Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More on Kim Fowley

Here's an excerpt about Kim Fowley from Evelyn McDonnell's book Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways. It fleshes out his Dickensian childhood as well as a formative encounter with music biz hucksterism:

Kim’s mother married again, to musical arranger William Friml. Kim received his first music-biz lesson by listening through the walls as his stepfather worked with musicians to craft hits and careers. It was an education not in musical inspiration, talent development, and the frisson of collaboration, but in shrewd packaging and manipulation—the worst mass-culture nightmare of Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt school.

“The client would come in and these guys would figure out ways around their inabilities to sing and play and perform, and at the end of it they had a package and would make thousands of dollars a week,” he recalls. “That’s when I learned how to record attitude and arrange attitude, as opposed to actually having musical talent. The Runaways, for example, as a group were not great. They had strengths and weaknesses individually, and I was always aware of what they couldn’t do musically, and I would hide that from the audience, and then I would play on the things they could do… I learned at a young age that not everybody who walks in the doors is Caruso or somebody who’s going to be Al Jolson and stop the show every night. Some of these people don’t deserve to be on a stage, they don’t deserve to be on an album cover, but they have pretty faces, or they can dance, or they can do something else, and then suddenly, it becomes product...

And these two quotes portray him a pre-rock type, perhaps born a bit too early, more comfortable in a world where songwriting duties were atomized instead of clustered in the singer-songwriter:

But despite its volume, Fowley’s portfolio is incoherent, random, inconclusive—a testament to valuing quantity over quality. “He must have had twenty misses for every hit, if not thirty or forty,” says Cliff Burnstein, who did early record promotion for the Runaways, then became one of the top managers in the music business. “His hits came out of a more freewheeling era of pop, which had changed radically by the 70s.”
In 1974 Fowley recognized the New York Dolls’ androgynous appeal and decided Los Angeles needed its own idols of raunch and roll. So he assembled the Hollywood Stars: five male, long-haired rockers, including sometime Flaming Groovie Terry Rae and future Runaways songwriter Mark Anthony. At the time, the singer-songwriters of the Foothills—Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King—dominated the California music scene. Manufacturing a glam band was a way to counteract the troubadour tradition and put power back in the hands of producers and publishers, of hustlers like Kim.



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