The Fanatic


By Tom Sinclair

There’s a moment on the Mothers of Invention’s 1970 album BURNT WEENY SANDWICH, at the end of the live version of “Little House I Used to Live in,” where an insistent heckler is yowling his fool head off about something or other. Coolly, gently, main Mother Frank Zappa tells him, “You’ll hurt your throat. Stop it.”
The Fanatic (Tom Sinclair) and friend (Joe Ryan) search for the Lost City of Fanatics, c. 1966.The Fanatic (Tom Sinclair) and friend (Joe Ryan) search for the Lost City of Fanatics, c. 1966.

I found myself thinking of Uncle Frank’s words recently when I tried to replicate the banshee-like falsetto shreiks that I used when I played the Fanatic on the TR show of the same name, circa 1970-’71. Lo, more than 35 years later, it’s well nigh impossible for me to sustain screaming in that register for more than a split-second (if that).

I came up with the idea for THE FANATIC shortly after I first encountered the word and looked it up in the dictionary. It seemed cool to have a character who was in a perpetual state of crazed excitement about…well, everything. I remember it being gloriously exhilarating playing the Fanatic; every episode was like primal scream therapy, with me ranting about God-knows-what for the entire duration of the show. (Arthur Janov, eat your heart out!)

What the heck was the show about? Well, as announcer Tom Soter summed up the ongoing plotline in one episode: “Tom Sinclair, the Fanatic, searches for the Lost City of the Fanatics, where he can find true peace and contentment.” His quest took him around the globe, to Hawaii, England, and other exotic locales. Along the way, he picked up a rag tag entourage of sorts, including faithful sidekick Tom (Soter); circus strongman Mighty Muscles; and someone named Dicky Greene (possibly a relation to BIG PIG’s Stinky Greene). Improbably, the whole gang traveled in a flying flower pot.

Many episodes included the “Humming Boys Orchestra,” whose mournful sounds imbued the series with rare moments of introspection and quietude. But, basically, FANATIC was really all about non-stop screaming, with stray bits of story shoved in wherever they might fit. As with our other over-the-top trash-fest, HUCK FINN, we seemed to be taking Mark Twain’s old quip—“anyone attempting to find a plot [herein] will be shot”-- to its logical extreme.

All of which makes me think that shows like THE FANATIC and HUCK FINN were really about playing in sandboxes, flinging sand and, sometimes, hardened bits of feces at a world bogged down in complexity, seriousness, and stupidity. I might not be able to scream like I used to, but lemme tell ya: I can still relish flinging sand, and worse.

Take that, ya bastids!


Listen to:

The Fanatic in Hawaii
Taped: 1970
While searching for the lost city of fanatics, the falsetto-pitched freak (Tom Sinclair) meets Christian Doherty who is vacationing in Hawaii. Dicky: Tom Soter. Christian Doherty: Himself.