Getting Astrological with Harvey Sid Fisher, the "Undisputed King of Astrology Songs"
Harvey Sid Fisher is an L.A. renaissance man, with TV appearances (I Dream of Jeannie, Kojac, The Daily Show, Spongebob Squarepants, and most of the classic soap operas), movie roles (Scrooged, Lethal Weapon 3), screenplays (Final Recourse a.k.a. Taken for Ransom), modeling, and live shows all gracing his CV. For nearly thirty years now, however, Harvey has perhaps first and foremost been familiar to a significant and appreciative underground audience for the twelve audio/video installments comprising his Astrology Songs. Originally circulated on pirated VHS tapes, the songs continue to find a new audience these days through Youtube. Mr. Fisher was kind enough to meet up after his usual round of golf at his favorite L.A. course recently and share Hollywood lore, the virtues of a macrobiotic diet, and – of course – the inside scoop on just how Astrology Songs came to be.
Bobby Weirdo: First, I must ask: Are the golf clubs you have right there Shelley Winters’ old clubs?
Harvey Sid Fisher: I see you’ve done a little research! Shelley Winters’ golf clubs are actually at my house. She bought them at a golf course in Montauk, played one round of golf with me, and never used them again. She had good swing potential.
BW: She was a fan of your music, right?
HSF: A very big fan. She had a favorite song of mine that she loved to sing with me. It was my tribute to the American working girl. But not the not ones that work from nine to five – it was for the ones who work five to nine.
BW: How did you come in contact with her in the first place?
HSF: I was playing golf with an ex-boyfriend of Shelley's who remained friends with her after he married another woman. He told me that Lainie Kazan was performing in Century City, and asked if I would like to accompany Shelley to the show. She took a liking to me, and we got to be friends.
BW: You grew up in New York, before moving out here to L.A. Were you doing theater and music there?
HSF: Yes, and I started writing songs in about 1962 while I was a hairstylist in a beauty parlor that was open 24 hours. I worked from 5:00 p.m. to midnight. Ladies of the evening would come in two to three times a night to touch up their mussed hair. People told me I was a good-looking guy, and that I should be an actor. I’ve moved on less than that, so I studied acting with Stella Adler and moved to L.A. I like to give young actors this tip: If you ever have a death scene, always try to fall in a doorway. That way, if they shoot in the other room, you may get another day's work out of it.
BW: You did a Lincoln car commercial that funded your Astrology Songs project.
HSF: Right. I wrote the Astrology Songs sometime around 1987. I was trying to get money to record them, but no one would fund it. Then I happened to get the commercial, which paid for the whole thing.
BW: Did you write the music for all the songs?
HSF: Yes – I wrote the words and music.
BW: What was the source material for the lyrics? Did you use horoscopes?
HSF: I asked a lot of people a lot of questions.
BW: Did the astrological sign for each song dictate the style of the music? The “Capricorn” song, for example, sounds like it could be from a Western movie.
HSF: The truth is I know nothing about astrology. I just thought I’d make a billion dollars because hardly anyone had done songs about astrology. I don’t follow astrology.
Suzy Weirdo: Was your heart broken by a Gemini?
HSF: Why do you ask? Are you a Gemini?
SW: I am, and I found the Gemini song a little offensive [laughs].
HSF: Where was the offense?
SW: The line about the Gemini being the “master of none”.
HSF: I changed that line on the DVD soon after I’d recorded it. I was performing it for a pretty famous actor and his wife on a movie set I was working on, and she got close to hitting me when she heard that line, so I then changed it to “a jack of all trades, a mastery of some”. The thing that probably worked against me with Astrology Songs was that my idea was to write each sign with a few negatives in addition to the positives so that eleven other signs would buy the album for you to show you how flawed you are. It was a marketing strategy. Not my best thinking because we all like to hear only positive things about ourselves.
SW: Sagittarius was pretty positive.
BW: You’re a Sagittarius like me!
HSF: Yes, and I have to admit that I treated us Sagittarians pretty good. Here is the first verse of Sagittarius:
I live and let live and I go my own way
Don't like to be told what to do
I'll crusade for a cause and defend underdogs
I am almost too good to be true
BW: Did you write the music before the lyrics?
HSF: I start with an idea, and like to write the words first. That’s why whenever I play a live gig, I always go over to the soundman and say, “Please let the audience hear the words. So most of the words come first, and then the music jumps in. My process is that I’ll take a subject I’m interested in, and I’ll take notes on it until those notes start to rhyme. Then the song is there.
For Astrology Songs, melodies came to my head that fit the words. At that point, I put the guitar and vocal versions of the songs on a tape, and would give it to a musician who had a recording studio in a garage or kitchen where he would orchestrate and arrange the songs. I would ask for a country feel on some, or a rock feel on others. Once those tracks were complete, I went back in and put final lead vocals on the tracks.
I also have another album called Battle of the Sexes. It's duets with couples fighting. A friend in Houston has a studio where he arranged tracks around my vocals that I sent him. A pretty remarkable feat.
BW: I’m curious about the concept of the videos for Astrology Songs. I know you did them at a public access TV studio. Were they all done in one day?
HSF: They were done in one hour in 1989. I had finished the songs by about ’87, and I was going around doing open mic nights, but wasn’t getting much interest. I was also busy working on a screenplay at the time, so wasn’t paying too much attention to the songs besides the open mic nights. Somebody told me that you could go to a public access station and make your own video for $35, so I did it. At that point, the videos started getting a lot of play on public access stations all over the country.
Astrology is the world's largest religion. I have over a million views on YouTube. The comments are mostly complimentary, and then there is something like, "When my kids are not behaving, I punish them by making them listen to your songs. But I’d be hard pressed to say I’ve sold one CD from all that exposure. And if I had a dollar for every bootlegged VHS copy, I could probably afford to pay you to write all this good stuff about me.
My concept for the video included having female dancers moving to the music, and I ended up with three feminines who went home and figured out their own wardrobe and choreography. They got into it, and they were wonderful.
SW: Do you remember their names?
HSF: I do, but I don’t give them out [for privacy’s sake].
BW: You temporarily held onto a tuxedo you’d used for a modeling job a couple days before the video shoot, right?
HSF: Yes. My agent had gotten me a modeling job, and since I didn’t have a tuxedo, she lent me her husband’s. I held onto it for the video shoot. I also had a white tuxedo that I bought in a garage sale for $10, and I just liked it, but it sat in my closet for about ten years. When I came out with Astrology Songs, I started wearing it for the live shows.
BW: I think that white tuxedo is mentioned in The New York Times, actually.
HSF: Yeah, Neil Strauss came to see my show in New York. He wrote that I “had the distinction of being able to sing flatter than Leonard Cohen does, but [that I] made up for it with lyrics….that matched Mr. Cohen's poetry.” Thank you, I think. It was almost a compliment, and he ended up buying a cassette.
BW: I’ve seen your cassettes very rarely. Where can someone buy your music these days?
HSF: If you want to buy a hard copy, you can go to CD Baby. And you can contact me through my website. There are also digital downloads through iTunes and a bunch of other digital sites. And then there are the free videos on Youtube.
BW: Back to the live shows, you’ve opened for Daniel Johnston. Did you interact with him at all during that time?
HSF: It’s a vague memory. There wasn’t much communication between us.
BW: You appeared on The Daily Show, right?
HSF: Yes. There were two shows that I appeared on – The Jon Stewart Show in New York city, and The Daily Show. Lizz Winstead (The Daily Show head writer and co-creator) and (fellow Daily Show co-creator) Madeleine Smithberg saw me at the same New York show that The New York Times reviewed. Lizz asked if I’d like to be the house band for the Jon Stewart Show and play an astrology song verse for each guest's sign. Well, there were three guests, and they were all Sagittarians! One of them was David Carradine.
After that, Lizz and Madeleine contacted me and asked if they could use my videos on their show [The Daily Show] at the beginning of each sign change. They used it for one year, and renewed it for another year after that.
BW: When you perform in general, is there a particular order in which you perform Astrology Songs?
HSF: If I did it in the order of the Universe, people would wait for their sign, and then leave. So I mix it up.
BW: Do you have live shows coming up?
HSF: I’ve been doing gigs here and there – Seattle, San Francisco, and L.A. I have an upcoming show in Pasadena, and maybe Israel in May to perform at a health fair. I’ve been a macrobiotic since 1980. That means I eat vegetarian foods – grains and vegetables. I’m seventy-six years old, and I don’t take any medicines. I know a lot of people who eat junk food, and if I die before them, I’m going to be awfully embarrassed!