January 19, 2015
I met Kim Fowley through my friend Ericka Clevenger. She and I were producing a web show together and we booked him as a guest. He walked up my driveway in a zoot suit with a cane and David Bowie face paint. I thought in an instant that they really broke the mold when they made this guy. He packed more shock-value into a casual conversation, an email or a voicemail, (which I always saved) than Alice Cooper, Kiss or Marilyn Manson have in their whole careers. He was walking, talking performance art. His cadence and hand-gestures drew me in immediately. His words and body language were clever and compelling all the time. I didn't want to miss anything he might do or say because it was all so amusing. But he wasn't a clown, because he was in on the joke. He knew that I knew how funny and outrageous he was, and it made me feel special, like I was in on it too.
When he walked up my driveway and into my life, I was between projects and in desperate need of an inspirational spark. Over the course of a year, I found that in spades, in this legendary showbiz maniac that would become my "Rock 'n Roll Grandpa". Our phone calls were never less than 45 minutes long, like high-school kids, talking shit and trying to get a rise out of each other. In fact, he'd sign off at the end of each call with his phrase, "be teenaged". I made a habit of saying it back to him. A cancer-stricken man in his 70's, and a singer-guitarist in his late-20's reminding each other to "be teenaged" is a pretty unforgettable exchange. I knew what he meant. It was his poetic way of saying "stay motivated, work hard, don't lose the edge...remember why you became a musician in the first place".
The last time he was out and about without a wheelchair was at a party Ericka and I threw for our show Planet Rocke. He brought me a present that night, and gave it to me in front of everyone. It was a folder of unfinished lyrics, mostly hand-written, hand-picked for me from his vault, dating 1970's through early 2000's. He told me they were mine to do what I wanted with. Suddenly I had my hands full with a new project. I told him I wanted to start a band called The Fowleys. He screamed at me and said in no uncertain terms that he forbid me to use the name, and would sue me if I tried. I couldn't really understand why he was so opposed to it, so I tried to calm him down and ask for an explanation. The truth of his rejection turned out to be flattering and self-assuring. He told me "You've already been in bands. Bands are too complicated. Bands don't last. Bands break up. Its your time to put your name out there and go at it alone." He twisted my arm into making my first solo album.
We kept in touch, once or twice a week. I went to see him when he was too sick to get out of bed, and I played him the finished songs. He was impressed and proud. It was really all the encouragement I needed to keep going. He married the lovely Kara and seemed very happy. When his health got worse he stopped taking calls. I knew he was in pain, but I also knew he had Kara by his side, and that his razor-sharp mind and dignity were going to be intact until the very end.
A great blog in England singled out the song "Time Stands Still", one of the first of Kim and my collaborations. They posted it for free download, and a few hours later I heard the news that Kim had passed. The timing was shocking, but also an exceptionally fitting tribute. The song reveals his sensitive, introspective side, that I count myself among the lucky few to have known.
I highly recommend his memoir "Lord of Garbage". I read it in a day. It's a well-crafted expose into not only his larger-than-life rock n roll caricature, but his humanity and empathy. Rest in Peace Rock n Roll Grandpa. Stay teenaged.