I can’t quite calculate the amount of brilliantly twisted entertainers (or just downright eccentrics) that I became acquainted with through the legendary Manhattan access show Beyond Vaudeville (which later transformed into Oddville on MTV). The series featured some major stars of long ago, but perhaps the greatest revelations were the performers who were genuinely off the map in terms of what they did — I am not alone in my continued love for a man named “Tray man” (unfortunately no clips of his amazing act have reached YouTube), who sported a tray (in fact a variety of different nicely-colored trays) atop his dome and then sorta… well, he sorta walked around. As a friend of mine explained it to me when we saw him do his act live, “if he spun the tray or danced around, Ed, now that might be considered a talent…”
I won’t say that the now-departed Bingo Gazingo was akin to (the also departed) Tray man — Bingo was a poet/singer/wildman who pretty much knew that his audience expected him to be over the top. And that he was, providing a crazed version of Beat poetry that he deemed song lyrics, to the extent that he performed with various musicians who tried to “flesh out” his tunes. Here is a 1997 New York Times article, in which Bingo is on the verge of “discovery,” as the Oddville folks had him on their pilot for the MTV series.
The Times piece reveals his real name (Murray Wachs) and some background: he worked for BMI as a song-logger (listening for BMI songs on the radio) and then had a longstanding berth at the U.S. Post Office. Once he retired from the post office, he devoted himself to his poems/lyrics and would appear around NYC at open mic nights. He became a cult figure and a regular fixture at the Bowery Poetry Club on Monday evenings. Very sadly, he was hit by a cab traveling to the Bowery Poetry Club and died in late 2009, but his death didn’t reach the attention of those of us who had been blown away by his maniacal art until New Years Day of this year. No category can contain him, least of all the fabricated label “Outsider Music” which oddly mixes the primitive (Shags, Hasil Adkins) with the musical sophisticate (Captain Beefheart). Like so many true primitives, he was sui generis, and so the time has come to celebrate the special man who wanted to be known as Bingo Gazingo!
First, Bingo performing at the Astor Place station on my subway line, the 6. He’s singing his masterpiece “JLo.” He wrote many tributes to contemporary pop performers. I don’t think anyone has summed up her sex appeal with the kind of perception that Bingo did, as with “You smell like a kosher deli/I want to put a baby in your belly”:
Another ode to a contemporary mainstream musician, this time Kenny G. Bingo is backed here by the band My Robot Friend, who gives his maniacal lyrics a high-tech sheen. Again, who can argue with “I can relax and take my Ex-Lax… we can reach our climax with Kenny G.”?
More Kraftwerk Gazingo, as Bingo sings” You’re out of the Computer,” again with My Robot Friend:
Perhaps the craziest clip of Bingo to be found on the Net is this slice of him performing at an atmospherically lit Halloween show in Bushwick, Brooklyn. This show took place in Halloween of last year (yes, folks, he’s 85 here!!!), and his performance consists of a medley of his “greatest hits,” including a new song about Beyonce and Jay-Z that was news to me:
There is no other way to close any discussion of Bingo than to spotlight his chef d’oeuvre, his own “Howl”-like anthem of the disturbed mind, “Psycho.”:
The photos of Bingo used above come from the Life Just Bounces blog