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The Rant….A Postscript.

I may have given the impression in my rant the other day that I didn’t care about prison conditions. In fact I received a long and thoughtful email from a reader expressing disappointment with some of the views expressed.

Let me make it clear that I became acutely aware of prison conditions at a young age. I experienced them at very close quarters and in 1970s Glasgow they were grim indeed. Sewing and lettering mailbags was no urban legend. That was what many inmates had to do for their 25p per week.

Some of the more resourceful ones would blag ink from that job so that they could top up their ballpoint pens and therefore write more letters home to loved ones.

Visiting was one hour per week.

There was a culture of beatings by prison officers on inmates.

And I’m acutely aware too that there were many injustices. At that time a safe blower called Johnny Ramenski was in Barlinnie as an elderly man. British intelligence had used him and his skills during the second world war but he was quickly forgotten and abandoned when his heroism and risk taking were no longer needed.

Fortunately conditions and culture have improved in many ways since then.

I perhaps got a bit carried away with my remarks about Nat Fraser, but the fact that there are many people who really should never have seen the inside of prison walls threw the Fraser case into sharp focus for me.

On this father’s day I hope sincerely that prison conditions continue to improve.

Wild Man

This obituary is by Margalit Fox

Wild Man Fischer, a mentally ill street musician who became a darling of the pop music industry in the 1960s and as a result enjoyed four decades of strange, intermittent and often ill-fitting celebrity, died Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 66.

The cause was heart failure, said Josh Rubin, a filmmaker whose documentary portrait of Fischer, “dErailRoaDed,” was released in 2005. (The film’s title, taken from one of Fischer’s songs, is a word he coined to describe the radical dislocation he often felt.)

Fischer, whose first name was Larry, had lived with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder since he was a teenager. Since 2004, he had resided in an assisted-living facility for mental patients in Van Nuys, Calif.

Fischer, a singer-songwriter, was sometimes called the grandfather of Outsider music, but he was an outsider even by Outsider standards.

His voice was raspy and very loud. There was little tune to his melodies, and his lyrics had the repetitiveness and seeming simplicity of nursery rhymes. His singing, typically a cappella, was punctuated by vocal effects like hooting, wailing and shouting.

Whether Fischer was a naive genius whose work embodied primal truths, or simply a madman who practiced a musicalized form of ranting, is the subject of continuing debate.

But he attracted — and retains — a cult following, which over time has included well-known figures in the music business. Among them were Frank Zappa, who produced Fischer’s first album; the child actor-turned-musician Bill Mumy; the radio host Dr. Demento; and the singer Rosemary Clooney, with whom Fischer recorded a duet.

Fischer made several albums, toured sporadically and performed occasionally on television, including, in 1968, on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”

His best-known song was almost certainly “Merry-Go-Round.” The tune has a faint Caribbean lilt. (In the recording studio, Fischer was often provided with instrumental accompaniment.) The lyrics, on first hearing, can strike the listener as a joke:

Come on, let’s merry-go, MERRY-go, merry-go-round.

Boop-boop-boop.

Merry-go, MERRY-go, merry-go-round.

Boop-boop-boop.

In the end, though, the joke — postmodern and self-referential — is on the listener: Once heard, the song circles unremittingly around in the head like a carousel that can never be stilled.

Lawrence Wayne Fischer was born in Los Angeles on Nov. 6, 1944. From his youth on, whenever he was in a manic upswing — a state of intense creative energy he would call the “pep” — songs cascaded out of him.

At 16, after he threatened his mother with a knife, she had him committed to a mental institution. He was committed again a few years later.

Who’s Playing Subo?

I saw this headline the other day…..

And then I remembered an image posted by Stu Who? on his blog a while ago.

Drug Store Washington DC 1920

Again from shorpy.com, this is ‘”Peoples Drug Store No. 3″, 91 years ago:

For the full size photo click here

Here’s the interior;

Click here and here for the full size shots.

This is the store rather impressively lit up at night;

For full size of this one go here.

New York 1908

It’s been a while since I featured the excellent Shorpy photo site, which chronicles old America from the birth of photography to the 1950s. This fascinating photo is of Cortlandt Street in New York City in 1908:

Cortlandt Street New York, New York

For a real treat though, click here to see the full size photo which gives you this level of detail:

As an interesting footnote, one commenter on the site gives this piece of info about Cortlandt Street;

“Cortlandt Street has played many roles in 20th and 21st century history. It was home to “Radio Row,” a substantial congregation of radio and electronics merchants from 1930 to 1970. Replaced by the now infamous Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.”

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