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Archive for the ‘Bobby Fuller Four’ Category

Miriam Linna and Randell Fuller, I Fought the Law (2014)

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

lifeanddeathMiriam Linna’s 1988 Kicks magazine cover story about Bobby Fuller brought him to life in a way few other writers could do. This is because her enthusiasm for – and knowledge of – Fuller’s records and the music that inspired him revved up her feature like a V8 engine. The gloom surrounding his mystery death couldn’t possibly enshroud the euphoric sound she celebrated. (It was also packed with historical details available nowhere else. I remember a Saturday I spent in the early ’90 zigzagging across El Paso with a copy of the magazine on the dashboard, locating all the sites she pinpointed.)

Her new book, titled I Fought the Law: The Life and Strange Death of Bobby Fuller, is a different, darker sort of prospect, which it perhaps has to be. It includes much of that first Kicks piece but adds material from Bobby’s brother Randy and lots of extended quotes from other first hand sources. While the death doesn’t get solved, you get a clear sense of the motivating factors and which parties likely qualify for the hayride to hell.

A sense of desolation takes the forefront in I Fought the Law to the extent that you wonder if that, too, wasn’t as crucial to the Fuller sound as its trademark euphoria. Tiger Moody’s foreword gives the doom Bobby sings of in his most famous song an alternate, but no less stifling, context. (This instantly made my personal racing lit Hall of Fame.) Randy’s introduction recounts the devastating ride home to El Paso from Los Angeles in the never-to-be-impounded death car, reeking of the gasoline that once drenched Bobby’s dead body. Also included is the stark and detailed revelation that the Fuller family had already suffered through the murder of Bobby and Randy’s older stepbrother.

Then there’s passages like this, spoken by Randy who ruminates on his decision to join his brother’s band full time and to go wherever it would take him (p. 57): “In El Paso, there was nothing for me, period…You’d get days when the wind would blow, and sand would be blowing across the street, and the clouds were a certain way, and it just seemed like there was never anything good ever gonna happen. It was a hopeless place. It was hopeless from the day we got there…[A]ll I would do is get in my car, and I’d drive all the way to northeast El Paso, watching the sand blow across the desert by the airport, and watch rabbits and wild things run across the road, and then I’d drive all the way over there where the teen club was and turn around and drive home. That was my thrill.”

If a second edition of I Fought the Law is ever in the works, I hope that a “where are they now” appendix makes the cut, especially since Randy’s introduction stokes reader interest for such after-the-funeral info. (Maybe, too, some of the long transcribed quotes can get a trim.) The best reason for a second edition, though, would be that positive developments in the Bobby Fuller story would call for one, and I wouldn’t want anyone but Miriam Linna or Randy Fuller to deliver the news.

Memo to Wes Anderson: Please drop the classic pop record shtick

Saturday, November 28th, 2009


To: Wes Anderson
Re: Pointless pop records in your movies

After watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I’m requesting that you please drop the classic pop record shtick you’ve used for every single one of your movies for the following reasons:

1) The records mostly don’t work. All those records you shoved into Rushmore, and even The Royal Tenenbaums were fun in a head scratching sort of way, but having just seen The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I’m getting the distinct impression that you’re now subscribing to Quentin Tarantino’s hobbyhorse method of tossing favorite records into a film willy nilly just to be cool.

2) More often than not, the records hurt the movie. “Heroes and Villains,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Old Man River,” and, especially, “Let Her Dance,” add nothing to the singular visual experience you’ve offered viewers with The Fantastic Mr. Fox. In fact, they jerk viewers out of the wonderland you’ve coaxed them into by introducing clashing contexts, like you did with the Clash in The Royal Tenenbaums and the distracting David Bowie material in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Your insistence on overplaying Peter Sarstedt’s “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” in The Darjeeling Limited added unnecessary pounds of dead weight to an already sluggish situation.

3) More often than not, the movie hurts the records. I’m of the opinion that the visual images movie makers ask viewers to associate with certain songs is no trifling matter, and a song’s appearance in a movie can do irreparable damage to a song. I understand the argument that pop songs are essentially commercial entities that are, in a way, consigned to an existence of eternal molestation merely for being what they are. But damage is still damage.

Illustration A: Sarstedt’s song, a UK no. 1 hit in its day, has already been around the block. But the distinct image that unfortunate viewers of Darjeeling are now forced to associate with it – Jason Schwartzman moping around with his iPod and a bored, anorexic Natalie Portman – has undoubtedly murdered a certain element of that song’s je ne sais quoi.

Illustration B: When the Bobby Fuller Four’s “Let Her Dance” crashes in for the closing credits of Mr. Fox, viewers are asked to associate the emotionally complex classic with animals dancing in a supermarket. I felt my heart sink when I heard it play, realizing that a song that made me lose my breath the first time I experienced it would now be remembered by my own kids as an incidental soundtrack item in an animal movie. The song hurt the scene and the scene hurt the song.

4) Movie directors have a unique opportunity to introduce new music to audiences. Here’s one thing about your latest movie that makes me think you have it in you to change your ways. The very best musical moment in this film was the song you had the animated Jarvis Cocker do. That was so magical that I wondered through the entire film why you didn’t just get Cocker to do the entire soundtrack. It meshed with the rest of the film in a way that none of those records did.

This is my basic counter argument for those who say “the music biz survives on movie and commercial tie-ins nowadays and you might as well get over it”: Movie directors, advertisers, and TV people would be doing the music biz a lot more good if they commissioned more original music. It would also make them look more inventive and less like those lazy minded types who devised the CSI intros featuring recordings of the Who as opposed to commissioning original theme music. (Spike Jonze, to his credit, used freshly composed music for his Where the Wild Things Are; to his discredit, the soundtrack and movie both turned out utterly cheerless. But still.)

Thanks for reading. Here’s to future days, future movies, and future original soundtracks.


Song ID: Bobby Fuller – “A New Shade of Blue” (1964)

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008


Here on Bobby Fuller’s birthday, it’s important to remember that it’s his records, not his mysterious death, that give him his true American rock and roll superhero status. Four decades after we lost him, those records have lost none of their power to exhiliarate. Musically, his heart was always in the right place and he never waivered. One of my all-time BF favorites is an early version of “A New Shade of Blue,” which I first heard on the now out-of-print Shakedown compilation, a 1996 roundup of early singles and demos from 1961 through 1964. This version, as opposed to the Four’s later version on Del-Fi, is a real wonder and perfect in every way. It’s an echo-drenched heartbreaker featuring some of Bobby’s most convincing vocals (which is saying a lot where he’s concerned), delicate guitars and lyrics (written by his neighbor’s mom), and a bullseye bridge. The more familiar and readily-available Del-Fi version loses too much of that atmospheric echo, screws up the middle-eight’s flawless symmetry by knocking out a key minor chord and adding a measure at the end, and finds Bobby overdoing the lead vocal. Enjoy version one, then.

Bobby Fuller – “New Shade of Blue” (1964)

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