Kit Ream – All That I Am
I’m finishing this up at about 3:30 AM Pacific standard time, a perfect middle-of-the-night moment to finalize my thoughts on the infamous Kit Ream – All That I Am LP on Creative Records from 1978. Catalog number MW001. A “Waxidermist’s” wet dream.
What started for me a few years ago as yet another late afternoon work-break thrift pull became something much more significant. After flipping through some stagnant church donation stacks, I spotted the LP and assumed it was another boring Xian solo record. Upon closer inspection, Kit’s fateful gaze stared me down and successfully convinced me into throwing down the dollar and change it cost to take this slightly water damaged, deranged looking fella on the LP home. My compadre Norm Hopper left empty handed that afternoon, but little did we suspect the boon that would soon follow.
Throwing the LP on the platter, I wasn’t sure if Kit was a joke or a genius. The man has a knack for making the dryest, worst lyrics edible and delicious. His jokey ramblings range from grunts, to angry nonchalant disses to the ladies passing through his life, to almost mocking cheese-jazz type scat singing about whatever’s on his mind. Don’t let this description frighten you, this is truly a fine feast of new age inspired ranting coupled with fusion and new age influenced jazz. Further listening draws out the genius of this LP by the supposed heir of the Nabisco cookie fortune. Obviously a victim of intense acid use and mental instability, the man drew from his psychosis translated his newfound “enlightenment” into artwork: personal drawings (that appear as floating images on the cover), lyrics, and the music, which he somehow convinced a group of musicians to help him play and perform. The LP sounds primarily live, as if the studio only did one or two takes. These rough tracks add character and show the improvisational nature of Kit’s art.
Kit’s solo track “Introuniversal Jam” opens the LP (The following “verse” is spoken over a bare cymbal being tapped, along with a lot of subtle background noises: a random bass drum, upright bass, and even a tambourine played off beat and out of sync. As the verse progresses, the tapping and sounds increase. A triangle comes in at the end as the tape seems to be echoed out and cut off on a 2″ recorder.): “I have not said I’m better, and I have not said I’m worse. I have an idea concerning the universe. The wheelchair general with his head on wrong, or the long haired singer with his winding song, to say that I love you with a bomb, or to sing that I hate you, that ain’t wrong, I know better than what you give, all I ask is a chance to live, my way or your way it’s all the same. ‘cos if no one’s hurt there’s none to blame. No I’ve not said I’m better, and I’ve not said I’m worse, but I do have an idea concerning the universe. Always in hell as I’m sure you can tell, I see you are blind, so I’ll take the time, to teach. You must keep in tune just as the moon, which is never too late or never too soon. Here there and everywhere you people be real, you must congeal and strip the seal. I’m not saying I’m better and I’m not saying I’m worse, but I have the idea concerning the universe, I really do, now you hear it through.”
Some might compare his inward looking, emotional work as the long lost cousin of Gary Wilson‘s school of lament. Unlike Gary, Kit’s content is broader, and his musicianship is clearly not polished nor rock influenced. Often Kit allows his ramblings on his cult ideologies to disintegrate into a goofy SNL Will Ferrell Robert Goulet-like impersonator voice: drunken, delusional, gutteral, and menacing. One track about a wino titled “Wines” is set over cheesy lounge jazz runs for 8:40. Yes, almost 9 minutes of Kit rambling about the transformation of humans into elements into “one.” Towards the end of the track his singing devolves into babbling along with a female babble-scat accompanyment as the drumming and saxophones intensifies and borders on amateur free jazz. I believe the same woman appears as the only singer over the folky soulful track “Cool Water” which Kit does not appear on, but it sounds as if his style has influenced this song’s lyrics. Similar to Gary Wilson, Kit does express his inner feelings at times in almost a scat-like, confessional/reactionary sing/song fashion. At times the music picks up and grabs onto a a late 70’s soul jazz/funky jazz sound, and especially on the track enitlted “Funk.” Towards the end of the track, Kit raps about catching trout in his stomach and then having a “good old honest burp” with his friend, which he explains is only a substitute for a lack of a ladyfriend! Okay, maybe Gary and Kit do have a lot in common. Ultimately, throughout the LP it sounds as if Kit is trying to compensate for his lack of singing talent as the engineer is telling him his time is up in the recording studio. I have no doubt that if Kit were much younger he would have appeared and gained fame as an early goof contestant on American Idol or even the Gong show.
After discussing the LP with a couple older collectors, I was suprised to learn the LP had been a long running joke amongst the record collecting cogniscenti. Those who knew of it (word to Anthony Pearson) gave and received it as a “hah hah you so crazy” type of joke find. From what I can tell, the LP is an acquired taste since it’s mostly spoken word and half sung ranting. Jello Biafra, a man who is a spoken word giant in his own right has been quoted describing the LP as “The most deranged ‘rich person do-it-yourself’ album”, and at the end of the day, the LP is literally all that Kit is. A truly unique and personal find that I will no doubt retain in my collection. If you happen upon the LP, I urge you to give it a proper listen before you trade or hock it.
Interestingly, Kit’s “Institute for Creative Living” still exists, and the site can be found here: http://www.instituteforcreativeliving.org/ In it’s current incarnation, the “cult” seems to have transformed into a new age self-help group. It seems the group and its ideologies have survived and will continue well beyond the memory of Kit and his ingeneous LP.