Barnes & Barnes 'Voohaba' and Two Wild man Fischer Albums Reissued on Collectors' Choice Music

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Barnes & Barnes gave the world "Fish Heads" while Wild Man Fischer is deemed "the father of outsider music."

In one corner, we have Barnes & Barnes, a duo thrilled to hold the distinction of having recorded the most requested song in the history Doctor Demento's syndicated radio program. In the opposite corner, we have Larry "Wild Man" Fischer, arguably the most bizarre recording artist to emerge from arguably the most bizarre city, Los Angeles. What's the connection? Well, Barnes & Barnes produced two Wild Man Fischer albums as charter releases for the soon-to-be-multimillion-dollar Rhino label. And now Barnes & Barnes' classic Voobaha album, along with two Fischer albums -- Pronounced Normal and Nothing Scary -- will be reissued on Collectors' Choice Music on April 3, 2007.

Barnes & Barnes was composed of Art & Artie Barnes, noms du disques for childhood friends Bill Mumy (yes, Will Robinson on "Lost in Space") and Robert Haimer, respectively. Their goal was never to make it big -- just to get played on their fave syndicated radio show hosted by Doctor Demento. Drawing on their mutual love of comics, including '50s EC (which specialized in horror, crime and sci-fi), '60s pre-superhero Marvel comics, and R. Crumb, the songs were demented from the get-go. In 1974, they submitted "The Vomit Song" to Demento, though the good Doctor felt it would have an "emetic" effect on his audience. But he loved "Fish Heads" and "Boogie Woogie Amputee," and the former made Barnes & Barnes darlings of Dementia overnight. The tune's accompanying short film went on to air on MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central, and was named #57 video of all time by Rolling Stone. They even recruited a heavy manager (Bill Siddons, who managed the Doors).

The Voohaba album was issued in 1976, then digitally remastered and reissued as a CD on Rhino. Robert Haimer went back to the original source tapes to prepare for the Collectors' Choice reissue in 2007, and Barnes & Barnes have added some previously unreleased tracks: "I Gotta Get a Fake I.D.," plus alternate takes of "Political Statement," "Boogie Woogie Amputee" and "Fish Heads."

As Mumy wrote in the notes, "We basically broke every rule in the recording book. And you know what? It worked. Or not."

The saga of Barnes & Barnes would ordinarily begin and end there if not for their academic interest in a forgotten and occasionally homeless Los Angeles singer/songwriter named "Wild Man" Fischer. Recorded in the late '60s by Frank Zappa for Bizarre Records, Fischer's inaugural album, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer, portrayed on its cover the singer holding a knife to his elderly Jewish mother. It spawned the underground hit "Merry Go Round" and the brief monologue "I Used To Be Shy." Fischer went in and out of mental institutions and seldom kept an address for longer than a couple of months. His second album was released as one of the very first Rhino long-players, Wildmania (which was previously reissued by Collectors' Choice). But that didn't mean that Rhino founders Richard Foos and Harold Bronson could readily locate him. Barnes & Barnes, however, were up for the Alan Lomax-like challenge and at some point, somehow located Fischer. They were delighted to find that he was a fan of "Fish Heads." The session for Pronounced Normal ensued -- its title inspired by the song "The Wild Man Fischer Story" from his first album -- at both Mumy's and Haimer's home studios. But it wasn't easy to get him into the studio. He failed to show up, moved without informing his producers, or just lacked "the pep" to record. But when he had the pep, the recordings flowed naturally.

One track, "The Bouillabaisse," was intended to be a psychedelic dream, his own outsider Sgt. Pepper interlude -- all good until Fischer, according to Mumy's liner notes, became convinced of subliminal messages in the song, and that Barnes & Barnes, Doctor Demento, Frank Zappa, "Weird Al" Yankovic and others were joined in conspiracy to sever his penis, throw him in the ocean, chop him into little pieces and throw him to the sharks. Although he fled soon after, he began to phone Barnes & Barnes again around the album's 1981 release -- sometimes many times a day. The two producers seized the mood to take on one more album, the 32-track Nothing Scary, with the mission of it being an album with which Fischer would be happy and proud. The 1984 release contains gems like "Derailroaded," "Larry & the New Wave" and "Music Business Shark."

"We never expected to make much money from working with Wild Man Fischer," wrote Mumy. "We choose to do it because we were personally moved by his talent. We know him to be a powerful, unique artist and we wanted to help him realize that vision."

Fischer is often omitted in discussion of outsider artists such as Daniel Johnston, Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett and Jonathan Richman. The reissue of Pronounced Normal and Nothing Scary should restore him to the outsider hall of fame.

So for the price of roly-poly "Fish Heads," we got Barnes & Barnes' Voobaha, which in turn begat two rather improbable Wild Man Fischer albums. Together they prove that whether cultivated or genetic, outsiderdom has always been more fun than what's on the radio (except when Doctor Demento's on).

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CARY BAKER
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