Book Review: Psycho Chicken & Other Foolish Tales

Author: Mike Girard

After recently conducting an interview with Mike Girard, long time front-man of the crazy-cool rock band The Fools, I learned that Mike had written a book chronicling the 40-plus year escapades of this odd yet very talented group from the coal-mining town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, the original home (believe it or not) of the fried clam!

“... a group with balls, The Fools!” ~ Charles Laquidara, WBCN radio personality

Review by Joe Milliken

Having been a Fools fan since college – I saw them perform at my alma mater (Dean College, Franklin, Ma.) in 1985 – I was really excited to interview Mike, and after our interview and learning he had written a book, I was automatically interested and just knew I had to read it! Yes, Psycho Chicken & Other Foolish Tales appealed to me on a few levels.

I was always a fan of the band and wanted to read about their history and of course I had just interviewed the author, but also, having just published my first book, a biography about the late Benjamin Orr of The Cars, I was also very interested in Girard’s interactions with not only The Cars (and their earlier band Cap’n Swing) but other Boston area bands as well. And I would not be disappointed, for the book also provides some great insight on the incredible Boston area music scene.

For me, The Fools are one of those bands that never got the recognition they deserved, or, were never quite taken seriously enough. However, that’s probably just the way they wanted it... I think. Such is the head-scratching story of this very talented band that made a rock-and-roll living out of parody, sarcasm, comedic vignettes and crazy-killer live performances. Oh - and they are fantastic musicians too!

Psycho Chicken takes the reader through a roller coaster ride of the early triumphs, outrageous fun, rubbing elbows and near misses of a band that came this close to making it really big. Girard is candid in his commentary, laying out straight the successes, tragedies and mistakes involved in this “almost famous” band.

There was the night of their disastrous first-ever gig, when they were expected to play for four hours when they barely knew an hour’s worth of cover songs, or the time when they had finally gotten their first bus for traveling to gigs, “only to have the brakes go halfway down a hill and we ended up bumping to a stop in a field.” Luckily the driver was also a mechanic and they made it to the gig at UMass.

Or the unforgettable night when the band celebrated finally getting a record deal with EMI Records and their “invite only” party got crashed and bashed. A night featuring a trained monkey performing tricks (and defecating everywhere) and the Zucchini Brothers, who drunkenly tried to knock lit firecrackers out of each other’s mouths with rubber bands.

Or the night they jokingly offered the club's house piano as a prize for their joke “dance contest,” only to have the winner take them literally and attempt to take home the piano. Or the night they were finally getting the opportunity to perform for a stadium-sized audience when opening for the Doobie Brothers, only to have said audience turn on them a few songs in, pelting the stage with debris as the band members dodged and weaved their way through a treacherous set.

However, there were also better, more “conventional” memories too, for you don’t carry on as a band for 40-plus years without good things happening too. There was radio and MTV airplay with “Psycho Chicken,” “It’s A Night For Beautiful Girls,” “Life Sucks, Then You Die,” “She Makes Me Feel Big” and this reviewer’s favorite, “World Dance Party.” There were cross-country and world tours opening for a who’s-who of rock bands such as Van Halen, The J Geils Band, Cheap Trick, Ramones, Kansas, Toto, The Knack, Joan Jett and others.

Of course, these tours also came with their own unique war stories, such as playing an Italian music festival and in a drunken stupor, stealing a sculpted wax fish with someone who “may or may not have been Phil Collins,” or watching a mostly-naked Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics getting arrested for indecent exposure, or swapping baseball stories during a soundcheck with Geddy Lee of Rush, or being just about the only rock band to play Carnaegie Hall while opening for The Knack.

There was also opening for J Geils Band in Detroit during the Love Stinks tour when Geils practically owned the city, or swearing like drunken sailors in the middle of a Boston FM broadcast radio concert when they thought the live feed had gone to commercials, or ultimately getting kicked off the Van Halen world tour because, well, David Lee Roth was so insecure about backup bands that no opening act survived a Van Halen tour.

Yes, the stories are many and more often than not, head-shaking fun, but the road can also be long and hard for a band that would teter on the edge of fame, but never quite get over the top. A seemingly bittersweet tale of rock-and-roll perseverance that probably deserved a better fate, but don’t feel sorry for The Fools... they've rocked hard, have had a lot of fun and didn’t end up working in the darkened coal mines of Ipswich, which is why they started a band in the first place.

If you love rock-and-roll, you don’t need to be too familiar with The Fools (or know them at all) to enjoy this book. It’s a “world dance party” and highly recommended.

Editor's Note: Also please check out SRO's recent exclusive interview with Mike Girard.