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Most of this blog is related in some way to the music, books and films produced by Gonzo Multimedia, but the editor has a grasshopper mind and so also writes about all sorts of cultural issues which interest him, and which he hopes will interest you as well.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Merrell Fankhauser interview (Part Two)

I have been wanting to interview Merrell Fankhauser for months, but - as is so often the case - events conspired against us. However, I managed to catch up with him about half an hour before he left the house to go to a very important gig with Dean Torrence of the legendary Jan and Dean. If you missed Part One you can read it HERE.

MERRELL: I’m also excited that March 4th is the release date for the Area 51 Suite.

JON: As you know, I did the video for it.

MERRELL: Yeah, and that’s gotten quite a few hits…I don’t know if you’ve seen on YouTube now it’s over 300 I think.

JON: The little girl in the film is my housekeeper’s daughter

[Interjection from Jessica that she is 15 and NOT a little girl, so there!]

MERRELL: She’s cute – and it’s Rob’s son playing the alien, right?

JON: One of the aliens, the other one is my godson. All kept in the family.  There’s quite a link between  your work between UFOs isn’t there?

MERRELL: Yeah you know back – my dad was a pilot and a flight instructor and I lived on airports and even back in the ‘50s my dad and I would sit out on the airport at night and look at the sky and we’d talk about UFOs and things and I remember when I was maybe 13 or so I read that book, Project Bluebook and it’s got all those cases and I was into it, and I would build model airplanes and I tried to build a flying saucer that flew also.  So I was always into that sort of thing and then when I moved to Maui I found all of these people who were talking about UFOs and you know, it wasn’t just these, you know that say “ho ho what was he on?”, but I talked to the old Hawaiians and they would tell me about things that they saw and one old guy who was in his ‘80s in 1973 said when he was a little kid they used to sit on their porch at night and watch these things fly out of the crater and dive into the ocean. And sometimes they would see one come out of the ocean again.  

I studied it, and it even went back to the 1800s and the Hawaiians call them the flying pearly shells, and so when I moved there in ‘73 because I was interested in the lost continent Mu and I moved there with my band Mu, I started exploring all of the jungles and this old Hawaiian guy told me about these old ruins down by the ocean, and I went down there and sure enough I found four pillars on a platform that looked like Mayan Indian cut stone and a sidewalk that went off into the ocean and you could see it under the ocean, continuing on and then one evening I think it was in about ‘74 we were at the top of the crater with the band Mu, and we saw this glowing pulsating light come over the crater and it shone its light down on the floor of the crater at 10,500 feet, we were sitting there watching it, and then it broke off into two more objects that formed an inverted pyramid – a tetrahedron – and they started shining light around each other and then after a while – I would say two or three minutes – they all came together again and shot straight up in an instant and disappeared.  So I went back down to my house in Maui and Calling from a Star, the song, just popped out. And then I did a slow version of it with Mu in ’74 and then in ’77 I recorded a master version with parts of Steve Miller’s band backing me up, and that’s the one which is on YouTube that you can see now – of Calling from a Star – so yeah, I guess it’s been kind of you know… a running theme that comes and goes all the time and there’s so many people in Hawaii that claim to have seen things over there. And what’s interesting, there aren’t many reports in magazines or even on these TV shows talking about UFOs in Hawaii.

JON: It’s interesting that there’s a cultural tradition of them going back there. How at first did you get interested in the lost continent of Mu?  Was that through reading Churchward’s book?

MERRELL: Yeah,  I was living with the band Mu in 1969 in a suburb of Los Angeles called Woodland Hills, and I’d rented this house and Captain Beefheart and his band lived one canyon over from us, and we’d once in a while get together and jam and stuff, so I was cleaning up around the fireplace, in the log bin, and I found this old book, and it was a 1932 edition.  And at that point, I hadn’t called the band Mu yet. 

HMS Bounty had just broken up, Jeff Cotton had left Beefheart and had joined me, and we got two of our old Xiles Fapardokly mates Larry Willey on bass, and Randy Wymer on drums to come and join us, and we were looking for a name for the band, and when we’d be playing gigs we would call the band something different every gig, and the agent said “you boys have got to come up with a solid name to use”.  So I found this book and we all three started reading it, Jeff and Randy and I, and I went “Hmm, maybe we ought to call the band Mu”. And everybody went “Oh yeah that’s it”, and then the more we read about this book and we found that the Yucatan and Hawaii had a link to the lost continent of Mu and a friend of ours had moved to Maui and was saying we should come over there and play, and so eventually that’s what happened. But here’s an interesting thing, Jon.  There’s this temple near where I live here on the central coast called the Temple of Halcyon and it’s like a township and it’s in a forest and they built this beautiful circular temple that looks like ..er I don’t know, it’s not exactly Grecian, but it’s really an odd structure and this was founded in the late ‘20s when the psychic Madame Blavatsky sent a bunch of her followers out from New York to find a place where this was an energy vortex where she had to build a temple here on the West Coast in California somewhere, and they went over there with dowsing rods and found this area where it should be. Well, what I didn’t know, was that group of people that ended up migrating there all believed in the lost continent of Mu and they used to do a sun salute to the ocean every morning, pointing towards Hawaii, honouring the continent of Mu. I went over and visited these people in this Halycon spiritual group when I was young and even in high school but I never knew until later on that there was  link to Mu right there practically in my back yard.

JON: That’s something you ought to do a film about

MERRELL: Oh yeah.  Good idea. 

JON: I’m very interested in Helena Blavatsky and the theosophists. It’s a very interesting movement. You knew Captain Beefheart as well..

MERRELL: I know John French, a long time friend of mine; he played in the Xiles also before Beefheart, and he ….I was in there with Don and I knew Don early on when he played with Frank Zappa.  I would go over there and one day the drummer John French – Drumbo - his fingers would be in a splint and Mark Boston would have a bloody lip.  And what Don would do, would pit different ones against each other and it was always kind of a turmoil when you’d go over there, because there was always, “This is the guy that’s fucking up the band today”, you know. And it was always somebody else and that’s how Jeff Cotton left the band – they beat him up and broke his ribs and he ended up in the hospital.

JON: Good God.

MERRELL: And then there was an English like fanzine book that Nigel Cross was involved with – Bucketful of Brains – and he published the story that I wrote about being locked in the bathroom with Don Vliet with Jeff Cotton after they kidnapped him one time and Don was demeaning him and Jeff was in the bathtub crying.  And he was trying to get back control of him again and some of the guys in the band thought Don had this supernatural power and was controlling them but what a lot of them didn’t know was that he had his girlfriend Laurie dosing them with LSD in their food and then they’d come on and he’d start doing all these little tricks and he would keep them up real late at night trying to play this step that he was creating.  So I read these books and I kind of have a different viewpoint from seeing it at the outside.  

JON: I think that happens a lot doesn’t it, when people write about something that happened 40 years ago

MERRELL: But they try to slam it to their own particular viewpoint to make themselves look good, and they weren’t all that good. I’ve written a bit in my autobiography that I’m working on about that era too and actually how I had to rescue Cotton the time they kidnapped him when he was already playing with me and they had him up there trying to brainwash him and Harkleroad would come over at times late at night and try to grab him and a few times I nearly got into fisticuffs with Harkleroad and had to make him leave.

JON: Good God

MERRELL: But yet I’d go over and the Captain would want to jam with me, or he’d show up late at night in his old Jaguar and say “Hey man, listen to this” and he’d pull out his C soprano  sax and we’d blither off a bunch of stuff and I should have recorded some of it – I didn’t think to at the time – and you know he was just looking for an escape to get out of the house and away from everything and he’d come over to my house late at night and then he’d go back over and nobody knew where he was at.

He’s one of the people – if someone invented a time machine – he’s one of the people I would really like to go back and meet

Yeah.  I spent quite a bit of time with him. And in the early days when I started The Exiles right before he formed Beefheart and him and Zappa had broken up The Omens which was basically a rhythm and blues and dowap band, he would come over and sit outside my garage and listen to us rehearse and then he’d have somebody go in and tell him who was playing lead on what song, and who was doing this and that and that’s how eventually he would recruit people from my band, he eventually got Jeff Cotton and he got Drumbo and John French and Doug Moon jammed with us a few times, and Handley.  A movie could be made about that whole era – the Lancaster Antelope Valley music scene was really something.

JON: Did you play with Zappa ever?

MERRELL: Nope, I met him once, but I never got to play with him

JON: He’s another very fascinating character

MERRELL: Yeah, and people thought he was on drugs, Jon, but he wasn’t.  He smoked cigarettes, drank coffee and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. No drugs.

JON: Well it seemed to work well for him.


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