PRINT December 2000

Glenn O'Brien


1 Vincent Gallo 1962–1999 (Petit Grand Publishing, Tokyo) Last June in Paris, I picked up Vincent Gallo 1962–1999, which set me hooting for hours in the beautiful city where nobody ever hoots (a shame, since the French are such a hoot). The photo album is devoted to Vincent Gallo’s favorite subject: Vincent Gallo. I must say, Vincent is one of my few living heroes, because he is no pussyfooter. He speaks his mind and reminds you that ego is what keeps you breathing. This book is full of great photos, like the Gallo Penis Across America Tour, and even better captions, like “Self-portrait with broken nose, 1996. That’s what happens when you do movies with crack addicts like Abel Ferrara.” There is also a luminously crotchety essay filled with insights (“Everyone should have an Ed McMahon”; “I put all my garbage in alphabetical order”). Vincent Gallo is as fucking great as he thinks he is.

2 David Johansen and the Harry Smiths (Chesky Records) It’s been a big year for Johansen: a one-man show of his wry little paintings at Fletcher Gallery, a guest shot on the HBO series Oz, a nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the New York Dolls. And he put out one of the finest records of the year. The band is named for Harry Smith, the legendary filmmaker, painter, magician, and folklorist who assembled the recently rereleased six-album Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952. The combo includes some of the finest musicians around: bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Joey Baron; Larry Saltzman on guitar and banjo; and Brian Koonin, the versatile musical director of Johansen’s pop-art showbiz band Buster Poindexter. Johansen sings in one of the great blues voices and plays guitar and a mean harmonica. This combo rocks out across America and its last century—exquisite songs performed with impeccable chops and true soulfulness.

3 Julian Schnabel T-shirt by Jean-Michel Basquiat Way back when, Jean- Michel did a series of portraits on plates. One of them showed Julian Schnabel as a pig wearing a crown. When Schnabel made his preemptive strike on art history, Basquiat (1996), a sort of Amos ’n’ Andy Lust for Life, or Stepin Fetchit’s The Agony and the Ecstasy, Gerard Basquiat, Jean-Michel’s pop, had the plate made into a cool T-shirt. I am wearing it right now. No, you can’t buy one.

4 The Legendary Marvin Pontiac (Strange and Beautiful Music) According to legend, Marvin Pontiac (1932-77) was the son of an African man (from Mali) and a Jewish woman (from New Rochelle). Details of his life are scant, but in 1952 he had a minor hit with the then controversial blues song “I’m a Doggy,” and he is said to have reached the charts in Nigeria the same year with “Pancakes.” (Both are included in this collection.) After Pontiac fell out with his label, he refused to sign with another record company unless its president would visit his house in Slidell, Louisiana, and mow his lawn. End of recording career. According to Pontiac’s biographer, his was the only music Jackson Pollock listened to while painting. It’s easy to understand why: This beautiful, eccentric music is an exotic and original hybrid of blues, R&B, and African traditions. David Bowie has said, “Pontiac was so uncontainably prescient that one might think that these tracks had been assembled today.” The Legendary Marvin Pontiac was released on a label owned by musician John Lurie, who possesses a physical stature and profile remarkably similar to Pontiac as the legend is seen in the only existing photographs of him.

5 Sound track of The Million Dollar Hotel (Interscope) I’ve heard mixed reports about Wim Wenders’s yet-to-open film, but the sound track is fantastic. Much of the music here is hauntingly beautiful, as you might expect given the musicians involved (Bono, who also cowrote the screenplay, on vocals, guitar, and piano; Daniel Lanois, guitars, vocals, pedal steel; Jon Hassell, trumpet; Brian Eno, synthesizers; Greg Cohen, bass; Adam Dorn, synthesizer; Bill Frisell, guitar; Hal Willner, producer). There are eccentricities, like the delightful Milla Jovovich doing a primal Yoko imitation, and a kick-arse Spanish version of “Anarchy in the UK” featuring Chris Spedding on guitar. But in general it’s just a jewel of gorgeous music proving that beauty, sensitivity, and ardor can still coexist with intelligence and sophistication.

6 Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Déjà vu (te Neues Publishing, New York) Three hundred sixty-eight pages of color photographs demonstrating what terrific work you can make while denying that you are an artist.

7 Jeff Mermelstein, Sidewalk (Dewi Lewis Publishing, Stockport, UK) One of the great snapshot artists of all time, right up there with Garry Winogrand, Elliott Envitt, Burk Uzzle, and Lee Friedlander. This is saying something, since most of the great snapshot artists came up when Life was alive. The market for reportage photography isn’t what it used to be. Now it’s all about celebrities in borrowed clothes sitting for the computer. Mermelstein also works in color and is thus in a category all by himself. Sidewalk is hilarious, disturbing, mystical, subtle, and astounding.

8 Tom Sachs/Mary Boone Nothing in Sachs’s show at Mary Boone was more spectacular than his Chanel guillotine, but the airplane bathroom came close. Sachs is one of the few artists working today who would make Andy Warhol jealous. Boone is to be commended for turning her gallery into Sachs Fifth Avenue; being arrested for giving away bullets as show souvenirs is the highlight of a hall-of-fame career.

9 Richard Meltzer, A Whore Just Like the Rest (Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA) This collection of literature, rescued from pop sludge magazines, documents one of the greatest collisions of art and journalistic drudgery. Great writing always finds a venue. Meltzer transcended: Imagine Ezra Pound writing for Teen People.

10 West Nile Virus I wish people would stay indoors all winter, too.

Glenn O’Brien wrote and produced the film Downtown 81, starring Jean-Michel Basquiat, which opens next spring. A book of his poems, Human Nature (dub version), with drawings by Richard Prince, will be published by Greybull Press in April.