Polio as a Child, Man

Kim Fowley died on January 15.  There are a lot of people who really despised Kim but I’m not one.  The first time I met Kim was at David Clayton Thomas’s wedding reception in Toronto at the Royal York Hotel.  (For those who don’t know, David was the lead singer for Blood Sweat & Tears.)  I was looking for the bathroom in a cavernous suite and opened the door to one of the bedrooms.  There was Kim, sitting alone at a table having dinner.

I was actually starving and said, where’s the food man?  Kim looked at me like I’d asked him which direction the Sun rose and he said, “Room service, man!”

Is this your room?

“It is now.”

And that was Kim all over.  And then there was the dark side.  If you saw The Runaways you kind of got the idea.

Years later, I met him again through my friends Bart Bishop and Laurie McAllister (last bassist in the Runaways).  I worked for Kim (during his Helen Reddy phase) on a number of his artists, writing songs, playing, producing, whatever needed to be done.  Singles, jingles and demos conveniently made.  He usually bankrolled the projects and almost always managed to get those records released.  The guy had pieces of publishing, “co-writes”, producer royalties on probably hundreds if not thousands of tracks.  Also had incredible luck–“Nut Rocker” a track he “co-wrote” with this guy Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky for B. Bumble and the Stingers was covered by Emerson, Lake & Palmer on Pictures at an Exhibition–all mailbox money for Kim.

Many times during this period we would start the day at Kim’s apartment off of Sunset Boulevard (where else?) across the street from the car wash.  I’d sit with another writer in Kim’s living room waiting for him to get off the phone, usually with some record guy in Australia or France who he was trying to get to put out one of the records he was shopping.  His coffee table was a complete mass of pieces of paper, receipts, fan mags, and one day a check for about $30,000 in royalties that I happened to notice underneath a mass of crap.  Who knows if it would ever have been cashed.

The first time I was in the studio with him, he got people to stop smoking in the control room by tapping his chest and saying, “Noooo, man, one lung, polio as a child.”  Everyone put out the cigarettes and didn’t light another.  Later that night we were in the studio kitchen and I said to him, I didn’t think polio had any thing to do with your lungs.

He immediately brightened up.  “You’re good, man.  Nobody catches that.”

Of course, Kim had both lungs and never had polio.  But he couldn’t stand cigarettes and that was really the point.

Kim always played the tension in the room, like he was orchestrating a continuing cinematic performance.  Once he knew you understood that he was playing everyone almost all the time, you would catch a little glance your way when the tension was rising.  It got a bit tiresome after a while, which was itself part of the…shall we say, hustle.  He had no illusions about himself, though.  In an LA Times interview about The Runaways movie he said:

So…you described Michael [Shannon]’s performance [as Kim]: “He portrays me as a cross between ‘Citizen Kane’ & a ‘Vampire From Outer Space.’ ”

Possibly. After seeing the final version, I would say, ‘Darth Vader as a used-car salesman.’ That’s what it is. Every movie needs a villain, and I’m a good one.

Last time I saw him was about 2004 at a conference in LA where he was on a panel.  Kim walked up to me like I’d just seen him that morning although it had been a good 20 years.  “Chris Castle, where’s the party, man.”  He completely took over the panel.

When I said goodbye to him that day, he said in an admonishing tone, “Chris Castle, push your own hustle first, man.”  Words to live by.  Just like having breakfast with Kim and Rodney Bingenheimer at Denny’s on Sunset.