Harvey Sid Fisher is not the sort of performer who usually turns up on the 15th Street Tavern stage on Saturday nights. For starters, he's in his sixties -- a proper gentlemen with a wildly fluffy, mad-genius-style coif who wears suits (preferably of the powder-blue variety) to his gigs, likes to golf (as evidenced by his out-of-print opus, Golf Songs), adheres to a macrobiotic diet, and strongly disapproves of cigarette smoking. ("Kick That Butt," Fisher's personal anti-smoking public-service announcement, appears on his cassette-only release, Other Stuff.)
But Fisher does have something in common with other touring acts that pass through the cramped club at the corner of 15th and Welton streets: He is independent to the core, a do-it-yourselfer who scrapes together a living as an artist with no outside support beyond the word-of-mouth and grassroots efforts of his fans. Still, in some circles (Backwash's included), Harvey Sid comes very close to fame -- or at least a cultish form of notoriety. And it all began with a little videotape.
In 1987, Fisher created Astrology Songs, a twelve-song cycle of musical horoscopes and personality summaries for each sign of the zodiac. Astrology Songs begins with Aries ("I am/I am/I am the Ram") and ends with Pisces ("P-P-P-Pisces/The water sign/The magical mind/So gentle and kind"), dedicating two or three minutes to each sign along the way. The songs range from contemplative and sad ("Cancer") to cowpokey and rollicking ("Gemini," "Virgo") to downright rocking ("Scorpio"). From the moment he recorded the songs in his apartment, using a Casio keyboard, Fisher realized he was on to something -- a cultural oddity that at once appealed to the American love of astrology and allowed him to carve a very specific niche for himself as a songwriter.
One day he put on a tuxedo and entered a small television studio somewhere in Los Angeles to record a minimalist video companion to Astrology Songs. And when Fisher added a visual element to the soundtrack, he struck a strange form of gold. A no-tech odyssey through the wonders of cable-access production techniques, the video finds Fisher -- then a model and intermittent actor who occasionally showed up on soap operas, including Santa Barbara -- working his way through Astrology Songs with a stiff confidence. He occasionally busts out with restrained stabs at "dancing" (moving his shoulders up and down and flailing his hands about) and flirts openly with three female performers who take turns sashaying and wriggling about in the background. Sung with unabashed vigor, if also a nasal flatness, Fisher's "horoscopes" often ring with more insight than those of leading newspaper columnists. They reveal both the bad and the good of each sign with a lighthearted but unflinching frankness.
Ever since Fisher's tape first surfaced in L.A., it's found its way to the VCRs of night owls, curio collectors and those who simply enjoy the combination of weird music and high comedy. In the process, the tape has also made its creator something of a celebrity. Fisher has been featured on The Daily Show, on MTV and in the pages of Spin, plugs that have helped not only to spread the word about Astrology Songs, but to finance his ongoing musical projects as well. These days, Fisher pours most of his creative energy into singer-songwriter projects, writing and recording songs on an acoustic guitar. Although less of a novelty than the zodiac suite, Fisher's current work still bears his unique creative stamp, as evidenced by song titles like "I Want My Mommy," "Bong-A-Chong" and "F-Word." (Fisher's catalogue is available at harveysidfisher.com.)
Most weekends, Fisher is featured at a couple of nightclubs near his home in Hollywood; he occasionally hits the road for gigs, including an annual stop at the South by Southwest Music Festival, whose 2002 version takes place in Austin this month. His upcoming stint at the 15th Street Tavern on Saturday, March 9, as the opener for Daniel Johnston (see "The Loner," page 82), marks his first-ever trip to Colorado; the Bobby Collins Death Metal Armada will serve as his backing band for the evening.
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In "Peoples Get Ready," our profile of the underground hip-hop group Dilated Peoples (page 90), DJ Babu approaches rap as an almost academic subject. The L.A.-based turntablist is not alone in that view, if an upcoming week of activities at the University of Colorado at Boulder is any indication. Beginning on Monday, March 11, and running through Saturday, March 16, the school will host "Hip-Hop Week," the first such event brought to campus by the Boulder branch of the Hip-Hop Congress. That nationwide nonprofit organization (hiphopcongress.org) works to spread awareness of the genre as a social and philosophical movement, not just a form of music.
As befits any event taking place on a college campus, the full-tilt week begins with a lecture by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, a scholar and professor at DePaul University in Chicago whose most recent book, Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, is a serious biography of the late actor and rapper. Dyson will speak to students (and members of the public, who are welcome to attend the free event) at 6 p.m. on March 11 in CU's Humanities building, room 1B50. Sometimes you actually have to go to school to keep up.
If you'd rather not hunker down in a classroom, however, there's still plenty in this week's live-music curriculum from which to choose. Some highlights: Judge Roughneck, Denver's reigning king of brass and skank, releases True, a new full-length CD, in a headlining show at Herman's Hideaway on Saturday, March 9. True is the band's third album, a followup to 1999's Skankin' Naked. No word on whether the band's seven members will be appearing in the buff...Big Mama Fitzgerald is nobody's mama: In fact, he's a blues vocalist who occasionally serves as one half of AKA: Streisand & Onassis, a locally launched voyage into blues/jazz fusion and '60s-era iconography. The "ladies" perform a free show on Saturday, March 9, at Penny Lane in Boulder. Be there, funny girl...Finally, Denver artist Tyler Potts asks audiences to eat their art out on Wednesday, March 13, when he presents "An Evening of Chance Operations, Experimental Music and Video" at the University of Denver's Sturm Hall Auditorium. Give it a chance, will ya?