The pop-culture polymath has used his spectacular tastes to introduce people to much-maligned musical genres. But if only he could get around to releasing his own recordings.
Vincent Gallo is one of the few modern renaissance men. He boasts a long list of achievements and I can add another: Gallo is the only person who could persuade me to get into the prog-rock band Yes.
Every time I play Tales from Topographic Oceans, I have to laugh at myself and ask: "Am I really listening to Yes?" The band were a joke back in 1977, associated with creepy basement dwellers who read fantasy novels while watching VHS tapes of Rick Emerson stabbing his keyboard with Nazi daggers. I'd always sided with punk rock's reaction against 17-minute songs, so it took the musical wisdom of Gallo to show me the error of my ways. He's proved you can be both a Yes fan and a Ramones fan (kudos to Gallo for getting Johnny Ramone a film role in Stranded and for being godfather to Chris Squire's child).
Gallo's musical opinions are always spot on. For a start, he's gone on record to say he prefers Journey's Don't Stop Believing to Radiohead's OK Computer. Need more evidence? Just look at the tracklisting for the Brown Bunny soundtrack ... it's genius! The critically misunderstood film shows Gallo as a man of spectacular musical tastes. Brown Bunny is the answer film to Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop and stars Gallo as anti-hero Bud Clay as he goes on an existential search through America to the sounds of Gordon Lightfoot, Jackson C Frank and John Frusciante. Amazing. On the soundtrack to his masterpiece Buffalo 66, Gallo repays his debt of influence to prog rock and includes great and original covers of King Crimson and Yes. I still remember being shocked at how much I enjoyed the soundtrack. Gallo vanquished my own musical prejudices towards the era of musical excess. I was curious enough to get Tales from Topographic Oceans, and had to admit he was right - it's a classic album.
The facts show that if something was happening in New York in the late 70s and early 80s, Gallo was at the epicentre of it. At 16 he moved there and started a no wave band with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Gallo was heavily into the downtown art scene, playing with the Bush Tetras and Lydia Lunch, and was a regular at Manhattan's Mudd Club. Hip-hop? Gallo was there, starting his own rap act Trouble Deuce, and as Prince Vince he appeared on the shortlived, iconic and utterly street Graffiti Rock. Twenty years later and he's making appearances with Rick Rubin in Jay-Z's 99 Problems and rapping with RZA. The man is a pop-culture zeitgeist.
Despite all this, Gallo's own recorded musical output has been curiously limited. Sure, there are treats out there for people willing to spend outrageous amounts of money, but he has only had two wide releases on Warp: When, a cool number inflected with the spirit of Moondog, and Music for Films and Recordings, a compilation of Gallo's previous scores and cinematic offerings, twisted and bent into shape for general release. This is somewhat frustrating. Gallo is sitting on a mountain of unrecorded material; even in the mid 90s, when I heard talk of him signing to Sony and recording with Bunny member Lucas Haas, prog-rock producer Eddie Offord (producer of Tales from Topographic Oceans), Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz and DNA member Tim Wright, I was excited - but nothing happened. And again he recorded in 2005 with Sean Lennon and Jim O'Rourke, but has this project been released? No.
Gallo sparked my musical curiosity when he announced his new improvisational project RRIICCEE, featuring a rotating lineup (Eric Erlandsen of Hole was a founder member). The band's musical manifesto is to create tours only featuring improvisation, to dispense with the recording-industry model and be true to the music. Yet again, no records appear to be forthcoming. Is he refusing to release his recordings out of spite (as he did with his artwork)? Or is he too preoccupied with other projects? I don't know. But I'd like to hear more from the man who helped me understand the complicated and majestic beauty of Yes.