Alter Ego & Friends Obsessional Schizophrenia LP (C. Schneider, 1972)
One of the oddest and most obscure records I own is this one by Alter Ego & Friends. I found it sealed in San Francisco for a couple dollars. I picked it up because it looked unusual and I thought I might be in for some homemade psych. What I got was even weirder.
Alter Ego, or Charles Schneider, plays piano and sings. The friends credited on the record are most likely himself. His piano playing is a jaunty mix of barrel house, boogie, and 1920s Tin Pan Alley. The record would be pretty intolerable if something was not slightly ajar. From his originals to his cover of the Rolling Stones' What a Shame to his adaptation of Thelonious Monk's Abide By Me, Schneider plays with such enthusiasm one would think that he's been hitting the nitrus oxide, only to dive into a defeated melancholy. You'd think that he is crazy. The kicker is: It is very possible that Schneider was insane.
Obsessional Schizophrenia was recorded at the Wayne County General Hospital in Eloise, Michigan, commonly referred to as Eloise. In the mid 1800s, Eloise was created to attend to the poor. Soon it was also caring for the insane, though no distinction was made between the poverty stricken and the mental patient. As Michigan's other asylums became overpopulated, more patients were shifted to Eloise. In 1868, Eloise's first asylum buildings was built thus creating the Wayne County House & Insane Asylum. More buildings would follow. As the 1900s kicked in, Eloise's care for the crazy would take over the attending to the poor. Later it would be called the Wayne County Psychiatric Institute. Eloise also had a burial ground. On the record's jacket, Schneider poses with some of the cemetery's tombstones and monuments.
In Schneider's thank you list on the back of the jacket he includes the "staff and patients at Mercywood and NPI 6, my doctor, and about 100 other people I have known." Mercywood was Ann Arbor's mental hospital, now closed down and rumored to be haunted. I am pretty sure that NPI 6 refers to the Neuropsychiatric Inventory, a test used to "assess neuropsychiatric symptoms in dementia patients." And that is all the information I have obtained about Charles Schneider.
Following his thank you list, Schneider ask, "Please endure the imperfections, for I am an amateur."
Addendum: I've listened to this record quite a few times since I posted this and I am getting sucked in with every listen. It is not the "ohhh this guy is crazy" thing that seems to infect the cynical and ironically hip. No, the attraction is that Schneider seems to be trying to work something out here. It is not very obvious and as you can here Alter Ego is not over the top in a Wesley Willis or even Roky Erickson kinda way. Hell, if that is what I looked for in records I might as well put Napoleon XIV on infinite repeat. Schneider is digging at something and trying to find some solid ground. That is what makes this interesting...well, that and he is using 1920's Tin Pan Alley novelty songs and the Rolling Stones as a therapeutic tool. Hey, what ever gets you there.
Do you know what ever happened to CHARLES SCHNEIDER?
He was great!