Remembering Giorgio Gomelsky, 1934–2016.
I met Giorgio through Robert Fripp in 1980. He thought Giorgio should work with me on the single my band was getting set to record. At the time, Giorgio was living in the loft that housed Squat Theatre, an Eastern European guerilla theater collective on West Twenty-Fourth Street. They put on strange events and pornographic puppet shows at their loft, ten dollars at the door, stay all night. And they sponsored Polish punk bands, held rallies protesting rent and sodomy laws, dealt dope, and more or less lived a wild East Village life, despite being in Chelsea.
Giorgio was a big, beefy character with a mane of thick greasy black hair, a goatee, and a thick Russian accent that grew more and more pronounced as he drank or expounded on his various theories on life and music and the evils of the bourgeoisie. Fripp had told me stories of how Giorgio had shown up at the Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale, the music business trade show, one year with a parrot on his shoulder, and how, anytime he was approached by a label about licensing material, he’d confer with the parrot in Russian before shaking his head and turning down the offer with a show of disdain. In this way, he was able to generate more attention, double his offers, and confound various labels into thinking he was a genius. Fripp also implied that, at the close of MIDEM, Giorgio had eaten the parrot.
So Giorgio came up to Hurrah’s to hear us play. It was a good night. We were on a bill with The Go-Betweens, but they were having sound problems and on the verge of breaking up, and we weren’t. We got two, maybe three encores, which was unusual, but Giorgio didn’t know that. He was very keen on a song I’d just written called “Waiting for the Cavalry”:
I can’t see the sky for the wings of the vultures
Waiting for the cavalry
Stuck between the fools and the alien cultures
Waiting for the cavalry …
He seemed to think it was about the plight of Native Americans and that I was somehow identifying with them. He insisted on dragging me up to 138th Street to the Museum of Native Americans the next day.
“Fucking Indians!” he roared, making a few of the security guards nervous. “You know what sort of music they played? Drums! Drums! Always drums! We must find tapes of their drumming, peyote ceremonies, summoning the gods, spirits of the ancestors, fuck the whitey, you know? Fuck the whitey! We make this song a fucking Indian national anthem! Hah!”
I thought he was out of his mind, but I much preferred his wild energy to the casual indignities I’d suffered at the hands of the industry people I’d been dealing with. And after all, Giorgio had produced The Yardbirds and Julie Driscoll and Gong. He’d discovered and managed the Stones before Andrew Loog Oldham had swept them away with a smoother line, sharper clothes, and better drugs.
Giorgio joined us in the studio, and problems began the moment we started to record. People kept turning up for meetings. Some were drug deals; some were with other bands that he’d arranged to have audition for him during our session (“Hey, you guys don’t mind, right? They use your drums, bass guitar, just do a song? Okay? While you listen to playback?”); some were visits from people he owed money to; some were from angry women with long dark hair and no bras; some were from the angry boyfriends of the angry women. Giorgio treated them all with a mixture of disdain and menace, offering them cigarettes and promises and hastily scribbled notes before shooing them out of the room. But the phone kept ringing, and it was always for Giorgio, and strange and unpleasant people kept turning up at all hours. We weren’t getting much recording done, and I was paying for the studio. When I mentioned this to Giorgio, he flew at me.
“What do you want? Kansas Fucking Eagles? This is the way I make fucking records! In crisis! Music is chaos, asshole! It’s big tits and the landlord chasing your fucking tail! No money, and it’s dark and three big black boogies coming out the alley! You want Kansas Fucking Eagles go to fucking California, eat pussy, fuck you! I need smell of fear all over studio floor, maybe we all gonna die, maybe we all gonna live, but it has to smell of now!”
I have to admit, while I’m writing this: it sounds kind of right, not a bad manifesto, and I’d like to run into him now and buy him a drink. Too late for that. Too late. But I would if I could. I saw him a few years back and he looked exactly the same, twenty years on, same black hair, same goatee, same paunch, and he seemed pleased to see me. But at the time, I felt like I was being had. And I was. My band hated him, Yardbirds or no Yardbirds; the engineer barely tolerated him; the studio owner, who’d been my friend, wouldn’t talk to me anymore, and we were clocking up more and more time with nothing to show for it. His production technique consisted of walking back and forth, flicking ashes from his cigarette onto the console, and declaiming, “More rock and roll! More loud!” This was his response to every problem. When a drum part didn’t feel right, and I talked to the drummer about alternating between the kick and the tom, Giorgio would simply yell, “More loud! Fuck the kick! More loud!” When the guitar part interfered with the vocal, his response to me was, “Sing more loud!”
When I showed up the next day for our session, he was recording another band. Using our gear, our studio, our time. He left with them to talk things over, and I locked the doors and refused to let him back in.
He called the next night.
“Listen,” he screamed. “Fuck the studio. Fuck the fucking studio. You know? Too much Kansas Fucking Eagles. And your fucking guitar player is just a big noise. Who cares about his solos! We are fucking Indians, man! We don’t need fucking solos! We go, we rent a van, we drive out into fucking New Jersey with a big tape recorder, we tape frog noise, sound of frogs fucking each other, beautiful, man! Beautiful! And we put that on the record instead of some fucking guitar noise! I know where we get a van for fifty bucks, you give me the money, I go see my friend … ”
I hung up. I finished the single without him, though for various reasons, none of them contractual, I listed him as the coproducer. For years after, I would get letters addressed to him c/o me or c/o the label, all trying to chase down money he owed someone for something.
I wonder what it would’ve sounded like with frogs.
Brian Cullman is a writer and musician living in New York City.