5.08.2005

Obsessional Schizophrenia



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.

Comments:
dude this is pure gonzo shit!!! god bless you for posting this.
 
I would love to get a cd-R or mp3 copy of this album. My friends and I used to "möng" the tunnels every weekend for years, circa 1989-1994 or so. We've got boxes of pics and video footage and all kindsa artifacts and stuff. That place was crazy cool.
 
What a find. Gotta hear the whole thing...
 
You are correct that Mercywood was a psychiatric hospital in Ann Arbor. I used to work there. I'm a psychologist. I worked there from 1979-1984. They tore the place down in the 1990's. NPI refers to Neuropsychiatric Institute, a psych unit at the University of Michigan. Mercywood wasn't a bad place. It had gardens, a fountain, a tennis court, a full size basketball court, a one lane bowling alley! And being a Catholic Hospital originally, it had a very ornate chapel. As for it being haunted, well like any hospital, people did die there. Some from physical illness, some from suicide. That happens in hospitals. Never saw a ghost though.
Bill Dyer
 
Bill Dyer:
Please contact me about Mercywood Hospital. I can be reached at eranbo3@yahoo.com
 
Hey, my father would always talk about this album when I was growing up as one of his formative records (he was kidding, I think), unfortunately he left every copy he owned when he moved back east. Do you know where I can find a rip or a copy of this?

Cheers!
 
my e-mail is grzond@gmail.com
 
I am not THE Charles Schneider but another one! I found this album years ago and wrote a horror story about finding it...and tracing the musician down since we share the name...it ends in a doppelganger meltdown of sorts. i LOVE this album and think it is soooo cool you found it and posted this....I am an actor in Los Angels (was in Ghost World etc..)

Do you know what ever happened to CHARLES SCHNEIDER?

He was great!
 
I have a mint copy of this, and I am trying to go the legal route to get this LP reissued on CD properly. Anyone have any info, send it to me at: coppertreerecords@yahoo.com

Thanks!
 
I was a patient in Mercywood on and off from 1975-1978. The place did have lots of fun stuff to do. I just didn't like being tied down to the bed and injected with tranqulizers all the time. I was very rebellious and always threatened to have the social worker get me out. My doctor always told me he'd keep me until I was 18 so I always ripped up the petition.
 
I was 17 and a patient on the 3rd floor for adolecents in 84' from Sept. into Dec. It is to this day an absolutely unforgetable experience, I remember many of the other teens by name. I kept in contact with my main therapist Cynthia for several years after,even did volunteer work in sessions for her. But I think if I were to have to stay even 1 night there now that i would be scared shitless,but the demons I took in there with me kept me occupied(Detox). What was quite strange though on fridays we would have an open rec. night in the basement with the rest of the patients in the building including the slightly insane from other floors. This is a year that i'll never forget Halloween or Thanksgiving.I would like to just say this to finish, the teen floor seemed to be nothing more than a place for runaways just needing a little help. This asylum system was merely a time out from society for the teens, but to go back home to situations that were the same was a high possibility for failure depending on the environment.
 
I was a patient at Mercywood in 1992, i was 15. I really had a blast, all the kids were just "mostly" normal kids that were a bit rebellious. I remember playing lot's of ping pong, and trying to hook up with the girls, we had separate wings in the unit but we were meshed together through out the day. Besides being unnecessary tied to the bed and injected with tranquilizers for having a normal teenage outbursts and the Thorazine shuffle, It wasn't all that bad. sounds crazy i know, but hey.....I was in a Nut house. Pepper162@yahoo.com
 
I too was there as a kid and things I remember about it and the other kids there were wew mostly weree just rebel kids whos parents couldnt deal with or handle us. As a kid the place was very scary...I saw every "Hollywood" type scene you could imagine...I saw people who wer on the way to get Shock treatments,people including myslef the 1st few nights strapped to beds, people so doped up on meds , was really very sad. Lots of "Adults" who were there to dry out from various things, some very sick people and some who just shouldnt of been there. The nuns were nice, but kinda weird at the same time. If any place would of been haunted that was one of them!
 
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