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Gerald Bole

Gerald Bole, In A Nutshell by Fredrik Nilsen, October 1994

Gerald Bole was born in a gold dredging camp in Northern California in 1911. He grew up in Berkeley where he learned to compose music, with silent film music shaping the visual qualities that were to characterize his life's work. A descendent of outlaw Black Bart and a product of Victorian values imposed upon a luftul, sensual imagination, Gerald was a fountainhead of creativity, an ascetic with a promiscuous mind.

Upon receiving his degree from UC Berkeley in Sanskrit, Gerald went to work as a bureaucrat for the US Department of Agriculture for whom he worked until his retirement. During his professional life he always lived alone, usally in YMCA's or small tenement apartments. He would compose music or work on one of his many manuscripts relating to occult research, to which he was unswervingly devoted despite the fact that he was ejected from the Theosophical society for calling their president, Edna Mae Snodgrass, an old windbag at a society dinner in her honor. Gerald composed for dance companies during the forties and early fifties, but the bulk of his work was hidden from the world, kept unpublished and, in fact, unheard in the stacks of notebooks he accumulated through the years. A true outsider, Gerald lived in a world of invisible friends with whom he could have heated conversations in public without embarrassment. He also had a rich supply of friends in the flesh with whom he shared his impossible view of the universe and his usually very practical approach to survival in an insane world.

Gerald entered our world when he retired at age 65 and moved in with his family who lived in the liberal catholic church in Oakland, California. He called it an insane asylum. It was. David Loehr introduced Gerald to Tom Recchion, who broough him down for a visit in 1975. This began a relationship which was to change the way a number of us, especially Tom and myself, Rick Potts and Kevin Laffey, would related to art, life and even death. Gerald was a messenger from a previous age. He as the font of inspiration to whom we looked with awe. When he moved into the house permanently, we often looked upon him in horror as well, but even then there was always awe. He composed some of the greatest romantic piano music in our home, some of which we recorded. He was well past his prime as a pianist and the piano was out of tune. However, his renderings of the pieces were sublime despite the limitations. The work was geographical in its inspiration, each piece aurally describing a place he had been or he had imagined. Gerald also involved himself in our creative lives as a critic and as a fan. He provided narrations from a Victorial perspective for our music. Plus his Mae West impressions were a sight to behold.

Gerald became ill and moved to the Santa Cruz mountains where he could be cared for by his familiy. I took most of his manuscripts up for him to leave but asked if we could hold on to some of his music to copy, which he consented. I visited him several times during those years. At times he was celebrated and cheerful, but most times he was confused and paranoid, unable to care for himself. He kept wishing he could die. In this last year of his life, his niece burned all of his manuscripts, the lifework of a genius, in her fireplace because she hated him. Shortly thereafter she died of cancer.

Fortunately a body of his music was spared by my proscrastination, since I never returned it to him, and it sits today in a stack in Tom's closet. Gerald died in Santa Cruz in 1993 at age 81.

Update by Fredrik Nilsen, October 2012

"All surviving musical and scholarly manuscripts of our old friend, outsider artist, composer and occult researcher Gerald Bole, have been sorted and and archivally boxed by my assistant Colin Bloomfield. After his retirement from the Department of Agriculture Gerald was introduced to Tom Recchion by David Loehr. Around 1980 he moved into the back room of our house and lived the next several with Tom, Kevin Laffey, Rick Potts and I. He was a great friend and a great inspiration to many of us in the LAFMS.

"In his eighties and in failing health Gerald moved up to live with his brother Byron in Ben Lomond, California. He took much of his archive with him only to have his schizophrenic niece burn them in the fireplace in a fit of paranoia. Much gratitude must go to Tom Recchion who, with Gerald's permission, had the foresight to retain a portion of his work in Pasadena, keeping it safe for almost 30 years. All that remains of Gerald's music and scholarly writing is this collection which Tom saved.

"Also thanks to Kevin Laffey for approaching David Loehr with the idea of organizing and managing the archive. We are now preparing to ship the archive to David, who will further organize and archive the documents. David Loehr is a professional archivist, best known for his archiving the life of James Dean and for establishing and operating the James Dean Memorial Gallery in Fairmont Indiana."

All photos (c) Fredrik Nilsen.

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