gary wilson: you think you really know me
Gary Wilson was born in October 1953, in southern New York state. He was something of a musical child prodigy, having learned to play bass, guitar, piano, cello and drums by the time he entered grade school. Early on, he exhibited a desire to perform (inspired by his heroes Dion and the Belmonts, and having seen the Beatles perform at Shea Stadium), and at 12 years old was playing keyboards in a local garage band. The band actually cut a single when Gary was in the eighth grade, and was successful enough to open for the bubblegum act 1910 Fruitgum Company. After the band's vocalist left, Wilson took over, composing original material and leading the band through various formations over several years.
However, Wilson quickly proved to be a bit eccentric for the band, and his music was becoming increasingly experimental. At 16, he picked up on the music of John Cage, and went so far as to send Cage manuscripts of his music. To Wilson's surprise, Cage actually invited him to his home where they would discuss and critique the music for a couple of days. Perhaps as a result, Wilson's band ventured into even stranger realms, and their gigs began to consist of three or four songs, followed by fights between band members and audience, who were throwing anything within reach at the stage. Wilson graduated from high school in 1970, and moved to New York City with his friend Vince Rossi (who plays trombone on one song on this record).
New York proved to be a tad rough for the boys, who were back in their hometown within weeks, living with their parents again. Wilson set up a studio in his parents' basement, spending countless nights working with magnetic recording tape and making the music that would become his only album. This album, You Think You Really Know Me, was completed in 1977, and is a testament to Wilson's virtual one-man dogged determination and talent. He pressed the record with his own money, and promoted it by mailing it to radio stations and music writers throughout the U.S. He sent along self-made press packages, including some pretty fucked-up photos (the one with Wilson covered in tape, staring at the camera in his underwear stands out). He even got some radio play, and in 1978 moved to California in hopes of landing a record deal. Of course, he never found one, though he did make a last-ditch tour cross-country, ending in 1981 with a gig at CBGB's, and some very rare seven-inch EPs. Since then, he's settled in California and retired from music. One of his friends sent this album to Motel Records, and this reissue is the result.
So, now you know the story; be prepared for the unique cocktail-angst stylings that are Wilson's tunes. The thing is, the music-- largely an odd combination of late 70s soft rock, proto-synth pop and experimental tape effects-- wouldn't seem half as strange if not for Wilson's raw, thoroughly unpolished vocals. Most of the time, he's out of tune, otherwise his voice is cracking, struggling to contain his enthusiasm when he blurts out stuff like, "Oh, Jesus, she's so real!" or emitting one of his trademark (well, copied from James Brown) "hey's" or "hoo's". Wilson, to his credit, is a great keyboardist and bassist, and pairs himself with an equally great drummer (Gary Iacovelli). Furthermore, his production is clear and dynamic, suggesting that if he hadn't retired, he probably could have made a very fine producer or engineer. Nevertheless, most people are going to focus on his voice, which is nothing if not unique.
The opener, "Another Time I Could Have Loved You," gets things started on a very tense note, as Wilson's searing guitar mangles whatever shimmering backdrop his Fender Rhodes provides. It lasts for just over a minute, and immediately leads into the very peppy "You Keep On Looking." This tune is at once totally legitimate synth-pop, like a larval Erasure, and completely ridiculous. Wilson's aggressive vocals spit out declarations of loneliness ("Hey! Foolish hearts, you're keeping me away, hey!"), sympathy ("I don't care that they call you a whore, it don't matter! Hey!") to mistrust ("Your mind is full of imbalanced things, hey!"). He often goes into rap-speak instead of carrying a tune. Luckily, his Kraftwerk-meets-Mr. Rogers keyboard arrangements keep the edge off.
"6.4 = Make Out" sees Wilson getting his groove on, Barry White style. If Barry White was a creepy pervert, that is, or a horny teenager. The low-down porno soundtrack groove perfectly frames Wilson's straight-faced horn-dog prose ("How old you say you were?" -- "Sixteen!") and obsessive pining ("She's a real, she's a real groovy girl, and she's got red lips. Can't you hear me god? She's a real groovy girl, and she's got red lips! Man, she's so real! She's so real!!"). At one point, one of his recurring obsessions comes to the fore, when he admits to his current object of desire that his 'real crush' is on "Karen." Karen pops up a couple of times on the record, as do Cathy and Cindy. Going to the dance on Friday night is a common topic, as is avoiding a "sick trip." It's pretty intense.
One of the truly creepy moments on the record comes with "Loneliness," featuring Wilson's languished whisper ("Sometimes... I wish... I were... dead") over what sounds like a cow getting slaughtered and dissonant keyboard clusters. At the end, someone starts pouring out a bucket of water, and abusing a keyboard while a radio plays in the background. Was I meant to hear this? All is made well with "Cindy," because apparently, she's the kind of girl who will let you walk her home "late at night, about 12." She'll say, "It's a real cool scene," and best of all, she'll tell you, "It will be real cool with her," if you want to kiss her lips. She'll even let you take her out as long as you pick her up "by 9:20." Cindy also gets the porno soundtrack treatment. You know, I've listened to my share of Brian Wilson bootlegs where he's singing about teaching little girls to put on makeup, but this is just weird.
"You Were Too Good to Be True" is a fast and funky instrumental that would sound at home on "The Price is Right" when they're bringing out new prizes to bid on. "Groovy Girls Make Love at the Beach" moves along at a nice pace, like a cross between lounge acts playing Bee Gees in Las Vegas and more "Price is Right" grooviness. But then, Wilson decides to let the dwarves have some by injecting some helium-like vocals into the bridge. "She's out of reach, every single Friday night-- I'm not kidding now!" Righteous. Perhaps the most poignant music on the record happens during "Chromium Bitch." Sure, Wilson is about twenty years too early to turn fantasy-misogyny into a pop song ("I want to make you my Chromium Bitch. My bitch, hey!"), but this kind of unadulterated teen bravado is You Think You Really Know Me's calling card. That Wilson was in his twenties when he made this record shouldn't sway your judgment too much.
There have been a few hipsters to latch onto this record (most notably, Beck, who name checks him in "Where It's At"), though I wonder how many are taking it as a joke. It seems to me Wilson was dead serious with this stuff, and though that results in some pretty awkward moments, you could hardly call it a joke. Of course, I laughed a few times when I first heard this, but the lasting effect is actually fairly dark. If you can stand some indulgence on Wilson's part, and are willing to part with your irony filter for about an hour, you might be surprised at how this affects you. Or you could put it on to freak with your roommate. It's all good.
Dominique leone, May 31st, 2002 (Pitchfork media)
more info at: http://www.sixpointfour.com/