"Dear Vincent Gallo, Thank you for the tape which I am listening to at this moment. All the best for 1983 and forever. - William S. Burroughs"
These words were handwritten graciously on a postcard to Vincent Gallo in January 1983 - a postcard that he still shows off proudly to this day. Proud perhaps because it came to him from a literary genius - a man that he knew personally and respected, or because it also puts some perspective on his own culturally rich background and unique vision that stretches back to his adolescence in the 1970s.
Born in Buffalo, New York, 1961 - Vincent Vito Gallo grew up in a culturally diverse Buffalo neighbourhood. He was playing bass in several different bands before he ever appeared on a single frame of celluloid as the actor for which he is better known today. Gallo held down the basslines in local New York bands such as THE GOOD, THE PLASTICS, I'LL WEAR YOU, THE NONSEXUALS, and a short-lived band called GRAY that claimed residence in the famed MUDD CLUB of New York's early underground scene. The list of people that Gallo socialized with at the time reads like a who's who of 80's pop culture. Pop icon Madonna was a regular in the popular MUDD CLUB and once dated Gallo's GRAY band mate Jean Michel Basquiat who would later gain notoriety for his neo-expressionist paintings that included collaborations with Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel. According to Vincent Gallo, GRAY never recorded any material together. Their performances were mostly limited to the MUDD CLUB stage and it would not be until 1983, with his band BOHACK, that Gallo would release his first-ever recordings on vinyl.
Bohack was comprised of 3 members: Vincent Gallo, Claudia Porcelli, and friend and former GRAY alum, Wayne Richard Clifford. It may be the ultimate understatement to call their first and only record "experimental." It is quite possible that the album, titled "IT TOOK SEVERAL WIVES" is a recording that practically sets new precedence for a category of experimental music unto itself. The album's track titles borrow from a style made famous by William Burroughs known as "cut-up" - essentially, fragmented and incomplete phrases lifted from printed sources. Titles such as "The Rock of Joe the Dog Crowd Noticed" and "Shot Himself After Falling 3 Days," all phrases that appear completely meaningless out of context. Meanwhile, the music on this record is equally fascinating and perplexing. It meanders through layers of spliced sections with hints to the type of sampling and loops that would not be fully explored in the music scene until much later in the decade.
Bohack's recordings are to the analog world what these contemporary electronica works are to the digital. Layers of tribal chants and rhythms are assembled around machine-like drum patterns. The drum sounds emanate from instruments that sound as if they could be everyday found objects rather than conventional snares, bass and tom-tom - perhaps steel oil drums, tins, boxes, or mechanical devices at work in some dank and dusty factory. Curiosity is immediately piqued from the moment that your ears begin to soak in the music. The pulsating sounds have an almost eerie ability to lure you in from one track to the next. The tracks play out like cinema in the manner by which the songs illustrate moods and generate scenes that will almost irresistibly play out images within your mind's eye. Ambient to a nearly hypnotic degree, the music seems to play an unfamiliar game of cat-and-mouse with melody. A brief melodic interlude will leap out in fleeting moments before it will succumb to crashing waves of beats reverberating throughout the tracks and be lost for a while only to reappear again sporadically. This recording exists as an uncanny illustration of what William Burroughs' cut-up word format might be if it were applied thoughtfully to sound. This sole recording by BOHACK may even be the same one that Burroughs received from Gallo, thereby eliciting the postcard from him that was cited earlier.
Nevertheless, it is clear that when it comes to music, Vincent Gallo is following a road less travelled.
In 1983, director Eric Mitchell cast Vincent Gallo in his independent film "THE WAY IT IS". Vincent would later be tapped by Mitchell to score the film. Recognizing his talents and acute knowledge of tape recording techniques, Mitchell also bestowed the score's engineering duties to this 22-year-old monophonic wizard. With 4 previous short film scores under his belt, Gallo went to work with his array of vintage instruments and recording gear to produce a brooding, at times surreal, score for the film. It would be the world's first glimpse of Vincent Gallo as a solo artist. The score is a collection of beautiful melodies and multi-tracked guitar work reminiscent of classical Italian pieces. Some tracks seem to hark back to influences from the earlier BOHACK recording with brief (sometimes 60 seconds or less) tracks utilizing repetitive, yet sparse melodies on piano woven around static rim shots or simple rhythmic beats. Other songs explore somewhat deeper moods with the characteristic sounds of Gallo's vintage Gibson guitars layered into multiple tracks and playing off each other in an almost conversational manner. One track in particular, "And A Colored Sky Colored Grey," interestingly reappears in slightly altered form including vocals 14 years later on the soundtrack to "Buffalo 66." In the song Gallo professes his inescapable tag as the "Lonely Boy" forever destined to be the chairman of the lonely-hearts club. Hearing the instrumental take of this track on "THE WAY IT IS" makes one realize that the lyrics were always there. The guitar notes expressed the words to this song just as clearly in 1984 as they would in the 1990s when Gallo applied his vocals to the song.
This is Vincent Gallo's unique ability with guitar.
He can present melody in a form that speaks to you with sound. You feel his mood as if it were being transmitted to your brain's synapse directly through sound waves. This particular song was not the only one that would be revisited, in fact, a few of the score's compositions would resurface a decade and a half later as tracks on Gallo's soundtrack for his directing debut film, "Buffalo '66".
"Buffalo '66" left little room for indecision. If you saw this movie you either loved it or hated it. The soundtrack revealed Gallo's long-standing love for prog rock as it was peppered with King Crimson's "Moonchild" and not one, but two songs by the band YES, whose bassist (Chris Squire) Gallo has idolized since his youth. These tracks are placed amongst his own solo compositions, and an early cover of a classic song by Johnny Mercer called "Fools Rush In" as sung by none other than Gallo's own father, Vincent Gallo, Sr. The soundtrack even hints at Gallo's jazz influences with the inclusion of tonal master Stan Getz and his composition "I Remember When".
"Buffalo '66" won over some critical acclaim, but it was Gallo's unique soundtrack that brought the music oriented dimension of his talents to the forefront. The original Gallo compositions on this release will remind listeners of his earlier score for 'THE WAY IT IS" - at least those fortunate enough to find a copy. At least 3 of the soundtrack's 13 songs are from that 1984 score for Eric Mitchell. They appear remixed and possibly reworked somewhat from their original
form with Gallo often adding instruments or vocals to the mix. Once again, the mood so vividly captured in the "BUFFALO 66" film is expressed with equal clarity here in the soundtrack. Subtle touches like the intermittent pop or click of tape static or vinyl acetates left unscathed by the digital enhancements that tend to suck the true soul of a sound away. Namely, the song by Gallo's father is striking in that it is presented precisely as it sounds on it's original vinyl format, so for 3 minutes and 4 seconds your cd player spins the warm tones of vinyl replete with the crackles and pops. Vincent has now managed to skilfully master the art of sensory manipulation with his incredible attention to nuances in both film and sound that most musicians and directors in his field can only dream about.
Shortly after completing work on the "BUFFALO 66" film project, Gallo met fellow actor Lukas Haas at a photo shoot and the two discovered a mutual love for playing guitar and vintage recording gear. Within hours they were jamming in Gallo's L.A. home, and formed his most recent band called BUNNY. The pair performed a handful of small club shows in Japan where Gallo has a strong cult following, and were known to play sporadic gigs in their hometown of Los Angeles, CA - often attracting many of their celebrity friends and musicians such as Marilyn Manson, John Frusciante, David Arquette, Stephen Dorff and Johnny Ramone.
A recording was produced from this pair in 1999, and a major label agreed to release it, but the deal fell through in time and the recording seems to now be indefinitely shelved. One song, however, was eventually released last year on an obscure Los Angeles college radio compilation cd. This track titled "How Long" was recorded live in the KXLU FM studio, and revealed that Vincent Gallo and Lukas Haas were taking a more prog rock approach to the compositions. The song takes on the tempo of a love ballad. A steady strumming chord progression starts slowly and gives rise ever so steadily to the pace of a locomotive train pulling out from the station. All the while, Haas delivers a soft and breathy falsetto vocal over the duo's combined acoustic guitar efforts. The lyrics are pleading to an unknown subject about the prospects of an enduring relationship. All the ingredients of a truly unique and passionate Vincent Gallo composition are present. If this song is any indication of the direction Gallo is heading with his music then the future holds an exciting frontier for the admirers of his distinctive sound.
A renaissance man of sorts, by Y2K Gallo had already painted several fine works and was represented by one of New York's finest art galleries, he had released four records, held guest spots in a couple TV episodes and starring roles in over 20 feature films, then he directed and wrote his own motion picture. His detractors often find him arrogant, rude and more abrasive than a Brillo pad. While his admirers view him as uncompromisingly honest, real and brilliant. Yet, regardless of how you feel about Vincent Gallo, its practically undeniable and unanimously acknowledged that he wields incredible talent. He is an artist that creates art for the sake of the art itself. He remains true to his distinctive form and style. Whether Vincent Gallo is creating his work in music or film, he is forever focused on maintaining the key nuances so frequently lost in these art forms today.
Thank you to Saad-Eddine Kaddi II - "SMAK" from the Vincent Gallo - Drowning In Brown website for this in-depth piece.