I spent part of this morning reading the Wikipedia page on Bill Maher. To the left is a photo of him in his early twenties. I look back on such hair styles with a sense of “presentism,” that we should not judge past styles, even things like mullets, as uncool. They made sense at the time. But I must say, the look does not become Maher, who seems just a tad dorky.
Where am I going with this, you wonder? The photo above is said to be not one of Bill Maher, but rather a British rock star who faked his death in 1975, Pete Ham. He was a lead singer and “songwriter” for the group Badfinger. But I look at that photo and think “I see you, you son of a bitch, Maher. I see you. You cannot hide from me.
Take a look at this little montage:
I won’t dwell too much on the photo analysis, as I’ve done it before. Maher is one of the more obvious zombies. The bulbous nose, the boat-shaped smile, scream “same man!” But I’ve discovered over time that people do not see with their own eyes, as I have learned to do. They see with eyes of authority figures, and no authority figure is going to confirm my analysis.
I will suggest something that, given Maher’s age (currently 64), resonates but is highly speculative. I don’t know his real name or where he was born, so it is hard to comprehend his whereabouts as a youth. I am going on the assumption that he was born Pete Ham in Wales. But that could be a made-up background. Maher’s official bio says he was born in New York. The latter may appear more practical, as it fills out his high school and college career. Also, in his 2008 movie Religulous, his mother and sister make appearances. They could be actors, of course, as it is a movie. It could be that Maher, like “John Denver,” is a fictional character, a mere literary device with an intelligence-written backstory. I do not know. So I am going with Pete Ham, with Maher a creation of Intelligence. But both could be.
Here is what I speculate: As a youth, he was heavily influenced by the Beatles, and like most boys of that era, wanted to be a Beatle. His birth family gave him encouragement, and he studied guitar, and became a McCartney-like chord-banging pianist of minor talent. He was placed in the group Badfinger (prior to that, known as the Iveys), and given a musical career.
But there was a problem – as hard as he worked, he was not very good. His singing was painful to watch and hear, as he had learned voice projection but could not stand alone as a singer. He needed backup voices, and probably in the recording studio, other voices overdubbing. His performances on video do not measure up to recorded versions of the group’s songs. (The same is true of the Beatles, who quit performing in public and then later emerged as highly skilled instrumentalists and song writers – I am not buying that either. The British must have had their own equivalent of the Wrecking Crew. See below*)
Let’s pause here and review a performance by Badfinger of the song, supposedly written by Ham, called “No Matter What”. (Don’t be frightened if there is an unexpected Bernie Sanders apparition at the beginning. I got that when I first clicked on the video, and it scared me. You can skip him after a few seconds.)
It’s a catchy melody. If you look at it and are not seeing Bill Maher as the lead singer, then we have to part company. This was a contrived group that could not last long without a fade-away into footnotes and obscurity. Maher could not have lasted long in the role of Pete Ham.
[On second and third viewing of this video, I think the voices are real, But the guitars deadened. The guitar picks in the instrumentals do not begin to match the sound we hear. Watch again, pay attention to that part. Fake, fake, fake.]
This is true of most rock stars of that era, of course. There would have been no music scene in the US without a group known as “The Wrecking Crew*,” assembled by Phil Spector. Above is the group, left to right: Don Randi, Al DeLory, Carole Kay (mostly shrouded ), Bill Pitman, Tommy Tedesco, Irving Rubins, Roy Caton, Jay Migliori, Hal Blaine, Steve Douglas and Ray Pohlman. (Not pictured, Glen Campbell, who actually had a successful on-stage career.) If you do not recognize the names, you know their music. They were the real musicians behind the groups of that era, the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Sonny and Cher, the Mams and Papas, America, Neil Diamond, Fran Sinatra, the Monkees, Simon and Garfunkel … on and on. Drummer Bruce Gary of The Knack said “ “One of my biggest disappointments was finding out my twelve favorite drummers were Hal Blaine.” Mr. Blaine was the drummer behind over 140 top-ten hits and forty Billboard number ones during that era.
[PS]: It should not pass without notice that the bass line in Good Vibrations was the work of Carole Kay, 1934-2006, incidentally shrouded in the photo too. She was a great talent.]
Welcome to the music business. I have long maintained that the qualities necessary to be a rock star – to be good looking, to play instruments with skill, to be able to sing AND to perform on stage, and to write songs – are so diverse that the odds that one person (or ragtag group) could do all of that are infinitesimal. The most talented natural musician if this genre was, in my view, Glen Campbell, a good looking man who was a highly skilled guitarist and singer, and who never wrote one song. (Listen here to the opening guitar riff for the Beach Boys’ Fun Fun Fun, about twenty seconds. That’s all Glen Campbell.
I am not saying that groups like CSN&Y or America or Mamas and Papas lacked talent – they obviously went through training, worked hard, and came across as musicians even as they were primarily actors. But the real music of that era emanated from a sound studio in Los Angeles, and the people who produced it were, by design, kept secret. The lesser talented on-stage performers ones were “killed,” and I think of lack of real talent to be the primary reason. Those with real ability, say John Denver, were allowed to live, Denver at least until his fake death at age 53.
(This is just a theory, of course, and one that does not for one second begin to explain David Crosby. Not only is he not a talented musician, he’s not even, from what I read, a nice guy, and is certainly not good looking. He is an heir to the fortunes of the Van Renessleaer and Van Cortlandt families, and this might have something to do with why gay singer Melissa Etheridge chose him as her baby daddy back around 2000.)
Dave McGowan (fake death 11/22/2015) wrote about the musicians of that era and their Intelligence ties in his book Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, a limited hangout. The whole of the music scene was a contrived fantasy, a product of both Cointelpro and Operation Chaos. Musicians did not die (though McGowan wrote about the deaths as if real, only slightly questioning Jim Morrison’s). They were reassigned. (Concerning Jim Morrison, here’s a fun video with some facial work of the kind I once did using Photoshop overlays.)
I can only guess, but with some assurance, that in Great Britain there is another group that operated in secret and produced the hits credited to the British Invasion of the sixties, and groups like Badfinger and … the Beatles. We know about the Wrecking Crew, but whoever they were who gave us Sgt. Pepper and Revolver and Abbey Road and the White Album remain cloaked, as do those who wrote the songs. Think about it: The Beatles quit live performances in 1966, and then emerged as fabulous instrumentalists and song writers, all done behind closed doors. Not very likely.
So Pete Ham was killed off (1975), and Bill Maher emerged (1979). Ham is given an earlier birth date, and as always with these people who fake their deaths, we have no idea which date, Ham (4/27/47) or Maher (1/20/56) is real. Probably neither. (Ham’s screams spook marker.)
I am not going through the zombie exercise here for fun. It’s all old news at this blog. I am far more curious about “Bill Maher” and his career. In terms of comedy, I regard him as a lesser talent with good writers, much like the musician, Ham, of low musical talent but credited with great achievements. What troubles me is why Maher has had the career he has had. I’ll review it briefly.
Bill Maher’s Career
Ham died in April of 1975, and Maher appeared in 1979 at Catch a Rising Star in New York City. So he had four years of training. During this time he lost his British accent (if he was British), and probably studied comedy delivery. As with Badfinger, Maher is credited with original writing, though I doubt he does any of it.
By 1982 he was appearing on both Johnny Carson and Letterman. That is a meteoric rise, but when a man is juiced, as is Maher/Ham, the reviews are favorable, appearances high-profile, and a buzz is created.
Maher took on his real calling in a show called Politically Correct, which aired on Comedy Central and then ABC, 1993-2002. Maher played the part of a liberal. The show featured a monologue and then four guests appearing simultaneously, and engaging in rapid-fire exchanges. He had access to high-profile guests throughout the show’s run. The show, naturally, won many awards. Juiced celebrities always line up for those things.
In the wake of 911, Maher either deliberately or accidentally created a storm by claiming that the alleged hijackers, no matter their evil intent, were not cowards, as claimed by President George W. Bush. His advertisers pulled out, and the show was cancelled.
But you can’t kill people in this this amazing mediocrity of juiced performers. Just one year later Maher was given a show on HBO called Real Time, which runs to this day. I quit watching years ago, when I discovered Maher’s real identity, but I imagine as always that the show draws A-list guests and has superb writing. Maher is in my mind still a mediocre talent.
Imagined Conversation with Pete Ham, circa January, 1975:
Ham: Hi boss. You wanted to see me?
Music executive (Seated aside unknown man in business suit): Hi Pete. Thanks for coming by. Yeah, we have a few things to discuss.
Ham: Is it about the group? Things seem to be going OK. We need some more songs, though. Haven’t had a hit in a while.
ME: Yeah, it’s about that, Pete. We’re shutting Badfinger down.
Ham: What? We’re a little down, I know. Like I said, we need some more songs.
ME: Pete, this isn’t my call. The gentlemen sitting next to me brought the news.
Ham: [Suspiciously] OK. No names, I suppose.
Anonymous gentlemen: Probably best Pete. Don’t mean to go all spook on you, but we have to discuss your future. You need to leave England.
Ham: Where am I going?
AG: To the US, Pete. Also, you are going to have a new name. And a new line of work. We’ve watched you, musically, and we know you’ve worked very hard to hone your skills. But we think you’ve reached a ceiling, and that even if we give you a bunch of new songs, your career is basically over and on the downside.
Ham: Well, I have to say, I always felt uncomfortable with the long hair and being on stage and all, so I guess I should look on the bright side.
AG: This may come as a shock to you, Pete, so prepare yourself. We need for you to fake your death.
AG: You heard right. Don’t worry. We’ll see that you are stowed away and secure. In the meantime, we have our guys busy writing your suicide tract. Or maybe a small plane crash. Don’t know as of yet. Can’t tell you much more than we’ve scheduled it for April.
Ham: I’ve got a wife and daughter! Sort of. Well, you know what I mean. What about them?
AG: Don’t worry, Pete. We do this a lot. We’ll have new names and homes for them. We’ll probably hire someone to be your daughter for life. We’re seeing your new self as a confirmed bachelor.
Ham: [Looking down] So you know about me.
AG: Yeah, we know. Don’t worry, Pete. That’s really common in our line of work. We don’t judge you in that regard, but we think it better, considering what we have in mind for you, that you be seen with beautiful women on your arm, but in public just say that marriage isn’t your bag.
AG: Also, fake deaths are pretty common.
Ham: I’ve heard stories. Lennon in Toronto, Joplin a newscaster, Jim Morrison running a ranch in Oregon, Buddy Holly a record executive?
AG: Well, you have to keep quiet about this stuff, Pete, you know. We’re going to have you sign a contract called an “NDA,” or nondisclosure agreement, basically promising never to talk to anyone other than an authorized agent about your real identity. By the way, Elvis died, for real.
Ham: Really? I thought that one might be fake.
AG: Oh, it was. He just recently passed. Lived in Texas.
Ham: God rest his soul. So what will my future be?
AG: Well, Pete, there are a lot of openings in news. We could have you anchor at a local TV station for a few years, and then move you up to the big leagues. But we’ve talked about it, about your abilities, and we think you might make a good comedian.
Ham: What? I’m not funny. I don’t even tell jokes to friends.
AG: Pete, we make stars. Did you think Warhol could do art? Did you really think Joplin could sing? Power of suggestion. We run her out on stage and at the same time hire the audiences. Then we have the newspapers and magazines give her rave reviews, get her a record contract and a backup group, do some overdubbing, and presto! Superstar!
Ham: I never cared for her music. Or his art.
AG: No one did Pete. They just thought they should because everyone around them did.
Ham: Does that work in comedy?
AG: It’s a little harder, Pete. We’ll give you good writers. You do have to have some genuinely funny material. We’ll make it for you.
Ham: But what’s the point? Why comedy? Isn’t that kind of low down in entertainment? Does anyone really care about comedy?
AG: It’s like everything, Pete, under management. We can’t let comics out of control, otherwise they will start undermining our opinion management efforts. So we’ve been slowly moving comedy along a path towards controlled opposition politics along with some blue material. We’re working with some people up at Oxford and Cambridge, hoping to revolutionize the field. So yeah, we hire most comedians too, and the ones that don’t work for us don’t go far.
Ham: What does controlled opposition mean?
AG: We like to have the whole spectrum of opinion under control, so we hire the liberals, the conservatives, the protesters, the radio talk guys … constantly fighting among themselves. It’s how we want it.
Ham: Me – what am I going to be?
AG: Still under discussion, Pete, but the guys are seeing you as a liberal. Your routine will cover a lot of political ground. In the end, we want you prominently featured, either on a network or maybe a cable outlet. This is a big deal, Pete. You’re going to be a big deal.
Ham: In the US? Do I learn to speak like them?
AG: You’ll be an American, Pete. We’ll train you. We’ll give you a mom and pop and maybe a sibling too, a high school and college degree, all of that. It’s what we do.
Ham: Unreal, man. Just unreal. When do I start?
AG: We have to give it a few years so memories of Pete Ham won’t confuse people. After all, you do sort of resemble him.
Ham: Do I have plastic surgery?
AG: No. Not necessary. We gave you big hair so that when you cut it people won’t recognize you. Anyway, once you’re dead, they don’t look for you anymore. Worked for Joplin. A few others. Maybe one guy in the whole of the country will spot you, but no one will pay him any mind. They’ll think he’s crazy.
Ham: It’s that simple?
AG: Yeah, that simple. Anyway, we’ll be training you in New York for a few years, and then get you into the comedy clubs to work off the jitters and generate some reviews and create a buzz, then we’ll get you on Carson. You’ll be set.
Ham: About my death?
AG: We’re working on it now. We’ve planted rumors that Badfinger finances are bust and that the group is falling apart. They’ll probably leverage that into a suicide or something, maybe small plane crash. We’ll see.
Ham: Well, I have to say I am excited about a new life. No more music lessons!
**Speaking of the Beatles, Listen to this, a piece called “The End,” off their Abbey Road Album.
It is meant to be a swan song, a farewell, and is very well done. The problem I have with it is that it is said to include guitar solos by George, “Paul,” and John. There are indeed solos going on in the piece, each highly skilled. I do not think these boys, who prior to retiring from public performing were not highly skilled on their guitars (well, maybe George), could pull that off. I suspect a single guitarist, someone of Glen Campbell-like ability (the guitarist for the Wrecking Crew prior to having a public career) doing that work. The object would be to seal the legacy that the Beatles were highly talented musicians who haphazardly got together and formed a group. In reality they were front for a larger group of musicians and songwriters. That is why they retired from public performing.