by Evan Cantor
The success of Walls Of Genius, regardless of how you define it, was not solely due to the work itself. That product would have never been noticed by the “Cassette Culture” if it had not been for the persistent and successful creation of a number of mythologies, both self-conscious misinformation and unintended misconceptions, that added value to the product. Don’t get me wrong—Walls Of Genius would have existed regardless of the existence of a “Cassette Culture” and essentially did prior to our discovery of the scene. But the potential of an audience and/or market was a large motivator for development. Inspired thusly, Walls Of Genius reached out to the world in its own unique way.
The first mythology pursued was the illusion of an active underground music scene in Boulder, Colorado. This evolved innocently from the original jam sessions. Disgusted with previous band experiences, I gave each recording a different “band” name. This was prior to the project coalescing as “Walls Of Genius” proper. There were The Dirt Clods, The Have Mersey Beats, Jerry’s Kids, The Ed’n’Evan Hullabaloo, Big Man On Campus, Good Enough For A Hell-Hole, et. al. These groups were eventually “presented by Walls Of Genius” on cassette albums before the truth was fully revealed, namely that they consisted of the same three core musicians: Evan Cantor, Little Fyodor and Ed Fowler. With the addition of guests (most notably Dena Zocher at the cello) and the strapping on of different musical instruments, each of these groups had a different “sound” and the illusion was complete. We allowed the illusion to perpetuate itself, as both a joke on the Cassette Culture scene and a marketing ploy to attract attention. There was an element of irony involved since Boulder’s music scene had previously been primarily associated with white-bread soft-rock acts like Dan Fogelberg and Firefall. Creating interest and curiosity, the ploy worked and when the illusion vanished, interest and curiosity remained. Eventually an actual underground scene in Boulder developed and we were a part of it.
An illusion that took forever to vanish was that of Walls Of Genius as musical naïfs, primitives who didn’t know how to play their instruments but wailed away nonetheless. We encouraged this, going so far as to proudly name ourselves “Head Moron” and “Associate Morons” and issuing “Certificates of Genius” in childish, error-laden script. The emergence of Little Fyodor as one of Walls of Genius’ “acts” is a prime example musically, as were our collaboration as “The Fabulous Pus-Tones” and my autistic deconstructions of Creedence Clearwater
Revival and Hank Williams titles as “Joe Colorado”.
Little Fyodor (and he will likely disagree with me) had long been insecure about his chops on the guitar, but there’s no doubt the man can play. Of course, he has his own inimitable style, love it or hate it as you will. Before there was Little Fyodor, there was John Leningrad, writing distinctive songs before we ever teamed up as Walls Of Genius. In the process of creating the illusion of a scene, and partially as a result of the emergence of the Little Fyodor persona, I attempted with both music and literature (mail-order catalogs) to create the personas also of Joe Colorado and Red Ed. Ed never really warmed up to this, but I pursued Joe Colorado’s autistic deconstructions. So while we never had much in the way of Ed Fowler “solo” selections, there was plenty of Fyodor and Joe. Fyodor and I assisted each other with these constructions as that was the only way we knew to stretch the limits of 4-track technology. Two people recording simultaneously on each track gave you eight things going on instead of only four. It took concentration and cooperation. (I will discuss the perils and rewards of ‘group-think’ separately)
Since Little Fyodor’s music (as well as my own) expressed a good deal of angst, romantic anomie and social alienation, I ran with those themes hyperbolically in the Walls Of Genius catalogs. I drew obscene cartoons, which Fyodor wisely chose to nix. But meanwhile, I drew more appropriate cartoons, wrote various over-the- top, patently ridiculous promotions and even had a tongue-in-cheek essay published, “The Curse Of Little Fyodor”. Perhaps I had gone too far. But in the long run, the persona of Little Fyodor was a successful creation, as evidenced by his long solo career as a performer and recording artist. The persona, or myth, of “Little Fyodor” that developed during that 80s heyday remains firmly in place.
Further, Walls Of Genius’ parodies of top-40 rock music, jazz deconstructions, folkie madness, extended improvisations and Wild-Man- Fischer-stylized autistic explosions could not have been accomplished if I wasn’t already an experienced musician, having played the bass and electric guitar in a number of bands since high school. Those bands, in no particular order, performed fraternity party pop (Long Lost Friend, Wishing Well), folk, blues & country (Folk Grass Blues Band), jazz (Mystic Knights Of The Sea), punk (The Blitz Bunnies), prog-rock (Dreamer Easy) and new-wave (Rumours Of Marriage). This experience was brought to bear when I decided I had had enough of the straight music business and started in with what eventually became Walls Of Genius. So if you listened carefully, you’d hear all of that experience manifested. But we allowed the illusion of
musical naïfs to grow because it created more curiosity and interest in what we were doing, perhaps lending a strange kind of legitimacy to it, like outsider art. Of course there is the myth that we were just screwing around, that we never took what we were doing seriously. There is a grain of truth to this idea, but only a grain. The myth appears to live on to this very day, as if considering Walls Of Genius seriously is antithetical to the nature of the project itself. Proof that myth can sometimes be indestructible.
Last on my list of myths is the one that developed all by itself in the years after our 1980s heyday, the idea that Little Fyodor was the prime mover and motivating force behind Walls Of Genius. This myth culminated in a recent review lauding Little Fyodor for vocalizations that issued from my own mouth and no other. Upon notifying the reviewer of this factual error, he published a retraction, adding the disclaimer that he hardly believed it.
This stubborn myth evolved quite naturally out of circumstances. When I dis- banded Walls Of Genius in 1986, I dropped out of the Cassette Culture shortly afterwards and disappeared for almost 30 years, pursuing graduate school and then the visual arts, most notably in wilderness conservation. I truly believed that nobody would ever give a damn about Walls Of Genius or Little Fyodor. I am happy to report that I was wrong. I was unaware of the interest in Walls Of Genius that Little Fyodor had kept current in service of his continuing career in avant-garde performance. So it was his ongoing effort to keep Walls Of Genius alive that led to this particular misconception. Note that Fyodor himself never self-consciously promulgated this myth, it just arose all on its own. It’s an easy misconception to get. When one refers to “my old band from the 80s”, there is an element of ownership expressed that is both on-and- off the mark. I felt that Walls Of Genius was “my” old band from the 80s. I started it, produced it, recorded it, and ran it, sometimes despotically I admit. But as a primary member of the group, it was also Fyodor’s old band from the 80s. I credit Fyodor for having always been quite gracious about our collaborative efforts.
Walls Of Genius
Walls Of Genius formed in 1982, a musical performance-art comedy experimental noise ensemble, featuring everything from musique concrete, sound collage and extended rock improvisation to demented top-40 parodies, free jazz, industrial and audio experiments of all kinds, mostly fitting in no category whatsoever.