January 14, 2016 | by Brian Cullman
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. Read More »
August 24, 2015 | by Brian Cullman
There was a time when I didn’t know Gordon Bishop, but that time’s not worth talking about.
I met Gordon in his shop, Tropics, sometime in the early eighties. I’d been walking through Soho and noticed a store I hadn’t seen before. Inside was a jumble of Javanese antiques—carved doors; four-poster beds; objects that seemed decorative, ceremonial, and incomprehensible—along with fabrics and wall hangings and kites and sculptures. It looked like Santa’s workshop, if Santa had a penchant for priapic statues of half-dressed men with enormous erections and wicked smiles.
No one seemed to be working there, but I heard flute and gamelan music coming from the back room. There was a curtain separating me from the music, along with the sort of velvet rope commonly seen in discos, and a hand-painted sign fixed to the rope: DO NOT ENTER. Read More »
March 20, 2015 | by Brian Cullman
This was not quite what I’d expected.
I’d come to the psych wing of Butler Hospital, in Providence, Rhode Island, to present a music seminar or, more properly, a sing-along, as part of a community service requirement for my college. This was in the late seventies. I was in a brightly lit dining hall that smelled of tobacco and medicine. There were twenty-five or thirty folding chairs but only thirteen or fourteen patients, all of them sad and doughy, middle aged or older. I sat facing them on a gray wooden stool and looked out at the assembled not-quite crowd. They looked like retired firemen, metalworkers, or lunch ladies; men with mustaches, pensions, and bad habits; women with secrets; people who rode the bus, who stood in line and then stood in the same line again. I’d read The Bell Jar, some Randall Jarrell, and I had a vaguely romantic, if ill-defined, sense of life on the other side of what passes for sanity. But this was not a good advertisement for crazy. Read More »
January 11, 2014 | by Brian Cullman
My father bought me a Swiss watch when I was seven. The strap was too big and needed adjusting, but when I could finally put it on, I felt a surge of electricity pulse through me, as if I’d just been shackled to time’s wrist. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the ticking of the second hand to sync up with the beat of my heart.
I stopped wearing it and kept it in my pocket, only later finding the proper use for it: timing the forty-fives I bought and listened to in my room, checking the accuracy of the time on the label to the time on my watch. The Beatles’ singles, I found, all listed the correct times. The Rolling Stones’ singles, not so much. They’d often claim their songs were fifteen or twenty seconds shorter than they really were, hoping to get more airplay from DJs, who would often opt for a song they could run right into the news break. For me, it was the first hint that time was negotiable, that with the right connections no one had to pay full price for an hour. That being the case, what was the point of a watch? I haven’t worn one since. Read More »
October 28, 2013 | by Brian Cullman
How do you say good-bye to Lou Reed?
For many of us, he’s been unavoidable, not just as a musical touchstone but as a cranky éminence grise: walking his dog, sitting in cafés with Laurie Anderson and berating waitresses (“Oh, c’mon, you know how I like my eggs.” “No, sir.” “The fuck you don’t!”), turning up at tribute concerts at St Ann’s, Tibet House, and Town Hall.
For a while, he and Laurie Anderson could be found at Les Deux Gamins, on Waverly Place, every morning around nine A.M. After Laurie left, Lou Reed would continue reading the New York Times, then look around the café to see if there was anyone who hadn’t noticed him. If there was, he’d slowly get up, saunter over, and tap them on the shoulder. “Hey. Hey listen. You got a cigarette?” The casual no, no, sorry was then followed by a visible HOLY SHIT! IT’S LOU REED, as he leaned over them with solicitous menace. If they looked sufficiently disturbed, he’d whisper, “Could you go get me one?” They sometimes did.
The tenderness and mercy and wonder of songs like “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “Pale Blue Eyes” and “I’m Set Free” wasn’t always easy to find in the geezer who seemed to have more ways of saying fuck you to well-wishers and critics alike than Eskimos have words for snow. But if you could get him talking about Doc Pomus or Dion or Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, the light of the true believer would shine in his eyes.
At Jenni Muldaur’s birthday party last year, she had an old Victrola set up, and I brought a box of forty-fives—the Bobby Fuller Four, the Drifters, the Hombres, the Shirelles, Nervous Norvus. Lou Reed started looking through them admiringly. He stopped when he got to the Jaynetts’ “Sally Go ’Round the Roses,” holding it up like you would the Holy Grail.
“I love that record,” I murmured.
He tilted his head and gave me a look equal parts who the fuck asked you? and me too, me too!
September 11, 2013 | by Brian Cullman
More and more, I find that some of the people I remember best were bit players in my life, ones who were on the edge of my consciousness but who registered more deeply than I knew at the time: the pretty singer who lived on the seventh floor and who hummed to herself in the elevator; the mournful-looking barber who stood in the window of Paul Mole’s Barbershop on Lexington, watching the schoolboys pass; the club owner who laughed whenever he saw me coming and would wave me in to see Tim Hardin without paying; the West Indian doorman of the building on east Sixteenth Street who liked to work the night shift with no shoes on. I barely remember the guy I traveled with the summer I hitchhiked cross country, but I remember the fifteen-year-old runaway I met. Gay Monday Sad Tuesday was her name. It looked like there’d been very few Mondays in her life. I thought about this a few days ago when I learned of Mayer Vishner’s death by his own hand in late August.
Mayer wasn’t a close friend, but our paths crossed repeatedly over the last thirty years, first when he was a late night radio host on WBAI and booked music at Dr Generosity’s (an Upper East Side dive remembered for free peanuts, cheap beer, and an over-zealous sound system), later when he helped run the Saint Marks Bookshop when it was still on Saint Marks Place; more recently as someone who was constantly wandering the upper reaches of MacDougal Street with his laundry or his cat. Sometimes we’d stop for coffee at one of the overpriced cafes near Washington Square. Mostly we’d talk about doing that and figured we’d do it next week, after the laundry was done, after the cat was fed.
All the time I knew him, Mayer looked very much like what he was: an anarchist with a wicked sense of humor and the best pot on the block. He wanted to blow up Wall Street, but he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s cat in the process.
A prankster, albeit a cranky one, he ran with a crowd of full time troublemakers: Abbie Hoffman, Ed Sanders, Paul Krassner, Phil Ochs, among a few others committed to revolution, psychedelic and otherwise, and committed to the possibility of peace and love. But it’s hard to wage a revolution in an age of property and complacency; Ochs and Hoffman both gave in to doubt and depression and took their own lives. Last week, Mayer followed suit.
A natural contrarian, he distrusted any and all forms of authority and was deeply bewildered by the news that I’d become a father and was raising a son. He simply couldn’t imagine telling anyone what to do. “It’s not like that,” I tried to explain. “The moment they can talk, they start telling YOU what to do.”
He wasn’t entirely convinced, but he agreed to rethink his position.
A shame. He would’ve made a kind and wonderful parent.