Bad As They Want To Be
Ugly truths about the rich and famous
by Matthew De Abaitua:
© 1999 The Guide (The Guardian, London), week of Saturday March 27-Friday April 2, 1999
When celebrities attack
If the grim resolution of The Troggs isn't discouraging enough, two recordings in particular should send a chill down the spine of aspirant musicians everywhere: in one, Paul Anka who appeared on stage, treats his backing band to a searing, angry monologue -- he leaves them in no doubt of his view of their incompetence. "I'm the only important one on stage, and you're letting me down . . . I don't care if it's Jesus Christ. I'm the only important one on that stage, you understand?"
Also, there are three tapes of Buddy Rich savagely haranguing his band, even insisting the tour bus stop so that one of them can be ejected from the group there and then. His language and manner make him sound like a drill sergeant. "I am accustomed to working with number one musicians -- I am not accustomed to working with half-assed fucking kids who think they wrote [sic] the fucking music business. You're all a bunch of fucking children. You've got two sets to make up your mind before I get me an all-LA band by tomorrow night." Strong stuff, indeed. Just as pretty flowers and blossoms disguise the raw savagery of nature, so too can choreography and colour coordinated outfits hide the brute, joyless Darwinism at the heart of the entertainment business.
Not all the celebrities caught in the collections come off as badly as this, however. While tapes of Stevie Nicks and William Shatner reveal Olympian petulance, the recordings of Jerry Lewis, in particular, show that he was just as funny when his guard was down, as when it was up.
While recording a trailer with Dean Martin for their new film, The Caddy, Jerry Lewis's mousy adolescent voice skips off-message into bursts of abuse. "No doubt about it, Dean, this is the funniest picture we've ever made, no kidding folks, we're sensational. Take my word for it, come on in and join the fun. The Caddy! It'll make you shit!"
Lewis could do so much more, too, as demonstrated in a quintet of phone pranks he masterminded, also included by Bougas. The calls set the blueprint for contemporary prank callers like The Jerky Boys and Chris Morris. Indeed, Bougas confirms they are the earliest recordings of a phone prank he has come across.
While taking a call from a pushy booker called Bill Lynch, Lewis pretends to be his own secretary. Like Chris Morris, Lewis goes deadpan, unwilling to understand a single word of the call so that he can patiently draw out every last splutter of Lynch's exasperation. In a portrait in Vanity Fair, Jerry Seinfeld is described sitting patiently in his car, listening to this recording, and revelling in a masterpiece of timing.
The Celebrities At Their Worst collections are a labour of love, shot -- as Bougas puts it -- "below the radar of anyone who matters." With only a few thousand copies in circulation, Bougas is surprised they have attracted so much interest. There's been coverage by such varied outlets as People magazine, Entertainment Weekly and Howard Stern, who has been broadcasting extracts.
"To be honest, this was never a money-making exercise. I haven't seen a penny from Volume 2. I'm always startled at how all these things are being welcomed or embraced, that years ago would have been considered taboo, or uninteresting. Now that tabloid culture has taken over, there's a hunger for what is going on behind the scenes, to see a side to personalities you wouldn't normally see on all the glossy interview shows." This hunger will be catered to by a forthcoming Volume 3, details of which are yet to be confirmed. We are assured, however, there will be plenty more abuse from Elvis.For more information contact Mad Deadly Worldwide Communist Gangster Computer God, PO Box 420464, San Francisco, CA 94142, USA, or visit the Counterpoint Music website at www. counterpoint-music.com.