“Outsider music.” It’s an acquired taste. Not many are willing to have their ear bent by a self-trained musician with a mental disability whose music often contains nonsensical ramblings and funny noises. No, the few that do seek out this music are either curious observers, or people so bored with the pop music scene that they turn to these artists, the very anti-thesis of pop, for something completely different. These people, these fans, were few until recently. Outsider music is experiencing somewhat of a surge in popularity. In a time when the pop world is bigger and more obnoxious than it’s ever been, it makes sense that the curious observers are multiplying and these artists are becoming legendary heroes. If they’re crazy and they carry a tune, people will come. Many argue that it’s not music at all, but that doesn’t stop people from paying to see them perform and now documentaries are surfacing, relaying the bizarre stories of these truly alternative musicians. Yes, artists such as Wesley Willis (R.I.P.), Daniel Johnston, Captain Beefheart and yeah, even Harvey Sid Fisher are getting their due respects from a crowd who are dying to rage against the pop. Another name amongst these artists is Wild Man Fischer. “Derailroaded” is his story.
A man whose manic depressive, paranoid and schizophrenic mental state would only grow worse and ultimately eat way at him, Larry Fischer first appeared on the music scene in the 60s as a street performer in Los Angeles, singing songs to passerby for a dime. These songs were like poetic temper tantrums and would often leave the listener scratching their head, but always with a smile on their face. He was soon discovered by Frank Zappa who took this curious artist under his wing, releasing his first album and raising him to cult status. Several years later, Larry would begin releasing recordings on Rhino Records, further cementing himself as a cult figure.
Doesn’t sound like a bad musical career, right? Better than a lot of struggling musicians will ever see, anyway. But what I left out was all of the strife Larry would cause between himself and all of his personal contacts, be it business partners, fellow artists, friends or family, after a while everyone wound up frightened or just plain fed up with the Wild Man and his unpredictable and sometimes violent behavior. Many of the interviewed people in this documentary would blame this violent behavior on keeping him from being a success, from achieving his fame and fortune. But then someone also asks if it’s realistic to think that Larry would ever gain this kind of success with these bizarre songs. This someone was probably one of the only level-headed speakers in the film.
Accompanying these interviews is plenty of archival and recent footage of Larry in action, both on stage and off. His performance footage is inspiring, but it’s the later off stage stuff that’s depressing as you see what a mess the guy is, in a constant state of paranoia to the point that it’s crippling. You see this and you question what all of these “friends” were doing to him when they knew how unstable he was, but kept him immersed in the music business world anyway. Did they really feel that Larry was a musical genius? Were they just trying to help the guy out? Or was he just a freak show that they toyed with occasionally for s***s and giggles? Whatever the answer, one thing’s for certain, the music business was not the kind of therapy Larry needed. “Derailroaded” graphically depicts this.
Whether you actually enjoy his music and maybe even want to go as far as calling it brilliant (a bit far I think), or you think it’s just a bunch of gibberish, you have to admit one thing – it’s honest. Larry’s music is coming straight from his heart and it’s the type of material that doesn’t belong in the pop world, not in this society, people aren’t ready for it, never will be. This in-depth documentary is a loving tribute, an entertaining yet tragic tale, of a true singer-songwriter.