Varese Sarabande will be releasing the 4th installment in the “Papa John Presents” series: “Andy Warhol Presents Man On The Moon: The John Phillips Space Musical.” These are John’s songs for the musical performed by him on vocals and acoustic guitar plus regular cast recordings, songs appearing on Genevieve Waite’s solo album and performance recordings made by Andy Warhol on cassette. Despite the premise of the show’s book, one can discern Phillips writing his autobiography in song, from his childhood, ascent thru the music business to “the stars” and then catastrophic crash. Here’s a second excerpt from the liner notes. Also attaching cast party photos (various Stones, ex wives and their paramours, etc — you WON’T want to miss these!)
For several months, the Italianate mansion at 414 St. Pierre Road in Bel Air that John and Genevieve were renting became a hive of Space-related activity. Among their collaborators was British costumier Marsia Trinder, who had designed clothes for Elvis Presley and Raquel Welch. “It was a very creative period for about two or three months,” says Trinder, who moved into another wing of the mansion with her then boyfriend to work on costumes for the production. “John was the key person organizing it all and coming up with ideas. But everybody was feeding into it. John felt that with all the secrets in the world, there wouldn’t be wars if people didn’t have secrets. And then they kind of figured out the plot.”
The initial story for Space gradually took shape: When a humanoid bomb left on the moon by the Apollo space mission threatens to blow itself up and destroy the universe, an astronaut on Earth is tasked with leading a delegation of interplanetary dignitaries to travel there and defuse it. Humanity is forced to curb its destructive impulses for the universal good.
The role of the astronaut was originally written for Elvis, whom John and Genevieve had befriended in 1971, while living in Palm Springs shortly after the birth of their son Tamerlane. “John was trying to sell him songs,” says Waite. “They would sit around and John would sing him different songs.” At one point, Ricky Nelson was also approached for the part.
The show was also intended as a vehicle to help launch a musical career for Genevieve; the only problem being that she was not a trained singer. John set about preparing her for the role of her character, Angel, through some informal voice coaching, but he also tweaked the script to take into account Genevieve’s idiosyncratic vocal style. Angel hailed from Canis Minor, a star with a rotational axis that was off-kilter. All the inhabitants sang off-key and had to tap dance in order to maintain their balance. John’s description of Angel fit Genevieve to a tee. She was “wild-looking, child-like, out-of-step and out-of tune – and capable of immaculate conception in space, merely by falling in love.”
Trinder designed elaborate costumes for the principals. Prototypes were designed at Disney. For the astroÂnaut, she designed a flight suit that could be inflated with helium during the show. For Pluto, the space pimp, a brightly-colored sharkskin suit, diamond-encrusted teeth and black gloves with mirrored palms that reflected beams of light like a disco ball. The original supporting cast also included a troupe of young, black synchroÂnised street dancers called the Lockers, regular guests on Soul Train, whose fluid, machine-like “locking” movements prefigured 80’s “body-popping.” The troupe convened every week in the underground ballroom at John’s mansion for rehearsals. There was also to be a weightless ballet performed on wires above the stage. “This was way before Michael Jackson,” says Trinder. “The whole thing would have been very hip.”
Unfortunately it was not to be. Michael Butler pulled out just as the final cast was to be approved. “Michael [Bennett] came to me one day and said, ‘I can’t work with John Phillips anymore’ and quit,'” says Butler. “And that, frankly, knocked me out as well.”
Phillips maintained that Bennett wanted to jazz up the project for Broadway with a slicker staging. He had envisioned a funkier production driven by the energy of rock-n-roll. The problem, Butler says, was nothing to do with the creative aspects of the show, but rather John’s temperament. Cocaine was now an accepted part of his creative process. Bowls of it were laid out on the table during production meetings for anyone to dip into, according to John’s autobiography, Papa John. But the drugs were also starting to cloud his judgment.