Peter Ivers and New Wave Theatre

Earlier this morning I finished In Heaven Everything Is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and the Lost History of New Wave Theatre by Josh Frank and Charlie Buckholtz. It was a heart-breaking biography on a unique man who was beaten to death, a crime still unsolved.

So who is Peter Ivers?

Peter Ivers was a Harvard-educated musician, a man who wrote music for his friend's theater productions by day and learned the harmonica from Little Walter at night. He took to the harmonica with pure gusto, blowing away his classmates and other musicians when the diminutive, Puck-like Ivers took the stage. Muddy Waters called him the best blues Harmonica player alive (post Little Walter's death, of course). Ivers had big ambitions, and in the early 1970s he moved across the country to L.A.

In Los Angeles he became involved with the American Film Institute, where he met and bonded with a young David Lynch. Lynch was working on his then student film, Eraserhead, a process which took several years to complete. Meanwhile, Ivers had made a pop/prog/avant-garde album called Terminal Love for Warner Brothers, an album that raised a few eyebrows but produced no hits. However, when Lynch heard it, he knew what was missing from his incomplete film - Ivers' voice. Ivers had a rare high-pitched register, an almost soothing Marlyin Monroe on helium effect. Lynch and Ivers collaborated on a tune for the film, and then "In Heaven (Everything Is Fine)" was born. Yes, the song that the pasty, puffy-cheeked "Lady in the Radiator" sings in Eraserhead. A song that would become staples in both Devo's and The Pixies live concerts. That's Peter Ivers.

Only a few years later, Ivers would become the host of the amazing New Wave Theatre. The show was broadcast on an upstart L.A. public access channel, and it showcased the then explosive punk/new wave/experimental/performance art scene. Everybody from 45 Grave, Fear, The Plugz, Johanna Went, The Dead Kennedys, and The Surf Punks would play a few tunes while celebrities like Harold Ramis, Beverly D'Angelo, Elvira and John Belushi stopped by to add a few words or stare vacantly into the camera. Ivers, dressed in outrageous and often sci-fi themed costumes would introduce the bands and then briefly ask them a few strange and existential questions afterwards, always asking "what's the meaning of life?" as his final inquiry. The bands were either cool with the guy or stiffly antagonizing (Lee Ving of Fear, unsurprisingly, seemed to revel in being a dick to Ivers during Fear's oft-repeated performances). Ivers genuinely loved the bands, but sometimes taking the piss out of some of the more macho punk groups was a pleasure he couldn't resist.