Elliott Murphy is the biggest rock-star you never knew.
That’s quite a grand statement but I’m unlikely to be alone in thinking this – he has a legion of fans spread tarantula-like across the world and a sprawling collection of work spanning over forty years. And yet he’s not a household name – maybe that’s for the best so that the cult can keep him as our dirty little secret.
I’ve always hoped one day Elliott would write his autobiography because this man has lived – he’s appeared in films by Fellini, was one of the “New Dylans” in the seventies, recorded and played with Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, published novels and short-stories in English and foreign languages, written liner notes for Velvet Underground albums, and delivered thirty-one albums of his own music. He even mysteriously appears in a Robert Bolaño novel. So how come he’s not better known?
Maybe he prefers it that way. Maybe it gives him the anonymity to live an easier life. Maybe he feels suspicious of show-business. Maybe he doesn’t want to be distracted from his prolific productivity of an ever-growing body of work for his audience. Maybe for him it’s not about fame but about delivering results – a twisting masterwork akin to the Legend of Duluoz.
Or maybe he’s just been unlucky never to have hit the big-time, the limos, the groupies, the big money. Maybe he did have that initially but threw it all away. Maybe he regrets not being a worldwide celebrity or perhaps he thinks he’s fortunate to have escaped it – after all, he seems to make the music he wants to and I’m certain he has a guaranteed audience of listeners by now.
Of course it could also be the case that as an artist he is purposefully staying just under the radar to make sure he’s connected to what’s going on.
I can’t answer this question, only Elliott can – and maybe we’ll ask him as this series of articles continues. You see, my somewhat crazy idea is to write an article around each and every one of Elliott Murphy’s thirty-one albums and publish them here for you with the help of ZOUCH Magazine. Now that’s a helluva lot of writing and already I fear for my sanity. Quite possibly the best way to approach this would be in a Benzadrine-fuelled marathon of night-time Beat speed-typing at my keyboard, accompanied by the collected works of Mr Murphy playing at full volume in the background. Then again, haste is the enemy of love and my inclination is to take this a little more sedately, to take the time to fact-check. It might even consider enlisting some guest writers from time to time to help me in what is surely a mammoth endeavour.
Perhaps half way through this project I should jump on a plane and interview the man himself. I fear though my questions would be erratic and by this time it may be that Elliott Murphy is sick of all of the attention and our relationship will turn in to a Lester Bangs/Lou Reed vitriolic show-down. If the interview ends in tears and violence it’s probably likely that Elliott would win the fight – not only does he sound tough in his music but he also looks like he could pack a punch or two on the covers of his albums. Just compare his speaking voice, a combination of New York gravel and black leather, with my more effete English tones and I think you’d probably agree that I would be the one to get flattened in this imaginary duel. Maybe the thought of me being killed by an angry rock-star in the near future will keep you wriggling and on the hook….
One way of increasing the probability of my demise at the hands of Killer Murphy would be to write scathing accounts of his musical output over the last three decades. I could aim to denigrate all of Elliott Murphy’s artistic merits in the style of the infamous Griell Marcus review of Dylan’s “Self-Portrait” album – “What is this shit?”. Surely it must be the case that amongst thirty-one albums of Murphy material there are some duds – with such a vast output surely no artist can be completely consistent? I don’t know yet because the articles aren’t written and I haven’t decided, so let’s see. But it certainly would be difficult, and quite frankly boring, to review thirty-one albums and come up with only superlative praise. Whilst I have followed Elliott Murphy’s career, and just as we all get fed-up of some of our favourite people now and again, I don’t necessarily expect to appreciate one person’s music all of the time. I’m kind of hoping that somewhere we’ll find some “lost years” where things maybe went a bit wonky. Where necessary, I will try and consult with Mr Murphy to tell him if I think something stinks, and to ask him what the hell he was thinking. We will make him accountable, readers – trust the art, not the artist.
So the plan is that we’re going to start right at the beginning, because that’s always a good place to start – 1973 and “Aquashow”. In 1973 I was three years old, a chubby and spoilt toddler still drinking gallons of milk from a bottle (is that normal?) and living in suburban splendour somewhere in Britain. At a guess, Elliott was running around New York streets with the excitement of his debut album release, but I’ll check this and get back to you. Think of me typing furiously into the night with loud American rock and roll music blaring to keep me company (girls, this is why I’m not married, or that’s what I tell myself), and check out: the cult of Elliott Murphy.