Something about Gary Wilson is different...

Something about Gary Wilson is different...
Photo: João Canziani

  • Andrew Frey
  • Maximum Ink
  • December 07, 2004

Something about Gary Wilson is different. Many photos show him wrapped in plastic wrap. “I have always wrapped myself up with something when performing,” he says. “Could be a bed sheet. Could be a plastic bag with chocolate milk poured over my head. Could be a stack of hay duct taped all over my body. It's just something I like to do. I know Mary and Molly like it when I do this.” Who are Mary and Molly you might ask? They are mannequins. “Mannequins are very important to me,” Gary says. “I always try to keep a few in my closet. I am not lonely when they are around. It seems that I tend to wreck the mannequins at my shows. Then I fix them up and put them back together again. Sometimes I name the mannequins after my girlfriends.”

Lucky girls? Or lucky mannequins? Either way you slice it, Gary Wilson is a bit of an enigma. When I discovered he was a “forgotten” artist from the late 70s that suddenly reentered today's musical radar, I became intrigued. In 1977 Gary Wilson recorded You Think You Really Know Me in his parent's basement. Over time it became an underground cult hit. Gary recalls, “I had recorded three records before You Think You Really Know Me. It was the pivotal release for me. I received a little attention but in no way was it a big hit. It was very underground. After trying to push my records for years, I finally settled into my lifestyle. This meant no phones and a low profile. I guess people thought I disappeared.”

In 2002 “YTRKM” was re-released on CD and now we have Mary Had Brown Hair. It springs forth from where he left off, yet stands well on its own. Gary fills in the gaps. “Back in 2001, Motel records contacted me. I guess they hired a private detective to find me. They convinced me to come out of hibernation. Motel released You Think You Really Know Me and Forgotten Lovers. A few years later Motel Records went under. PB Wolf from Stones Throw records contacted me a few months later and we spoke about putting out a record of new material. That's where Mary Had Brown Hair comes from.”

Gary's music has a certain poppy retro kind of feel recalling Freak Out-era Zappa or early Ween. There's some kind of catchy dysfunctional pop thing going on that gives them their appeal. “I'm not sure why my music comes out the way it does,” Gary muses. “I suppose it's a mix of all my past events, both musically and personally. My music definitely has to reflect Gary Wilson. I am Gary Wilson and my music is about Gary Wilson. If it doesn't reflect who you are, then what's the use?”

A reflection of who you are is shown in where you came from. Gary mentions, “The population of my home town of Endicott, New York is about 13,000 people. I didn't return for 26 years. Since the release of You Think You Really Know Me back in 2002, I've had numerous trips back. We had two homecoming concerts in 2002 at the Lyric Theatre. The concerts were sold out and attended by all my old friends and family that I grew up with. I was hoping to run into Linda when I went back to my hometown, but no luck. Probably most of the girls I sing about aren't even aware that I have records out about them.”

Performers often have meetings that help define their career. Gary Wilson was no exception. “When I was a teenager I was playing cello and string bass in various youth symphonies and chamber groups. I always enjoyed playing and listening to avant garde classical music. I had been listening to Edgar Varese, Bartok, Schoenberg - twelve tone classical music. I thought that was strange sounding music. Then at 13, I went to the public library and put my first John Cage record on. It was called, "Concert for Piano and Orchestra" with David Tudor on Piano. It changed my life. My music teacher at school recommended I send John Cage some of my music. A week later he invited me to his house. I spent three days with Mr. Cage at his house. We went over my classical compositions together. I later saw John Cage at UCSD shortly before his death. I went up to him and said, "Mr. Cage, do you remember me from 25 or more years ago?" He said he did and I gave him a copy of one of my records. A great man. He was my hero.”

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