Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Rev. Fred Lane - Part II

[Continued from previous post]

Back at school the next day I stopped by my Spanish professor's office hours. I asked her if she knew anyone who could translate Esperanto. "Esperanto isn't exactly a major part of our language curriculum,” she told me. She explained that Esperanto was conceived as an auxiliary language to facilitate international communication, but that--like many 19th Century utopian ideas--it never took off the way it was envisioned. I told her I had a document written in Esperanto that I was curious to have translated. Surprisingly, she never acted as if this was something strange, and told me that the department had a copy of L. L. Zamenhof's Universala Vortaro, that I could borrow in order to translate the document myself.

I never had much facility with foreign languages; I had practically flunked out of Latin, and was only taking Spanish to fulfill a graduation requirement. So it was with some trepidation that I jumped into the process of translating a document from an unfamiliar language with little more than a dictionary for help. The process was not as difficult as I expected. The grammatical rules of Esperanto were very straightforward. I would sometimes come across words not featured in the dictionary, but it was usually extremely easy to figure out what they meant based on my knowledge of English, Spanish and Latin.

I was able to establish a few basic facts very quickly. As I had suspected, "The Rev. Fred Lane" was not a real name, it was a pseudonym for a visual artist from Tuscaloosa, Alabama named T.R. Reed. Ron 'Pate's Debonairs were a real band who also used pseudonyms, and had released a little noticed album back in 1975 called Raudelunas 'Pataphysical Revue with contributions from Fred Lane. Another album called From The One That Cut You had been recorded and self-released by Lane with Ron 'Pate's Debonairs in 1983 (this would be reissued by Shimmy Disc the next year). All of the other albums featured on the back cover of Car Radio Jerome were apparently fictional.

All of these facts were established in the first 10 pages of the manuscript, and they pretty much answered the basic questions I had about Fred Lane. I now knew who Lane really was, and what was what wasn't real (or so I thought). Of course there were still a few remaining questions: Why had Kramer been so secretive about what was in reality a fairly prosaic matter of a visual artist recording under an assumed identity? And why was the document written in Esperanto? Those questions would be answered in the remaining 190 pages of the manuscript, but I was hardly prepared for the answers.

Lane/Reed's father, Henry Nostril, had been a doctoral student in the lab of noted psychologist B.F. Skinner at Harvard in the early 1950s, but had been kicked out of the program because he used some rather questionable methods to carry out experiments designed to prove his unorthodox theories. In a nutshell, Nostril believed that human beings were by nature entirely rational entities, but that we had been corrupted by the irrational nature of our languages. Nostril theorized that what separated us from our true, rational nature was the irregularities in our language systems. He also believed that if children were reared with exclusive exposure to a created, rationalized language system such as Esperanto that they would develop into adults whose actions would be dictated solely by reason.

For his part Skinner considered Nostril's thesis to be rubbish and ordered him to work on a different project for his doctoral thesis. Nostril agreed, but progress on his thesis was extremely slow. Skinner later discovered the reason for Nostril's slow progress was that he had been secretly pursuing his original thesis using his own son, Fredrick Nostril, as a guinea pig. Nostril was raising the boy without any contact with the outside world and insisted that no language other than Esperanto be spoken in the home. Worse, Nostril had acquired several babies on the black market and was subjecting them to the same treatment. When this egregious breach of scientific protocol was discovered Nostril was immediately expelled from Harvard and the authorities were contacted.

The children who had been acquired on the black market were found safe in Nostril's home, but Nostril, his wife and young son disappeared before authorities could apprehend him. Nostril spent the next several years traveling from town to town, making sure all the while that his son was not exposed to any language other than Esperanto. He later formed his own micro-nation on an abandoned oil-drilling platform in the Atlantic. He named it the People's Republic of Fundus, declared himself King of Fundus, and named Esperanto as the nation's official language.

It was on this tiny man-made island that Fredrick Nostril (who you might have guessed is T.R. Reed/Fred Lane) spent most of his formative years. It was a dreary existence, the three residents of the People's Republic of Fundus survived on a diet heavy on fish and the occasional canned vegetables imported from the mainland. With few others to communicate with, Frederick spent much time during this period talking to his haircut. By the time Fredrick was 13 the elder Nostril had all but abandoned his original theories about the inherent rationality of humans and our corruption by language due to his son's increasingly erratic behavior.

It was around this time that Henry Nostril allowed his son and wife to accompany him back to the United States where he had been contracted to serve as a language consultant on the 1965 William Shatner film Incubus (which was to be filmed entirely in Esperanto in order to create an otherworldly effect). During the filming Shatner befriended the young Frederick Nostril. Shatner had learned enough Esperanto during the filming of Incubus to understand that Frederick was a troubled young man, and that his father was likely insane. Shatner took the boy under his wing, and in essence adopted him when he confronted the elder Nostril and threatened to contact the authorities if he did not leave the boy in his care.

For the next five years Shatner raised the boy, taught him English and introduced him to the pleasures of American popular culture. At the age of 18 Frederick moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama where, using funds given to him by Shatner, he established himself as a visual artist under the name T.R. Reed, and later as a recording artist under the name The Rev. Fred Lane. Nostril worked under these two pseudonyms because he still feared that his father would find him, kidnap him and bring him back to the People's Republic of Fundus.

Of course I am leaving out a number of details, but that is the essence of what was communicated in the manuscript. I spent so much time translating the manuscript that I nearly failed out of college. I never heard from Kramer again. The final two B.A.L.L. albums were a disappointment.


Peter Hennig said...

Honestly, I'm listening to these MP3s - and admittedly I'm trying to listen through the digital compression - but I'm not so sure these are in true Bolophonic.

Are these taken from the re-issue?

dan said...

Are you sure his name wasn't "Harry" Nostril?

Pete Bilderback said...

Peter, you have a good ear. The original Bolophonic versions were lost. These are taken from the "Simulated Bolophonic" reissue.

Dan, in fact Henry Nostril's friends (in so far as he had any) called him Harry.

Anonymous said...

I still talk to my haircut.

French Toast Man said...

Oh man. You made my day. I haven't heard this in soo long. But it brings to mind a few questions: What became of Nervous Tension Headache MacPherson? How many degrees of Zagreb Stereo sound was it? Any chance of that you might post a downloadable "French Toast Man" ?

I saw Incubus at the Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley) 2 or 3 years ago. Half the audience were members of the Esperanto society. They set up a card table in the lobby to push their materials, - their big pitch now is that Esperanto is the perfect language for the internet age.

The film is as bizarre as it sounds. The producer was there too, and did a Q and A after the show - A major topic of discussion was that many of the people involved in the film, both cast and crew, had met an untimely death. He also said that the reason they did the Esperanto thing was because it was the age of the 'Art House' film. Foreign Language=Nudity, they figured it would sell more tickets. The film, however is a long way from "Last Tango in Paris" Thanks for the posting. Keep em coming.

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi french toast man,

The original Bolophonic tapes were full 93 degrees Zagreb, the "Simulated Bolophonic" tapes used for the Shimmy Disc reissue were a mere 57.5 degrees Zagreb. MP3 compression to 128 kps results in a further loss of 5.2 degrees Zagreb, so these samples are 52.3 degrees Zagreb.

My wife once attended a special screening of "Twitch and Shout," a documentary about Tourette Syndrome, at MoMA. Fully 75% of the audience suffered from Tourettes, and most of the people featured in the film were in attendance. As you can image this made for a unique film-going experience. Wish I had been there.

I will put up "The French Toast Man" soon.

French Toast Man said...

Thanks for running the numbers on the Zagreb. I will adjust my Hi-Fi accordingly. Looking forward to the French Toast.

F.T.M. said...

Ooops. Best to check first, Eh? Thanks for follow through.

Anonymous said...

nice article, have loved the rev. fred lane for many years now, thanks for the extra bits of info....

and - "The final two B.A.L.L. albums were a disappointment."
ha ha ha

EMP said...

Do you still have the document? if so, you should scan + upload it!