Becoming Peter Ivers: A new collection from the “New Wave Theatre” host arrives later this year

By on September 17, 2019

We’ve just learned that there will be a new compilation — Becoming Peter Ivers, featuring “unsung favorites, demos, rehearsals, outtakes” — available later this year, on November 8, 2019, which promises to tell the story of underground music legend Peter Ivers “through music and magic.”

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“Come Take Your Chances. Come Fall in Love.” is part of the Brooklyn-based label RVNG Int’l’s pre-release message about the compilation – available in LP/CD/Digital formats — which collects twenty-five songs “transferred from a survey of over 500 reels and cassettes and an incredible amount of unseen photos and ephemera.”

The Double LP and CD editions will include liner notes from Sam Lefebvre and Steven Martin, and will likely include tracks that Night Flight contributor Kevin Laffey worked as a production assistant at Warner Bros. Records (he’d previously helped work on a posthumously-released compilation, Nirvana Peter).

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Ivers is well-known to Night Flight fans as the host of “New Wave Theatre,” but he was also a virtuosic songwriter and musician whose antics bridged not just Sixties counterculture and New Wave music but also film, theater, and music television.

His tragic death in 1983 brought to a close a career that still showed so much promise and although his life story has been the subject of at least one excellent book — Josh Frank’s In Heaven Everything Is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and The Lost History of New Wave Theatre — we have not yet seen a project that collects so much of his previously-unreleased archival recordings.

We’ve told you previously about some of Peter Ivers’ musical productions, including his Vitamin Pink Revue, but these recordings — written and recording by Ivers in L.A. in the mid-to-late Seventies — will be an eye and ear-opening experience for those who only know him as the charming host of a TV show that featured mostly-L.A.-based punk & new wave acts in the early ’80s.

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Here’s an in-depth excerpt from RVNG’s page for this upcoming release about Becoming Peter Ivers, which took five years to complete:

“Demos are often better than records,” Ivers wrote. “More energy, more soul, more guts.”

The statement anticipates the appearance of Becoming Peter Ivers, which was assembled from a trove of demo cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes that Ivers recorded variously at his home in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, and Hollywood studios for a pair of major label albums in 1974 and 1976.

While the two commercially released albums feature the resources of session musicians and state-of-the-art studio detail, Becoming Peter Ivers highlights the private moments of Ivers’ musical energy, frequently pared down to piano, drum machine, harmonica, and Peter’s ageless voice.

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Though technically not Ivers’ debut album (in 1969 Epic Records released Knight Of The Blue Communion, Peter’s psychedelic jazz odyssey of sorts), Terminal Love was the A&R brainchild of music legend Van Dyke Parks.

Already a masterful harmonica player (respectively mentored by blues legend Little Walter and jazz bassist Buell Neidlinger while he was a student at Harvard in the late 60s), Ivers wove his harp melodies through the sensuously colored but unconventionally arranged pop compositions of Terminal Love and its self-titled follow up, which, like the New York Dolls at the same time, explored the libidinous, ironic, and artful possibilities of the rock template.

A studious artist, Ivers recorded hundreds of writing and rehearsal sessions onto reel-to-reel and cassette tapes, but notes were either scarcely kept or have since been lost.

RVNG Intl. collaborated with Ivers’ friend and supporter Steven Martin under guidance from his longtime girlfriend Lucy Fisher, to tell an intimate story of Peter’s creative journey through this untold music.

Becoming Peter Ivers includes tracks that recurred in Ivers’ ouvre over the years; “Alpha Centauri,” “Eighteen And Dreaming,” “Miraculous Weekend.”

And, of course, “In Heaven,” the song co-written with David Lynch and commissioned by the filmmaker to be featured in a now-iconic scene of Eraserhead.

An accomplished Yogi by the late ’70s, Ivers was as spiritual as he was playful. Accentuated by his cherubic face and compact height, Ivers’ vitality and curiosity became a part of his poetic sensibility, a quality that also characterizes his singing voice.

Fisher remembers Ivers calling his days holed up in the studio as “snowy days,” as if he had been cut from school and let free to roam on his own.

“No one knows what Peter Ivers does on a snowy day,” he would say.

In 1980, Ivers became involved with the Los Angeles-area public access show “New Wave Theatre,” serving as its host and paternal misfit. Ivers would introduce a new generation of groups like Fear, Dead Kennedys, and Suburban Lawns while playing a kind-of “straight” man, deliberately baiting the punks with square questions and frocked fashion. His signature question to guests was delivered deadpan: “What is the meaning of life?”

Ivers died, tragically, the victim of a violent homicide in 1983 that remains unsolved. A shock to his community, his death all but fazed the LAPD, who treated the investigation with less than minimum care.

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A portion of the proceeds of the sale of Becoming Peter Ivers — on behalf of the estate of Peter Ivers — will benefit Homeboy Industries, a rehabilitation organization run by Father Greg Boyle to assist previously-incarcerated former gang members with counseling, legal services, and work training programs.

RVNG Intl. is a Brooklyn-based music institution that operates on few but heavily fortified principals, dealing with forward-reaching artists sometimes categorized as electronic, avant, free, fried, fucked, etc.

Check their Facebook page for more details.

Becoming Peter Ivers will be available on November 8, 2019.

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.