I’m pretty sure, despite encouragement to include such people as Wild Man Fischer, that I’ve ever featured people who were clearly mentally ill in this blog before: deluded, certainly, but not fit to be institutionalised.
Before last week I had never heard of Jerry Solomon. Now he’s becoming something of an obsession. According to his own short autobiography, Jerry was ‘born in San Diego, California and lived in Boyle Heights from age 1-4. Later we moved to West L.A. where I went to grade school and attended Hamilton High. After high school I had a job delivering fur coats. Then I got into show business, singing, dancing, and doing comedy routines.
‘In my 30's I was maliciously given a dangerous drug as a "joke" and suffered brain and heart dysfunction. Over a ten-year recovery period, in the last few years, I've regained to some extent, my former function and am writing a book about my experience.’ That book – A Drug Free Life and a Glass of PCP – is available now.
Jerry somehow managed to record several albums, including Past the 20th Century (Fountain, 1971), Live at the Show Biz (Fountain), and Through the Woods (1973, label unknown) (UPDATE: according to record collector and private press archivist Mike Ascherman, Jerry's recorded output consists of 3 LPs and 13 45s and EPs). They are all completely insane; Jerry rambles, croons, hoots and shrieks through his material like a crazed psychotic. It’s no surprise that Andy Kaufman was reputedly a fan. Very few copies of these albums exist: so sought after are they that when they do come up for sale it’s usually for stupid money. Most come without sleeves: when they do have covers they are usually handcrafted by Jerry himself and often have photocopied inserts or doctored photos taped to them.
Outsider music which defines the genre, according to Swanfungus.com (where the image, above, comes from) Jerry is a ‘real person extraordinaire…with his highly chromatic melodies and overdubbed harmonies, Jerry sounds like a late ’50s vocals group from the Twilight Zone. His self-accompaniment consists of a repetitive one-chord (maybe two) guitar strum that predates Jandek and a toy piano that is ‘strummed’ and sounds like a lysergic zither from the Third Man soundtrack. The songs range from nostalgia for the earlier years of his life to total despair.’ (UPDATE: this quote, from Mike Ascherman, originally appeared in the book Acid Archives)
What’s really frightening about these records is that they were recorded BEFORE Jerry’s mind wet AWOL: he states (in his short story Living in an Altered State) that his overdose happened in 1977. Hell, if he was recording this kind of acid casualty stuff before he fried his synapses what on earth would have been the results of a recording session during his lost decade?
Now aged 70, pretty much fully recovered from his journey into the unknown and calling himself a ‘performance artist’, Jerry is still desperately trying to carve a showbiz career for himself. He recently auditioned (unsuccessfully), for America’s Got Talent, singing a self-composed song about Viagra to the tune of O Sole Mio. In the past he had his own cable show – a couple of uncomfortable-to-watch clips are on YouTube.
Here are a couple of cuts from Jerry seminal masterpiece Past the 20th Century. Enjoy!