Flickhead
Film and Music
By Michael I. Cohen

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Rabbit’s Moon

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Who is Andy Arthur?

(And Why Did I Spend Seven Years Trying to Find Out?)

By Michael I. Cohen

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    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.)

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    Andy Arthur???

    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. rabbitMoon001.jpgWas 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.

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This copy of the original 45 is, to my knowledge, the only extant version of the recording that is unrelated to Rabbit’s Moon.
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    Mystery man “Andy Arthur,” upon closer inspection, is revealed to be one Andrew Colin Arthurs, 53, Professor of Music at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. The British-born Arthurs is a musical wunderkind known primarily for his studio talents, having engineered or produced albums for such artists as Joe Jackson, Bryan Ferry, and The Chords. Arthurs, who is from Cheltonham, England, attended the University of Surrey from 1970 to 1974, from whence he received the unusual tonmeister Bachelor’s degree—“tonmeister” being a German term describing someone along the lines of record producer/engineer/sound designer.
    Arthurs also had a brief recording career himself from 1974 to 1979, recording with A Raincoat, as well as under his own name. The previously mentioned A Raincoat LP, Digalongamacs, takes its enigmatic title and eerie cover photo—Arthurs and his band mates wearing raincoats in a London cemetery (see photo below)—from a visual pun involving the British term for raincoats (“macs”), the cheesy British crooner Max Bygraves, and his album of sing-along standards, Singalongamax. The original album title, Macs by Graves, was nixed at the last minute by nervous label executives fearful of offending Mr. Bygraves.

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Above: Andy Arthurs (right) with A Raincoat band mates in 1975—click to enlarge.

Below: The 1973 Max Bygraves album that inspired the title of A Raincoat’s only album.

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    The 1975 album had two minor airplay hits in the UK with “I Love You for Your Mind (Not Your Body),” and “You Can Heavy Breathe on Me,” songs that typified the band’s quirky, inventive pop sensibility, but failed to make a major splash.
    A Raincoat was never meant for the long run—Arthurs had quickly formed it with some school chums after EMI expressed interest in a demo tape of his songs, but told him they were interested in signing bands, not solo artists. All the members considered it a temporary lark, and it soon disbanded. They had no idea how lucky they were to land a record deal so quickly, and probably didn’t take it as seriously as they could have.
    “It Came in the Night” is a song Arthurs wrote himself and recorded with A Raincoat in 1976, too late to appear on Digalongamacs. The single was released in the UK only and sold less than 1,000 copies before evaporating. Arthurs had no idea Anger—of whom he had never heard—used it for his 1979 re-edit of Rabbit’s Moon until several years after the fact, when his brother heard a radio interview with Anger. Arthurs had to buy a copy of the Mystic Fire videotape like anybody else to see how his own work had been appropriated.
    As for why the name Arthurs was misspelled on the video box, and the song miscredited to Arthurs alone instead of A Raincoat—the reclusive Anger isn’t talking. A lawyer friend assures me that if the purpose was to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit, the name would have been completely changed. (That would be something he might have learned getting a criminal justice degree online, but he was a very talented lawyer regardless.) It’s astonishing that Anger ever heard the song in the first place, as sales and airplay were practically nonexistent. But in some freaky cosmic convergence, somehow he did hear the song, correctly decided it would be the ideal soundtrack for Rabbit’s Moon, and obtained the music without contacting Arthurs or EMI. He then mistakenly credited the songwriter instead of the artist named on the label, and this, combined with the typo on the songwriter’s name, produced the confusion that took so long to unravel.
    Quality control, it can be surmised, is not one of Kenneth Anger’s strong suits. One can only hope that the long-awaited DVD release of Anger’s films finally sets the record straight. It is also hoped that the DVD contains both known versions of Rabbit’s Moon—the seven-minute version with “It Came in the Night” and the extremely rare 1972 sixteen-minute version with a fifties doo-wop soundtrack. For my money, the 1972 version is a far better film with a far worse soundtrack. The original photography was performed in 1950, as per the video box credits; Anger just takes a long time to edit.
    Andy Arthurs doesn’t seem particularly perturbed or bitter about the whole affair, and proudly lists the accomplishment on his St. Mary MBA resume—ironically without giving the actual name of the song, referring instead to the “Theme song from Rabbit’s Moon”. He currently shows Anger’s film to his students as an example of a “postmodern” soundtrack—a perfect composition to a film he had never seen.

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    In 1978 Arthurs released the biggest hit single of his recording career—“I Can Detect You (for 100,000 Miles)” (above photo). By “hit” I mean a record that is now fairly easy to find from used-record dealers; it too was the victim of label politics. All in all, Arthurs was poorly served by his two labels, EMI and TDS, which never seemed to quite know how to market and promote him, and allowed his music to rapidly vanish upon release. All his material is currently out of print in the UK, has never been released in the US, and has never been reissued anywhere on CD. The title of Arthurs’ last single, 1979’s “I Feel Flat,” conveys his frustration with the music industry.
    Despite his unfortunate experiences as a recording artist, Arthurs today has no complaints, and has amassed quite a respectable career as a tonmeister, talent scout, teacher, and all-round musical polymath. In addition to teaching at QUT, he has several exciting music projects in the works, and with his partner Fiona he is raising their two young children. To this day, he has never heard as much as a peep from Kenneth Anger, much less any expression of gratitude, but he seems genuinely pleased that one of his lost songs has taken on this new life.

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An earlier version of this article appeared in Scram magazine, issue #21.

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  • It Came in the Night
    By A Raincoat (mp3)

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