The Holden Caufield of Indie Music and Existentialist Poetry
Brett Gleason is a songwriter and singer living in “Downtown Brooklyn” which is a real place in Brooklyn, New York City. He studied music at The New School University (Fiction and Music Production) and considers himself a “tragic artist” and a “DIY musician, writer & thinking feeler”. He is living the most up-to-date trend to be totally « in like Flynn » as he explains it he «lives in downtown Brooklyn in a building that is half artist residency, half housing for formerly homeless. Otherwise I could never live in such a beautiful area! My building also has a fully functioning theatre where I performed most of my music videos.» He has used themes of unrequited and estranged love and being gay in a lot of his work but also has recurrent themes of what can only be called madness and dire straits. Poverty and loneliness show up a lot in the lyrics and come-and-go split-second moments of love too. He is an genuine Existentialist poet, but with sound; imagine Jean Paul Sartre if he lived in Brooklyn and was a gay musician, now.
I wanted to write about this poet slash singer slash artist Brett
Gleason for over a year, but not in the slightest way being involved in his
world of indie music, I found it hard. I feel not only do I feel I owe him this article but I more so
believe it would be worthwhile to let people outside of his milieu (and perhaps those in
mine) become acquainted with his work since it is unique and has true merit and
is an interesting, very personal message. This is what initially interested me,
the melding of various types of expression, all in one soulful person.
I feel unequipped and unqualified to speak about indie music in the United States though I have many friends in this field (and who sadly for myself, are at a rather long distance). In fact, and for that matter, I have never been a devotée of any particular music even though my own husband is a musician. I can listen to all sorts and genres (and thoroughly enjoy them) but have no real favourite types of music maybe with the exception of some opera and jazz classics and I personally can go for long periods without any music at all.
What I find attractive in what Brett is doing is I feel his work is touchingly earnest and genuinely compelling. His lyrics speak so much about the state of so many artists today (especially in the United States it seems to me) and what gay men seem eternally destined to feel in some form or another at some period in their life. This is why for myself I was so interested to respond to it and write what I felt. I like the whole Brett charisma going on. He’s very touching, I was moved by his solemn tenacity and unyielding resolve. He has a truly charming way about himself.
So, first impressions: It seems that his singing sounds to me like classic singspiele, the German 18th-century opera and French opéra comique technique, which is a very distinct style that is usually characterized in musical drama by spoken dialogue which is alternated with ensembles, ballads, songs and arias which are often strophic, and most usually performed in a very folk-like way. As it evolved, artists like Mozart employed this for masterpieces such as Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782; The Abduction from the Seraglio) and Die Zauberflöte (1791, The Magic Flute) that is undoubtedly the best-known singspiel. In the 19th-century the singspiele ultimately gave rise to both the German Romantic opera and to the popular Viennese operetta. I have the feeling that Brett, most likely unaware of his use of singspiel, is instinctively using his auto didactic abilities to create a wonderful hybrid with his post-Punk lyrics, an unknowing usage of Classical Romanticism and his limited, unvarying yet compelling tonality.
When I asked a number of friends in the music and art world I know to listen to his album, I got mixed reactions. One young Alpha gay man I know spontaneously just lustfully looked at his photo, sighed, unconsciously grabbed his crotch for a second and remarked on his looks and seemed indifferent to the his music. Yet others, like on his own Facebook fan page someone said, “every thing about this album is flawless. Gleason is one that people need to watch.” Perhaps revealingly the fan wrote “watch” rather than “listen to”. My dear brony* brother Jeremy Lauer from the World Health Organization, coming back from Guinea where he was involved in fighting the Ebola epidemic and someone who would never have heard of Brett if I hadn’t introduced him sums up the maverick songwriter this way; “I think you're exactly right to put Brett more in the milieu of theatre and poetry (for example) than pop singing. There is also something genuinely operatic about his works, so you managed to plumb the singspiel metaphor for its true depths,……In fact, only with those other references does what Brett does really make sense….after watching two or three of his videos the other night, I feel like I know Brett, and that he's a friend. » and he instantly had a feeling for him, not just the individual songs but also the whole Brett Gleason package deal, and trust me; it’s a package deal. Others had a similar reaction to his work, saying that he seemed “multi-talented”. This is true since he plays every single instrument, (in his own bedroom) and sings, mixes and records his final cuts all by himself. It seems those who do know about Brett simply adore him.
Though I do not hang out in alternative bars to listen to music (at least not since the 1980s when I lived in Paris), he reminds me of many things I do know and still enjoy and like very much. He reminds me of my favourite Beat Generation writers for example. Bill Burroughs, my personal favourite with whom I shared a long relationship over a number of years when I was a teen took a great deal of time to tell me about his cut-ups and Brett’s work reminds me so much of these type of artworks but rather, musical versions of them. A contemporary writer, and a sort of comrade in sentiments (at least some) would be the very talented Rami Shamir, whose self-published indie “coming of age” novel, Train to Pokipsie treats the same world of raunchy gay sex, drugs and booze, sordid nightlife and endless perpetual gnawing poverty with a spin as unique as Brett’s within his music. It appears that this decade’s trend (as in trendiness) in the alternative arts concerning the gay community has a genre that can be defined as the critical stages of sexual decadence, emotional abuse and also deprivation, self-loathing nihilism at it’s most extreme and of course, the resultant introspective metamorphosis. Sadness and loneliness is the moderate version of this artistic and social meme, and it’s used frequently in these particular two artists works.
Brett’s ballads use varied components of pathos and anger, sadness and a thinly disguised sexual aggression all cut and pasted together with his sincerity as the glue. It’s like he’s managed to do Beat “cut-up” poems to Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique and using his lean, New York looks as much as his voice to win the listener/observer over. He’s a bit of the "child man" (always a classic and compelling trait in any male), you know, still with lofty ideals and fighting demons but constrastingly looking like a genuine young Alpha male, in the truest Grecian meaning of the word "Alpha", and with all this implies. He’s the full package, (no pun intended). He is also sincere which is so unusual in a world of endless phonies and art-y bores.
*a "brony" is a "bro" who likes "My Little Pony" - which in my case is a long story, and Jeremy is my "brony brother". Let's leave it at that.
In our era, your looks are just as important as whatever it is you do. Brett is the archetype of the sensitive, yet edgy loner gay sex symbol. The one that may have lived next door to you, that is if you had a next door, which in my case, I did not. He is what I understand the cute guy next door should and could be as described so aptly in J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. He’s a music making (instead of the music-loving) Holden Caulfield. As no film was ever authorized by Salinger to be made of the 1951 best-selling novel about the coming of age with all it’s alienation and angst, Brett Gleason is how you can imagine Caulfield looked. Paradoxically though, one imagines Caulfield to have a sharp 1950s clean buzz cut but Brett has dark shoulder-length hair, framing a narrow face shadowed with dark facial hair and edged with remote, nearly undetectable lines of, one can imagine, the result of both stress and artistic angst. Then there are his should-be award-winning and truly charming, rather broad smiles. As Diana Vreeland could have said, he has a smile which can "knock your socks off and sock you in the eye". And lastly, his eyes, those oft sung about "doors to the soul" are without question determined, sad and at times (especially in his videos) where he is almost always at one point naked or bear-chested, reveal a lovely even delicate naïveté. It can also be said Brett has smouldering bedroom eyes. You don't see many people with "bedroom eyes" anymore now that I think about it. It's a expression that hasn’t been used as a referential term since Lucille Ball as Lucy described her husband Desi Arnez as Ricky Ricardo to Vivian Vance’s character Ethel Mertz!
This Post-Generation X musician is a combination of the young male ingénue if he let his five o’clock shadow remain on his chiseled face for several five o’clocks and the bad boy most good boys never get to know. Through his music, which seductively invites you to know him, he let’s you live his pain for just a few minutes. James Dean and Brett would have been great together. In fact James Dean before he was iconic is how you can imagine this musician. Usually this type of songwriter holds no interest for me, but Brett somehow manages to bring the unexpected element of pathos and charisma to the palette, feelings he so deeply wants you to hear and ultimately see, as his music is all about his keen desire of wanting the listener to “see him” for what he is. In a way, that is what everyone wants, but Brett does it with artistry and élan and is far from the pseudo-artists so eminent in our era.
He’s been photographed by nearly every despotic hipster photographer in the entirety of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Drug-addicted, sex-obsessed as many of these photographers are, traits which drift across their work as casually as a dick pic on Gay Romeo, they all manage to leave Brett unsullied by their taint and his own exquisite personal drang und sturm is in it’s pure form like genuine absinthe from Switzerland Jura is also, in it’s pure form. Brett has a power that is within his drive and sincerity. It will allow him to travel far on his voyage with his art and those navel gazing wannabes without this will fade away like the Flying Dutchman-like ghost ships that they are.
In many of his photos he is poised though confrontational, staring right at you and he is very present, with an artistic moue. His puppy sad mirror of the soul gaze with each image, shirtless or not stands out with a balanced poise. In photos and his videos he’s almost always naked in bed, naked in a forest or naked in a bathtub, usually with a great deal of ombré-d shadows and fast cuts and mirrored angles. There are many close-ups of his nearly rugged complexion and his sky blue eyes peering out of a sleep-deprived perfect symmetrically-shaped face daubed with a Cary Grant cleft in his chin. In one video his naked self, with his lithe white body which is just hairy enough to remind you he is an adult male and not a garage band teen, he heatedly pursues in a forest chase scene, then corners and murders a more conservative version of himself in a slightly awkward looking suit and tie. In a recent image he wears yellow socks and says, “yes, these are all his (the photographer’s) clothes, I own nothing colorful or fun.” A number of these hiptoïd photographers I personally cannot stand but they do all seem to capture the edge which makes Brett so attractive and appealing as a social media participant and I think above the standard of a lot of his likes or those who aspire to be.
More so his genuine artist-ness socks your eye out. I think he must be easy to photograph because his soul is so bloody naked and shivering in the cold that I’d think it impossible not to turn all images taken of him into autobiographical postures. He works within the milieu of a lot of marginal artists of all kinds and all mediums, sensational drag queens, gay bears and otters and other animal synonyms referencing gay sexual types, self-entitled DJs, slutty Go Go boys, minor porn stars and major Williamsburg hipsters but he is unique and it shows pretty much in every single thing he does and definitely in all his photos. Most of all it is evident in his music. There is something about Brett which stands above most self-produced musicians which are a dime a dozen. He has that perfect pitch balance of someone you feel you already know and someone you completely do not know but are compelled to not only know but understand. He quickly let’s you understand he has suffered from bipolar disorder. Though I may make him seem read-able, he is not, not at all. Having had a bipolar person in my life for eight years, no person with bipolar disorder is readable but putting that completely aside, he is complex but in a way which compares to reading Eugen O’Neill is complex but, like O’Neill, is thoroughly enjoyable. He is like an O’Neill play in fact, now that I think of it.
As I said earlier, last year it was my intention to write about his music but my life decided otherwise. When I did sit down to write this I realized I was not really qualified to due justice to his work. I am not a music critic in any way whatsoever. I realized that our lives being so utterly different and my American alternative music culture so limited I had to give it a good hard think. Instinctively I liked it. It was solemn and a bit, no, very tortured exploring all the aspects of sadness, loneliness, frustration and heartache. In speaking with him, it seemed his life was comprised mostly of hard work at a day job that was difficult and stressful (“My day job is as a teacher: I coach gymnastics - former NY State Champion gymnast - and piano at a music school in Brooklyn.") and his complete creation from A to Z of his music. The fact he is a gymnast makes him one of those exquisite creatures who can be both gay, sensitive and physically fit but not a gym rat. I kind of love that aspect about him in that I have always admired people who can do physical sports AND be an artist. I cannot even tie my own shoe, so he gets major points for this wonderful combo.
Brett plays several instruments, records, produces and markets his work. He makes videos of his songs which have names like, “Calculated,”, “Imposter”, “Destruction”, “I Am Not”, I’m Not in Love” and “Futile and Fooled”. All the time, he does live streams, vlogs and even writes articles for the Huffington Post. He has accounts on literally all the social media, from Youtube to Twitter and of course Facebook. He even discusses his coming out with his mother on oneof his Youtube videos. And he also doesn’t hesitate to sing to his viewers sitting on his bed in his own bedroom, a type of casual banter and chanson of a spontaneity I cannot even remotely imagine doing myself. He makes being personable and charming seem easy and breezy despite all the doom and gloom of the story lines of his music. A recent song, his first “love song” which he did the demo for in his bedroom is entitled “Expiration Date” goes; “loved you. For a moment or two, there was nothing you could say or do. I loved you. It was real at the time, but I can't seem to maintain my mind.” Does this not truly summarize so much of the sex apps available to gay men of today? Of course, we don’t know if this was what he was referring to, but Brett is without question, like a Renaissance man of all 21st –century gay men, expressing the norms, attitudes, philosophies and stances of the world of hipsters. He is Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch in a “wicked little town” but yet to be as recognized. I feel like waving my finger and saying ”Oh, you just wait and see…” at anyone who may doubt his bright future in his field.
From the comments one can read about his songs on his social media, you‘d think the people who write them are only seeing his Alpha sexy photos and have not actually heard the songs. They all seem to say some variant of the classic “woof”, a one-word descriptive which hipsters invented about a decade ago to give the highest form of a sexual seal of approval. His videos, despite the fact he had several important write-ups in the best of the best scenesetter’s press, have received sometimes only under a hundred hits.
What is marvelous about him is that he just goes forward, up and onward. For someone whose songs are mostly about emotional struggle, failure, doubt, emotional instability and love lost, he’s remarkably undaunted, endlessly creative and very positive. He sings often about what he perceives as profound truth, gathering his strength, keeping control and being almost abruptly honest. The paradox of Brett Gleason is his best asset. Watching his videos of performances in small, somewhat honky tonk-ish looking places I can only think, “wow, he really has chutzpah”. To stand on a small stage and belt out your emotional guts does take strength of character that even the bravest can only admire this feat. He has the right amount of testosterone-soaked sex appeal and gritty real talent, of innocent awkwardness and a slick sense of composure. He is a strong male presence not that often found in openly gay singers or songwriters.
When I listen to Brett’s music, (and I have had ample time to do so in being a year late with this text)…I found over and over each song, which is sung like songs in theatre, has a nugget of hope within each one. Don’t be fooled by the titles or the shadowed raging reality or the occasional exasperation you might feel when the whiff of the inherent narcissism gets too heady, all which slaps you directly across the face with overly art-y and abstruse prose. The often morose compositions and hard–to-follow tone of a song or two does not underscore the entire poignancy of the work on the whole which is a hyperrealistic portrait of a big part of the gay community’s way it expresses gay relationships of today. The work in general has a hint of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past but for today and sort of filtered through a bitch-slapping hoi polloi reality show on the BBC. There is a kernel of innocence in almost each one,…you just have to really listen to the songs and truly listen to the words as the way in which Brett composes them, the performed results are more like poems than actual commercial songs you’d hear on a radio, Soundcloud or an iTunes sample. They also, like theatre, seem to tell one long story about him and his life, a life, which is a Faustian Rocketeer as created in a post-modernism chromium-plated way, exemplifying the model 21st-century boy, lost in an all-consuming, all-evil inferno of a world which may or may not devour him. Only the next installment, the next Des Esseinte-ian episode will we find out his fate. Oh, and boys, Brett is single, so get on your marks, psyche and dial yourself up for best behaviour and head down to see and hear him perform. He is a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool, Alpha catch; this is, of course, if he wants to get caught for which I have no idea.
I urge everyone to go out and buy his eponymous album, seek out his many videos, join him on his social apps which are many, and get to know him. It’s really worth it because that person he sings about and the place he sings from could be you or me. Though his actual singing is an acquired taste, breaking some of the usual rules about voice and standard vocal rules for singing, he gives the gay community a lot of himself and if only for the fact you may (or may not) be gay, he is a wonderful piece of non-theatrical, non-fiction theatre in which we all can see a little bit of ourselves no matter how different from his autobiographic vocalized storyboard the lifestyle we are living may be.
February 12th, 2015