When presented with the contact information for Mr. Stephen Friedland by Scram editrix and amateur gumshoe Kim Cooper, I was somewhat daunted. Would the story behind the Brute Force legend (as captured on the Columbia LP Confections of Love, an album which has fascinated me for upwards of a quarter of a century) be worthy of the superhuman notions I’d developed around this enigmatic creation?
When I finally worked up the gumption to face the challenge, I was relieved to find that not only were the missing portions of the Brute Force saga anything but prosaic, but that Mr. Friedland was himself an extraordinary individual and extremely gracious to boot.
Brute’s appearance at the Scramarama was, for me, a special highlight in an already stellar lineup. I don’t feel that my life would have been complete without witnessing his awe-inspiring performance, which exceeded all expectations.
I could blather on indefinitely, but let’s get to the main event instead. Ladies and gentlemen… Mr. Stephen Friedland… Brute Force!
Scram: What was your involvement in the music world prior to Confections of Love?
Brute: When I was 24 I had a girlfriend, Bunny. Her father was Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer Billy Gussak, who played with Bill Haley. Billy had a piano in his house and took a liking to my songs. We collaborated on “My Teenage Castle (Is Tumblin’ Down).” Billy introduced me to record producers Hugo and Luigi at RCA. They recorded “My Teenage Castle” with Little Peggy March. They had also worked on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)” with the Tokens, and they turned me onto them. I went to the Tokens’ office and played a few songs; they hired me as a songwriter and soon I joined their group, and became a Token.
Scram: This was after “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and the hot rod album?
Brute: Yes, 1965. I was about twenty-five years old at the time.
Scram: You also wrote the classic “Nobody Knows What’s Goin’ On (In My Mind But Me),” which was recorded by the Chiffons. My editrix promised to flay me alive if I didn’t get the scoop on that song.
Brute: What is a thought? Where does a thought come from? How does a person feel about their thoughts? About secrets? These are some of the questions which might prompt an understanding of “Nobody Knows What’s Goin’ On (In My Mind But Me).” Texturally, it’s a love song: a person loves another person, to everyone’s disapproval, and because of societal pressure (who knows: parental, peer group, cultural), everybody says, “Give it up.” But what do they know? This leads the person to realize that, “Nobody knows what’s goin’ on in my mind but me,” a flat out declaration of independence, of individuality and of privacy of one’s thoughts. Freedom of thought. The song is very concerned with this larger issue of privacy of one’s thoughts, and to that extent is courageous in this day of Big Brother. There is a point, however, which the song doesn’t explore: the point when not expressing one’s thoughts can be an unhealthy thing to do and all the energy, whatever it is, just keeps building up and can become too much to bear for the “thinker of thought.” Secrecy is a subtextual element in the song. Keeping secrets, obviously, is a must when nobody else knows what’s going on in one’s mind. As a songwriter at that time I was exploring the workings of the human mind and, through a lovestory lyric, expressing my own feelings about love—interracial love perhaps—and the invasion of one’s mind by friends, family or government. The melody, I remember, during its creation, as being especially entrancing in the chorus, almost hypnotic in its repetition, enhanced by the lyrics, floating over the chord pattern, which are concerned with the mind. The mind singing about the mind. The song was produced by the Tokens while I was a member of the group. It was a chart record, which was very exciting, and I still receive royalties. Years later, I recorded “Nobody Knows” as the b side for the Apple single “King of Fuh.” I produced this with the Tokens: the cellophane wrapper from a box of Kool cigarettes, which I was chain smoking at that time, was used to produce a sound effect while I played piano. My rendition was very much more agitated and frenetic than the Chiffons’ rendition. I haven’t seen any of the Chiffons since that time, except on TV ads for compilation CDs, but I feel very lucky to have known them and to have had our paths cross and come out with a hit. And if you want to know any more, all I can say is…“Nobody knows what’s goin’ on in my mind but me.” But you can always ask!
Scram: Was your split from the Tokens an amicable one?
Brute: Yes. We were still friends. They produced the second Brute Force album—
Scram: A second Brute Force album exists?!?
Brute: Yes, Extemporaneous.
Scram: Whoa, whoa. I’ve heard extremely vague rumors about a second LP, but since I could never find any real evidence of it, I thought that it was just someone’s confusion of Brute Force with the Brute Force Steel Band.
Brute: No, produced by the Tokens in 1969 on BT Puppy Records, which was run by the Tokens and their manager at the time. It’s a piano/voice and spoken word recording made at Olmstead Recording Studios in N.Y. City with approximately forty people in attendance. It’s called Extemporaneous because many of the songs I sing when I perform are extemporaneous. The format of the album I planned in advance: I then added a lot as we went along. It was an electric evening during which everyone had lots of fun.
Scram: It’s an extremely difficult record to find.
Brute: Yes, it was distributed in a limited manner. I’ve actually included it in the new version of my Tour de Brute Force CD. [Which is recommended in the strongest manner possible as an essential addition to any music lover’s library, and also serves as an excellent introduction to Brute, if needed. -ML]
Scram: Were the songs similar to those on Confections of Love?
Brute: It was in what I’d term the Brute Force genre, “Heavy Funny” songs.” Peace songs. Comedy songs. Spiritual songs.
Scram: Now, back to Confections.
Brute: That was made shortly after leaving the Tokens. It took about three months to record, as I recall.
Scram: The Brute Force persona seems to combine qualities of beat poet, suave romantic crooner, and holy fool trapped in a world not of his making. Did the character of Brute Force arise out of the songs which you happened to compose for the album, or were the songs written with Brute Force in mind?
Brute: The characters that you mention have appeared, Zeliglike, from time to time. If a songwriter becomes anything during the writing of songs, it is another degree of being a songwriter. This is the way I put it:
A FEATHER FELL, A TALE TO TELL.
A TALE TO TELL, A FEATHER FELL.
Here we have two ways to understand the phenomenon which is presented to us, to decipher half the truth…(We, the living, alas, can understand but half of what this reality is.)… Seeing the feather fall we can describe it in any of the ways available. Both descriptions are secondary to the phenomenon anyway, the seeing of the real feather, and the mental seeing of the feather, as one would write a story. One may be called fact. One may be called fiction. Take your pick. This is the fulcrum upon which the media matrix see-saws, back and forth, creating a delerium of confusion, of artsy, slick, award-winning confusion: blistering the eyes with impossible editing not meant to be understood by the eyes; puncturing the eardrums with commercials spoken too quickly for the ears to understand; ripping off the public’s face with in-your-face moviescreen egomanical sex/sport/violence/playgames.
Now… the naming of the person, the ego who describes a truth or a fiction, compounds the illusion of communication and description. Should I have only been called Stephen Friedland, perhaps the whole trip would have been different. But the pseudonym was perceived as false by anyone and everyone, although people go along with the projection of the ego, for they themselves have an ego trip and are basically kind to accept Brute Force. However, my work and the appreciation of my person would have been initially appreciated in a more serious manner… young, Jewish songwriter. “Brute Force” incorrectly avoided that.
Scram: Many of the songs on Confections have a certain subversive quality, especially in the way you make social commentary through playing with cliché and convention.
Brute: Well, look at the liner notes. It’s heavy stuff, although comedically spiced. “Mistress Peace sleeps with soldiers” might be considered a bit subversive, although my political view of the world is decidedly spaced out: observing space and understanding that conflicts on Earth are always in relation to the phenomenon of the Space Mission, the colonization of the Solar System and the creation of earth as a supply station for the Space Mission.
Scram: I’d like to get your impression of the individual songs, if I might. “In Jim’s Garage.”
Brute: Secrecy of younglove from their parents. “He may be greasy and dirty, but that’s just the mark of his honesty” says it for Jim and I hope most of the blue-collar class.
Scram: “The Sad, Sad World of Mothers and Fathers.”
Brute: Still applies to the gap between parents and their children, and the lack of communication between spouses who’d rather watch TV than find out what’s happening with their daughter in a car outside with… him! I guess if the daughter was loved at home she wouldn’t be in such a… position.
Scram: “Tierra del Fuego.”
Brute: Love song, Latino, transcultural, fun with words.
Scram: “No Olympian Height.”
Brute: Straight-ahead lovesong, extolling the lover, “Do what you will, I am yours.” This was a poem written about a girlfriend, Abby. The line in the song about Grecian urns is a reference to “Ode On A Grecian Urn” by John Keats, in which we read:
“Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty.
That is all ye know on Earth,
And all ye need to know.”
Scram: Dixielandish lovesong. Everyone, well almost everyone, likes to get cuddly with their love-mate. Singing of the lyrics, “Baby, dey don’t make ‘em like dat any more” was inspired by the great Jimmy Durante.
Scram: “To Sit on a Sandwich.”
Brute: Absurdity of the world: we might as well go sit on a sandwich in our “advanced civilization.” This song contains perhaps the most onerous pun of the last half of the 20th century: “Prepares for the wurst.”
Scram: Brute‘s Circus Metaphor.”
Brute: Love lost, the characters metaphorically played by circus characters.
Scram: “Brute‘s Party.”
Brute: A sarcastic description of the boredom of parties.
Scram: “As Long as my Song Lives.”
Brute: Our Art survives us. Long after I am gone
Will Friedlandishemusik live on and on.
So would it be with a love, with a friend
that knowledge of them need never end
should they be remembered in song
as words and melody play e’erlong,
and as long as your craft gives
then too my song in your work lives.
Long after the creator passes, the song lives on, and who does the song immortalize? The lover. See, it’s as long as my song lives, which is forever, for a song is inanimate and not as frail as our flesh. A song doesn’t die. It is embodied in a device, etched in marble, written on a page, a CD UFO zooming into the unknown to be enjoyed by a new generation.
Scram: “Tapeworm of Love.”
Brute: I wrote “Tapeworm of Love” while I was still in high school. It was an authentic fifties song with piano triplets. When I played it for John Simon at Columbia he liked the lyrics very much, but felt that the fifties feel was not in sync with the year we were recording, 1967. Nostalgia for the fifties had not yet occurred, so I wrote another melody. I endeavored to bring the intensity of the whole metaphor of the internal gnawing and adventurous biting of the tapeworm inside the gut through the use of the sitar and an ancient Indian raga played on marimba. The song is a paradigm of Brute Force absurdism. Yet, a love song…
Scram: “Making Faces At Each Other.”
Brute: Here’s a new face I’ve just learned, it’s called “making you happy baby” and is pretty self-explanatory. Making someone happy is wonderful. It’s giving. To give. This song is pointing to the ability of people to respond to their genuine inner feelings rather than responding to the outer image, the face. “Love is the most beautiful thing on the face of the Earth. I wanna make the face of Love…”
Scram: Was it difficult getting such an unusual album released?
Brute: It wasn’t difficult getting Confections released. Columbia released a lot, and what stuck to the wall they went with. My stuff was just too ahead of its time.
Scram: There were no problems from upstairs?
Brute: Sitting at a conference table with the executives was, as I remember it, uncomfortable, because they played some songs and I was sitting there, in this conference room at a big oval table, and I was probably high on amphetamines. I would know how to speak with them today. Exactly what to say.
Scram: But there wasn’t any resistance to your lyrics, as being too “cerebral” or “intellectual?”
Brute: There was resistance and the album was ahead of its time. Now the story is changing. A trans-generational reality, occuring. There is a nine-piece band in Birmingham, England, Misty’s Big Adventure, personnel averaging 23 years old, playing “Tapeworm Of Love” and “Hello” from Extemporaneous (email firstname.lastname@example.org). At Scramarama, I met BF fans of all ages. Advertisements for BF are attracting fans from all over the world to write to Brute‘s Force, the Brute Force fan club, at Brutesforce@aol.com, in order to obtain BF music. The buzz is exciting and facing the situation, becoming less anonymous, has combated the resistance. Kind of a guerilla in the war of consciousness.
Scram: Any comments about the poetry on the back cover?
Brute: Yes, the couplet, “Mother Nature washes our genes, in her worn out washing machine.” When I looked at the back cover, I wondered why the next two lines were omitted. It’s really a quatrain which continues, “They’re hung up on the line to dry, by that old grouch, Father Time.” It would have made sense in the context of the album: you know, Mother, Father… lovesongs.
Scram: Are there any other Brute Force recordings besides Confections of Love and Extemporaneous?
Brute: At Columbia, I recorded a song I wrote in Russian and English titled “Hello Moscow,” a big band/ rock fusion. The session was catered, like a party, and attended by many invited guests, Leonard Cohen among them. The thread of the message was, “Hello Moscow, how are you doin’?” This was in 1967, the Cold War was in effect. In July 1968, with my lifelong friend Ben Schlossberg, I participated in an expedition to swim the Bering Strait from Alaska to Siberia. We made it half way to the Diomede Islands. It was documented in Life magazine, 9/20/68. The song itself, as was the expedition, is a natural extension of my weltanschauung. We live on a sundrop.
“There is one borderline, really, and that’s the edge of Earth: that roundness, that fullness, that mountained and vallied, water filled edge of Earth upon which we all live.”
(Copyright 1969 Stephen Friedland)
I make Pledge of Allegiance to the Planet plaques. I burn into redwood the words:
I pledge allegiance to my planet.
And to the universe,
all around and within me.
One Spirit indivisible.
With Eternity for all.
(Copyright 1980 Stephen Friedland)
The synthesis of business relations and trade treaties is the modern day approximation of planetary nationality, what the military-industrial complex/media-matrix calls “globalism.”
Scram: And you recorded a single for Apple Records. How did that come about?
Brute: I had a girlfriend, Joanna. We were both at Monmouth College (now University) in West Long Branch, NJ. Around 1965, I moved to NYC. Joanna also moved to NYC, and by that time had met and hooked up with Tom Dawes. He was a member of the Cyrkle, who toured with the Beatles in the mid sixties, and were managed by Nat Weiss, a friend of Brian Epstein. I wrote a poem which turned into the lyrics, then composed a melody around 1967. Through Joanna I met her then-husband, Tom. Tom and I got to be friends and he said some good words about me to John Simon, who had been recording the Cyrkle for Columbia. I went to Columbia, played some songs live for John and that led to the, I, Brute Force, Confections of Love album. When I recorded “King of Fuh,” late ‘68, I got the idea to bring a tape to him and see if he could get it to Nat and, who knows, maybe the Beatles. Well, that’s just what happened. A 1/4”³ mix of the multitrack session of “King of Fuh,” recorded at Olmstead Recording Studios, was given to Tom. He brought it to Nat, who, I have learned, played it for George Harrison. George thought it was great, and he added strings from the London Philharmonic and kicked up the drums a bit. They released Apple 8 in May 1969, but Capitol/EMI censored it.
Brute: Basically, language taboo. It was a very nice song about the land of Fuh, which was ruled by a benevolent King. Since he was the King of Fuh, he was also known as the Fuh King.
Scram: Ah, I see.
Brute: The latest twist is that Ken Mansfield, in The Beatles, the Bible and Bodega Bay, makes it clear that John Lennon also had a hand in championing the record and pushing for its release in the U.S.A. Incidentally, “King of Fuh” has been added to the censored song database of the First Amendment Project at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Writer and software developer Antonio Caroselli, in Italy, is currently writing my biography, and a detailed account of the Apple experience will be included.
Scram: With what sort of projects are you currently involved?
Brute: To take my music around the world. To write songs and record them. To manufacture state of the art formats of my music and performances. To advertise and sell these products, and to stay centered amidst all the conditions: WORK, FAMILY, FRIENDS, MONEY, SURVIVAL, SEX, FEAR, WAR.
Scram: What is your act like these days?
Brute: I perform an off the wall, non-traditional musical variety act. Songs, jokes, props, characterizations and improvisational songwriting, and philosophic exhortations. Additionally, I perform my straight music, lovesongs, spiritual songs, along with pure melody, playing keyboard, and guitar.”
Scram: Where can we catch your act?
Brute: I play comedy clubs and music venues nationally. Visit http://www.Brutesforce.com/
It is possible to see me,
Look, at night into the sky,
see there the farther shore.
When you wake
to start the day
again a vision forward draws
you on to see me.
A need to go on.
A drive to pursue.
All that and so much more
within the orbs of your eyes
shall who I am filter through.
Think not this is fame driven.
Nor quest for moment’s adulation.
For you shall see me everywhere
And not the censors of Capitol.
Nor the censors of EMI
the “proclamation of Truth is Fearless.”