For a good stretch during the late ’80s/early ’90s, the John Terlesky-fronted, garage-rocking Original Sins were poised to be one of indie rock’s next big things. Despite a string of excellent LPs, that never happened for the pride of Bethlehem, Pa., who disbanded in 1999. Prior to the breakup, Terlesky started releasing more experimental records as Brother JT, and they, too, have been stellar. JT keeps his winning streak alive with the new Tornado Juice (Thrill Jockey), produced by Ray Ketchem (Luna, Okkervil River), who also manned the boards for 1996 Original Sins classic Bethlehem. The good Brother will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, tornado juice not included.
JT: When a friend gave me a copy of this, I was mentally salivating over the prospect of all the great stories Fowley could tell about his several-decade reign over the scuzzy, Hollywood record-biz underworld. And this little tome is not short on stories, no sir. From encountering John Garfield, cocaine and a hooker in his room (at age six) to dashing off a song for Jimi Hendrix (deathless classic “Fluffy Turkeys”), the ADHD-style tall-tales spill out so fast and furious that the snapshots he’s taken come off a bit blurry. Sizable leaps, from being a polio-afflicted child of two b-actors to becoming a teen gang member, to suddenly working as a promoter and producing hit records, are often handled in a sentence or two of impatient exposition. “Scattershot” is the word that comes to mind.
An ass-ton of names are dropped along the way; this guy had dealings with the likes of Thelonious Monk, Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Brian Jones, Keith Moon, Jimmy Page—he knew everybody. But the names are largely all we get, without much further insight. As a reader, I kept wanting to stop the torrent of anecdotes long enough to find out what he made of these icons as people. Or how his creative process worked. Or just something a little more, er, substantial.
But then this is Kim Fowley’s story—substance is no more the point than it was when he waxed the “Worst Record Ever Made” or reduced Tchaikovsky to “Nut Rocker.” He knows what you want and he’s not going to give it up because he is the eternal mutant teenage punk huckster. “Part of me is pretty astute, the other part of me is a moron, and the other part of me is a madman” is what passes for self-analysis, but even that tidbit seems like a major admission.
Once I got past the fact that it was not going to be just another rock n’ roll tell-all, I could just lay back and wallow in what a perversely fun a read it was. Like the childhood poems that comment on the prose, the whole manuscript is a pop-art/expressionist collage, the more haphazard and questionable in its veracity the better. Who said that thing about art being a lie that tells the truth? Gene Vincent, I think (who is actually covered in some detail here).
Don’t expect to read anything about his controversial dealings with the Runaways; this book covers only the first third or so of his career, and Fowley died in 2015 before he could complete any further volumes. Such as it is, Lord Of Garbage is a shaky pixelvision of an insane era. It refuses to take itself seriously and, in so doing, manages to be both completely disposable and slightly irresistible—a scratchy, two-minute-novelty-45 of a book.