TRYING TO GET AWAY FROM GARY WILSON

In which a Blurt reporter is pursued by the eccentric musician. You think you really know him, but you don’t.

 

BY MARY LEARY

 

“In 1977, a 24-year-old musician from Endicott, NY
released a wonderful, odd album, combining elements of pop, proto new wave,
jazz, avant-garde composition and electronic music, alternately sweet and angst
ridden, about the women in his life and his fantasies…” –  The New York
Times

 

Peering out from under the covers, I flinch at the sun glinting off the
plant by the window. For the first time in over a week, it’s a bright
morning – no more rain. Rain is good – I don’t want to get out of bed,
where I’ve been tossing and turning for hours. Resentments and prayers
of entreaty take turns circling my brain. An occasional car horn or
piercing voice alerts me to how busy the world is, outside. Other
writers are turning in stories about musicians – about performance
artists, even — on the way to buying a cup of coffee. Other writers are
turning their stories in on time. I’m way behind schedule with this
one. And all this tossing and turning keeps ending with the same
conclusion: There’s no way to relate the story of Gary Wilson without
getting… well… personal.

 

I went to another of Gary’s shows a few weeks
ago and it was even more amazing than the last: The weirdest, funniest, porn-flick-soundtrack-meets-the-Mothers-of-Invention-in-a-lounge-with-baby-powder-all-over-the-floor-thing
I’ve ever seen. But there’s a limit, for God’s sake. ‘Cause afterwards, Gary’s tanked-up buddies
coerced me into the van with him and it was really, really scary – just these dark
eyes peering out from the depths of all this duct tape and toilet paper. Even
though I didn’t have a tape recorder he kept staring at me, saying all this
stuff about John Cage and New York and stories that ran about him in big papers,
God-knows-when. I just wanted to get out of the van. And anyone who’s into
truly alternative performers probably knows Gary’s story. For those who don’t, here’s a
synopsis:

 

***

Born in Endicott,
New York, Wilson had pet ducks that he took for walks.
He could play guitar, bass, piano, drums and cello by the time he was seven and
liked Dion and Bobby Rydell, who he emulated by getting his mom to curl the
front of his hair before he’d go to elementary school. At the age of nine he
was playing standup bass in the school band. He wrote his first song the next
year and started making recordings when he was 12. When he was in the eighth
grade he played keyboards for a band called Lourde Fuzz that recorded a single
and opened for The 1910 Fruitgum Co., and after the singer/songwriter for
Fruitgum bailed, Gary
was brought in as a replacement, but the other members decided he was too
strange.

 

In ’69 Gary
got into sound innovator John Cage. Upon contacting Cage, the 14-year-old was invited
over for several days of music discussion. Also big on avant-garde composer
David Tudor, Gary
pursued “experimental” ideas. After high school he made the move to Manhattan
but retreated within a few weeks to his family in Endicott, where he “fell right
into” playing lounge music, something Gary’s father had also done along with a
day job at IBM.

 

Gary started recording You
Think You Really Know Me
at Bearsville in ’76 but ended up finishing the
album in his parents’ basement. With intermittent backing by The Blind Dates,
it included “6.4 = Make Out,”  “Groovy
Girls Make Love at the Beach,” and “I Want To Lose Control.” Gary pressed and
distributed 600 copies between ’77-’79, in the process making one of the
world’s first true indie, alternative releases. (Cry Baby Records pressed
another 1,000 a few years later.)

 

People were sickened and/or outraged by Gary’s performances,
which included duct tape, bed sheets, fake blood, and milk. Some venues cut the
band’s juice to try and get it to stop. YTYRKM got some radio play, which encouraged Gary to
move to California
in ’78, hoping for a record deal. Although he wrote and recorded new work and The
Residents sent fan mail, after a poorly-received tour in ’81 Gary retired, essentially disappearing for
nearly two decades.  

 

Somehow, though, Beck had
discovered and developed a love for Wilson,
mentioning him in concert, at awards ceremonies, and on Odelay; he cited his idol by name on “Where It’s At.” And
it came out that Gary
had influenced the direction of Sub Pop. Motel Records hired a detective to
find Gary in
the early 2000s, which yielded nothing. He was eventually tracked to an adult
theater where he worked; he was also playing keyboards for a jazz combo in
Rancho Bernardo, near San Diego.
Motel repressed YTYRKM. After his
20-year exile, Gary returned to the stage at
Joe’s Pub in Manhattan.
Michael Wolk made a film, You Think You
Really Know Me: The Gary Wilson Story
, which documents Gary’s
exhaustive journey by rail from California
to NY for the show. Along with snippets of history and performance footage, it
reveals how Gary
and the Blind Dates got together, a tale involving a duck in Endicott with
which he was obsessed.

 

Subsequent releases are Forgotten Lovers (singles, b-sides, rare and unreleased songs) on Motel Records, Mary Had
Brown Hair
(Stones Throw), Lisa
Wants to Talk to You
(Human Ear), and Electric Endicott (Western Vinyl, September, 2010).

***

 

In my hurry to get out of the
van I made the mistake of giving Gary
my Facebook address. That’s when the weirdness started.

 

I get blindsided by comments
from out of the blue, with no bearing on the video I’ve shared or anything,
like “I saw Mary with John” or “I saw Mary dancing in Ocean Beach.”
I’m already being stalked by this guy who rides his bike by my house almost
every night – I can see his lights blinking up at me through the dark. And I
know he’s been stalking this other girl, named Julie, ‘cause she has a ring on
her finger now, and she shakes all the time, and says she’s really happy. And — oh, crap — why am I so turned on?

 

These tapes labeled
“originals just for you” keep arriving – on cassette (I’m not kidding!), and I
can’t send them back ‘cause the only return address is “Endicott After
Midnight.” Endicott, my ass – as far as I know, Gary
is right here in San Diego,
just a zip code away. Like I guess he thinks I’m going to talk to him if I
listen to his songs, which go in all these circles, usually about walking
around at night with some girl that leaves him under the trees or something, and
the names of the girls change all the time. Which is rather insulting – I mean,
he said right on the mix-tape he sent from a few years ago, Lisa Wants to Talk to You, that I have a
light in my eyes. And what girl doesn’t want to hear that? But then the next
song is about Linda, and he goes on and on about some bitch named Sandy.

 

Actually, the tape I got
yesterday was pretty amazing. But this is
what I have to say to you, Gary Wilson:
I am still not going to talk to
you. I give all your tapes to my boyfriend, who is trying to get a band
together! He’s in the basement right now, trying to replicate the way you open Electric Endicott with these sounds like
mice being tortured by being stuck in a keyboard – that’s pretty unusual. He
likes how you go from that into the title song, which combines a sing-song
refrain with these swirly keyboard tones and funky retro-sounding guitars that
would go really well with one of those movies that starts with a “pizza
delivery.” Very unusual, according to my boyfriend, whose name is Barry. He
laughs when I say, “Why would I want to be involved with this guy who’s always
begging girls not to break his heart and moaning about crying alone in his
room?!”

 

Jerry and I stopped eating
our eggs for a minute when you went into “Where Are The Flowers?” – reminds us
of Frank Zappa if he dropped the superior intellectual pose and let us hear
what he and the other Mothers of Invention did for fun after eating some corn
flakes. It got us up and dancing, but it was an eerie feeling when lines like
“Kathy walked away last night/She told me that I was not all right,” poke
through the good-time bubble. Yeah, we’re still clapping our hands to that one,
but you kind of ruin the vibe by throwing in this noise that sounds like
Stockhausen – by the way, how did you do
that
? ‘Cause my real boyfriend, Danny, wants to know. He told me I have to
write to you on Facebook with these questions, ‘cause we really want to be your
friends. So here are the questions:

 

Danny and I: Id or ego? 

GARY WILSON: Perhaps a little
bit of both. 

 

Darwin or Adam and Eve?  

A little bit of both.

What is that big plastic thing sticking
out of your closet?
 

It’s my two favorite
mannequins (Linda and Mary) both wrapped in one big plastic bag.

Why did you walk away from me so
suddenly the other night?
 

I saw you dancing with my
keyboard player Joe Lunga (one of the Blind Dates) when you thought I wasn’t
watching.

Do you ever leave your room in the
daytime? ‘Cause I thought I saw you hiding behind the soul records at Endicott
Sounds last Saturday at 2 p.m.
 

Sometimes I leave my room in
the daytime to get a pizza or a roast beef sandwich.  You caught me in the
record store (near the pizza parlor) searching for the album “Runaround Sue”
recorded by Dion.

How did you get that cool sound on “Sandy Put Me on a Sick
Trip”? Joe and I want to steal it.

A lot of the sounds were the
end result of plugging the speaker output on my Wollensak tape recorder into
the microphone input of the same tape recorder.  This produces a lot of electronic
“noise” and chatter.  Tell Joe it wasn’t me.

How did you know that cool jazzy track,
“Kathy Kissed Me Last Night,” would make us sit down and hold hands, suddenly
remembering that time Barry broke my heart by showing up with another girl at
the dance?
 

The same thing happened to me
with Kathy. We were together at the W.J. Teener in Endicott (a venue in
Endicott that had bands playing on weekends) when Kathy reached over to me and
kissed me. It was fantastic. This happened shortly after I caught Linda
with Frank Roma. Glad you can relate to that song.  Kathy made me feel
happy for a while. This is why you and I held hands and cried with one
another. 

Where did you get the piano player on
“Kathy Kissed Me Last Night” and “The Clouds Cry for Endicott”? He sounds like
Bill Evans – is he available?

I released an instrumental
album (“Another Galaxy”) before “You Think You Really Know
Me” which featured a trio setting with me on piano and stand up
bass. There was a selection on the album (“Another Galaxy”) called “Softly
the Water Flows.”  The two piano trio instrumentals you mentioned above
bring me back to that point in time. I always enjoyed the instrumental albums
on ESP Records. 

If you like Endicott so much, why don’t
you go the hell back there and stop riding by my house on your bicycle at
night?
 

I recently bought my house on
Bermond Avenue
back in Endicott. I will be moving back to Endicott sometime in the
future. I was born and raised in that house and now I will probably die in
that house. Back to my roots. Back to the cellar. I didn’t mean to bother you
when I drove past your house. It’s just that you remind me of Linda.

Did you think appearing on the Jimmy Fallon
show on October 27th would make me want to talk to you? It just made me feel like
I could walk to the store by myself without you lurking in the bushes. I’ll
never forget the night your hand came shooting out at me.

I hope I didn’t scare
you. I just wanted to touch you. I needed to know if you were real or
just one of my mannequins.  

Johnny says you need to stop writing
songs like “Secret Girlfriend” about me – it is about me, right? And not that
bitch Karen? And how do you get the guitarist and keyboard player to intertwine
with each other so perfectly?
  

Mary, the song is about you.
I can’t trust Karen and Linda anymore. Since I play guitar and keyboards on
that song, one hand knows what the other hand is doing. Thus, it is in perfect
sync.  

Danny wants you to know that we’ve
almost got the sound of “Where Did My Duck Go?” down – as a matter of fact,
we’re singing it behind the house right now. Even if it’s incredibly catchy and
the backing vocals could fool someone driving by into thinking it’s some sort
of kids’ song, it’s really not that hard. We can do anything you can do.

I miss my duck since he went
away.  Did you find him near your house?  I was recently in Brooklyn shooting a video for that song and I had to slip
away for a moment because the song made me cry. I sure hope he comes back
to Endicott. He was a good duck.

 

Joe says I have to ask some “normal
questions” so you won’t be wise to us. What was it like, going on Jimmy Fallon
on October 27th?

Very exciting. NBC has very
nice dressing rooms. After the show, Rich Little came up to me and said
“I want a picture taken with you”.  I told Mr. Little that I had
been watching him since I was a teenager. He’s a classy guy and still one of
the best.

I heard you might be going on tour w/
Beck or NIN – what’s up with that?

I spoke to Beck’s bass player
(Justin Meldal) who plays with Beck and NIN about perhaps opening up for Beck.
Still trying to work it out – nothing confirmed yet.

Has there been an increase in album
sales as you’ve become better known, after resurfacing?
 

Sales have been steady since
2002. It changes each month. Some months are better then other months.
  

  

The Blind Dates seem to change fairly
often, but they’re always amazing, especially when you tackle the keyboard
and/or bass player for stealing “your girl” and he keeps playing with his head
hanging over the side of the stage. Who are they, again?

The Blind Dates (West coast)
are: Joe Lunga (keyboards), Butch or Charlie Bottino (bass), David Haney
(drums) and Ian Mcghee (guitar). The Blind Dates (East coast) are Vince Rossi
(guitar), Frank Roma (saxophone), Bucky or Gary Iacovelli (drums), Rick
Maturani and/or Greg McQuade (keyboards), Rick Iacovelli or Larry Wilson
(bass), Phil and Shauna Guidici (backup vocals). All the Blind Dates are
originally from my hometown of Endicott,
New York.

***

 

As you can see, Gary
wrote back to me, although it’s hard to know what to believe. But I don’t feel
any safer, and I want to know why he would say he loves me but then say
he’d go by my house ‘cause I remind him of Linda!
It’s like I walked into a trap with that “interview” maneuver… And I can’t stop
singing “Where Did My Duck Go?” It reminds me of five different things I can’t
quite put a finger on. Oh, shit – I
swear there’s a white and black-swaddled head moving around outside my window…

 

[Photo Credit: Mary Leary.
See also her photo gallery of Wilson and his band elsewhere on the BLURT site]

 

***

 

“In the Night” from Electric Endicott

 

 

Live in San Diego by Sean Francis Conway

 

 

You Think You Really Know Me trailer

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