What Ever Happened To Vincent Gallo?

vincent-gallo-brown-bunny Today I turn 44. Or is it 45? I’m not sure. I was born in 1971 so I must be 44 today. Or it could be 45. I suppose I am now at that age where a person begins to lose count of their own time on earth. I would always wonder how this could happen when I would observe others being uncertain about their age. Now I understand- one’s age is not what is important anymore.

On my stereo I am listening to one of Vincent Gallo’s earlier albums. The album is called Recordings Of Music For Films. It is an odd, artful, beautiful and melancholic album. The album did not receive good reviews but I feel like there is real, solitary genius in it. Something that a person like myself can find hope and consolation in.

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For almost the past two decades the way that I have charted the passing of time has been through Vincent Gallo. Every now and then I will seek out contemporary pictures of him to see how old he looks ( I realize I do this to see how much I have aged). I will look for any recent interviews or work that he has done. Sometimes it feels like I am reaching out for some sort of buoy, looking for some kind of brotherly support when I feel adrift.

I first became aware of Vincent Gallo when I was 27. It was 1998 and we were both in the prime of our lives. He had just written and directed his own film called Buffalo ’66, a masterpiece of independent cinema. In the circle of artists, musicians and social misfits that I hung out with in 1998- it seemed like Buffalo ’66 was the only film I heard talked about that year. It won a lot of young people’s hearts- especially those of us who were anxious about our place in the world and did not like our parents so much.

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I did not like going to movie theaters. Even back then when movies cost what now feels like a dollar, I thought they were a rip off. I also did not like the claustrophobia of a movie theatre. I felt uncomfortable sharing images on a screen with people whom I did not know or would never want to know. But I had to see that film everyone was talking about. I had a few beers and then by myself went to see the film in an independent movie theatre in Oakland, California. I ended up seeing the film several more times and bringing new people each time. Even though I was broke, I bought them all tickets because I wanted to expose them to what I felt was not only a great film but it was a film about exactly what went on in my own head.

Isn’t this the point of great art? We resonate with it so strongly because we are able to see ourselves more clearly through it.

After several viewings of Buffalo ’66 I became very interested in Vincent Gallo. This was the time before the internet so I had to rely on various culture magazines for information about him. I was fascinated by his handsome look, his character and the fact that there was someone out there who was around my age, successfully living as an artist. It was through finding out about Vincent Gallo that I was able to find out more about myself.

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Before learning about Vincent Gallo I had suspected that I wanted to live a creative life but I did not believe it was possible. I had already dropped out of graduate school for the third time. After several efforts I had given up on becoming a medical doctor. I did not know what I was going to do. I was working as a bartender. I was drinking too much and reading even more. I had panic attacks. I lived in a run down flat with my soon to be x-girlfriend and I was as close to being as poor as I had ever been in my life.

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Then I found out about Vincent Gallo and suddenly I felt a purpose. If he could do it so could I. Here was a guy who was a painter, a writer, a filmmaker, a musician and most importantly an outsider. He was deviant and cool and defied social expectations. He was the James Dean of my time (but much more interesting) and as ridiculous as it sounds to say now, I admit, I wanted the fire that he had.

I started dressing like him. Wearing my hair in a similar way. I bought the pleather jackets from Salvation Army, the black beanies, the black combat boots and old jeans. It started to happen more than I intended. Sometimes people would tell me that I looked like Vincent Gallo. There was no greater compliment.

It is my belief that we all need heroes. A person without a hero is adrift in the sea of life. The stronger the influence that your heroes have on you, the more purpose and direction you will have. At an age where a lot of my heroes had died it was too easy for me to feel like 27 would also be my end. Finding Vincent Gallo pulled me out of this fatalistic thinking.

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But what ever happened to Vincent Gallo? As quickly as I found him it seems as if he has disappeared (as we get older time seems to work this way). I followed his career with the interest of someone who was looking for answers. I thought that Brown Bunny was a brilliant and brave film but after that I seemed to lose interest in the films he made (although I really enjoyed him in Tetro). He seemed to stop writing and directing his own films and went down a different path.

I paid more attention to his music and his art. His music did not get great reviews but I found most of it to be really good. I would read interviews and as disappointed as I was by his choice to be a Republican and an occasional misogynistic jerk, I still enjoyed his iconoclastic spirit. But in the past few years it has been difficult to find information on him.

I’ve seen a few modeling spreads he has done and in those pictures he does look older. He is going gray like me and like me his hair seems to be thinning a bit. I notice a sadness in his eyes, like there is something he has lost and I too can feel this at times. I suppose this may come with knowing that the prime years of your life are now behind you. I suppose the degree of sadness you feel about growing older is determined by how much you loved being young. Vincent Gallo was the archetype of the Promethean youth. He stole fire and burned down a lot of social taboos, conventions and limitations. He gave despairing young men like myself hope in what felt like a never ending battle to preserve our souls.

Just like my youth, Vincent Gallo has now chosen to disappear. He wrote and directed another film but he decided to throw it away. I notice on his website that for a large sum of money an individual can purchase sex or a date with him. I would love to purchase the opportunity for my wife and I to have dinner with him but I do not have that kind of money.

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Maybe the best years of Vincent Gallo’s creative life are now over. I would like to think that in his voluntary retreat from the entertainment world he is still painting, writing, reading and making music. I notice that every few years it seems as if he will come out of seclusion and play at a music festival. I search for some kind of current interview with him but there is very little out there. It is almost as if he does not want to be seen anymore. Vincent Gallo is older now and I presume it is only natural that he has moved into a less visible time in his life.

Now that I am 44 or 45, I see that this is what starts to happen to a man at around this age. The Promethean force that causes a younger person to want to do something great and defiant in the world seems to loosen its grip as we grow older. The ego has less territory it wants to conquer (or less strength to conquer it with). Past a certain age most people become less interested in the ego’s ambitions and more interested in the project of learning how to most comfortably adapt to this thing called aging.

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I want to believe that Vincent Gallo and I are still on a similar path. That we are growing older together even though we will never meet. As I listen to the melancholic piano in his song called A Cold And Grey Summer Day, I want to believe that I can still, almost twenty years later, use him as my guide. I want to believe that he has chosen to withdraw from the world of accomplishment and creative fame and found some peace in a quieter way of life. I want to believe that he too, in his own way, is learning to accept his life as it is. That he too is finding satisfaction playing with dogs, watering plants, cleaning his house, washing his car, buying nice things, making art, listening to music, reading books, sleeping, eating, hanging out with those he loves, spending time in silent solitude, watching films and learning to be present for the time left in this life. Even though all of this might be a fantasy- I want to believe that it is true. After all, I forget who said it but it is through the stories that we tell ourselves that we create a life.

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Most importantly, when I ask myself, What ever happened to Vincent Gallo? I do not want to have to Google search anymore for the answer. I want to believe that I don’t have to look any further than my own life and how I am now living as a 40-something-year-old-man, in order to find that answer.

How To Resist Normalization

“They know that if they put the letter x in their ad or brand, whether you know it or not, you instantly think about sex. I’m concerned about how we’re controlled or directed or conditioned, without even knowing it.” -V. Vale, publisher of RE/SEARCH

I live in Los Angeles, which is often referred to as the normalization capital of the world. Hollywood is responsible for most of the plot lines, belief systems, ways of being and images that seduce and support the vast majority of people into living in normalized ways. It is hard to know how effected by my environment I have been. I suspect some degree of normalization has set in within me- probably a lot more than I am comfortable being aware of.

Normalization has spread all over the world and it manifests in many different forms. For purposes of this essay I am referring to normalization in the Western World, mainly America. Many philosophers, social theorists and others currently consider America to be the epicenter of unprecedented degrees of normalization. I believe that a normalization of the masses is occurring in America and it is far greater than what occurred in Nazi Germany or what currently exists in North Korea.

When I use the word normalization what I am referring to is the absence of all forms of resistance. When resistance is gone, normalization is what sets in.

What do I mean by normalization? Maybe it would be easier to answer this question by stating what I do not mean by normalization. I do not mean a creative, fully-accepting, loving, non-dramatic, non-fearful, non-violent, non-addictive, generous, kind, confident, anti-authoritarian, free-thinking, self obsessed human being. I do not mean someone who does not like their work but works for the money and routinely engages in popularly accepted, corporate forms of distraction, consumerism, communication and entertainment.

So what is normalization? Wiktionary (an on-line dictionary) defines normalization as any process that makes something more normal or regular, which typically means conforming to some regularity or rule, or returning from some state of abnormality. I suppose that when speaking about normalization in a social sense, abnormality could imply existing outside the norm.

So what is the norm in American society? We know it when it sets in.

For many artists and activists in America, life is a continual process of resisting the above various forms of normalization.

Minor forms of mental illness are the result of resisting normalization (clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder), but more extreme cases of mental illness are always the result of normalization (narcissism, borderline personality disorder, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and psychopathy to name a few).

The greatest counter-culture movements, from the hippies and beatniks to the punk, post punk, grunge and indie movements have been born from resistance. Today (in 2015) this resistance is more visible in the occupy movement, the hacker group Anonymous, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Artistic counter-cultural movements in America are currently in great decline because the pervasive forces of normalization have effected almost everyone (mainly through technology, policing, economics, public shaming and various laws).

What about “terrorist” and paramilitary groups? Insurgent groups? Any group that utilizes any form of psychological or physical violence is the norm. There are few things more normalized in America than violence.

The main symptom of normalization is chronic irritation, anger, emptiness and rage. It does not feel good to be normalized. Not everyone responds to normalization in an socially acceptable way. This is why it is often those who regularly experience chronic irritation, emptiness, anger and rage who engage in wars, violence and other forms of emotional and psychological oppression.

Normalization is violence. A violence against life itself.

Authentic resistance is never violent or harmful to others. Authentic resistance is a force of love, creativity, honesty, kindness and a strong impulse towards liberation, generation and freedom from all forms of violence.

Life is resistance. It is through a continual interplay of resistance that life exists.

Resistance is the creative process in action.

Non-violent acts of political protest are a powerful and important form of resistance (especially when living within authoritarian systems). However, this form of resistance is not nearly as effective for our inner-selves as being engaged creatively.

Creativity is the greatest form of resistance because creativity is generative. It fills the emptiness so that normalization can not set in. Normalization generates holes so that it can burrow in deep.

A few basic examples of forms of resistance are: not regularly watching television and popular movies, regularly reading literature, philosophy and poetry, viewing art, listening to non-passifying forms of music (meaning non-corporate music that requires some effort to find and listen to), being a vegetarian, not paying attention to the news, growing your own food, spending little time on-line or on a cellular phone, not engaging in social networking, loving your work, engaged in creative activities, not always looking outside oneself for fulfillment, regularly having great ideas, cooking one’s own food, engaged in transcending the ego, not utilizing the medical system to maintain health.

The internet, television, popular-movies, the news, Facebook, Instagram, politics, institutionalized education, the medical system, capitalistic belief systems (money), popular self-help books, your own personal and family drama, psychotherapy with a normalized therapist, most corporations and technology all share one common purpose- to normalize the individual. The amount that you are engaged with these things often determines the degree to which a person has been normalized.

Television, the internet and movies (there is a difference between movies and film) are the main vehicles of normalization. While watching images on a screen the human mind becomes relaxed enough that subliminal messaging is able to sneak in to the subconscious mind (everyone involved in advertising is aware of this psychological fact). The subconscious mind is like the roots of a plant. It generates what grows in the conscious mind. This is why subliminal messaging from the corporate media often grows into normalization.

If you value your autonomy, Be careful what you open yourself up to, is a good thing to keep in mind.

Ultimately a person does have a choice. To agree to normalization or engage in acts of resistance. Most choose normalization because it feels so much easier. Everyone is doing it. This is why normalization has some real benefits. A person can live a normal, relaxed and comfortable life. A person can afford what is often called security. A person can feel like they fit in and are apart of something bigger than themselves. But the normalized person is not really there. It is just a normalized version of who they think they really are.

This is why the main focus of a normalized lifestyle is the pursuit of pleasure (consumerism). A normalized person works so that they can live (consume) on their off time. When it comes time to living- it is all about the pursuit of pleasure. This pursuit takes the form of vacations, shopping, second homes, going out for nice meals, being passively entertained (movies), getting intoxicated, being in good shape, prescription medication and being happy. Once a person is no longer resisting normalization, there is more time to just chill and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.

The reason why normalization leads to an obsession with the pursuit of pleasure is because normalization does not feel good. It does not feel good to not be who you think you are. It fills a person with anger, illness, frustration, fear and emptiness (pain). Normalization stresses a person beyond their capacity. They have to pursue pleasure in order to escape the pain of normalization.

Authentic resistance always feels good. If it does not feel good it is not resistance. It feels fluid and free. It is an energy that elevates a person out from the more oppressive forces of normalization. It fills up the emptiness and puts a person in alignment with their true self.

This is why it is so important for a person to have a creative outlet. Whether it is writing, painting, drawing, dancing, sculpting, gardening, knitting or engaging in non-passive forms of entertainment and/or psychological enhancement (listening to music, reading, watching films, meditating).

Creativity is resistance. As long as a person is regularly engaging in some form of resistance, they are still free.

Man In A Bathtub

I have always enjoyed reading stories about men and women who spend a lot of time in the bathtub. Recently I read a short, absurd, twisted French novel (I can not remember the title or the author’s name at the moment and I can not go search for the small book in my stack of books since I am currently in a bathtub). In the novel the protagonist has committed himself for life to his bathtub. I became fascinated by what this would be like. How would it feel to spend day after day lying around in a bathtub? There would be no water- just a lot of pillows, blankets and books.

I decided to try it out. I am at perfect time in my life where I can actually spend a lot of time in a tub. I have mastered the machinations of my mind enough so that I am confident that my mind can not get the best of me. Most people who would be locked away in a bathroom for days on end might experience a degree of psychological duress that could cause them to tip over into insanity or violence. I, however, am able to keep my calm. Even though my thoughts might be telling me all kinds of things that could make my stay in the bathtub unpleasant, I know how not to believe everything I think.

Currently, I have been in this tub for three days. My goal is to spend at least four or five days in the tub. I have no real desire to leave the bathroom. As I write this now, with my laptop perched on the side of the tub, I feel as comfortable as I have felt in some of the worlds finest five-star hotels. I don’t have many needs (other than to be left alone and to get a lot of rest) and I rather like the solitude that I have found here in my tub.

I am fortunate though. I have a loving and supportive wife who brings me food and whatever else I request. Just this morning I asked her to get me a chocolate bar, the New York Times newspaper, a can of tuna fish, a loaf of bread, some gluten-free cookies, a kale juice and within a matter of an hour I had all these things with me in the tub. I realize that most would not have this good fortune. Most men in their mid-forties with a wife, a house and a plethora of other worldly responsibilities would not receive this kind of support if they decided to drop out of the world and spend their time in a bathtub. I know and I am thankful.

My wife thinks I need the rest. She has been concerned about the amount that I work and the toll my work sometimes takes on my health. When I was telling her about the French novel I was reading she is the one who came up with the idea.

“Why don’t you do that for bit?”

“Do what?”

“Why don’t you take some time of and just relax in our bathtub?”

I immediately thought this was a great idea. I mean why not? I have always been fascinated by people who retire to their tubs. Why should I not go ahead and do the same thing?

“You sure that would be ok?”

“Yes my love.”

“What about work and all the bills we need to pay?”

“My love, your health is much more important than our wealth. Besides you are fortunate that you made all that money years ago. You no longer need to strain yourself in the way you do. You are at a point in your life where you can spend some time in the tub.”

“You are genius. What a great idea.”

I began my stay in the tub that evening. I may decide to spend the entire week in the tub. My back is sore and my body does want to move but I am not worried about it. I am able to meditate, read my books and just contemplate various things in my mind. This tends to keep my mind off of the more uncomfortable sensations in my body. Just this morning my wife scrubbed the bathroom clean and now the lavender scent that was in the bathroom cleaner seems to have relaxed my mind and body. I am quite content here in my bathtub and could remain here for awhile.

In the French novel that I recently read, the protagonist confines himself to his tub because he no longer wants to be apart of the madness of human life. He feels that humans have become the most troubled animal on earth and he wants to disassociate from the human population so that he can find some peace. He never finds the peace that he was looking for because even in the solitude of his bathroom he is not able to get away from being human. Contained within his mind and body is all the madness that he was wanting to flee from. At the end of the novel the protagonist drowns in his bathtub.

I have no intention of drowning in my tub. As nice as it is to be removed from the outside world, it is not without its challenges. My mind and body do generate a lot of difficult thoughts and sensations but fortunately I am able to calm myself down and not get too caught up in all the madness. I am able to recline, relax and read even though my mind and body are sometimes wanting to get out of the tub and go for a walk. “There will be plenty of time to walk, just sit here,” I tell myself.

My wife is an excellent cook. This evening I have requested eggplant parmesan with a side of steamed spinach drenched in garlic and olive oil. I have also asked my wife to get me a nice bottle of red wine. I know that she wants my stay in the bathtub to be without difficulty so I suppose I have been taking some advantage of her kindness. This morning I requested a cup of green tea, three cheese omelet with reishi mushrooms and a side of vegan turkey sausages. She made me much more than I needed to eat.

What should I do with the rest of my day? It is almost late afternoon and I have a stack of books on the side of the tub that I still want to read. Maybe I will turn over and take a nap once I am finished writing this. Maybe I will do some stretching. Maybe I will use the toilet and then take a quick shower. Maybe I should spend some time reviewing some memories that I have been going over in my mind. So many choices. Life in a prison cell can not be all that bad. When a person spends all their time in a confined space the irony is that so much space opens up. The busyness of life no longer squeezes out the space all around. Maybe I will just sit here for awhile and enjoy the space.

Even though I am spending all my time in a bathtub filled with pillows and other things, I realize that what I am really bathing in is all this space. It is what I needed most.

Maybe this is why I am so drawn to stories about people who spend all their time in bathtubs.

 

The Brawl In The Bathroom

I had to go. There was no question about it. The situation was becoming urgent. I had just finished a cup of coffee at a hip cafe in the arts district of downtown Los Angeles. I drank my cup of fresh coffee with a slice of sourdough bread topped with sea salt, grass-fed butter, herbs and two bright white poached eggs. Birds chirped and overweight city officials dressed in not-so-flattering-uniforms issued parking citations to expensive cars parked too long on the side of the road. I watched attractive people walk past (there is no better city in the world than LA, other than possibly Rome or Barcelona, for observing attractive and well-dressed people walking around).

For a brief moment, my morning felt effortless. A day off from work. A day free of all obligations. A blue, sun filled sky. Then the pressure began. My stomach began to ache and it was then that I knew the matter was urgent. I asked the well dressed gentleman sitting beside me to please save my seat. He agreed. With my head down, I hurried my way into the back of the cafe where there was a bathroom. I told myself to breathe. I reassured myself that everything was going to work out. I would get there in time. Just breathe.

There was only a single stall inside the brightly lit, modern and minimal bathroom. Immediately I could smell the stall was occupied. A slight degree of panic and frustration set in but I told myself again to focus on my breathing. To feel my feet on the ground. I pulled on the locked stall door just to let the man inside know that someone was waiting. I then left the bathroom and waited in the hall. I reassured myself again that everything was going to work out.

I waited. And waited. And waited. Several stylish young people walked past and I got out of their way. I wondered if they knew that I was waiting to use a toilet. Why else would I be standing in the hall? I felt embarrassed and uncool. It is difficult to maintain a dignified facade of cool when you are waiting for a toilet. I paced back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. I knew that I had to remain calm. And then I walked back inside the bathroom.

The urgency that I felt was becoming emergency. I had to go. Now. I decided to make my presence known. I coughed. Turned on the faucet. Sighed loudly. Paced around. I turned the bathroom light on and off and then said, “Oh sorry.” It was difficult to endure the smell, which was the opposite of jasmine or lavender flowers. It smelled like filth and since I am sensitive to smells I had to get out of there. I went back into the hall hoping that the man on the toilet would realize that I needed to use the toilet. “I will give him two minutes,” I thought to myself as I resumed my pacing in the hallway. Two minutes.

Two minutes is two minutes too long when waiting to use a toilet. Two minutes turns into hours. Two minutes becomes an impossible goal. Especially after a strong cup of coffee. I was trying to be considerate of the man on the toilet but as hard as I tried to hold onto my patience- it was slipping from my grasp.

Before I confess to you what I did next, I must try and justify my behavior. You see, I knew that this man was intentionally taking longer than he needed to. He was messing with me because I was bothering him. I am still certain of this. Downtown Los Angeles is the manifestation of Satre’s famous philosophical dictum: Hell is other people. People in Los Angeles are as reviled as they are attracted to one another. It is mass confusion. Everyone is fascinated by the same people whom they can not stand. In Los Angeles other people are an inconvenience and an obsession. They are an obstacle to get around or ahead of. No one has any patience for anyone else even though everyone is always comparing themselves to everyone else. It is a confused relationship that people have with one another, which has  created an entire city filled with people suffering from passive aggressive personality disorder.

As I stood in the hall waiting to use the toilet I realized that I was just that unlucky person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

I am not a violent man but when I find myself the victim of someone else’s passive aggressive behavior I notice that my heart rate rises. My breathing becomes shallow. My hands tremble and my mind spins. I am overwhelmed with a desire to get rid of the passive by becoming aggressive.

And then it happened. The moment I heard the man singing on the toilet I was breaking the lock on the bathroom stall door with the force of my entire leg and foot. When I noticed that the stall door collapsed inward, I felt strangely detached from the situation- almost as if I was watching the scene play out on a large screen. I forgot all about the pressure, all about the emergency. I was the emergency now and the emergency was rushing straight at the terrified looking white man who was sitting on the toilet with his pants and underwear around his knees, a newspaper in his hands. His mouth dropped open and his eye were trying to say what his voice was unable to.

As I put both of my hands on to his neck I remember saying something like, “That is long enough you son of a bitch. I know what you are doing. This is a public restroom and you have taken way too long.” I then lifted him by his neck straight up into the air. He desperately tried kicking at me but the pants around his ankles denied him the freedom of movement. I felt his fists land on my sides and chest but it did not bother me. I then dropped him on his ass and dragged him out into the hall by his hair. He kept screaming out, “Hey what the fuck! What the fuck! Hey! Hey!” as I dragged him across the floor. I was unbuttoning my own pants as I left him on the floor of the hallway and yelled, “You have had enough time! Who do you think you are singing on the toilet!?!?!?”

I ran back into the bathroom. Did what I could to get the broken stall door to close so I could have some privacy. I then pulled my pants down and sat on the toilet. I did not care that I had forgotten to flush the toilet. I was absorbed in an intoxicating feeling of relief. It was the kind of relief that a person feels when walking out of an emergency room after a health scare or when a panic attack passes. My heart was racing and my entire body was pulsating. My forehead was dripping with sweat and I did not care about any of it. The toilet had set me free.

I was no longer aware of time passing. I knew that a few others were waiting for the toilet but I did not care. I felt like singing.

Again I heard the bathroom door open. I heard footsteps walking over towards the bathroom stall. Keys jangled. I heard what sounded like a voice coming through a radio device. Then I heard a knock on the broken bathroom stall door. I didn’t not respond. They would have to wait. There was a stronger more urgent knock followed by a man’s voice, “This is the Los Angeles Police Department. Please finish right now what you are doing and come out with your pants up.”

I heard what sounded like several people clapping in the hall.