David Bruce: Music Anecdotes

• On stage, Chris Sievey was Frank Sidebottom, who wore a big papier-mâché head — later, it was made out of fiberglass — and he sang with a nasal twang that was native to Manchester, England. In the late 1980s, Jon Ronson played keyboards with the Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band. He was friendly with Mike Doherty, who was Frank Sidebottom’s drummer. One day, Mr. Doherty called him and said, “Frank’s playing a show in London tonight and our keyboard player can’t make it. Do you know any keyboard players?” He replied, “I can play the keyboards.” Mr. Doherty shouted, “Well, you’re in!” Mr. Ronson objected that he didn’t know the songs, but Mr. Doherty asked, “Can you play C, F, and G?” He could, and Mr. Doherty shouted again, “Well, you’re in!” Fortunately, since the songs were oompah versions of pop songs, Mr. Ronson picked them up quickly. Another thing he picked up quickly was that Mr. Sievey stayed in character as Frank whenever he wore the big papier-mâché head. He was wearing it when Mr. Ronson showed up for the sound check, and he ignored Mr. Ronson, who called him Chris, until Mr. Ronson finally said to him, “Hello, uh, Frank?” Then he yelled, “Hello!” For a long time, people were unaware of the identity of the man wearing the big papier-mâché head; sometimes, people would barge into the dressing room and ask people there, “It’s you, isn’t it? You’re Frank, aren’t you?” When they did this, they usually ignored Mr. Sievey, who was unassuming. Frank Sidebottom got a contract to record an album in the 1980s when he recorded his version of “Anarchy in the UK” and sent it to major music companies with this note: “Dear X, I’m thinking of getting into show business. Do you have any pamphlets?” Someone at EMI thought this was funny and asked to meet him. Frank and his big papier-mâché head showed up, and the EMI representative asked him, “Have you been in show business long?” Frank looked at his wristwatch and said, “10 seconds.” Frank and his band had some success in show business, and they once opened for Gary Glitter, whose roadies were extremely rude. Mr. Sievey and Frank both seethed, and Frank ignored the roadies’ instructions: “You aren’t allowed to use our lights. Stay away from our hydraulic stage.” Frank jumped on the hydraulic stage, an action that set off smoke bombs and caused the stage to rise high in the air. The roadies ran toward Frank, who fled. Frank was able to shed his head and costume; underneath, Mr. Sievey was wearing his normal clothing. The roadies asked Mr. Sievey, “Have you seen Frank?” Mr. Sievey replied, “He went that way.” The band took a wrong turn when it tried to become more like professional musicians; the audience loved the band’s mistakes and lack of professionalism. Because of this wrong turn, the size of the audience got very small. At one show, no more than fifteen people showed up. In the middle of the show, someone in the audience produced a ball, the audience split into two teams, and they played ball during the rest of the show. Mr. Sievey always claimed to love the shows where absolutely everything went wrong. After this show, he said, “That was the best show ever.” By the way, for a while Chris Evans was the driver for the band. As the driver, he said the funniest thing that Mr. Ronson has ever heard. Driving to a show, Mr. Evans stopped the car and asked a pedestrian, “Is this London?” “Yes.” “Well, where do you want this wood?” Also by the way, the movie Frank, which was co-written by Mr. Ronson and Peter Straughan, is based largely on Mr. Ronson’s experiences in the band.

• Rocker Alice Cooper has had some strange experiences. In 1973, he worked with surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, who made a rotating hologram of Mr. Cooper’s head, which (the hologram, not the actual head) is now in the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. According to Mr. Cooper, Dalí was “the strangest thing. I’m pretty sure there are aliens that walk among us. And it’s always the guys who are in first place. The guy in first place is way, way ahead of the guy in second place. The Beatles, for instance — the next band down was way, way down. And that’s Salvador Dalí.” The great artist knew how to make an entrance. Mr. Cooper remembers, “First of all nine nymphs walk in. Then Gala [Mr. Dalí’s wife] walks in — she’s in a full tuxedo and spats, white gloves, the whole lot. Then in comes ‘the Dalí.’ ‘The Dalí is here.’ He’s got a giraffe-skin coat on, blue velvet pants and a pair of Aladdin shoes. He sits down and orders everyone a Scorpion, which is a shell full of every alcohol you can think of, with an orchid floating in it.” So what was it like to work with the great surrealist? Mr. Cooper remembers, “He’d say one word in Portuguese, one word in French, then one word in Italian, as well as some weird surrealistic language. We worked with him for three days [and] then afterwards, at a press conference, a journalist asked me the same thing. I told them, ‘It was great, but I didn’t understand a word he said!’ Then Dalí goes, ‘Perfect! Confusion is the greatest form of communication!’ And I look at him and I go, ‘You speak ENGLISH? After three days of BABBLING?’ By the way, Mr. Cooper was asked to run for Governor of Arizona in the 1980s, but he declined the offer. He remembers, “I told them I didn’t have enough indictments. I wasn’t crooked enough to be a politician. I told them, ‘I can’t take the pay cut!’ Also, it would have killed my golf game.”

• According to Andrew W.K.’s Wikipedia page, Dominic Owen Mallary, one of his fans, died on 5 December 2014 after an accident while performing at Boston University with Last Lights, his band. Mr. Mallary had told his friends that he wanted Andrew W.K. to play music at his funeral. His friends sent emails to Andrew W.K., who went to Mr. Mallary’s wake, paid his respects, and then played classical music.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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