Tribute - Vivian Stanshall
[With thanks to Bob Kruse]
, April 20, 1995
Vivian Stanshall died in a fire at his apartment in London on March 5. At 51 he was the Renaissance man of English absurdity. A co-founder and vocalist of the dadaist rock group the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Stanshall was a multi-instrumentalist, writer, painter, sculptor and radio host. His eclectic creations were infused with a warped sense of whimsy and social satire, stretching from daft Bonzo songs like
The Intro and the Outro
We Are Normal
to a comic opera called
to a movie, book and album chronicling the harrumphing old fart
Sir Henry at Rawlinson End
. Stanshall also wrote lyrics for Steve Winwood and served as the master of ceremonies on Mike Oldfield's
Stanshall once told an interviewer, "My father used to put on galoshes and rollerskate from Southend to London, and even he calls me an eccentric. I believe that exuberant madness is extremely healthy."
Pete Townshend recalls Stanshall as "a dear man ... capable of extraordinary erudition even when apparently out of his mind. He frightened me a little toward the end because his self-destructiveness seemed so relentless. He would recover for long periods, get sober, projects would sprout, success followed. Then I would hear news that he was ill again, answering the door with no trousers on."
Born in Shillingford, Oxfordshire, England, on March 21, 1943, Stanshall was an art-college student in mid-'60s London when his enthusiasm for prewar culture and musical arcana led him to co-found the Bonzo Dog Band, as they came to be known. Named after a 1920s cartoon canine, the Bonzos performed a manic hodgepodge of Dixieland jazz, vintage rock & roll and bizarre humor. Musical brethren to the Monty Python troupe, the Bonzos made five smart and silly albums and appeared in the Beatles'
Magical Mystery Tour
. The Bonzos' lone hit was the U.K. Top 5 single
I'm the Urban Spaceman
, which was produced pseudonymously by Paul McCartney.
After the Bonzos fell apart in 1970, Stanshall recorded solo albums but then succumbed to a lengthy period of drugs, drink and depression. He was reportedly about to begin work on a new album. He leaves behind an adult son, a daughter and a multi-media legacy of inspired silliness and serrated invention.