WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . ZOOGZ RIFT: Speaking more than Frankly

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Zoogz Rift: With My Bare Hands (extract only)
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . ZOOGZ RIFT: Speaking more than Frankly

Because his music and career was so diverse, heretical and dispirate, few would try to follow in the footsteps of Frank Zappa. He seems to have spawned no progeny.

With one notable exception: Zoogz Rift.

Mr Rift -- born Robert Pawlikowski in '53 -- recorded a couple of dozen albums for the SST label, among them Idiots on the Minature Golf Course, Amputees in Limbo, Can You Smell My Genitals From Where You're Standing?, Quarks of Snout, Island of Puke . . .

Any one of those titles could have graced a Zappa album. But Rift quickly tired of the comparisons with Frank and Captain Beefheart.

"I guess my main complaint is that I've been influenced by many people, not just them," he said. "I grew up to the Beatles, the Fugs, the Bonzo Dog Band, Spike Jones, John McLaughlin, Sun Ra, King Crimson and even some classical music.

"Later came an interest in Elvis Costello, Devo, James Chance and the Contortions, and many more.

"I'm into Salvador Dali, Ayn Rand, John Waters, HG Lewis and Captain Lou Albano too."

He was also a wrestling fan.

"If somebody would cut me the break," he said in '88, "I'd love to get into that business, either as a perfomer or even front office. I have over 600 hours of wrestling on video tape, and I'm still taping, watching, studying. I've been heavily into the WWF since the late Sixties. Nothing is more fun than watching wrestling.

"It's better than eating. It's better than getting laid. It's better than taking a shit."

320px_Zoogz_Rift__Looser_Than_Clams_Greatest_Hits_Vol._1_album_coverAmong his favourite movies were Cool Hand Luke, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, Cannery Row, Dawn of the Dead and Deliverance, he had "high contempt for" politicians, Tracey Ullman, Don (Beefheart) Van Vliet's retirement from rock music and The Cosby Show.

With his band The Amazing Shitheads he toured regularly, had a publishing company called Miss Ann Thrope, was known as The Legendary Liquid Mamo and released a Greatest Hits Vol 1 compilation entitled Looser Than Clams which included his great non-hits Lobotomy 2, Heart Attack, Island of Living Puke, Torture Sequence . . .

His albums veer between strange lounge-type ballads and searing rock with multiple time changes. With a small band of loyalists he sometimes came off like low brow Zappa on a budget.

He sang about peeing, getting his dinkle out and opening the Devil's secret Hell files.

Of course with that many albums there are bound to be high points. He does a fairly straight and agonized cover of Tim Buckley's Look at the Fool on the album Nonentity -- the final part of his Water trilogy -- which also includes a version of the ballad When My Ship Rolls In by his pal and sometime band member John Trubee (who, with his group The Ugly Janitors of America, deserves a column in this series of We Need to Talk About . . .)

51307_1_His album Island of Living Puke opens with a voice (probably him) saying, "Oh fuck, not another goddamn Zoogz Rift album" and -- with guest avant-guitarist Henry Kaiser -- thereafter follows a melange of loops, skits, a woman having an orgasm, free form music, madcap songs and . . .

Zoogz Rift is clearly not for everyone -- some might say for anyone -- but he has more than just a few decent moments and if three albums is too many then one should certainly be in your collection.

Possibly Nonentity which is his most approachable and includes the 11 minute instrumental "suite" With My Bare Hands.

On the release of his album Murdering Hell's Happy Cretins, someone in SST wrote in the promo sheet, "Rift's undeniable genius is understood by some, misinterpreted and mocked by many, yet he's always the centre of controversy. He acts as spokesman for those of us antagonised by the coldness and stupidy of the people around us.

"With Zoogz Rift around, the world is in competent hands."

Zoogz Rift died in March 2011 and, when you think about it, the world's gone to pack since. 

For other articles in the series of strange characters in music, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . go here.

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Nigel - Jan 8, 2013

A genius. I corresponded with him after playing his albums on bFM and he was no fool. Thanks for reminding us of someone who should have had more recognition.

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