The Gospel According to…Presents Angelo Tony Luongo – Love Is The Name Of The Game
Dr. Brodsky (the title is something I just made up) is at it again as he dives further and further into the world of outsider music art with this discussion of a rather strange performer…
I shop for records a fair bit. It’s therapeutic for me to feel like I’m building towards some level of archival respectability, and it’s also simply satisfying to walk through a store without a pre-determined path and aimlessly flip through the albums in the stacks.
It’s often an educative and rewarding experience, too: there’s been quite a few times that I’ve seen a record that I was previously unaware of and was captivated enough by its appearance to follow up on it when I got home; this was how I found out about acts like Cambridge, MA psych-rockers Major Stars (I highly recommend their 2005 effort ‘4’) and New Orleans, LA ambient duo Belong.
During a recent late-night excursion with friends at the incomparable Sonic Boom Records, I happened upon a very curious section card while looking for the live LiLiPUT CD. It read ‘Angelo Tony Luongo (The Chosen One Of The World)’, and the records therein were very amateurish in appearance: most of them were CD-R singles in transparent clamshell cases that featured inkjet-printed artwork and a garish, italicized typeface in a particularly painful shade of cyan. Each of the discs featured the same rather comedic looking individual – an older, balding man with long, greying hair adorned in gold chains and a chest-baring thrift-store leisure suit – assuming various unflattering poses.
Being a big fan of unpredictable and unconventional music, I’d invested a fair bit of time and money procuring private-press, limited-run, and otherwise ‘outsider’ music, but this appeared to be particularly promising due to my intuition and experience with this sort of world. Said intuition was telling me that I was going to be dealing with a heaven-tier egomaniac whose narcissism was only going to be paralleled by his ineptitude: beyond his earnest-seeming lounge-denizen sleazeball appearance, he clearly holds no grasp of graphic design, taste, or sense what was appropriate to go on the packaging (one disc went so far as to have his date of birth printed on it); consequently, there was no viable reason to have any faith that he had no idea what was fit to press to disc. Yes, if the aesthetic was any indicator (and despite what your mother may have told you about judging books by their cover, appearance never lies), this was the work of a clueless and untalented individual.
Naturally, I couldn’t even wait to get home. I looked the guy up on my phone while still in the store, and was satisfied to immediately see that my hunch was spot on: the first search engine hit was his official website, and the descriptive text read ‘[f]irst there was Jesus. Then there was Elvis. Now, there’s ANGELO.’.
I’d obviously struck gold.
Now, you might be asking why I didn’t go back to the Angelo Tony Luongo section, grab the one ‘professional’ looking product, and plunk it down on the counter along with $20 of my hard-begged money.
Well, for one thing, I have standards. Even when it comes to outsider art.
Something being inept, unconventional, and even bad doesn’t necessitate that it’s ‘bad’. Granted, these handicaps don’t necessitate that it’s good, either, but something being ‘good’ is an argument of subjectivity and context: Nickelback, Three Days Grace, Theory Of A Deadman, et al. are fucking atrocious, but there’s nothing in the execution itself that strays from the accessible. Conversely, myself and many others find a lot of enjoyment in ‘difficult’ (and disparate) artists such as Jandek, Whitehouse, and Harry Partch because of their incomparability in tandem with the contexts of their art. Often, the politics of art justify art. Is this fair? Probably not, but it’s undeniable that all interesting art contains subtext, and most longtime purveyors of art are more interested in something that can move them as opposed to something borne of obvious derivation.
Of course, I don’t doubt that Mr. Luongo’s work is ‘authentic’ in that it comes from a place reflective of his genuine character, but it does not come from a place of cultural cognizance: the main page of his website features a caricatured illustration of the artist coupled captioned ‘outsider recording artist extraordinaire!’, but any notion that the man came to this conclusion himself (or was even aware of outsider music before some smarmy food co-op employee backhandedly complimented him with a tone-deaf Gary Wilson comparison) is certainly misguided. Him identifying as outsider is similar to Tommy Wiseau retroactively branding his 2003 feature-faux-pas The Room as a black comedy: yes, Luongo has more in common with outsider filmmakers like Sam Mraovich and James Nguyen – all of the bravado and hubris with no substance to back it up. Lucky for us that he can’t afford a video camera…
Luongo’s site is chock full of low-budget music videos and references to local stable of Toronto curious ToBeScene (much to my amusement, a statement that ToBeScene will always have an up-to-date page on Angelo is punctuated by a dead link). A section labeled ‘press’ reveals that reviews are ‘coming soon’ – I suspect that this one will not find a place there if that day ever comes, though Luongo will certainly read this article before most people as those in his position tend to look themselves up on search engines. But more entertaining and telling than any video on Luongo’s site is the text: I’m not even referring to his 4-page autobiography (in .pdf format, of course), but the man’s unsurprisingly conservative philosophical manifesto (unwarranted self-importance much?).
Reading both of these (which I recommend you do almost as much as I’d implore you to listen to the music) results in one learning some rather interesting facts about the man’s history and outlook: he’s spent the better part of a decade in mental institutions, he lives on disability, he believes that homosexuality is an illness that medication and accepting Christ into one’s heart can cure, he feels that six attempts have been made on his life because of jealousy over his talent, etc.
Now, I’m no doctor, but what we appear to have here is a good, old-fashioned paranoid schizophrenic with a side of bipolar disorder. Now, while these congruent circumstances brought the best out of unique artists like your Daniel Johnstons – and I suppose, to a lesser degree, your Wild Man Fischers -, it’s likely that these individuals possessed talents that would have manifested separate of their diseases: their artistic inclinations might have surfaced even if they weren’t mentally ill. However, with those of Angelo’s ilk, the desire to make a spectacle of oneself without the skill to warrant doing so seems exclusively co-morbid to the disease.
A curious occurrence that seems exclusive to this school of outsider artist is a complete disregard for the correct way to do something. Now, I’m not saying that hard and fast rules work for everyone, and – after all -, by definition, someone like this exists on the periphery of industry and tends to inadvertently buck trend (if they’re even aware of what’s truly trendy altogether), but the man had a documentary made about himself. I haven’t seen it, but boy, do I want to…
However, the circus of the man’s malapropisms aside, what can I say about his music?
Well, despite the man’s eccentricities and sheer lack of know-how, not too much. Like a lot of ‘outsider art’, the context provides the impetus to give it your time, and much like ‘self-styled outsider art’, Luongo hangs onto the tag in an effort to give himself justification for plying his craft. His sense of rhythm is imprecise, his vocal pitch exists so far out of key that it’s questionable that anybody but a mute would have attacked him out of jealousy (and even then, it’d likely be more driven by principle), the background music he desecrates with his voice sounds, and his lyrics are monosyllabic, homogeneous, and reek of the desperation of a man whose disability checks single-handedly keep the oldest profession afloat. They also tend to betray any notion of his possessing the most finite modicum of metrical sensibility. Some might say that this means it’s bad, and on a conventional level it is, but is it ‘bad’?
Well, the beauty of outsider art is that it’s where the notion of beauty being in the eye of the beholder is tested strongest. I prefer my outsider art to be more competent, self-aware, and less the result of someone ignorant of their relative place in the rather diverse quilt; your mileage may vary. To provide an idea of what I’m talking about, I legitimately enjoy the work of artists in the vein of Jandek, The Shaggs, and Gary Wilson as opposed to the B.J. Snowdens and Jan Terris of the world (though I certainl find them entertaining).
In short – and being very kind -, if you like the first Suicide album but find Alan Vega’s vocals too tuneful and wish that Martin Rev had a karaoke machine and a reverb pedal instead of a broken organ and a drum machine, look no further: this is your new favourite album.
For those who might call me cruel, the charm of outsider art is that it’s different: if Luongo performed the exact same music with skill, nobody would care. Any success and notoriety that the project has generated has been generated because of the objectively poor nature of the work in tandem with the ridiculousness of the performer. I am entertained, so while this may not succeed as music (or possess true artful subtext), it certainly qualifies as a curio, and for that, you should thank your ineptitude. Some might say that it’s sad that a bad artist can overpower a competent one in terms of attention received, but today – in a world where people are struggling to be ordinary and competent – people like Mr. Luongo who excel at failure are a welcome antidote to the morass of bland ‘talent’ that occupies our corporate radio and television programming.
Mr. Luongo, my advice to you is to keep on doing what you’re doing without anything resembling improvement – we need people like you to keep the world interesting.