By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
Pamela promoted the album by driving around Fresno in a pink Cadillac emblazoned with bumper stickers that read: "Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela." She claimed the Cadillac could fly.
These days, an original copy of Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela is a collector's item, selling for as much as $1,000.
The Arf! Arf! reissue has been far less profitable. "We've sold maybe 1,500, 2,000 copies," estimates Lindgren. "It's a pretty limited market. When one sells, it's a major victory." Chusid suspects that more have been downloaded through online file-sharing.
Most of the CDs have gone to fans of what Chusid has dubbed "outsider music," though some listeners may consider the term "music" a misnomer. Outsider songs are usually produced by people of limited ability or people such as Pamela who deliberately choose to ignore the conventions of popular music. Some practitioners are homeless or mentally ill.
Yet, as Chusid writes in Songs in the Key of Z, the definitive work on the subject, "despite dodgy rhythms and a lack of conventional tunefulness, these often self-taught artists radiate an abundance of earnestness and passion. Most importantly, they betray an absence of pretense. And they're worth listening to, often outmatching all contenders for inventiveness and originality."
The genre is perhaps epitomized by the Shaggs, a trio of profoundly untalented sisters from Fremont, New Hampshire, whose single album Philosophy of the World has inspired a cult considerably larger than that which surrounds Into Outer Space.
Some fans of Into Outer Space consider it a brilliant children's album, despite songs like "You and Your Big Ideas" in which Pamela laments that her boyfriend gambled away all their money in Vegas.
"Lucia was just all about fun and playfulness," says Lindgren. "It's like going back to childhood. I sing 'Walking on the Moon' all the time. I live on a farm. It really resonates here."
In her old age Pamela made plans to build an amusement park in Southern California that would feature a ride that simulated her 1969 trip to the moon. She lived quietly in Fresno with her third husband, Billy Angelo, a former prizefighter whom she married in 1960. She attended church and bingo games and amassed enormous collections of coins, stamps and antique keys. She continued to perform into her early 90s at retirement communities and piano bars.
"I'm going to live forever," she assured Chusid in 1991.
She sang her moon songs as lullabies to her grandchildren and told them stories about her adventures. "Did I believe them?" asks her grandson Kenny Irwin, now 35. "Well, come on, I was a kid at the time. I thought she was pretty amazing." Pamela, he recalls, loved to spoil her grandchildren, taking them on outings to ice cream parlors and arcades and buying them presents like a cigarette-smoking robot.
Pamela moved to Los Angeles after her stroke and took up residence in a tiny bungalow at the foot of the office building that housed the LA Rams' headquarters. She kept a Christmas tree up year-round. But both Chusid and Lindgren, who visited her there, remember that the main feature of the house was the grand piano in the center of the living room.
"She was like an elf or an imp," Lindgren recalls. "She had a magical quality. I played the piano. She picked out a few notes. When she was playing the piano, she really came alive."
"Music was her life," says her son Ken Irwin. "You'd ask her to play a song written in the 1800s. She didn't remember until I played a few bars and then she could play the whole thing. I could never stump her." According to Ripley's Believe It or Not!, Pamela memorized 10,000 songs.
In "Flip Flop Fly!" Pamela appears as something of a showbiz huckster. In one speech, she declaims, "[Madonna's] the Lucia Pamela of her day. She may not be the best actress, but she believes in herself, and when you do that, everything's possible. You just gotta believe! That's what it means to be an American!"
To Ken Irwin, though, she was, more than anything, a free spirit.
"She had confidence," he says. "That's something women lacked in that generation. When she wanted to go onstage, my grandmother's argument was, 'Women don't do that. Men will be ogling you. They'll think you're not a nice woman.' Lucia said, 'They can think what they want. I'm going to play music and enjoy it.'"