When I interviewed James Pants about his new album, Welcome, last week, he made the following remark in passing: “I have three favorite Garys: Gary Wilson, Gary Davis, and Gary Numan.” Gary Davis is the electro-funk genius behind cult favorites Chocolate Star – and one of the featured guests on Welcome. And UK pasty-face Gary Numan recorded some of the best synth-pop jams of the 1980s: “Cars,” “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” “I Die, You Die,” and many others.
But who the heck is Gary Wilson?
In short, he was a D.I.Y. crackpot from Endicott, NY, who, in 1977, self-released a sole album, You Think You Really Know Me. And then he vanished. His fans, who include Beck, Matt Groening, and a lot of geeky record collectors, had no idea where he went to. Until the turn of the century, when a New York indie label hunted him down in San Diego and returned him to the limelight. That is the bare-bones synopsis of the story; to get all the weird, disorienting details, you need to watch the documentary You Think You Really Know Me: The Gary Wilson Story, which is being issued on DVD tomorrow.
Much as I love outsider music and esoteric records, I must confess — when I first heard the Gary Wilson reissue in 2002, I reacted no more kindly than most audiences in 1977 did. But after watching the film, something clicked. And fortunately, the DVD comes packaged with the complete album. So I was able to get better acquainted — from a safe distance, mind you — with this homemade stew of rock, funk, jazz, free-association poetry, and, um, obsessive girl watching. And now I’m hooked.
Although the film leaves off after Gary reemerges from obscurity, his story does not end when the credits roll. Since the documentary, he made another album, Mary Had Brown Hair, for the guys at Stones Throw. That’s right, the same label that James Pants records for. Before you can ask: Yes. There is already talk of a collaboration in the offing. Circle of life, kids… circle of life.
DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog.