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Record Roulette: You Are What You Eat, a Mad Lost Psychedelic Document

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You Are What You EatThis week, I finally got around to listening to another curious looking soundtrack that I had picked up at a garage sale a month or so ago. And now I’m kicking myself for not listening to it earlier.  You Are What You Eat is the soundtrack to a quazi-counter-culture-flavored film produced in 1968 by Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul and Mary fame, and it features guest appearances by — stick with me folks, this gets good —  Tiny Tim, Hamsa El Din, Paul Butterfield, David Crosby, The Electric Flag, Barry McGuire (as in Eve of Destruction), Frank Zappa, and… The Band. Really.

I subsequently found the film on YouTube and my jaw went through the floor.  You Are What You Eat may well be the missing link between films of The Monterey Pop Festival (’67), Woodstock (’69) and The Monkees’ Head (1968).

Its almost not enough to just hear the soundtrack, which includes Tiny Tim singing “Be My Baby” (you read that right; it starts around 31:00) and “I Got You, Babe” (as in Sonny & Cher’s hit). To see Tiny performing the song, interspersed with what looks like footage from The Beatles at Shea Stadium concert and scenes probably from the the original “Love In” in San Francisco, is just utterly random and surreal. And quite wonderful!

This lost masterpiece is a psychedelic train wreck of near-epic proportion.  Consider, then, that this soundtrack is on Columbia Masterworks! Its not some throwaway — someone put a lot of money into this.

You Are What You Eat PosterIt is also something of re-interpretation of ideas presented on Frank Zappa’s 1966 and ’67 audio documentary styled albums Absolutely Free and We’re Only In It For the Money.  Zappa is credited in You Are What You Eat, yet only appears briefly in live concert footage (from the Shrine Auditorium in LA, some speculate on the Interwebs). The filmmakers obviously couldn’t get the rights to use Zappa’s music in the film, so that was replaced with a jam by The Electric Flag (who were signed to Columbia Records, conveniently).

I’ve watched bits of the film and, like many flicks from the period, it’s filled with long periods of improvised non-acting and trippy madness. It is very much a pastiche look at the times made with a cynical eye (à la Zappa’s aforementioned albums) calling out the underlying crass commercialism of product marketed to the emergent hippie culture. The fake ad — which opens the soundtrack album, but which is actually in the middle of the film — centers on the sale of Nazi helmets for protest marches and such, and is indeed a bit of scathing commentary.

Now, consider this: I read on the Web that Tiny Tim’s backup band for this project were members of The Band before they were officially named The Band (they were called The Hawks, having previously backed singer Ronnie Hawkins before Dylan picked them up).  Someone even comments on Amazon that Tiny’s parts were recorded and filmed in the basement atBig Pink!

This actually makes sense. In his autobiography, Dylan talks about hanging with Tiny Tim when he first arrived in NY. So, considering the connection, the mind does reel: Dylan > Tiny Tim > The Band.

You Are What You Eat CloseupFrom the album’s liner notes:

If this film is experimental, so were the lifestyles of its cast which were the early cracks of what Allen Ginsberg prophesized as America’s nervous breakdown.

Anyhow, if you don’t have the time to watch the whole film (I still haven’t myself!), here are some time cues to key scenes not to be missed:

  • Around 45:00 Tiny sings a song (not on the soundtrack LP) that is again clearly backed by The Band :  “SONNY BOY.” So you can now hear Tiny Tim and The Band covering Al Jolson! You can’t make this stuff up, folks!
  • Around the 1:00 mark, Tiny duets with someone named Eleanor Buruchion (Tiny’s then-girlfriend?) on Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” again, backed by The Band!
  • And as mentioned earlier, “Be My Baby” starts around the 31:00 mark.

Just for these clips alone this film is worth watching.

It is an odd document of a point in time and from what I’ve read on the liner notes, that is exactly what You Are What You Eat was trying to be:

To label it is meaningless; to explain it unnecessary. It is what it portrays: the moment of an experience. “You Are What You Eat” is what it is.

Anyhow, I thought you, Dear Readers, needed to know about this epic.

 

I’m still astounded. How did I never ever hear about this album in all these years of collecting and such?

Goes to show you, there is always more to learn and experience.

You can find the album reissued on CD on a pricey Japanese import via Amazon.  You can read more about You Are What You Eat at WFMU’s website.  There’s also a DVD available but am not sure about its quality or legitimacy. Here is a link for one seller of it on DVD.

You Are What You Eat promo napkin

There are many copies of the soundtrack up on eBay, as well as a promotional You Are What You Eat napkin (???) from the launch.

Again, you can’t make this stuff up folks!

Or you could just watch it on YouTube (link below) and assume the owners of it will get their royalties from the ads and such appearing there.

Either way, you will be a more complete person after viewing this stuff.  Or your mind may melt down. Either way you’ll have fun.

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Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio, and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for numerous publications, including EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, Sound+Vision Magazine, Audiophilereview.com, and HomeTechTell.com.  He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees, as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written.  www.smotroff.com

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