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Vincent Gallo

+ {Bohack}

Born April 11, 1961, Buffalo in New York, painter, singer, composer, determinedly improvisational method actor, and all round underground renaissance man, Vincent Vito Gallo remains best known for his self-directed indie movies – including 1998’s weird and wonderful Buffalo 66. Despite being released late-on, his career actually stretches way back to the early 70s and his first band, Blue Mood.
After another teenage prog-rock vehicle, Zephyr, it wasn’t long before he discovered punk and began hanging out with all the right people, holding down full and part-time roles in “no wave” bands such as The Good and The Plastics, respectively. A move to downtown New York saw his own, short-lived solo project, the Nonsexuals as well as Gray, the band he formed with late NY artist Jean Michel Basquiat (and whose colourful activities he memorably describes on his official website). A former beau of MADONNA and a colleague of Andy Warhol not to mention the subject of a celeb-studded 1996 biopic, Basquiat was also the star of Downtown 81, an achingly hip snapshot of post-punk Manhattan and featuring GALLO’s acting debut (as himself). Although shot in the very early 80s, the film remained unreleased until 2000 when it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. While this was GALLO’s first acting role, his directorial debut had actually come a year earlier with an obscure short film, If You Feel Froggy, Jump (1980), starring his then band BOHACK; alongside Claudia Porcelli and Wayne Richard Clifford. The very RUN DMC-esque – and actually rather hilarious – shots of GALLO, aka Prince Vince, as one half of early 80s rap duo Trouble Deuce probably served to underline the cultural fluidity of early 80s New York as much as they do the man’s wandering talents, and it was but a short leap from here to his miasmic score for another, thespian-themed NY underground film, The Way It Is (1985). GALLO also starred in the film himself, as did a young Steve Buscemi.
1982’s IT TOOK SEVERAL WIVES {*7} was a much sought-after BOHACK release after Vincent’s career caught the imagination(s) of a cult/underground scene. Dedicated to heroes Pier Paolo Pasolini and CHARLES MINGUS, the uneasy listening of `The Rock Of Joe The Dog Crowd Noticed’ to the bookended two parts of `50 Perfumes’, were not to everyone’s taste. As marmite as the artist was (described by many as arrogant), most ardent indie fans could stretch beyond its uncompromising layers of sounds within.
While the only remaining print of the man’s sophomore directing job, The Gun Lover (1986), was damaged it was still possible to view his lead role in the little seen Doc’s Kingdom, directed by the late Rob Kramer, as well as the equally obscure Portuguese film, A Idade Maior (1990), in which GALLO plays a son whose father is conscripted into Portugal’s wars in Angola and Mozambique. Much more high profile was a cameo appearance in gangster classic, Goodfellas (1990), while a part in Claire Denis’ short film, Keep It For Yourself (1991), initiated a long term partnership with the French director which subsequently saw him starring in U.S. Go Home (1994), Nenette Et Boni (1996) and most controversially, her sex ’n’ cannibalism study, Trouble Every Day (2001).
Released several years after the film premiere in a vinyl-only pressing of 1000 copies, VINCENT GALLO’s debut soundtrack set, THE WAY IT IS (1992) {*7} was belatedly issued on CD in 2002 as a significant chunk of Warp’s “Music For Film” anthology. In the anthology’s brutally candid sleevenotes, GALLO described how, way back in the early 80s, the debut album of his band BOHACK came out “sounding like it was recorded in some primitive claustrophobic netherworld”. Organic might be a better adjective than primitive, but the set sounds summoned from similarly murky depths, so contingent is it upon echo and unvoiced misgiving. And, despite being recorded in ‘86, this record pretty much provided the blueprint for the soundtrack to GALLO’s aforementioned directorial debut, an artistic arc which – with the inclusion of even earlier, previously unreleased excerpts from Downtown 81 – was easier to chart within the wider context of the anthology.
Armed with his trusty Ampex 350 two-track, the amateur auteur recorded himself, for the most part, picking out oblique guitar and bass parts, leaving their vibrations hanging in the air like a judge passing sentence. He answers the strangely bovine-like pleas of `A Brown Lung Hollering’ with a series of cold, metallic clanks, and rings up the sum total of his minor-chord disaffection with the trill of a cash register-like bell on `Six Laughs Once Happy’. Yet as adept as he was at dank, basement minimalism, he tempered it with hints of chamber jazz, Bohemian lyricism – most obviously in the dolefully elegant clarinet melody to `Her Smell Theme’ – and out-of-orbit ambience. Some of his mellotron experiments even suggest a Lower East Side POPOL VUH, especially `Good Bye Sadness, Hello Death’, the title of which – along with such joyfully monikered fragments as `Glad To Be Unhappy’ and `Fishing For Some Friends’ – told its own story. Like TINDERSTICKS, GALLO specialises in alchemising misery, even if he rarely completes the process.
In the meantime, GALLO scored his biggest roles to date alongside Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway in Emir Kusturica’s fishy comedy, Arizona Dream (1993), and alongside Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep in Billie August’s 1993 adaptation of the Isabel Allende novel, The House Of The Spirits. While parts as diverse as a cameo in Cuban emigre effort, The Perez Family (1995), as a preacher in Rebecca Miller’s psychological drama, Angela (1995) and as a bungling criminal in Palookaville (1996) kept him in work, his portrayal as the doomed black sheep of a gangster dynasty in Abel Ferrara’s The Funeral (1996) was much more in keeping with GALLO’s lone wolf style and Sicilian background. It was enough to land him a starring role in Keifer Sutherland’s directorial debut, Truth Or Consequences, N.M. (1997), another violent gangster piece.
Then came GALLO’s directorial debut proper, the aforementioned BUFFALO 66 (1998) {*7}, where his gloriously unlikeable ex-con kidnaps Christina Ricci and memorably attempts to convince her family he once worked for the CIA. He also composed the acclaimed soundtrack, a corollary to his debut solo album for UK electronica label, Warp.
“All my life I’ve been this lonely boy”, VG croons in the androgynous falsetto of a catholic altar boy. It’s a voice seemingly irreconcilable with his abrasive public persona and one with which one might never have been blessed had he been flush enough to afford the songs he wanted. Shoehorned into the role of director, the shock-haired auteur found himself in the unique position of being able to choose the music for his own movie. As he recounts in the often hilarious sleevenotes to compilation, RECORDING OF MUSIC FOR FILM (2002) {*7}, his budget (including his life savings) barely extended to the prog rock tracks, forcing him to fall back on his home studio and record some original music inside two days. Inevitably, he at least partly fell back on his earlier recordings for Eric Mitchell’s The Way It Is, which – along with cleaned-up versions of his original music for “Buffalo” – were subsequently released as part of `Recordings…’. The joins aren’t so obvious, though, and GALLO makes every note count. The Sunday Times called the set “a sustained and dolorous hymn to male self pity”, a description which also goes at least some way to analysing GALLO’s musical impulse.
Even the summer days are cold and grey in his world, but his gift is in making that world alluring, something he achieved partly through the tactile acoustics of his analogue recording techniques. The likes of `A Falling Down Billy Brown’ suggest archival field recordings from some monochrome, long forgotten corner of the Mediterranean, while GALLO, Sr. (yes, as in Pops Gallo!) flourishes a Rat Pack-era croon on a twinkling, wax-cylinder-vintage cover of `Fools Rush In’. And fascinatingly, unfashionably choice cuts from YES and especially KING CRIMSON (who could forget Ricci dancing to `Moonchild’) actually shed light on his arcane creative workings. Most encouraging of all though, the agoraphobic minimalism of his earlier recordings has gotten out more, even lifting its face to the sun `With Smiles & Smiles & Smiles’.
While more low key roles followed – in Finnish director Mika Kaurismski’s L.A. Without A Map (1998), Roland Joffe’s Goodbye Lover (1999), exploitation flick, Freeway II: Confessions Of A Trickbaby’ (1999) and Spanish space drama, Stranded (2002) – the abrasive anti-hero resumed the off kilter coupling he’d initiated in “Buffalo” with Hide And Seek (2000), Get Well Soon (2001) and his “Buffalo” follow-up, The Brown Bunny (2003), an abstruse road movie with Chloe Sevigny as his unlucky girlfriend.
In between film and album sets, the egotistical GALLO delivered a non-soundtrack work with WHEN (2001) {*7}. Kicking into gear with the morbid-i-sonic `I Wrote This Song For The Girl Paris Hilton’, it was clear as its muddy big boots, that his subordinate celebrity shenanigans would take no prisoners. As gentle looking as a modern-day Charlie Manson, but with a vox like an angel (example the title track, `Apple Girl’, `Honey Bunny’, `Yes, I’m Lonely’ etc.), GALLO was a surprise package in many respects. Love him or loathe him, GALLO remains one of the most prolific musician-cum-actors in the business, and at a significant and ever controversial remove from the majority of rock/pop stars who inevitably turn their hand to the big screen. Pity there have been no further celluloid examples of his dark eccentricity, just starring roles in movies:- Moscow Zero (2006), Oliviero Rising (2007 ), Tetro (2009), Essential Killing (2010), Promises Written In Water (2010), The Legend Of Kasper Hauser (2012) and April (2014); the latter – as with “Promises” directed by the maverick man himself.
© MC Strong LCS-BG/MCS / rev-up MCS Jun2015

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