Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Fish is Biodegradable

One of my favorite musicians passed away suddenly. However, unlike Bowie or Prince, I’m afraid very few people ever heard of him. Enough that he maintained a music and recording career for forty years, but still, pretty obscure.

Pat Fish recorded under the name the Jazz Butcher. It was, technically, the name of the band he led, but as the only consistent member of said band, it was pretty common for Pat to be referred to as The Jazz Butcher. His first album, In Bath of Bacon, was released in 1983. He was part of the post punk, new wave, pre-alternative, college radio wave of British artists. He released thirteen studio albums, several compilations, and two or three live albums.

I didn’t hear the Jazz Butcher until 1986. I had just started grad school and moved into an apartment with a bunch of other guys. One of them, Steve, had a record collection that changed my life. That first semester I was exposed to tons of artists that I had either never heard of before, or had only the vaguest awareness of: Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, Japan, Hoodoo Gurus... many, many more. Steve would simply put on a record and it filled our days. It took awhile for some of these to really register with me, at least in terms of recognizing who they were. There was a lot of challenging new sounds, and I admit a lot of it really had to grow on me. Some of it joined the list of my favorite bands. Some of it never grew on me.

In the midst of all of this new music, one album, one song specifically, kept catching my ear. "This is partytime, and we’re all having so much fun." But the tone of the song belied those sentiments. There was a sadness to the lyrics, as if simply partying just wasn’t enough to bring one happiness. The words were fun and ridiculous and conveyed a deeper sense of meaning than a first listen would indicate. They were, to use the title of a later Jazz Butcher album, Glorious and Idiotic. And, once I finally singled the album In Bath of Bacon out from the all of the others, I was a fan. Over the years his music became a very personal soundtrack to my life, one that I didn’t share with too many people.

There’s a lot of silliness in Pat Fish’s lyrics. He sings about Bigfoot, and goldfish, and buffaloes, and Shirley MacLaine, and alcohol. A whole lot of alcohol. But somehow he manages to never, at least in my opinion, devolve into simply a novelty act. Given his subject matter, this was a real possibility. But he rounded his oeuvre out with a lot of more serious fare, what I once heard him refer to as ‟Art Misery Songs.” These were a mix of heartfelt ballads and social commentary.He played with a wide variety of musicians. David J, bass player for Bauhaus and Love and Rockets was on two of the early albums. But his most regular collaborator was Max Eider, a guitarist with a singular, jazz-influenced style. Max left the band in the mid-80s and then rejoined around the turn of the millennium. The albums released between these events were good, but something, specifically Max, was missing. It was their collaboration as artists that lifted both of them. 

I saw the Jazz Butcher in 1988 at Peabody’s Down Under in Cleveland, and again at the same venue in 1992. As I related in a previous blog, ‟While there I had Pat autograph the booklet that came with my CD copy of Scandal in Bohemia/Sex and Travel. These were his second and third albums, the ones David J played bass on. At the time this was a very rare German import that I had managed to get my hands on, and for years the only way these two albums were available. When I showed it to Pat his response was something like, “Where the bloody hell did you get this? I've barely seen one of these.”

I saw them twice more, in 2000, once at a small bar in Erie, and again the next night in Pittsburgh at the Millvale Industrial Theater. This tour featured Max and Mr. Jones, the original drummer, so of course I got both of them to sign the booklet.

Pat Fish, Max Eider, and Mr.Jones in Erie

It took another twelve years, but I finally got David J to sign it as well.

Pat had a Facebook page, and few years ago I reached out and we became friends on that platform. Obviously, I didn’t really know him. But, he would occasionally comment on one of my posts, or wish me a happy birthday. He was friends with Alan Moore, of Watchmen fame, among many other things. A few years ago I reviewed Alan’s book, Jerusalem, in which he mentions the Jazz Butcher. Pat commented on my post in a very surreal, meta kind of way.

So this feels like a loss to me. Not really personal, except for the role his music has played in my life. I’ll miss just knowing he’s out there somewhere in England, still performing, singing ridiculous songs about elephants and broken hearts.

There’s an early Jazz Butcher song called Big Saturday, and though I forget all of the details, he told us in Cleveland in 1988, that it was cowritten by a girl he had loved who had died. He then performed the song Angels, in her honor, wherein he says, ‟It’s always Saturday in Heaven... Just one big Saturday in Heaven.” The song has broken my heart just a little every time I’ve heard it since.

Thanks, Pat! Thanks for the music, and the laughter, and the art, and the misery. I know the devil is your friend, but what if there were angels?