Film and Music
By Michael I. Cohen
Who is Andy Arthur?
(And Why Did I Spend Seven Years Trying to Find Out?)
By Michael I. Cohen
It all began so innocently, in the waning days of the last century, circa early 1997. I was out for dinner in Manhattan with my Beatlemaniac buddy Steve Rosenblatt and his friend Stacey, an artsy type I was meeting for the first and only time. When I mentioned my nascent interest in so-called “underground” film, Stacey innocently suggested I check out the work of Kenneth Anger—in particular a piece called Rabbit’s Moon
that she fondly remembered from a film class. I vaguely recalled seeing some Anger compilation tapes while browsing at a hip video store in Montclair, New Jersey, not far from my apartment. A few nights later I headed to Montclair, found the tape (Kenneth Anger, The Magick Lantern Cycle Vol.1
, Mystic Fire Video, 1986), took it home, and popped it in the VCR.
Oh Stacey, wherever you are, if you only knew what dark forces you unleashed that long-ago night…
What impressed me about Rabbit’s Moon
wasn’t the film itself—a seven-minute, black-and-white affair in which three clowns prance around in a moon-lit forest. No, what really caught my attention was the soundtrack—a demonic laugh kicked off a jaunty, organ-driven Beatlesque song that sounded like some half-forgotten top forty hit from the glam-rock era.
Things that go bump in the night
Give me a terrible fright
I turned ‘round to switch on the light
Something was holding me tight
The song was fantastic, and as a fan of ‘70s and ‘80s pop, my mind immediately began racing for a connection to an artist. The Sweet? Early ELO or The Move? 10cc? The film had no credits to speak of, certainly nothing identifying the song or the recording artist. I grabbed the video box—on the back, on the list of five short films on this Anger anthology, after the film’s title it simply had the words “1950, 7 minutes, tinted b/w. Music by Andy Arthur.” (See below.)
The name produced a blank. But the song was too good to dismiss, and I quickly assumed the title was similar to the first line of the song. I wasn’t naïve enough to expect I’d walk out of Tower Records the next day with Andy Arthur’s Greatest Hits
under my arm, but I did assume that after a little research I would find it someplace, such as one of Rhino’s Have a Nice Day
discs, lurking among tracks like Murray Head’s “Superstar” and Pilot’s “Magic.”
I had no idea how long the hunt would ultimately take, and the bizarre story I would eventually uncover.
A quick search on the internet for Andy Arthur (in those pre-Google days) revealed No Such Artist. There was a Gilbert O’Sullivan song “Things that Go Bump” but that candidate was quickly eliminated once I tracked down the lyrics. Books and websites about Kenneth Anger failed to identify the song, or simply repeated the line from the video box. I began hunting down the mysterious Mr. Arthur in record stores. I soon discovered that, like some magickal incantation out of one of Anger’s own films, merely mentioning the name “Andy Arthur” was guaranteed to induce looks of stupefaction in record dealers across the tri-state area.
The proprietor of House of Oldies in the West Village dismissed my inquiry so quickly and with such finality I nearly took it as a personal affront. “Aren’t you going to at least look it up?” I pleaded. “No need—we don’t have it” he responded. I began to seriously wonder if Andy Arthur existed at all.
Was the name a red herring—a pseudonym by an artist contractually prohibited from recording under his own name? Maybe it was some kind of hoax being perpetrated by the devious Mr. Anger? Given Anger’s notoriously shady back story, that wasn’t completely out of the question.
But still, the song had to come from somewhere
, didn’t it?
Finding the identity of the song, and a copy of an official release, became my personal mission. I began referring to it as “the most obscure song in the world” and as “the greatest song no one’s ever heard.” For seven years, on and off, I searched for any clue. I ordered an album from eBay by a mid-70s British band called A Raincoat that had a member named Andy Arthurs—close enough! Alas, my song was nowhere to be heard, and the band did not even sound particularly close to the one on the soundtrack.
I created a low-fi MP3 from the videotape and played it for trivia contest host and walking-music-encyclopedia Dawn Eden, without luck. I played it for Rosenblatt, hoping to leverage his vast Beatles and pop-music knowledge. A look of recognition briefly lit up his face—then he admitted it was a fake-out. Dreams of cornering Irwin Chusid, the high priest of music trivia, at a WFMU record fair came to naught.
I eventually learned, via internet bulletin boards, there were others out there searching for the same song, all as perplexed as I was. We compared notes. Could it be “Bump in the Night” by an obscure ELO offshoot band, Trickster? That record proved near impossible to find but eventually I figured out that no, that wasn't it. Was it Oingo Boingo? Sparks? Crack the Sky? All possible trails led rapidly to dead ends.
The song literally seemed to have come from nowhere—as though Kenneth Anger, desperate for the perfect soundtrack, had conjured it ex nihilo
from the depths of the netherworld in some shadowy deal with Lucifer. I shuddered to think what Anger must have offered in return.
Finally, in early 2004, as I was losing hope—a sudden surprise breakthrough. Through a string of coincidences involving an Australian woman named Anne who saw one of my early online postings, I tracked down the aforementioned Andy Arthurs. He was indeed the culprit, and identified the song as “It Came in the Night,” an extremely rare non-album track by A Raincoat. A month later I ordered the single from an Australian record dealer for a mere $10 plus shipping. At last, I scratched that seven year itch.