Monday, October 09, 2006

ILL FOLKIE: FRED ENGELBERG



Finally, some nine months into the blog, here's an actual ill folk! The seed that germinated this blog was to chronicle obscure folk singers, but...things sort of drifted.
Fred issued only two albums (both on Crestview/Elektra). One was ethereally titled "Smoke Dreams of Fred Engelberg" and on the other, his name was spelled wrong on the cover ("The Songs of Fred Engleberg"). Neither release had a single biographical word about him. His self-penned liner notes for "Smoke Dreams" didn't even mention his roles in three films "The Lost Missile" (1958), "The Beat Generation" (1959) and "Dinosaurus" (1960).
Instead, the obscure folkie baffled any would-be buyer by a lengthy rumination on the album title: "smoke dreams...in a manner of speaking...(is) somewhere between talking and singing...somewhere between you...whoever you are...and me...whoever I am." Then a rumination on his influences "...because there was Mark Twain and Jazz and Woody Guthrie...there was Hayakawa and Kabuki and S.J. Perelman...there was Thurber and "doggerel" and Pirandello...there was Bullfinch and the Bible and Joe Gould and the writings on bathroom walls...and there was what they have done to my head..."
The burly, bearded folkie's singing style is similar to bearded Burl Ives...quite understated, especially compared to sweaty stablemates Shel Silverstein and Judy Henske. Fred's quiet singing is mated to some subversive songs. Beyond typical topical folkie protest (a candy machine becomes a symbol of our tin-hearted culture) he wrote grimly ironic murder ballads and a song challenging Christianity.
Circa 1963, folkies were running to the library hunting up murder ballads, but 30 year-old Fred wrote his own, "Hangman," a brilliant piece of quiet pessimism. When folkies were chasing after "Go Down Moses" and other spirituals, Fred offered the dispirited "Everybody's Talkin' about Jesus and Mary, Nobody's Talkin' about Joe."
The genius of a songwriter is often in expressing what nobody else dares to say, and doing it in an artistic way. How many of you, upon hearing the story of Jesus, thought, "Hey, wait a minute...she's married...she's a virgin...WHAT is the deal with Joseph??"
Fred seems to have quit "the business" a short time later for various other pursuits. Supposedly he spent many years running a hotel. A Fred Engleberg died on January 7th, 2003 in Oregon, a few weeks short of his 72nd birthday...apparently not THIS Fred (updating from the comments received). Fred, oh brother, where art thou? Why not say a few syllables in the comments??
I'll slip you five...mostly because my vinyl's in embarrassingly bad condition (I found both albums used, of course) and some other tracks are a little too crackly. Listen...and you will not forget the forgotten Fred Engelberg.

Oct 20: New Rapidshare link for Engelberg not Engleberg

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, my filthy minded, open-hearted (that's a very good combination in a man!) friend! I will give this a spin. I'm not familiar with it, but it looks to be right up at least one of my alleys.

Elaine

is2belnecessary said...

Fred Engelberg has many friends in the L.A. area who lost touch with him when he moved to Desert Hot Springs to run a motel. On behalf of some of them, I would like to know if you have further information about the town, date, and time of his death. What is the source of your information?

Anonymous said...

I saw and spoke to Fred less than a year ago and he was alive and kicking and very much his sweet and funny self. Happily, I have heard no news to the contrary since then.

Marianne said...

I have been a fan of Fred for over 40 years. Does anyone know if his recordings can be purchased? How could Amazon etc. not know about this great talent?

Dave from the '60s said...

I just found my ancient copy of Smoke Dreams; played it for the first time in thirty years. I still recall every word and intonation. What a nice trip. Soft and sly. He should have been... well, maybe all of us from back then should have been, yes?

Anonymous said...

Fred Engelberg is alive and well and living in San Marcos, California.

Ill Folks said...

Nice to know Freddie ain't dead. The Fred Engelberg who died on January 7th, 2003 in Oregon was apparently A Fred Engelberg but not THE Fred Engelberg.

Stephen Grice said...

I love the "songs" album which I lost 30 years ago. I can still hear Hangman in my head. How amazing is that impact and I would really like to get a recording of it again and play it to my kids. I wonder if Fred could be convince to record in MP3...

Adam Heilbrun said...

I, too, have loved this album since I bought it from him in The Unicorn on the Sunset Strip about 50 years ago. If Fred is indeed in San Marcos, let's find him and persuade him to digitalize his own copy of it and post it on the net. Posterity (if there is to be one) will truly treasure it.

Time keeps tick-tocking away...

Adam

lokisings said...

What the flying FUCK??????

tapdog said...

Good to know he survived a mufky eye and a broken nose. I suppose if his albums were available for download dozens of people, including me, would buy it.

Anonymous said...

I worked for Fred in the early seventies as a film editor on two documentary films, both unreleased as far as I know. Both were from the iconic company BBS owned by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson.
Fred was one of the nicest and most interesting people I have ever met.
Linda

Anonymous said...

Fred died on Oct 14, 2013. He is sorely missed for his wonderful mind, wit, big heart. He lived a very special life of his own making.

Anonymous said...

My mistake - Fred died on Oct 14, 2012. How time slips away. Fred you are missed and loved.