The strange world of Gary Wilson

You Think You
Really Know Me: The Story of Gary Wilson


When I first heard You Think You Really Know Me, the rescued-from-oblivion record by Gary Wilson, I thought it must be the work of some New York downtown hipster who palled around with Arto Lindsay, lived in a ratty loft, and eventually got rediscovered by Thurston Moore.

Wrong on all fronts — although that last part is closest, as Wilson’s music did get enough grapevine exposure to earn a Beck shoutout in “Where It’s At.” The 1977 LP, which was issued on CD by the short-lived Motel Records in 2002, came to that label’s (and Beck’s) attention via a record collector whose claim to fame was playing the kid who visits the cockpit in the 1980 comedy Airplane! — and that’s not the weirdest part of the Gary Wilson story.

As the tale emerges in the documentary You Think You Really Know Me (Plexifilm), Wilson wasn’t an urban denizen but a small-town nobody. While the movie gets into some interesting details about the rediscovery of the record — a collagey, geek-funk opus of distorted seduction attempts and hermetic New Wave that is happily included in the new DVD package as a stand-alone CD — the real pleasure of the film is mostly in its evocation of a more universal phenomenon: the kid who doesn’t fit in but whose eccentricities draw others to him wherever he happens to be.

In Wilson’s case, his acolytes wore costumes worthy of Captain Beefheart and made 8mm movies with him; they hung out in basements and let Wilson splatter them with paint and flour. And most of them grew up to be, judging from what we see in interviews here, pretty normal middle-class guys.

Circus Money
Walter Becker
(5 Over 12)

Wilson’s backing band is described at one point in the doc as “Steely Dan on crack.” You have to dig around in the record a fair bit to make sense of that comparison, and its strangeness only gets weirder if you happen to play that disc back-to-back with the latest by Dan-man Walter Becker, Circus Money (5 Over 12). Only the second solo album Becker has made, the record is even more shellac-smooth than Steely Dan outings were, with a good dose of polished reggae tossed in with the jazz grooves. The attitude here is less edgy than wry, with more than a couple of backward-looking songs suggesting vanished cultural scenes and a comfort with the past that is hard to picture coming from Gary Wilson.

Party Intellectuals
Marc Ribot’s
Ceramic Dog
(Pi Recordings)

The disc now on my desk that feels more authentically connected to Wilson is Party Intellectuals by Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog (Pi Recordings). Ribot, the guitar avant-gardist who lists Tom Waits and the Lounge Lizards on his résumé, has led a few of his own bands over the years, and this trio is among the oddest. From the blip-bloopy video-game title track to the sparse “When We Were Young and We Were Freaks” (an art-life memoir far more damaged than Becker’s), the record veers from jokes to eerie soundscapes in a way that stops just this side of alienating the

Pacific Ocean Blue
Dennis Wilson

The other saved-from-oblivion disc of the moment is Bamboo, the never-finished album by Beach Boy Dennis Wilson that has been swapped on bootleg but never officially issued until now: Appearing as a bonus second disc on Legacy’s reissue of Wilson’s long out-of-print, lovely Pacific Ocean Blue, the material argues for the feeling among fans that, had he not drowned in 1983, Dennis’s soulful writing might have earned him some of the respect afforded his “genius” big brother Brian.

Road Runner: The Chess Masters 1959-1960
Bo Diddley
(Hip-O Select)

Finally, anybody who wondered what the fuss was about when Bo Diddley died in June might not want to start with the new Road Runner: The Chess Masters 1959-1960 (Hip-O Select), whose programming — plenty of songs are presented in multiple back-to-back versions, with studio chatter interspersing the takes — could be off-putting for newbies. For fans, though, it’s a welcome look into the evolution of Diddley’s signature sound, picking up where Hip-O’s first (admittedly more essential) release from last fall left off.


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