Tuesday, June 29, 2010


The death of Chris Sievey (August 25, 1955–June 21, 2010), aka "Frank Sidebottom," is sad news in the U.K. for fans of oddity, although he's totally unknown in America. The Peter Lorre look-alike was a kind of missing link between a human freak (Tiny Tim, Emo Phillips, Mr. Bean, whatever) and your choice of marionette, puppet or muppet.

A cult favorite who, like Pee Wee Herman, appealed to children and adults and generally tried not to be too offensive, Frank was known for his constant touring with stand-up and novelty songs, and at one time had his own TV show and was seen often on "No. 73," a Saturday morning kiddie show. Americans might get some idea from his version of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," on the download below. Hmm, the Strawbs' Dave Cousins played at 78rpm? Frankie Howard with a nose clothespin on, likewise veering beyond pitch control? That guy from Flash and the Pan gone totally Chipmunk? You can come up with your own notion...

Frank Sidebottom was also known for his Christmas songs, and just recently another novelty tune "Three Shirts on my Line " made news. This parody of a well known U.K. football anthem "Three Lions" was embraced by fans hoping to give the oddball entertainer one last tribute. A grassroots group, "Let's Get Frank Sidebottom In the Charts," hoped to persuade people, despite economic hardship and "music should be free," to buy the single and make it a #1 hit. Profits from the single go to Cancer Relief.

Chris Sievey found out he had cancer in May. He found out it was a particularly fast-moving cancer when he died a month later. Ironically as some fans joked about pushing sales of his charity single, others learned the grim truth that the kind-hearted and generous Sievey had died in debt, in danger of going to a pauper's grave. Fans quickly raised the money for his funeral…and continued to raise money, thousands and thousands, which would go to his heirs…his three children. He was married, obviously, but divorced. As journalist Jon Ronson put it, "Chris was an "in the moment man," wrapped up completely in his art. He earned money and spent it and he wouldn't be thinking about planning and finance."

Creative types, like Chris "Frank Sidebottom" Sievey, are often naive, and in another world. That they can create a new world and a unique character that brings joy to so many people, is indeed an art. But an artist is rarely a businessman, and that often means being duped at contract time, not knowing how to really capitalize on fame, and if lucky enough to have a manager, agent or accountant…rarely being lucky enough to have one who is protective, honest and loyal.

Fans seeing the benefit of Frank Sidebottom, actually shared their spare change and literally paid tribute to him. It's not too late to consider paying tribute to the eccentric and indie artists still around and trying to make their way in the world. At the very least, it would be nice to let them keep their copyrights and their dignity…and some way of making a living. And now, being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, for the benefit of those who wonder what this papier mache creature sounded like…

FRANK SIDEBOTTOM, Being for the Benefit Of Mr. Kite

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