In the 1988 comedy Big, Tom Hank’s over-sized child of a character suggests to his toy company employers that they create an interactive comic book. I remember as a kid thinking this was the coolest idea ever (I also thought the Transformer/building that gets mocked in the film would be cool, so let’s take my 10-year old opinion with a grain of salt). 28 years later, there are a few Apps that offer an interactive, graphic novel experience, but the concept never took off like the film suggested it would. As an adult, I don’t have much interest in this would-be invention, but I’ve recently found the added pleasure of using the web to enhance my reading experience.
My foray into the world of interactive reading first took shape while reading the Bryan Wilson biography Catch a Wave. The book would often reference early recordings I’d never heard and television appearances I’d never seen. As I obsessively read the rollercoaster of a novel (it’s a must read for fans of music), I found myself referencing the YouTube search engine every page or so. This added to the experience, the video clips revealing more to the stories told in the book. So when Mike Love decided in 1988 to eviscerate every other artist at the Beach Boys’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction, I was able to watch it again and again – Mike Love’s self-absorbed delusions on full display.
Recently while reading Marc Spitz biography entitled Bowie, I’ve found myself going through the same interactive reading experience. Whether it be David Bowie’s all-time favorite childhood song, his first television appearance on a commercial for Luv Ice Cream, or his work as a mime, this virtual appendix has made for nightly YouTube gold discoveries as I’ve learned about Bowie’s difficult start in show business.
But one video search in accordance with the novel caught me off-guard more than any other. In the spring of 1970, David Bowie went to see Alice Cooper perform, and the novel suggests Bowie was inspired to take the theatrics seen on stage and match it with serious songwriting (sorry folks, Alice Cooper is not known for his prowess as a songsmith). The book discusses how Bowie had been interested in the flamboyant stage persona for years, dating back to the mid-60s when he saw Screaming Lord Sutch perform. Reading this, I had to ask myself “Who the hell is Screaming Lord Sutch?”
YouTube to the rescue. In a clip dating back to 1964, I found Screaming Lord Sutch performing an early rock and roll number entitled “Jack the Ripper.” Sutch can be seen parading around the stage, a ghastly Nosferatu of a character, terrorizing the easily scared females in the front row.
I had to know more about this guy. How had I never heard of him? It wasn’t the music that intrigued me (far from), but I couldn’t understand how a frontman dressing up in the 1960s equivalent of Marilyn Manson didn’t cause more of a panic. I could be wrong in this assertion, but Sutch might be the first rock musician to marry rock music with a theatrical stage persona. It’s sloppily done – the costume resembling a mish-mash of clearance Halloween leftovers, the music a derivative Fats Domino number with spoof lyrics – but I feel that maybe Sutch deserves a little more credit for the innovation of his stage presence. Would there have been a Kiss, an Alice Cooper, or a Ziggy Stardust without Screaming Lord Sutch? Probably, but there is something to be said about being the first to don a costume before taking the stage.