You Are What You Eat (1968) is a strange, psychedelic and convoluted film as incoherent as its hippy brethren 200 Motels (1971) and Rainbow Bridge (1972). It belongs with that small collection of movies in which more people own the soundtrack than have actually seen the film. The soundtrack is phenomenal. The bright yellow cover is as eccentric as the vinyl itself that features audio cut-ups, squealing Moog synthesizers, relentless psychedelic improvisations, lounge music, Tiny Tim oddities, and the final appearance of The Hawks before they changed their name to The Band.
The list of those involved with the film is an incredible roster of counter culture heroes and weirdos. Tiny Tim, The Electric Flag, Frank Zappa, Peter Yarrow, Paul Butterfield, Super Spade, David Crosby, Hamsa El Din, Barry McGuire, the radio personality Rosko and several others. And despite the talent involved the film is incredibly difficult to track down in any format other than a blurry, seventh-generation, chopped up version that most likely will get trapped in your VCR. I have posted the sounds of the the soundtrack LP for your listening leisure over here.
When this article first appeared, it spawned a debate about the radio deejay, or should I say deejays, Rosko. Remarkably, there were two different popular radio personalities that went by this moniker in the nineteen sixties, and both were closely linked with the counter culture. First there was the Rosko who worked for the BBC and several stations throughout Europe, had a huge following in the late sixties. Rosko was the son of the legendary Hollywood producer Joe Pasternak. His on-air personality belonged to a unique school of rock n' roll DJs that are essentially extinct. A quote from a typical late sixties broadcast had Rosko rap, "I am the Emperor ... the geeter with the heater - your leader. Your groovy host from the West coast, here to clear up your skin and mess up your mind! It'll make you feel good all over!" Emperor Rosko, like so many members of various 1960s mod scenes, doesn't look quite as hip as he once did (for the ultimate example of turning square with age take a look at sixties garage rockers Shadows of Knight in the sixties... and today). This photo of Rosko today would signal your typical morning radio jagoff rather than a man with his pulse on the underground.
The other Rosko worked for Radio WNEW New York, and made his mark as the first Black news announcer in the city. He also made history as the first Black DJ on the Los Angeles station KBLA. He lent his larynx to several LPs of the period including two interesting records released on the Flying Dutchman and Polydor labels simultaneously that addressed pressing news of the day. One titled Massacre at My Lai and the other Murder at Kent State University had Rosko reading newspaper columns about the atrocities in an ominous tone with the moody jazz music of bassist Ron Carter and flautist James Spaulding played underneath. Rosko also lent his voice to Verve's vinyl pressing of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet. Listen to selections from all of these recordings in the same place the YAWYE soundtrack is posted.
Although the debate rages on in the comments section at the bottom of this post, it still has not been confirmed which Rosko appears on the You Are What You Eat soundtrack. IMDB claims it is Emperor Rosko who appears, but this is, most likely, incorrect. Regardless, one of the Roskos narrates a satirical commercial about Nazi helmets that were popular with biker gangs at the time (or so drive-in movies would have us believe). The sequence features an interracial crowd of children smiling, laughing, and running around wearing these helmets while Rosko's deep seductive voice goes off on one of his trademark rants, "Say, babies - get in on what's happening ... It's not gonna wear out, it's not gonna be out - it's gonna be in ... be in ... Hey kids! Get uptight with your outta sight Nazi helmet today!"
You Are What You Eat marked the feature-film debut of Tiny Tim. Some say it was what convinced Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in to book him for his television debut, however others (as can be seen in the comments section) seem to discredit this oft-repeated theory. He contributes two songs to the YAWYE soundtrack, Be My Baby and I Got You Babe. Tiny's Cher in the film was, according to the soundtrack credits, Eleanor Baruchian. The clip of this sequence can be seen here. Some claim Eleanor was Tiny's girlfriend at the time, others dispute this. She was one of the three members of the late sixties girl-group The Cake. However, on The Cake recordings her name is listed as Eleanor Barooshian. She also goes under the name Chelsea Lee, clouding the matter further. Watch footage of The Cake here. The Tiny Tim tracks Sonny Boy and Memphis can also be heard in the movie but neither appear on the LP The album marked some of the very first Tiny Tim tracks to hit the market. The same year that the film and soundtrack came out, Tiny Tim's debut LP on Warner Reprise, God Bless Tiny Tim, entered record stores. It too featured a version of I Got You Babe, his more famous interpretation in which he performed both the baritone and falsetto roles.
Frank Zappa makes a brief appearance in the motion picture but is not featured anywhere on the soundtrack pressing - his sequences are also missing from most bootlegs of the film. The film show's Zappa and The Mothers on stage at The Fillmore, but the music dubbed over the seven minute freak-out sequence is actually by The Electric Flag. Harper's Bizarre is another group who have music in the film but not on the record.
Legendary record producer John Simon was largely responsible for the music in the film. Other than producing the soundtrack, he wrote and performed the memorable My Name is Jack for the album. Manfred Mann covered the tune the same year and Pizzicato Five did a rendition in 1997. The song's infectious tune played over and over on an electric piano is accompanied by the absurd chorus, "My name is Jack - I live in the back - of the Greta Garbo School for Wayward Boys and Girls..." Simon's name pops up regularly on the credits of late sixties Columbia albums. He was the company's most prolific rock n' roll producer working with The Cyrcle, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Blood, Sweat and Tears and countless others. Simon's music was far and few between, his producing efforts taking up most of his time. When he did record his own music, it was lauded and adored. Like everything else in the world, he remains huge in Japan. One of John Simon's most enjoyable projects was the music he arranged for a 1966 Columbia release titled The Baroque Inevitable, featuring rousing versions of contemporary rock songs performed in a baroque style. (Covering pop songs in an instrumental baroque manner was a short-lived "craze" from approximately 1966-69. Several record labels took a stab at the weird concept, presumably doing so because other labels were trying it and nobody wanted to be left out in case it turned into the next big thing. It didn't. United Artists' Bacharach Baroque and Baqorue N' Stones on Hanna-Barbera Records are just two of many interesting examples.)
John Herold and John Simon collaborated on another great song for the film, this one titled The Family Dog. Herold sings and Simon plays much of the music while Peter Yarrow provides back-up vocals. The song title was a reference to a well-known hippy commune of the same name that was responsible for throwing many notable rock concerts and psychedelic light shows in the Bay area. In the movie, Herold's tune accompanies footage of several commune members eating flowers. The Family Dog is often considered the first of the hippy communes and was certainly one of the most politically and culturally active. Much of San Francisco's rock scene revolved around the efforts of the commune. Eventually Family Dog Productions was founded with the purpose of booking bands and organizing rock concerts. They pioneered the psychedelic light shows that have become a period cliché and were also instrumental in turning Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditorium into the legend it's known as today. Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters were also co-ordinating events with The Family Dog on a regular basis. During the musical sequence bearing their name, we see members of the commune ride motorcycles (with their puppy mascot hanging on to a bike's handlebars) and the official candy-cane colored Family Dog VW van.
Super Spade was a wild staple of Frisco's Haight-Ashbury scene in its heyday, as a character that took pride in being an open drug dealer. Super pops up at random throughout the film. While most dealers on the strip were suffering from paranoia, Super Spade scoffed at such problems, often handing out marijuana by the handful for free and unconcerned with who knew it. A familiar catchphrase on the street became, "Hey Super, what you got for me today?" His real name was Bill Powell Jr, but it seems unlikely that he was the son of the actor who starred in MGM's Thin Man series - although wouldn't that make a good story! Just a few days after You Are What You Eat was released, Super Spade was murdered. Shot with a nine-millimetre handgun, his body was stuffed into a sleeping bag and left at the foot of the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Shocked hippies around town were convinced it was a mob hit but there was little evidence to confirm the theory. Time Magazine also stated that "[Super Spade] was murdered last year by San Francisco mobsters because he gave away free pot and LSD." Not surprisingly, no one was arrested for the crime, the death of a Black hippy drug dealer not exactly something Bay area police were likely to care much about.
The Hawks were named for their one time bandleader Ronnie Hawkins. Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks were a wildly popular rockabilly group in Toronto who had been recording for the Roulette Records label. Eventually members of the band found themselves increasingly at odds with Hawkins' messiah-like ego and the authoritarian rules he imposed on the group. After four years together, The Hawks dumped Ronnie and went off on their own. The Hawks found themselves working as session players for various musicians in the 63-66 period including folk and blues artist John P. Hammond... who would recommend the group to Bob Dylan. Dylan was looking for players that could accompany him on his first tour after "turning electric." Through Dylan, The Hawks were introduced to a wide assortment of new connections in the recording industry including Dylan's acquaintance John Simon. Simon would hire The Hawks to back up Dylan's buddy Tiny Tim on the soundtrack to YAWYE. It would be the final recording the group did before eliminating all surviving remnants of the Ronnie Hawkins days by changing their name to The Band.
You Are What You Eat was directed by Barry Feinstein who had been one of several Monterey Pop (1968) camera operators. Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary helped finance some of the movie and participates on several of the tracks. Yarrow and Feinstein became acquainted by way of Mary whom Feinstein had married. Frank Zappa fan John Trubee interviewed California hippy eccentric Carl Franzoni about the making of YAWYE and how it came to be (Zappa dedicated his tune Hungry Freaks, Daddy to Franzoni who he said, "is freaky down to his toe nails."). Franzoni states that "[Feinstein] was a strange looking guy, he was bald-headed, had a broken nose, [he had] a lot of money and [Mary] was the money. Peter, Paul and Mary gave him the money to do You Are What You Eat ... we went into a place - Greta Garbo's Home For Boys and Girls. It wasn't an acid house, it was a speed house. It had rooms and there's a vignette [Vito Paulekas] does in the lobby of this hotel and he's talking to some of these kids and they're so loaded ... and then they take us up to the roof and Peter did a song ... and the camera pans in on us and the logo for the movie is my tongue. We ...had a preview ... on Sunset Boulevard with one movie star after another, Tony Curtis came up and shook my hand, lots of people like that were there. There was a five minute ovation of clapping after the movie was shown. Steve McQueen refused to shake my hand."
Later on in Trubee's swell interview, Franzoni explains how his tongue inspired The Rolling Stones. "Well, my tongue was noted in the movie You Are What You Eat, they used it as a logo. The Rolling Stones at the same time were coming out with a tongue and they didn't want to infringe on us--because The Rolling Stones are very straightforward, right on people. They always have been that way. There's no bullshit about The Rolling Stones ... they came to director Barry Feinstein and they said 'we want to use the tongue as our logo.' So they set up a meeting. I was in the screening room and they showed the movie and here's one of The Rolling Stones sitting next to me ... he says afterwards 'I think we'd like to buy this movie.' I didn't know why, I didn't understand why, but later on ... they knew that we weren't gonna give them any shit if they used the tongue, you understand? When the movie came out in New York and in LA if you went to the front of this movie theater you saw a tongue 10 feet high ... it's ... my tongue ... so in my estimation The Rolling Stones are using my tongue as their logo." Franzoni's tongue is flashed throughout the movie. At one point we see him use it like a snake as he makes out with a girl during a Tiny Tim performance. Later on we see Franzoni with a different girl, both dressed in American flag style clothing, the same kind of outfit that Abbie Hoffman was arrested for wearing in 1968. In a clearly political move, the left-wing Yippie was charged with "dishonoring the flag," and ended up serving a spell in a maximum-security prison. Today articles of clothing that are indistinguishable from those sported by Hoffman can be purchased at every Wal-Mart in America.
Chicago millionaire Michael Butler financed the rest of the project just as he had done for the musical Hair. Butler had money to burn and fancied himself an ally of the counter culture, having also financed the original Broadway production of Lenny, based on the life of Lenny Bruce. He also managed to score himself bit parts in the cult classics Electra Glide in Blue (1973) and Harry and Tonto (1974). Butler was willing to "turn on, tune in, and drop out" as long as his wealth was not affected. He had previously worked for President Kennedy as an advisor on "Indian and Middle East Affairs." The Butler family garnered their wealth from real estate and the pulp and paper industry. Butler inherited his family's money and holdings that had been a staple of the Illinois power elite for over one hundred and fifty years. Butler identified the hippy culture as a market that could be tapped; a scene where a great deal of money could be made. Despite much of the hippy aversion to such concepts, there is no denying he was right. Butler grew his hair long, started wearing beads, and adopted much of the new slang, but he was older than most in the hippy scene, held on to his private jet, continued to play polo at his local club, and held strong connections with government. Today he remains a wealthy investor, recently putting up the cash for Dracula: Opera Erotica. He is a major financial contributor to the Democrats.
The liner notes on the back cover of the YAWYE soundtrack album consist of a sprawling nonsense diatribe in fine print that not even the most patient reader can complete. "The conventional label 'movie' does not prepare you for 'YAWYE.' If what you see on film is one reality, what you hear on the sound track is another. If the two simultaneous realities contradict each other, they also free us from the slavery of our cultural clichés of experience. What emerges is a new reality, a crystalization in counterpoint, an anti-documentary that is all the more accurate. Like non-objective painting and the music of Cage or Bartok, 'YAWYE' utilizes the medium to turn you on and turn you off, and take you on a trip of changes. There is no literal plot. Whether the trip is "groovy" depends upon your taste in roller coasters. You come off the trip suddenly realizing that when you have two realities, you have no lies." This goes on for another forty odd paragraphs or so.
The comedic actress and 1970s icon, Carol Wayne, once made an appearance on a now-legendary episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1969. The sex symbol with the high-pitched voice showed up on a show featuring Bob Hope, Dean Martin, George Gobel, Judy Carne and Robert Wagner on the panel. The episode enjoys a degree of notoriety thanks to an incessant clip running on late night informercials for the Johnny Carson home video collection. It features Gobel's cheeky line delivered after glancing at Martin and Hope. "Did you ever feel like the whole world is a tuxedo... and you are a pair of brown shoes?" At the end of the episode Carson says to Carol Wayne, "I understand you just got married..." "Yes, on valentine's day," Carol continues, "He's a famous photographer." "Cinematographer?" Carson qualifies. "Yes, he just finished filming a movie that has been accepted by the Academy Awards called You Are What You Eat." The film's name made Dino and Bob crack up immediately at its sexual connotation. Carson quipped, "Either of you say a word and it's my job! You don't have to be here every night, I do!" "Not after tonight!" Martin exclaimed.
Contradictions abound in regards to who and what are contained in the film. This stems from very few complete prints having survived. Many have claimed that Frank Zappa, Improv maven Del Close, nor Harper's Bizarre are even in the film and that the assertions and apocryphal. Others can describe these scenes with precise detail. All three are listed in the closing credits. The film's "official" VHS release of the mid-nineties disapeared into obscurity almost immediately. That release, however, was still missing several minutes. The soundtrack LP also omits the sounds of several performances that appeared in the picture. All of these factors have contributed to speculation. The only known complete print of YAWYE has been doing the tour of the Cinematheque circuit for the past couple of years and has is housed in Berkely, California. Columbia's soundtrack LP was re-issued on CD in 1997, but only in Japan (naturally). The album remains generally elusive in North America.