A new film documentary, You Think You Really Know Me: The Gary Wilson Story, details the life of the eccentric indie-punk pioneer best known for his highly sought 1977 LP You Think You Really Know Me. The album was recorded in the basement of his parents' house, and only 600 copies were pressed -- many of them smashed over Wilson's head at shows. He and his band the Blind Dates performed in makeup, led séances from the stage, and were known to wear beekeeper's hats or sheets of plastic held together by duct tape. The group eventually split, and Wilson disappeared from the public eye. Years later, after Sub Pop Records cited him as an indie inspiration and Beck mentioned his name in 1996's "Where It's At" ("Passin' the dutchie from coast to coast / like my man Gary Wilson rocks the most"), New York's Motel Records sought to rerelease Wilson's seminal LP and hired a private detective to find him.
He was rediscovered working in a porn shop in San Diego, where it turns out he moved around 20 years ago. "Some of the original Blind Dates -- Joey Lunga, Butch Bottino, and Dave Haney -- had moved from Endicott [New York] to San Diego a few years before me. I ended up moving into a house with them, and we were able to practice and put the group back together."
In addition to the rerelease of You Think You Really Know Me, Wilson's more obscure tracks (some recorded locally in the early '80s) have been reissued on the Motel CD Forgotten Lovers. Stones Throw Records released an album of new music last year entitled Mary Had Brown Hair. Gary Wilson appears at the Casbah on Friday, July 8.
MOST ADMIRED SONGWRITER?
"I feel John Cage is the most important composer of our time. Mr. Cage was my idol when I was growing up. When I was 12 and 13 I was listening to Edgar Varèse, [Alban] Berg, [Arnold] Schoenberg, other 12-tone music. I thought that that music sounded cool and weird. I went to the local university record library and listened to the album that I consider the most important album in my life. It was called Concert for Piano and Orchestra by John Cage, with David Tudor on piano. When I heard this record, my ears and thoughts expanded. I started to go for the most extreme avant-garde music and art I could find."
FIVE FAVORITE RECORDS?
1. Dion, "Runaround Sue" or "Lovers Who Wander" ("Either single. Dion was my idol when I was nine...my mother would wake up in the morning and curl my hair [like Dion's] before I went to school.")
2. The Fugs, Tenderness Junction ("I saw the Fugs at Cornell University right after they released it...one of the first real underground bands.")
3. Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, We're Only in It for the Money or Absolutely Free ("I saw Frank Zappa many times. I still like the early recordings better than later records.")
4. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Trout Mask Replica ("A great recording. When I was 16 years old I saw [Beefheart] for the first time in Ithaca, New York. I saw him about four times.")
5. The Rolling Stones, Between the Buttons ("I was a fan when they still had the late Brian Jones playing with them.")
FIVE PERFORMERS WITH WHOM YOU'D LOVE TO PLAY ONSTAGE?
1. David Tudor ("My favorite pianist; a true innovator.")
2. Patty Waters ("When I was depressed, I would listen to her.")
3. Alice Coltrane ("My favorite instrument is harp.")
4. Dion ("He goes to the same church as my brother goes to in Boca Raton, Florida.")
5. Herbie Hancock & the Headhunters ("I think having them back me up would be cool. I would love to hear them play 'You Think You Really Know Me.' "
FAVORITE TV SHOWS?
1. Boris Karloff's Thriller ("Aired in the early '60s -- fantastic. I have a collection of episodes on VHS that I watch over and over, to the dismay of my current girlfriend, Bernadette.")
2. The Twilight Zone ("Rod Serling is from the same [New York state] area that I'm from.")
3. The Outer Limits ("The television shows have to be the original black-and-white episodes or I can't watch them.")
1. Carnival of Souls, 1962 ("I must have watched my VHS copy a thousand times. Just recently [got] the director's cut on DVD.")
2. The Mask, 1961 ("When the character in the film puts on an ancient mask, the audience simultaneously puts on a pair of 3-D glasses. This opens the audience up to the world that the character in the film is seeing.")
"When I was younger and living in a small town, Endicott, gigs for an experimental rock band were hard to come by. One time I booked a gig at the local American Legion for my band. The place was filled with senior citizens expecting a waltz or a polka. I arrived with tape recorders and things to make noise with. I had contact microphones, highly amplified, hooked up to various objects, and the Blind Dates would scratch these objects against one another. This produced a horrible screeching sound. The tapes and the feedback along with an amplified saxophone produced a highly chaotic show. The Blind Dates were all wrapped up together in duct tape and covered with flour and paint. After about 20 minutes we finished our first 'song.' The manager of the American Legion came up to us in shock and said, 'What the hell was that?' I asked him if he wanted us to continue. He told us to get the hell out of the place. Sometimes I would book my band into the wrong venue just for my own enjoyment."
MOST INSIGHTFUL COMMENT EVER MADE ABOUT YOUR MUSIC?
"The thing that sticks in my mind would be John Cage. After going over my scores and talking with Mr. Cage about my ideas, he looked me in the eye and said, 'Gary, I wasn't able to afford to live off of my music till I was 50 years old. I think the same will happen to you.' He was right."