|Did Criswell accidentally record the greatest album of all time?|
In 1970, Criswell released an album that I have probably listened to as much as—or even more than—Abbey Road, Dark Side of the Moon, or Exile on Main St. No, I am not kidding. It's called The Legendary Criswell Predicts! Your Incredible Future, and I consider it one of the greatest albums ever made. I wish he'd recorded ten more just like it, but this was the famously inaccurate prognosticator's only full-length LP. (It wasn't his only trip to a recording studio, though.)
Jeron Criswell King (1907-1982) is largely remembered today for his appearances in three Ed Wood movies: Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957), Night of the Ghouls (1959), and Steve Apostolof's Orgy of the Dead (1965). But, in his heyday, Criswell was a multimedia celebrity whose fame easily eclipsed that of Edward D. Wood, Jr. The great seer published numerous books (some containing his predictions, others intended for those trying to break into showbiz), hosted his own Los Angeles TV show, and wrote a syndicated newspaper column that ran for decades. He was a favorite of two consecutive Tonight Show hosts, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. And, yes, he recorded this one remarkable spoken-word LP.
The Legendary Criswell Predicts! Your Incredible Future (catalog number H-156) was a product of a tiny Hollywood-based label called Horoscope Records. Given that extremely on-the-nose name, I thought this was a one-time-only vanity label that existed solely to release this LP. Nope! Horoscope appears to have been a legitimate record label for several years in the late 1960s and early '70s, releasing mainly spoken word albums, including Paul Leon Masters' The Voice of Meditation and Bill Novell's Transcendental Meditations For Happiness, Peace Of Mind, Prosperity and Riches. Horoscope also released a sentimental Vietnam War ballad entitled "I Was Called" by Jimmy Chapel, produced by Mars Bonfire (who wrote "Born to be Wild" for Steppenwolf) and Morgan Cavett. The independent label is long gone, naturally, having ceased operations sometime in the mid-1970s. Its headquarters once stood at 1610 N. Argyle, which today is the Hollywood Le Bon Hotel.
|The former location of Horoscope Records in Hollywood.|
But what is the album itself actually like and why do I love it so dearly? Those of you who have read Criswell's books, Your Next Ten Years (1969) and Criswell Predicts from Now to the Year 2000! (1968), will know exactly what to expect from this LP. For 42 glorious minutes, the Indiana-born futurist—and that's really what Criswell is, a futurist, more so than a psychic or fortune teller—monologues in that beautifully melodious voice of his about what we can expect in the decades to come.
To say the least, it's a mixed bag. At times, Cris points to a whiz bang Jetsons-like future with incredible technological advancements: floor-to-ceiling TVs, robot maids, education pills, anti-gravity pills, and a "one-shot serum" for all known diseases. At other times, his pronouncements are extremely grim, including a 40-day ice age when the entire earth will be covered in snow and ice and the cessation of life as we know it on August 18, 1999. It's unclear from this album whether we should be looking forward to the future or dreading it.
Obviously, this LP is going to appeal most strongly to Ed Wood fans, and they will not be disappointed by what they hear. Criswell begins Side 1 with a speech very similar to the one that he recites at the beginning of Plan 9 from Outer Space:
Ah, greetings, my friend! We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives, whether we want to or not. And remember, my friend, these future events will affect you! The future is in your hands! So let us remember the past, honor the present, and be amused at the future!
Just for the sake of comparison, here is the opening spiel from Plan 9:
Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.
It has long been a pet theory of mine that Ed Wood may have ghostwritten for Criswell on occasion or at the very least served as a consultant or sounding board for the prognosticator. Some of the passages on this album are very Wood-ian in tone and cadence, as when Criswell refers to "the endless, endless ribbon of time" or repeatedly calls doctors "miracle men of medicine." It's possible that Ed Wood and Criswell simply shared a lot of the same interests: cemeteries, funerals, flying saucers, prostitution, etc. All these topics come up on the album. When Criswell predicts that flying saucers will land on the White House lawn on May 6, 1991, it's difficult not to think of it as a deleted scene from Plan 9.
Most interestingly for Ed Wood fans, Criswell makes this apocalyptic pronouncement near the beginning of the album:
I predict that the coming years will be known as the three R's: riot, rape, and revelry. I predict this insatiable desire for destruction will be fed by the increased use of drugs found in a simple headache tablet. Huge areas of cities will become smoldering ruins! Piles upon piles of human bodies will be heaped in our thoroughfares as a warning by these writhing radicals! Some gutters will flow with blood, as rain after a spring shower. Law enforcement will break down, and we will be forced to go into a garrison state and other military rule! The riots, the rapes, and the revelry will merely be replaced by crisis, chaos, and carnage!
According to the bibliography in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), Ed Wood wrote an entire book called Riot, Rape & Revelry. This seems too astonishing to be a mere coincidence.
|An excerpt from the bibliography in Nightmare of Ecstasy.|
Make no mistake, however: this is a Criswell album through and through. Listening to The Legendary Criswell Predicts! Your Incredible Future is like spending 42 minutes with the man himself. It's an incredibly intimate recording. The famed predictor often pauses, stumbles over words, loses his train of thought, and audibly shuffles the pages of his script. These "mistakes" greatly enhance the listening experience, which may be why I've listened to this LP so many times.
Criswell's obsessions and quirks are on full display throughout this album as well. He certainly thought more about the topics of leprosy ("the scar on the festering face of the future") and the Panama Canal than the average person. Just as he does in Plan 9, he works in a quick plug for vitamins on this album. Perhaps the most interesting motif on the album is nudism. He mentions the topic no fewer than five times, being careful to mention that man is made in the image of God and that public nudity will one day be commonplace. From what I understand, Criswell's wife, Halo Meadows, was a devoted nudist. Perhaps she and Cris went nude at home, though I hope they managed to cover themselves up when they had company.
It would be difficult for me to pinpoint my favorite part of this album, since there are so many. I will point out the aforementioned "leprosy" segment, however, as a particular highlight. For one thing, the way Criswell pronounces the name of this dreaded ailment, it sounds like "le pussy" to me. I'm also charmed by Cris' suggestion that squeamish listeners should cover their eyes during this gruesome part of the record. What good that will do, I don't know. Another noteworthy portion of the album occurs when Criswell makes a series of predictions inspired by Lewis Carroll's 1871 poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter." Remember that part about "shoes and ships and sealing wax"? Well, Criswell has predictions for each of those subjects, plus cabbages, kings, pigs with wings, and more.
Perhaps the sweetest and most vulnerable moment on the album comes at the very end.
And in closing, I would like to say: oh, my friend, when all else is lost, remember the wonderful future still remains. Now when you see me on the street, come up and speak to me. For that is the only way that you and I can ever win our war against our loneliness. I'll be lonely without you. And may all your shattered dreams be mended by morning and may success overtake you overnight. Goodnight, my dearest friend, and may God bless you.
For my money, that's at least as profound as: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."