Though he remained unknown to a general audience, Peter Ivers had a fascinatingly eclectic career, beginning in the coffeehouse folk and blues scene centered in Cambridge, MA's Harvard Square in the late 1960s before moving to Los Angeles' Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter enclave in the 1970s. His song "In Heaven, Everything Is Fine" soundtracked the defining scene of David Lynch's debut feature "Eraserhead" (1977), and in the early 1980s, he found an entirely new audience as the placidly hippie-ish host of the underground TV sensation "New Wave Theatre" (USA 1981-83), where his interactions with the Los Angeles punk and hardcore bands of the time verged on a form of performance art. Ivers was found bludgeoned to death under mysterious circumstances in his Los Angeles apartment on March 3, 1983; the murder remained officially unsolved.
Peter Ivers grew up in Brookline, MA and entered Harvard as a classical languages major. While there, Ivers fell in with the folk and blues crowd centered around the popular Harvard Square nightspot Club 47. Taking lessons from visiting Chicago bluesman Little Walter, Ivers became a harmonica virtuoso, but by the time he signed to Epic Records and released his debut album Knight of the Blue Communion (1969), he'd left Chicago blues behind; a cerebral mix of avant-garde jazz and progressive rock with lyrics by Harvard pal Tim Mayer (better known as an innovative theater director) and vocals by Sri Lankan émigré Yolande Bavan, the album had more in common with British contemporaries like Soft Machine. Epic recorded a follow-up album, Take It Out On Me, in 1971, but shelved the tapes; the album was eventually released in 2009.
Moving to Los Angeles in the early 1970s with his girlfriend Lucy Fisher and best friend Douglas Kenney (a Harvard pal who had co-founded the hugely popular humor magazine National Lampoon), Ivers continued his music career, signing to Warner Brothers Records and releasing two more albums, Terminal Love (1974) and Peter Ivers (1976). However, Ivers' distinctively high-pitched singing voice and decidedly outré performing style -- at his biggest-ever gig, opening for newly-minted pop superstars Fleetwood Mac at L.A.'s Universal Amphitheatre in August, 1976, he played his entire set clad only in a diaper -- were entirely out of step with the pop music zeitgeist of the moment, and Warner Brothers dropped him after two albums.
As Fisher pursued her career as a film studio executive and Kenney moved into film work with hits like "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978) and "Caddyshack" (1980), Ivers began working in film himself and developed close friendships with breaking comedy stars like Harold Ramis and John Belushi. In 1976, his new friend David Lynch asked Ivers to write a song for his long-in-development debut feature, "Eraserhead" (1977), Ivers responded with the sublimely creepy "In Heaven, Everything Is Fine," which actress Laurel Near, as The Lady In The Radiator, performed, lip-synching to Ivers' falsetto vocal. The song became Ivers' best-known creation and a key element to the cult that sprang up around Lynch's film: both Devo and the Pixies regularly performed Ivers' song live, and 1980s college rock cult favorites Game Theory referenced the song in the video for their 1987 single "The Real Sheila."
Ivers continued to work occasionally in film into the 1980s, composing the score for Ron Howard's directorial debut "Grand Theft Auto" (1977) and writing the faux-spiritual "There Is Only One River" that perky airline stewardess Randy (Lorna Patterson) sings in a memorable scene in the zany comedy "Airplane!" (1980). But at the dawn of the new decade, Ivers found himself entering an alien new territory as the host of a live music series documenting the Los Angeles punk and new wave scene. Produced and directed by a mysterious figure named David Jove, "New Wave Theatre" premiered in 1980 in the late night slot on a local L.A. TV station, KSCI. Featuring bands like Fear, The Dead Kennedys and 45 Grave performing live before an audience of local scenesters, the series buzzed with a strange energy, the incipient violence of the music and audience intercut with unexplained bits of stock footage including star fields and nuclear explosions. Ivers, a physically small man who was nonetheless a yoga practitioner and martial arts black belt, affected a delicate, spacy persona for his hosting duties, spouting stream-of-consciousness philosophical rants written by Jove and asking bands non sequitur questions like "What's the meaning of life?" between songs.
As "New Wave Theatre" went national as part of the USA Network's "Night Flight" (1981-88) block of quirky late-night programming, Ivers was poised for an unexpected success after a career filled with failure. But Ivers found Jove, who was prone to fits of rage and was known to carry a gun, difficult to work with, and had begun working on several other projects, including an ambitious stage show called "Vitamin Pink Fantasy Revue," a science fiction film script, and a new collaboration writing pop songs for the likes of Diana Ross and The Pointer Sisters with fellow singer-songwriter Franne Golde. Ivers told Jove he was leaving "New Wave Theatre" in early 1983. On March 3, 1983, in the loft apartment in a crime-ridden section of Los Angeles' Japantown neighborhood that he had moved to following the end of his relationship with Fisher, Ivers' body was found bludgeoned to death. His murderer was never officially found: according to the Ivers biography In Heaven, Everything Is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and the Lost History of New Wave Theatre by Josh Frank and Charlie Buckholtz, the crime scene was compromised by several of Ivers' friends and neighbors before the police could do an adequate search for evidence.