44 years ago, Peter Grudzien composed, recorded and released The Unicorn, the first gay country psychedelic concept album. Today, we are launching a campaign to collect finishing funds for an eponymous documentary about the visionary artist behind what critic Paul Major considers “the greatest New York LP since the first Velvet Underground or first NY Dolls and still unsurpassed…”
It all happened in 1974 in Astoria New York. Peter was in his thirties. He’d fallen in love with country music as a kid and had had a promising start as a composer/song writer. His songs were picked up by other bands and played on the radio. Eventually he set out to create The Unicorn, an album of explosive creativity. Only 500 copies were initially released and the album would have fallen into oblivion had a tattered copy of it not been spotted by an avid record collector in a second hand bin sometime in the 1990s, a discovery that helped turn it into a rare cult classic.
You can listen to Peter Grudzien perform White Trash Hillbilly Trick here:
Peter would eventually compose and rearrange more than 900 songs throughout his lifetime, but the toll of mental illness cut short any hope of commercial success or recognition.
Our eponymous documentary catches up with Peter close to 40 years after The Unicorn’s initial release. At the time, he was living his twin sister and father in his dilapidated childhood home in Astoria, NY. Peter and his family gave us unprecedented access to their lives. And we spent close to three years filming them (scroll down for the film's synopsis).
"Madhouse hillbilly music from the twilight zone" - Jello Biafra
So where are we at now? So far, this project has been entirely self-financed, and we just locked the final cut. But we now need to raise additional funds to cover the cost of sound and color correction as well as digital mastering and music rights.
We do hope you will come on board us as we work our way through the very final post-production stretch!
A festival run and theatrical release are already planned for the fall, details for which will be shared as official announcements are made public.
In addition, The Unicorn was already selected in its very raw and rough around the edges state for inclusion in Visions du Réel´s Media Library 2018 (a digital platform for industry professionals put together by the Festival international de cinéma de Nyon, in Switzerland) – a recognition that truly honored us.
"Low-fi, junk-for-joy sonics" - Irwin Chusid (Songs in the Key of Z)
We put together some pretty cool rewards, including copies of The Unicorn LP and CD reissue, an amazing compilation of so-called “gay pop” and an exclusive set of previously unreleased, original music by none other than Peter Grudzien himself.
Do join us as we get ready to give The Unicorn its debut – and bring recognition to a true original whose life and work have been overlooked for way too long. Any amount will be most welcome, and if you can’t contribute at this time, please spread the word on social media, follow us on Facebook, or visit our website.
It’s a mad dash to the final finish line, and we can’t thank you enough for your support!
We first met Peter Grudzien on a cold winter weekday, at a coffee shop in his home turf of Astoria, Queens.
There was something immediately fascinating about this tall, lanky man in black – the awkwardness with which he carried himself in public places, his carefully composed, yet disheveled outfit, his intriguing rings, and oddly styled hair. He came across as extremely reserved, yet with each question, his face would light up and he gingerly answered.
He then took us on a walk through his neighborhood, almost giddy to be showing us his neighborhood. We covered it all, Astoria boulevard, the drugstore where he got his prescription and the thrift store where he bought almost everything and dropped off tapes of his music for sale. We also walked pass the numerous neighborhood bars and dives where he had tried to get a gig. He told us about his current haunt, the Albatross, a gay karaoke bar within walking distance from his home.
Strolling along the sidewalks, intermittently stopping to light a pipe that always seemed to extinguish itself, pieces of his biography slowly started to piece together. His discovery and love of country music held center stage. And then he suggested we come over to his house…
Peter Grudzien and his twin sister Theresa “Terry” Lewis share their dilapidated childhood home with their nonagenarian father, Joseph, struggling each day to maintain a precarious balance on the margins of society.
Now 65 years old, Peter is struggling for recognition as a musician – billing himself as a “gay country singer” and enjoying limited notoriety as an "Outsider Musician". He lives inside of his music, surrounded by records, instruments and home-recording gear, using the chaos of his life as a springboard for his musical ideas and creativity. He tests his new material, from love songs for Johnny Cash to country ballads of dehumanization, on stage at a local gay karaoke bar.
By contrast, Peter's sister Terry has spent most of her adult life sealed off from the world, either in psychiatric wards or group homes, escaping into a fantasy world provided by movies and music. Covered in an ankle-deep layer of discarded trash and beauty products, her bedroom bears testimony to the debilitating cocktail of psychotropic drugs she has consumed for decades. Starved for the affection, she sets off on a heart-breaking and desperate search for a husband.
Peter and Terry’s 99 year-old father Joseph lives in the family home’s ground floor apartment. He struggles both with the burden of age and memory, recalling a childhood working in the coal mines and the police beatings he endured at the height of America’s labor struggle during the 1920s and 1930s. At the twilight of his life, Joseph openly regrets having ever had a family.
As Terry’s mental and physical health unravels, Peter tries to care for her and his father as best he can. Meanwhile, a menacing old friend of Peter’s moves in, adding further chaos to the house and Peter begins to fear he will lose the only home he has ever known. Through all of it, Peter continues composing and recording music, his most important life sustaining force.
The Unicorn documents the lives of these unusual characters, with all of their tumult, sorrow and resilience, and reflects on the healing force of music.
And here it is, The Unicorn, as performed by Peter Grudzien
It would be remiss not to start off our awards list with Peter Grudzien´s "The Unicorn", which we offer as both CD and LP re-issue.
''...madhouse hillbilly music from The Twilight Zone''. - Jello Biafra
We also have this amazing CD of so-called "gay pop" compiled by Jon Savage, which includes Peter Grudzien´s "White Trash Hillbilly Trick"...
...but above all, we are thrilled to offer as an exclusive copies of three of Peter´s homemade albums on tape, "Stonewall", "Hunky-Honky" and "Doing My Time" -- quite simply, these albums are available nowhere else.
In addition to all this music, we also offer streaming of the film and of some pretty great outtakes and heaps and heaps of gratitude and thanks.
Who We Are
Isabelle Dupuis (co-director, producer, camera) has developed several documentary projects and worked as an associate producer for Insight Pictures and Speakeasy Docs. She was one of the founding members of Ocularis, New York’s renowned microcinemas for which she curated numerous film programs. She has worked extensively in the contemporary art world and studied film history at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. She also attended FAMU’s New York City seminar and holds degrees from Mount Holyoke College, New York University and Columbia University. Born and raised in France, she now lives in Brooklyn, NY. The Unicorn is her first film.
Tim Geraghty (co-director, editor) is a filmmaker whose experimental work has been called 'radically new' and 'breathtakingly multilayered' by Cineaste Magazine. His films have screened in venues including the Rotterdam International Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, B.A.M. Cinematek, the London Institute of Contemporary Art, Migrating Forms Festival, Flaherty NYC, Microscope Gallery and the International Film Festival Oberhausen. He is also a film, television and documentary editor with feature film work premiering at the New York Film Festival and the Museum of Modern Art, and television work airing on PBS, NatGeo, OWN and NBC. Born and educated in Providence, Rhode Island, he now lives and works in Queens, NY.
Risks and challenges
We have already overcome many, many challenges since the project's inception over 10 years ago. At present, things are looking pretty good insofar as we've been able to find a sound and color corrector for an affordable rate and the clearance of music rights is progressing swiftly. But we must imperatively raise $10,000 to cover these costs, otherwise the project will be stalled. Please join the effort!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (19 days)