Sunday, June 29, 2008

"I Did NOT Make This Up!"

My friend Lynn is a wonderful human being--kind, thoughtful, supportive, able to leap tall metaphors with a single bound--but she has never, ever believed me when I've told her about the latest Weird Thing* I've encountered.

"You made that up. Or you were drunk. Or hallucinating. You didn't really (hear/see/read) that!"

To which I've only been able to reply, "Lynn, I did NOT make this up. I'm not that smart."

And I'm not. What I am is a Weirdness Magnet, which can be terribly, terribly inconvenient** since no one ever believes me!

Halloween 1980 found me holed up in my wretched little Boston apartment with a bottle of cheap bourbon, a bag of potato chips, and my sole source of entertainment besides books:

No stereo system, no television set, just a portable radio my parents had given me for Christmas several years before. Needless to say, I spent a lot of my non-working hours listening.

Though there was a slew of decent FM stations in Boston, I listened to WCOZ (now WJMN) for "When You Need... KICK-ASS... Rock 'N' Roll..." (album-oriented rock mostly from the 'Seventies) and WBCN, "The Radio Station That Flogs Dead Horses!" (featuring a more varied format but especially emphasizing the then-emerging punk and New Wave scenes). WBCN's late night DJ, Jerry "The Duke of Madness" Goodwin, was a favorite of mine for a number of reasons, not the least of which was his intro which could easily last a half-hour, but also because he played some seriously demented stuff.

Quick example: "Stairway to Gilligan's Island" by some group whose name I didn't catch at the time***, a brilliant mash-up of "Stairway to Heaven" and the theme song from (duh!) Gilligan's Island, which demanded an immediate late-night (drunken) call to Lynn.

Her response? The standard, boilerplate "You made that up. Or you're drunk. Or hallucinating. You didn't really hear that!"

And with no witnesses and no supporting evidence there was nothing I could say to convince her otherwise.

So, back to Halloween 1980, WBCN, the Duke of Madness, and heard. A country/western ditty (which was pretty damned strange for WBCN to begin with) about this psycho killer and no, it wasn't "Psycho Killer"; no amount of alcohol could warp "Psycho Killer" into a country/western ditty. It was weird and wild and wacky and weird, so of course I had to tell Lynn about it.

"You made that up. Or you're drunk. Or hallucinating. You didn't really hear that!"


I spent years trying to track down those two songs because I knew, I knew what I heard was real and not some psychotropically-spawned fantasy; unfortunately, no luck. In the early days of the Intarweb I tried again, but no luck; there wasn't yet sufficient critical mass to encounter something that offbeat and that obscure.

Until I ran into Wayne Allen Sallee.

Ah, Wayne. Writer of horror, denizen of Chicago, worshipper of John Agar, repository of all things obscure, twisted, and weird. Our interests overlap in frightening ways and while we were talking about strange and unusual music I asked him about this song I was beginning to think I really had hallucinated.

"Oh, yeah! That's "Psycho," written by Leon Payne and performed by Jack Kittel.***** It's been covered by Elvis Costello (Almost Blue) and I'll be glad to send you a tape!"

And friends, you would have thought he'd handed me the Keys to Heaven, so delighted I was to receive this confirmation/affirmation! A few weeks later he sent me the Promised Tape (filled with all sorts of other suitably offbeat stuff****) and lo! I was rocketed into a Fourth Dimension of Obsessiveness! However, as Fate would have it, by this time I had lost contact with Lynn and thus was I deprived of my chance to perform the Vindication Dance (pat. pend.).

And "Psycho--the Song" references abound on the Web.*****

So here we go, the song I didn't make up:

Let's do it one more time with those Masters of Australian Swamp Rock, the Beasts of Bourbon:

See G. W., reclining smugly in his chair.

* I like Weird Things. I have an amazing affinity for them and actively seek them out, which is why the Intarweb is such a godsend for me, filled as it is with maximal amounts of High Weirdness by like-minded individuals.

** "Strange and bizarre things happen to you with alarming frequency. You are the one with whom demons will stop and chat. Magic items with disturbing properties will find their way to you. The only talking dog on 20th-century Earth will come to you with his problems. Dimensional gates sealed for centuries will crack open just so that you can be bathed in the energies released... or perhaps the entities on the other side will invite you to tea. Nothing lethal will happen to you, at least not immediately, and occasionally some weirdness will be beneficial. But most of the time it will be terribly, terribly inconvenient."
--the GURPS "Weirdness Magnet" disadvantage from Steve Jackson Games

*** Little Roger and the Goosebumps, as it turns out.

**** songs by Zacherley, "Throbbing Python of Love," "They Drive Me Brady," a rapping Andy Griffith, etc.

***** Psycho
Can Mary fry some fish, mama
I'm as hungry as can be
Oh lordy, how I wish, mama
That you could keep the baby quiet
'Cause my head is killing me

I saw my ex- again last night, mama
She was at the dance at Miller's store
She was with that Jackie White, mama
I killed them both
And they're buried under Jenkin's sycamore

You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
Mama, pour me a cup
You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
You'd better let 'em lock me up

Don't hand me Johnny's pup, mama
'Cause I might squeeze him too tight
I'm havin' crazy dreams again, mama
So let me tell you 'bout last night
I woke up in Johnny's room, mama
Standing right there by his bed
With my hands around his throat, mama
Wishing both of us were dead

You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
I just killed Johnny's pup
You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
You'd better let 'em lock me up

You know that little girl next door, mama
I believe her name was Betty Clark
Oh, don't tell me that she's dead, mama
'Cause I just saw her in the park
We were sitting on a bench, mama
Thinking up a game to play
Seems I was holding a wrench, mama
And then my mind just walked away

You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
I didn't mean to break your cup
You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
Oh, mama, why don't you get up?

***** From Beyond "Monster Mash"--The A.V. Club's Definitive Mixlist:
Penned by Leon Payne (the songwriter behind "Lost Highway" and others) and recorded by Michigan country singer Jack Kittel in the early '70s, this song was made semi-famous when Elvis Costello cut it as a B-side. But the straight-faced original is even more chilling than Costello's version. There's something about the way Kittel deadpans lines like "Don't hand me Johnny's pup, mama / 'Cause I might squeeze him too tight" that really sends chills up the spine.


Cathy VanPatten said...

Oh man! He who shall not be named found that record for his collection while he was on the road. It was a favorite!

I think Bob Dylan should do a Theme Time Radio Hour on psychos and play that!

G. W. Ferguson said...

Remember my plan to take over a radio station one Halloween? Among other things I'll be playing "Psycho," "Psycho Killer," "The Ballad of Charles Whitman" (by Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys), "Sniper" (by Harry Chapin), and that sadly forgotten near-hit of Hall & Oates, "Diddy-Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices)."

Sometimes in the shower I sing "Diddy-doo wop, whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa, diddy-doo wop, whoa whoa whoa, and the voices I hear at the subway stop they tell me diddy-doo wop!"

I'm overdue for electroshock.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Sorry I'm late. I was out job hunting (psst! Rev., I was really setting up the shortwave). I agree that Kittel's version is so damn chilling. I had a wrench and my mind walked away...better lyrics were never written. And damn it this song should be sung on NASHVILLE STAR!!!!!

JSaM said...

Well Lee, I figured either the song existed (from all the references to it over the years), or that perhaps you had just taken a permanent trip to Geinsville. Problem is, now, having heard the song, I really can't tell if it's a parody or not. I think you could slip it into the repetoire at a C&W bar later in the evening and no one would notice. Definitely Outre. Now when someone stikes up with Barnes & Barnes "Boogie-Woogie Amputee" or The Legendary Stardust Cowboy singing (?) "Paralyzed", or even David Allen Coe getting right to the core of the matter with "F**k You, Anita Bryant", you know they're kidding. Then again...

G. W. Ferguson said...


Well, I think that's sort of the song's...appeal?--it's done so deadpan and straightforwardly. If you're not paying attention the fact that we're talking psycho killer here slips right past you (not so much the Beasts of Bourbon version which sounds full o' goth-y goodness and thereby telegraphs its intent).

Ya wonder what was going through Leon Payne's head at the time.

Spooky. Just...spooky.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am Leon Payne's daughter, Myrtie Le Payne. This song was actually written after my Daddy and I went to the movies, the movie was HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE. Being blind, I had to explain certtain parts of the movie, the part when the head rolled down the stairs, scared the bejesus out of me, I guess he noted that fear in my voice. After we got homr, he was talking to John Cash on the phone about the movie. When he got off the phone he wrote Psycho. I loved the music to this song way back then! Feel free to contact me anytime regarding my Dad. I also have a site on myspace memoralizing my Dad.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that Elvis Costello covered the song after hearing Mark Parenteau (afternoon wbcn dj) play it when he was in the studio.