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Incredibly Strange Music Vol. I Excerpt: Mike Wilkins

Back to Incredibly Strange Music Vol. I

MW: EVEL KNIEVEL is tops. On his record he sings, there are excerpts from press conferences; he’s even written some of the songs. At one press conference Evel says “America doesn’t have enough heroes . . . I don’t care about death”—square-jawed things like that. He was also in a movie in which he starred as himself (called Viva Knievel!). The love interest is Lauren Hutton as a woman’s libber, so Evel says goofball things to her like, “Are you a woman or a Ms.?” There was also Evel Knievel, which starred George Hamilton. I visited Twin Falls, Idaho, where Evel tried to jump the Snake River Canyon in a motorized jet-cycle back in 1974. Even though he failed, that big earthen take-off ramp is still there, and so is a commemorative marker with the jet-cycle etched into it.

Another person who was really good at self-promotion is RONA BARRETT, the gossip columnist. She wrote an autobiography, she wrote a novel, and she released an album on which she sang Broadway hits. And it was straight: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”—that kind of stuff. She was always pushing, and each item that got into stores paved the way for another. The promo could say, “She wrote a novel, The Lovomaniacs; she’s a novelist now.” It all builds on each other.

MUHAMMED ALI was a great boxer, of course, but he also had great PR instincts. He starred in an autobiographical movie called The Greatest. Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” is about Ali, with lyrics like, “The greatest love is learning to love yourself.” He starred in his own comic book, Muhammed Ali vs. Superman, in which he fights Superman and wins! He even put out Muhammed Ali’s Kentucky Cabin Barbecue Sauce (“It’s the greatest.”)

I have an album, Ali and His Gang Vs. Mr. Tooth Decay: A Beautiful Children’s Story. This LP includes Howard Cosell and Frank Sinatra among others, and I’m guessing that some hustler-businessman-promoter somehow wrangled his way in with this idea to see Ali. The record features Ali, but it’s produced by Arthur Bernard Morrison whose name is everywhere; he is another guy who understands PR. He probably went to Frank Sinatra and said, “This is good for children, and good for the black community,” and Frank probably said, “All right, I’ll give you ten minutes,” and then he goes to the American Dental Association with the same pictch. The back cover features this painting with all the entertainers’ heads collaged in; there’s Frank Sinatra, and there’s Jayne Kennedy. It says “Volume One” although I doubt if there were any follow-ups. When he was pitching the story to Ali, Arthur Morrison probably said, “Then for Volume Two you’re going to fight juvenile deliquency, and then heroin addiction! You’re going to save the black community! But let’s start small; let’s start with tooth decay and build from that.”

When Mr. T came out with his children’s album, Mr. T’s Commandments, in 1984, his songs could attack other problems: “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” and “No Dope No Drugs.” Thanks to Ali, tooth decay was under control . . .

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