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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.