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