I heard this song in the same set as “Bim Bam Baby”, on WFMU, late one night in in early 1989. Posting that song caused the memory of “The Man With The Foldback Ears” to surface. At the time I always had a cassette in the machine so I could snag anything interesting. The next day I brought the tape to work and made everyone listen. No one knew what to make of it, the delivery was matter of fact, the content utterly surreal. One co-worker stopped being friendly to me. Later I caught her looking at me like I was a critter. There was no Google back then so finding out more information was out of the question.
I thought about going down to the basement and trying to dig up the cassette, but knew the search would be futile, I was just down there and none of the WFMU cassettes are labeled with anything but the date.
Out of curiosity, a few minutes ago I typed in “The Man With The Foldback Ears”, hit Enter, and within a minute had the song.
Then within another minute had the background, some of which can be found below. Next I had the pictures.
Sounds like it looks
Bible Belt Surrealist
In 1988, a mysterious album appeared in record stores. At first glance, Car Radio Jerome was full of silly nonsense with songs like “Upper Lip Of A Nostril Man,” “The Man With The Foldback Ears,” and “Hittite Hot Shot.” Listening to it though, one discovered darker undertones in songs like “White Woman,” which became downright ominous in “Car Radio Jerome.” By the time the album wrapped up, the “French Toast Man” was selling kids tasty goodies so rank that rats dragged it out of garbage pails and keeled over dead. In the last cut, a clinically depressed relative of Elvis croons his weepy ballad of woe “Pneumatic Eyes”—and blows himself up. The records ends with a hand grenade going off. Whether one loved, loathed or feared it, everyone had more or less the same question: What kind of human being had perpetrated Car Radio Jerome? It was attributed to Fred Lane and the Hittite Hot Shots. But who were they? No one had ever heard of the group. They never toured, never made videos, never once appeared on Johnny Carson.
In fact, the Reverend Fred Lane did make public appearances, though not many and none outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He first appeared at the Raudelunas Pataphysical Revue in 1975, a show mounted by Raudelunas, a group of artists in Tuscaloosa. The origins of their name is as obscure as those of Lane. According to Ron ‘Pate, the leader of the band the Debonairs which accompanied Lane at the Revue, “it was an Armenian family name meaning ‘moonlight’ or ‘worship of the moon as a deity.’ ”
Fred Lane was called upon to emcee the Pataphysical Revue, which was a stage show held on the opening night of an exhibit of Raudelunas art at the University of Alabama. He took the stage in a form that would soon be familiar to a few friends and aficionados, if not the country at large: a snap-brim fedora, sunglasses, cutaway tux, boxer shorts, pink socks, and wing-tip brogues, all accented by a few Band-Aids on his face. Lane, backed by Ron ‘Pate and the Debonairs, opened the show with a swinging cover of “My Kind of Town (Chicago Is).” After performances by the Blue Denim Deals Without the Sleeves, the Nubis Oxis Quarum doing the music of ancient Rome, the Captains of Industry all-appliance orchestra, and the world premier of Anne LeBaron’s “Concerto for Active Frogs,” Lane sang “Volare” to close the show.
A recording of the show, entitled Raudelunas Pataphysical Revue, was released on the local Say Day Bew label. Despite an original pressing of only 500 copies, the disc had a remarkably wide impact. It was picked up eventually by Recommended Records in England; their catalog read “Nothing I’ve ever heard is remotely like this.” As a result Raudelunas Pataphysical Revue sold more in Europe than the United States. Ironically, most orders were from American customers. In 1998, The Wire, an English music magazine, named the Pataphysical Revue one of the “100 records that set the world on fire.” The record has never been completely out-of-print—some 20 copies were still available in the summer of 1999—and tentative plans are afoot for a CD re-release.
Fred Lane wrote another play around the same time, I Talk To My Haircut. It was never staged but the songs Lane wrote were released along with those from the earlier show in 1983 on a Day Bew album, From The One That Cut You. The story of I Talk To My Haircut— what folks remembered of it more than 20 years later—took place in a hotel and involved the bellhop in the title song. That song and “Rubber Room” are two of the most remarkable big band arrangements on vinyl. The first features a brilliant Dick Foote solo, described by ‘Pate as “the sound of a tenor sax being strangled.” “Rubber Room,” a Lane masterpiece, opens with the Reverend crooning over a lounge piano, before he starts to swing: “I’m sick of my job/I’m sick of my wife/I’m sick of your face/I’m sick of this life/Gonna go to the store/Buy me some hardware, my dear.” Lane sings of his plans for the hardware while ‘Pate and the Debonairs vamp like an asylum orchestra. For a moment one hears people laughing, glasses tinkling, like there’s a party going on. Lane doesn’t notice it; he’s too busy singing off the contents of his shopping bag, or his mind, who knows which. The Debs slide down a few ragged glissandi and Lane wraps up it up: “I’m a happy, sappy son-of-a-gun/Living in a rubber room!” The Debonairs bray out one final blast.
Lane’s last record, Car Radio Jerome, was recorded in December of 1985, using the core of the Debonairs, including Cyd Charisse, Don “Pretty Boy” Smith, and Dick Foote, performing as the Hittite Hot Shots. There was no show, no art exhibition behind the album. “We were just trying to get a record company to sign us up,” Lane said. It must have worked. Shimmy Disc released it in 1988 and followed it up with the re-release of From The One That Cut You the next year. Car Radio Jerome was a catalog of styles: big band, country, kid songs, free jazz, spaghetti western, and a little musique concréte.
In the summer of 1999, Lane had laid his own basic tracks for a new album to be called Ice Pick To The Moon. He had finished about 12 songs for the record, including a gospel number entitled “I’m Gonna Go To Hell When I Die,” and he writes new pieces regularly. Asked what his message would be to the youth of America, Lane thought for a moment. “I guess it’s like the French Toast Man said,” he answered, “evacuate your bowels, eat a hot lunch, and don’t be late for school.”
—Gerald E. Brennan (article shortened for space consideration-Ed)
The Man With The Foldback Ears