It wasn’t just success that eluded Brute Force; notoriety did too. If he had managed to get the necessary publicity after Apple Records championed his mild piano rock song “The King of Fuh”, he might have been as successful as his peers predicted. Instead, radio stations and distributors refused to handle his song about a furry King, with its bizarre, controversial chorus: “All Hail the Fuh King.”
Unfortunately, as the years passed without success and Stephen Friedland descended through fresh hells of addiction, a marriage breakdown, and an ill-advised job in plastics it became clear that he had become a salutary warning about the dangers of cultivating an overly obscure sense of humor. His inspiration had been Danish pianist and comedian Victor Borge, who was famous for his absurd, self deprecating stage act. Friedland claimed that his humor was like Borge’s – “heavy funny”: humor with deeper significance. But Borge was not an antsy comic, and despite his avowed influence, Friedland did not reveal exactly what the significance of his own songs was either.
Friedland had been an accomplished musician. Ironically, anticipating his own lost misunderstood years, he wrote The Chiffons’ song “Nobody Knows What’s Going on in My Mind but Me” (his own version is worth hearing too). He also played with The Tokens, who had scored the hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” In 2010, he and his fans felt vindicated when his album, I, Brute Force, Confections of Love was re-released. As in a gentle comedy with a happy ending, he came out of cranky retirement and began playing at festivals like SXSW with a hip daughter whose friends had reminded her of her Dad’s pop cultural significance. While the deeper significance of Friendland’s humor is still buried (on songs like “Tapeworm of Love” for instance), his notorious hit-that-never-was proves that although it is somewhat uncomfortable to dwell on our baby-boomer Dads’ knowledge of such things before our time, stuff like death, taxes, and the “Fuh King” are our birthright and show no signs of going away.