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The History of Crispin Glover’s Bizarre Debut Album

Actor, artist, and lovable weirdo Crispin Glover first caught the public’s eye in 1984’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, when he did a spasmodic dance to Lion’s “Love is a Lie.” The next year, he was George McFly in Back to the Future, the highest-grossing film of its year, and deeply entrenched within the geek canon. He also retained a good deal of street cred by appearing in River’s Edge, the film to win Best Picture at the Independent Spirit Awards in 1986. It wouldn’t be until 1989 that Glover would return to film. It was during this very brief hiatus that Glover, perhaps possessed by the muses, decided to explore his capacity for writing books and performing music.

For many young, upcoming stars, this is a rite of passage. Remember when Lindsay Lohan released two studio albums? Hailee Steinfeld is currently finding her feet as a pop sensation. Crispin Hellion Glover, however, wasn’t concerned as much with pop, and is not known for his dulcet singing voice. Even at the time, Glover was known for being a jittery weirdo; many may remember his infamous appearance on Late Night with David Letterman when he appeared as his fictional character Rubin Farr, answering every question with a non-sequitur. Rubin Farr was to eventually appear in 1991’s Rubin and Ed. In 1987, it made no sense.

So of course, Glover’s studio album debut was one off the most oblique, abstruse pieces of pop ephemera to come out in the ’80s. In 1988, Glover recorded and released THE BIG PROBLEM ≠ the solution. The Solution = LET IT BE. (complete with that punctuation), which is, to date, his only record. I own it on CD. Yes, it’s every bit as strange as one can imagine.

THE BIG PROBLEM, released by Restless Records, is a 13-track concept record that includes a few singles stand-alone songs, and multiple readings of strangely worded poetry set to dreamlike, atonal electronic or accordion music. Glover hooked up with famed novelty musicians Barnes & Barnes (Bill Mumy and Robert Haimer), who performed and recorded all the album’s music. Well, almost all the music. One of the accordion tracks,“Selected Readings from OAK MOT, part III” featured  “Weird Al” Yankovic, who’s credited for a wild accordion solo. But fans of Barnes & Barnes likely hear the duo’s influence all over the record. It has the same sexually frustrated, echoey, strained vocal quality as the best of Barnes, and the same willfully simplistic, near-emetic tone. Glover and Barnes were a great pairing, and they amplified each other’s strangeness.

THE BIG PROBLEM was part of a larger multimedia art project that also incorporated two art books that Glover published that same year. Both books, Oak Mot and Rat Catching, were disturbing books of impenetrable poetry which repurposed existing books into nightmarish photo collages; Rat Catching was more or less an 1896 textbook that he re-drew page by page. Unsurprisingly, images from Rat Catching appear in the opening title sequence of the 2003 remake of Willard starring Glover. Glover toured with the books, giving live readings that were accompanied by slide shows and selected tracks from his album.

The album’s poetry readings are hypnotic, but the songs are outright comedic. There’s a rap about masturbating (“Auto-Manipulator”), a wonderful, wonderful, screeching, crying rendition of “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” and the big hit, a song about a clown called “Clowny Clown Clown.” Part of that track was featured on David Letterman until the annoyed host cut it short. The video, as you’ll see, also features Rubin Farr, whose photograph is in the record’s liner notes.

THE BIG PROBLEM feels like a prank, something that should not have been allowed to happen. There are no hints to its intentions, and no solutions to the titular problem. Well, that’s not entirely true. There was a hint. On the back of the album, Glover slipped in the inscription “All words and music point to THE BIG PROBLEM. The solution lay within the title; LET IT BE. Crispin Hellion Glover wants to know what you think these nine things have in common.” He left a telephone number so you could call up and give your own theories: (213) 464-5053. I called it, but it’s been disconnected. I’d love to know what was on that tape.

What do you think? I have no hotline, but I’d love to hear your theories.

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Featured Image: Universal Pictures

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