I have not written much outside the fields of humor and poetry, but I make an exception for Bernard Herrmann.
I am a devoted fan of his music, both his well-known scores for Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and many other great directors, and his less familiar work for the classical concert stage and in the all-but-forgotten realm of radio drama. I think he is not only the greatest film composer of all time but quite possibly the greatest American composer, period. Yes, he’s even better than Ives in my opinion. Save your arguments, people! I’ve heard them all and I refute them by playing the score for Vertigo. I have just about everything officially released by Herrmann in my CD collection, and also quite a few things that were never released, such as his scores for the radio series Crime Classics, and everything he recorded for the film Torn Curtain before Hitchcock unceremoniously and quite foolishly fired him.
The other Luchs Brothers and our producer Jim Youker share my admiration for Herrmann. In fact, Jim has a special CDR he plays only for hitchhikers crazy enough to get into the car with him. It repeats the music from the shower scene in Psycho over and over again until his terrified passengers leap out of the vehicle. Quite often when recording a new comedy bit, the Luchs Brothers used to “temp-track” the piece with Herrmann’s music. While this worked beautifully, it always proved very difficult to replace his music in the final mix with some anonymous library music to which we had the rights. In a few cases we simply couldn’t bear to take his music out, rendering the recording commercially unreleasable, something only for our own amusement. Check out the audio links at the Luchs Brothers section of this web site for two samples, “Welcome to Mosesville,” and a takeoff on Day the Earth Stood Still called “Gort’s Rage.”
Some years ago, I contributed several articles to the web page of the Bernard Herrmann Society, including interviews with conductors who had produced new recordings of his work, as well as a review. Following are the links to these uncharacteristic extracurricular writings. I have also included a link to an unfinished article about the world’s first Bernard Herrmann Festival, which was held in Washington, DC, in April, 2016, under the auspices of the PostClassical Ensemble. The piece I wrote about that singular, unforgettable event is previously unpublished and appears here for the first time.
- Garden of Evil: An Interview With John Morgan
- The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad: An Interview With Robert Townson, Part 1
- The Trouble With Harry: An Interview With Robert Townson, Part 2
- Review of a New Recording of Psycho by Joel McNeely
- 360 Degrees of Bernard Herrmann: A Report on the World’s First Festival Devoted to the Composer
THE FIRESIGN THEATRE
The Firesign Theatre were a four-man American comedy troupe that came together in November 1966 and stayed active, with many side journeys and interruptions, until 2012 when one of the founding members, Peter Bergman, died. Phil Austin then passed in 2015. David Ossman and Phil Proctor are the only two surviving members. Although the group worked extensively in radio and on stage, and to a lesser extent in film, they are chiefly remembered for inventing a new kind of comedy album, one that took complete advantage of the modern recording studio to create works of remarkable depth and complexity.
The Firesign Theatre were important, even central, to the youth culture and the counterculture of the sixties and seventies. To give just one example: they organized the first Love-In.
They were the reason the Luchs Brothers formed. We wanted to do what they did – create a densely written, multilayered kind of audio comedy in the studio, and then bring it to the stage. As far as we were concerned, they were the Beatles of comedy. We formed our group just when they were losing their Columbia Records contract, and little did we know that no Americans would ever be able to make a living in that fashion again, not even the Firesign Theatre themselves. Only their British cousins Monty Python would go on to release studio comedy albums that became bestsellers, helped by their success in television. Timing is everything in comedy, and our timing could not have been worse.
Nonetheless, we soldiered on, and as we did so the Firesign Theatre continued to serve as an inspiration. David Ossman also became a mentor to us, and a personal examplar to me of how a writer could keep one foot in the world of humor and the other in the world of poetry, something he has done with grace his entire career.
I eventually met with and interviewed all four members of the group, separately and together, multiple times. At one point a major New York publisher even engaged me to write a book about them, and I was deep into researching it when Ossman left the group in the early eighties, and the publishers’ interest naturally abated.
Ossman later returned to the fold, and the group enjoyed a sort of second coming, issuing new albums for Rhino Records and also a box set centered around their most popular character, detective Nick Danger. In 2010 I interviewed them about the “Box of Danger” release for the music collector publication Goldmine. It turned out to be one of the last group interviews they gave before Bergman died. You can read it here:
My fellow Luchs Brother Helmut has two musical sons, my nephews Klaus and Hans. Klaus I call Rock Boy and Hans I call Jazz Boy, although neither is a boy any longer and either of them could easily crush me like a bug. Both are incredibly talented and actually making a living in the music business, which is no small feat these days. Klaus and I have also collaborated on a number of songs for which I have written or co-written the lyrics. See below…
Klaus Luchs: Eclecticism (2013 album with four songs co-written by Kurt Luchs)
Klaus Luchs: Z Sessions (2017 album with three songs co-written by Kurt Luchs)
Klaus Luchs: “Laughing Water” (from Z Sessions, with lyrics by Kurt Luchs)
For six years, I managed and served as one of the staff writers for American Comedy Network, a syndicator of audio humor to radio stations all across America. Besides being way more fun than a grown man should be allowed to have at work, this allowed me to experience just a bit of what it must feel like to be Weird Al Yankovic, helping create song parodies like the following, a Hanukkah song called “Matzo Man” based on “Macho Man” by the Village People.
In addition to writing humor and poetry, I have also spent a fair amount of time writing reviews: of music, films, books, you name it. Here are three pieces I wrote for the alternative newspaper In These Times in the late seventies. The first two are film reviews and the last is a review of the Luchs Brothers’ own single, done under a pseudonym. I hasten to add that this was the editor’s idea, because he felt I could do a better job than their regular stodgy pinko commie music critic. Ah, you knew the media were corrupt, you just didn’t know how corrupt!
Film Review of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1978)
Film Review of “Jaws 2” (1978)
Kurt Luchs reviews the Luchs Brothers’ single “Kill Me I’m Rotten” under a pseudonym (1978)