Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love. This week, BBP contributor Robin Renee talks about Gary Wilson’s You Think You Really Know Me, check it out after the jump.
Outsider music is called such for a reason; each artist is truly one-of-a-kind. So it is with Gary Wilson, a strange merging of swanky crooner, accomplished jazz, agitated noise, and avant garde composition. Add to that a perpetual adolescent angst stuck in a run-of-the-mill town and a presentation involving duct tape, talcum powder, and mannequins. This is the precarious world of Wilson’s quintessential recording, You Think You Really Know Me.
You Think You Really Know Me is the pure artistic vision Gary created in his family’s basement in 1977 in Endicott, New York. After years of remaining very, very underground, many more people have come to know Gary’s songs of thwarted love and his lost-and-found story. Still he remains an underground treasure to his hardcore fans and a startling curiosity to the uninitiated.
Since I was introduced to it by a friend and fellow musician in the late 1980s, You Think You Really Know Me has never left my top five desert island record list. It is as cohesive as it is unnerving. Audiophiles find it a feat of sound presentation. I have asked myself, though, why has this recording endured as an unwavering personal favorite for all these years?
Ultimately, I believe what this album speaks to is a fascination with the extreme capabilities of the mind. There is everyday love and desire, and then there is Gary Wilson’s jaunty shout outs that morph into desperate cries for the girls just out of reach. He shows us his mind eye’s endless parade of Linda, Cindy, Karen, and Kathy. There is simple sadness, then there is Gary’s chilling, whispered plea “Someone help me, please…” Later on the album, after the depths of depression, comes an instrumental, then vocal upturn expressed in “You Were Too Good to be True” and “Groovy Girls Make Love at the Beach.” Even though “she’s out of reach,” the music is hopeful and begs the listener to smile and sing along with the record’s most memorable inflection, the extended, high-pitched, repeating “Woooooo!”
Then there is the über cool, smooth and demented “Chromium Bitch.”
“6.4 = Make Out” is a fan favorite among the tracks, and does an excellent job of presenting the energy and attitude of that which cannot be explained:
As Gary sings, sometimes it’s true: “I Wanna Lose Control.” Given the growing fan base for this recording, I suspect I am not the only one. How many of us would, even if for only a little while, like a true vacation from the confines of sanity? With this fantastic journey through a surreal night of the soul, we can dare dip our toes into the waters of temporary insanity, into a state of crying out unfiltered for love, loss, hope, and wanting. To grow to truly love the music of Gary Wilson is to have the meta experience of obsession with obsession.
I recently asked Gary why he believes You Think You Really Know Me endures. His answer was simpler and more to the point than mine. “Perhaps the album represents the loners. The people who never got a break in life. The people who are too shy to approach one another. The people who don’t fit in,” he commented.
In 1991, Cry Baby Records tracked Gary down where he was working a night shift in San Diego, still his current home city. The company obtained the rights for a vinyl re-release and gave the album cover a makeover in bright red. A new generation who had never heard of Gary, as well as admirers who never owned an actual copy of the rare original pressing, had their chance. Beck’s shout out in his 1996 hit “Where It’s At” was another turning point: “Passin’ the dutchie from coast to coast/Like my man Gary Wilson rocks the most.” Those who were wondering who this guy is got their answer in 2002 when Motel Records re-released You Think You Really Know Me for the first time on CD, retaining the shiny red art design Cry Baby had chosen in the early 90s. Since then, Gary has enjoyed notice beyond what ever seemed likely for his oddball vision and has performed in clubs across the U.S. and Europe. He even cleaned up his must-be-seen-to-be-believed distraught recluse look for an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:
Most recently, the summer of 2014 saw Feeding Tube Records’ re-release of You Think You Really Know Me with original black & white cover, which has given yet another generation the chance to sink into these unique sounds.
There have been other notable releases by Gary Wilson since his rediscovery – Mary Had Brown Hair (2004), Electric Endicott (2010), Feel the Beat (2011), and my personal favorite of the newer material, Lisa Wants to Talk To You (2008). Slated for February 2015 is the release of “Music For Piano,” a 12-inch 45 rpm instrumental piece, composed in 1968 and recorded in 1972. It features the late Vince Rossi, longtime guitarist for Gary Wilson’s band The Blind Dates and harkens back to Wilson’s most experimental, John Cage-influenced era.
Any of the new songs or old recordings are worthy windows into the psychological exploration that is the music of Gary Wilson and I recommend taking the plunge. You Think You Really Know Me remains the great statement against which all the other offerings are measured.
A freelance writer and performing songwriter, Robin Renee‘s work has appeared in many publications including PanGaia, Blessed Bi Spirit, Big Hammer #12, The New York Quarterly, Songwriter’s Market, and That Takes Ovaries – Bold Females and their Brazen Acts (Random House). Her recordings include In Progress, All Six Senses, Live Devotion, spirit.rocks.sexy, and This.