band had played. All the tourists loved it and the word spread, so they let us in for free because we'd loosen up the crowd to drink more beer.'
With a pounding hangover the next day, I take a journey East to Redlands, a small town in the middle of the Californian desert to photograph Kim and to discuss some of his latest projects. For an affluent man he lives modestly, inside a small wooden house with a friendly 'Keep Out' sign and an American flag to greet visitors at the door. Most rock legends have their awards plastered around the walls and mantelpiece; Kim Fowley has a huge dusty stack of gold and platinum records lying on the kitchen floor and threadbare carpet. After traveling from country to country for most of his life, his interest is not in material things and Kim himself happily describes his home as squalor.
Taking the tour, he shows me his darkened bedroom and flicks on a pair of table lamps, with a blue and red bulb respectively.
'I'm in my sixties now and this is the best light for human skin. It takes the wrinkles away when I'm entertaining in here,' laughs Kim.
'I can't fuck in the dark either,' he notes. 'I have to see the anguish on the lady's face.'
This pillow talk opens up another bizarre sexcapade of the Don Juan of underground music, though this one occurred in a more luxurious back garden swimming pool, a story that may upset some animal loving readers:
'There was a fluffy cat the size of a small dog that my girlfriend attached to my cock and manipulated me so that I exploded on the cat. Not in the cat of course, because the cunt was too small. Then the cat began scratching an orgasm on my thin stomach. I then placed the cat in her nylon stocking and set it on fire. I threw the flaming stocking into the pool and moments later the cat emerged, curled up next to me, purred and fell asleep. The cat was fine and enjoyed the whole spectacle. Everybody was happy. No animals were hurt.'
Lizards and tumbleweed are more prevalent than cats, or indeed musicians in this one horse town, so Mr. Fowley has now ventured into the world of film. Actually, it's more of a return, for his parents were actually actors in Hollywood during the Golden Age, his father playing character roles in dozens of films including the classic musical Singing In The Rain.
The town of Redlands was the inspiration for his first feature Jukebox California (selected for the upcoming Barcelona Film Festival), a rather strange affair that's a pot porri of the varying musical talents of the town's inhabitants with Kim spouting his philosophies on life. Another notable title is Gangster Puppets.
'It's what happens when gangsters and puppets from outer space fall in love, a kind of Punch & Judy meet The Godfather. My current feature I'm working on is called Pink Cement,' he explains, removing his false teeth with a gummy grin. 'It's about using a denture as a love tool, what women talk about when they're drunk and Hollywood at a post-Bukowski level. What'll happen to these movies is what happens to my music. People will sit there and go, "This isn't Brad Pitt! This isn't The Beatles. What is this?" And then, three to five years from now, "My god! This is astounding!" Twenty years from now, "This was the best thing that ever happened in the year 2007!" I'm always early, and when you see the early embryonic elements of it, people are always, "Well, so what?"
Kim is still actively involved in creating music. His latest audio project actually originates from these fare shores, an all-girl punk band called Rebels Of The Flesh. Fishnet stocking and boot-clad, these raunchy teenagers perform simulated oral sex on stage and drag butch male audience members around on a leash. Who could ask for a more ideal bunch of musicians to work with the likes of Kim Fowley?
'Their stuff tells you how to live if you are a girl in the modern age. Rebels Of The Flesh are the female Sex Pistols, a 21st Century girl version of Slade. The songs such as 'Lust Ambulance', 'Pain Gynecologist' and 'Underwater Sex Class', are designed to articulate the inner darkness of all young girls who need to lash out in the male dominated chauvinist world. They can be female warriors any time they choose to.'
'What kind of attributes is Kim Fowley looking for in a performer?' I ask during our final photo shoot inside his home, where a variety of backdrops hang in case of such an occasion.
'Their need to be winners. Their need to make a difference,' he glares. 'People who can entertain a crowd, make you wank, shoot up, drink, cut yourself, beat the shit out of people you don't like and make you feel good about everything because of their music. Anyone who can produce those emotions is a platinum artist and that's whom I demand to work with. You don't have to teach those people anything. You can refine and make suggestions, but they already have it within themselves to be outstanding.'
With Kim Fowley as their representative, the Rebels Of The Flesh have a great chance of conquering all in their wake. At his very least, the gangly giant is certainly the supreme publicist, ever on the sniff for a promotional stunt or gimmick. He is equally a proud self-publicist, often to the extent of consciously referring to himself in the third person, as if selling Kim Fowley as a brand identity.
'Yeah, I'm product,' he declares beyond pride. 'Remember what Cyrano De Bergerac said to the Queen of France in Act One, Scene One? "Cyrano, you're a wonderful man." No, your majesty, I do wonderful things." Kim Fowley does great work. Millions of people enjoy it. Kim Fowley the human is sub-human, with super-human working results, but is one of the emptiest people in the world. By choice. By design. Take away my projects - I'm a boring guy. Women, if you saw me naked, you'd start a new religion. But that has nothing to do with persona, it has to do with animal magnetism..Yeah..Top that, dude!'
(Photos and Words Copyright - Mark Berry)