Resident Bohemians: Gerald Busby, The Tender Hooligan

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Gerald Busby’s music for ‘3 Women’ is so perfect I don’t know how to talk about it. – Robert Altman

Several years ago, a friend recommended I rent Three Women, not because of my interest in Robert Altman, but because of the film’s unusual score.  Finally finding the film, I was floored by the music. The eerie, lurching score, with its atonal shifts jettisoned with jaunty, marching romps & perplexing virtuosic flute exercises, was a confounding revelation.  I heard echoes of Stravinsky, but certain movements played out like a psychedelic chamber pop mutation.  To paraphrase Altman, I don’t even begin to know how to talk about it.

A few years later, my friend Steven R. Smith, a musician based in Los Angeles, was so moved & haunted by the music in Three Women, which has never seen a commercial release, that he dubbed the audio from a VHS copy of the film.  He thankfully sent me a copy.  Smith mentioned his fondness for the score in a feature for Dusted Magazine, which ultimately led to my meeting Gerald (who found the Dusted piece by Googling his own name).  We’ve been in contact since.

Gerald Busby’s magic is palpable; his precocious charm is immediately evident.  He has lived at the Chelsea Hotel for 30 years, yet retains a trace of the Texas accent of his youth. Gerald’s enthusiasm and wonder for life and art and food is stronger than that of any of my twenty-or-thirty-something friends.  His voice has a sweet, sincere tone (particularly in written correspondence), though with his rich candor also comes a slightly perverse & self deprecating wit.  His laughter is incredibly contagious.  Gerald is a great storyteller, too, and he’s got a lot of stories.  No one could tell his own story better than he could.

When we finally met in person, Gerald was eager for me to join him for lasagna at restaurant around the corner from the Chelsea Hotel.  As he shared stories from his past, I realized that his reverence for food facilitated some of his most important artistic connections: A meal prepared for the critic and composer Virgil Thomson in 1969, who famously joined Busby with his mentor & friend; his meals would remain a fixture at Thomson’s dinner parties at the Chelsea Hotel.  A few years later, while working full-time as a cook, Busby met the flautist Michael Parloff, later of the Metropolitan Opera & the Three Women score.  Parloff’s playing inspired Busby’s first published composition in 1976, the strength of which secured his role in composing Three Women.

We talked that afternoon at length about food, Reiki, and his time at the Chelsea Hotel, and “Yesterday’s Butter,” a monologue on life and food that he performed to a rapt crowd of college kids and scattered adults the day before.  As we talked over the most subtle, delicious lasagna I’ve eaten, I thought about how Gerald doesn’t fit amongst the mythologized Chelsea Hotel characters of yore; those that famously came, created & fled (alive or dead).  He’s still as active as ever, having recently completed the score for Beautiful Darling, working from his stuffed studio apartment.  He’s missing the pathos & burdens, and has instead created an uncompromising, inspiring body of work.  And, thankfully, he’s become my friend.


Chris Berry currently lives in Minneapolis, and operates the record label, Soft Abuse (www.softabuse.com). More from this author →