Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Self Reflection: Fire

Well, if manliness is next to godliness, where, I wonder, would that place this gent, the self-styled "God of Hellfire"? Certainly a man, if his stentorian croon and beardliness denote, and, perhaps against any odds or expectations, from all and any corner, still alive, still going and still performing, surely that displays some degree of immortality? So maybe, as he introduced himself in this, his only real "hit", maybe he was, maybe he is?
Born Arthur Wilton Brown in Yorkshire, England, in 1942, he was even relatively mature as his career began, having studied both philosophy and law at University before taking to musical boards. When success failed to beckon, he diverted from London to Paris, nominally to bone up on mime and acting, recording a couple of songs along the way for Roger Vadim's film of Zola's La Curee. Here is one of them, recognisably in his style and template, if also never a chance of being hit material. However, it demonstrated his knack for allying himself with life's more free thinkers and spirits.

A return to the UK and he could have been a member of the Foundations, moving onward before they hit their stride with a change to that name, and success with "Baby, Now That I've Found You", top ten in the US, UK and Canada and later covered by Alison Krauss. It somehow seems odd to imagine him within their ranks, crooning along to that, too tame for him by far. But he had now formed the eponymous "Crazy World of....", becoming an established outsider on the lunatic fringe of late 60s psychedelia. "Fire" actually was his most totemic prop, as he repeatedly set himself alight, as well as singing about it, both deliberately and accidentally, more often a combination of the two, necessitating vigilance in his supporters to douse his burning hair and head with anything to hand, usually beer. If that wasn't enough, he would often add nakedness to the act, getting himself deported from Italy, flames and nudity being too much even for the hotblooded Italian authorities.

1968 and "Fire", the title song from their debut LP,  was a massive success on both sides of the Atlantic. Forgive my indulgence, but if the flames and the screeching aren't enough, it is also in the running for "best ghoulish laughter in the rock song idiom" canon, 1968 edition, the only other candidate from 1968 being the one from my sophomore piece on this site, now nearly 2 years ago.  Apropos "Fire," if my views are worth anything, the rest of the album is frankly disappointing, with the only other standout being the cover of the like-minded maverick, Screaming Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You," which fits, conveniently, also the self-referential requirements of this piece. And I bet he thought he really could!

Vincent Crane, whose Gothic Hammond keyboard signatures were a vital part of the Brown sound, then left the Crazy World, along with their 2nd drummer, a youthful Carl Palmer, to form Atomic Rooster, leaving Brown adrift, although Crane was to later return to his side. The 70s saw his extraordinarily odd traveling circus, Kingdom Come, a multi-media extravaganza of song, mime and melodrama, combining spoken word with ever more controversy. I can't find much self-reverential focus in this time period, sensing a mind spilling over into multiple personality rather than any one core being. (But I do somewhat love this little whimsy, which is both personal and perennial, popping up in many guises on many subsequent releases.)

His later career, which encompasses the last 40 years, astonishingly, has been a scattergun of involvements: the Priest in the Who rock-opera, Tommy, dalliances with ex- Mother of Invention, Jimmy Carl Black, and, almost inevitably, an on-off and lingering association with hoary old eternal  UK space-rockers Hawkwind. Here he is, performing with them in 2002. and for a time, in California, he ran a house decorating business, again with Jimmy Carl Black. Imagine the surprise if those hairy loons turned up to paint your house? The colours, the colours, the horror, the horror... Or maybe not.

This decade he has had various short-lived tours and shows with a number of revised line-ups of both Crazy World and Kingdom Come, as well as solo excursions. So, naturally, having become the god he had created, it seems only rational and reasonable to return to his abiding identity, a performance an astonishing 45 years apart from the 1st:

Time for a douse-down, I think!

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