Hey, Barbecutie

The Most Wise of Guys: The Forgotten Music Career of Joe Pesci

Posted on: March 30, 2011

Everyone knows Blondie as one of the most iconic acts of the new wave spectrum, famous for a litany of hits, experiments with different musical styles (disco, punk, rap) and a photogenic steely-eyed blonde called Deborah Harry. Their greatest accomplishment is sadly forgotten, however, as the primary inspiration on the later musical career of the actor Joe Pesci.

More famous for playing a series of terrible haircuts in film classics such as Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Casino and JFK (this is not a man who suits hair), Pesci’s showbiz career was originally more music-focused, with the release of the depressingly-titled Little Joe Sure Can Sing in 1968. After this first sweet taste of musical infamy, its follow-up came a mere thirty years later, with an album called, according to its unfortunately designed cover, IMAGE LINK Sings Just For You Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (his character in My Cousin Vinny). It is with this album that the Blondie/Pesci rivalry comes to a head, with its most notorious track, a Rapture-sampling ode to the gangsta way of life called Wise Guy.


(better sound quality here)

Any novice music fan can find many differences between the Blondie classic and young upstart Pesci’s rap track. But is it truly fair to compare creative expression? How dare we judge them on anything other than individual virtue? And yet, by his specific choice of musical backdrop, Pesci himself seems to challenge us to draw a comparison between these two musical giants. Did not Vanilla Ice release Ice Ice Baby with the sole purpose of laying claim to his own place on the pantheon alongside Queen and David Bowie? Well, perhaps not.

Rapture became an unlikely pioneer of the rap format, becoming the first rap single to reach number one in the US Billboard charts, thereby proving that anything black people can do as an expression of their marginalisation in a white-dominated society, white people can do with less rhythm and more emphasis on alien invasion. Despite namechecking Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash, the crux of the song focuses on a tale of aliens coming down to earth, eating people, buildings and a variety of cars, all delivered in Harry’s patented detached, slightly angry delivery.

Pesci, however, chooses to tell a very different story. Some people think that, as an actor, the tough guy schtick is simply a performance, a façade, an Oscar-winning façade, but they would be wrong. Pesci, the star of Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, is that self-same fuck shit up badass motherfucker from off of the films*, as he proudly explains in Wise Guy, it’s a lovely day in the neighbourhood for a driveby. You see, Pesci proclaims, he is a prolific murderer. Over the course of the rap, he claims responsibility for the death of five people (providing the brother being hit by a truck proved fatal), as well as numerous threats, largely aimed at the listener, including a promise to turn up with some men to “take your eyes”.

However, Pesci preserves his most rampant rhymes for those wiley hos. It’s the bitches that’ll gitcha, Pesci imparts repeatedly, making up a term for get you (plural) that no one has used before or since, because that’s how Joe rolls. Pesci, having clearly had a rough time with the ladies in the past, possibly due to the poor calibre and quality of wigs sported in his filmic output (speculation), and this has left him wary of the fairer sex. There are six instances of violent aggression towards ex-girlfriends, rich supermodels, and generic bitches. Fortunately, Naomi Campbell (cast as “brunette chick whose father Pesci heard had stocks and bonds, leading him to fuck ‘em up and leave ‘em floatin’ in a pond” ) seems to take it in good stead, possibly appreciating how Pesci also gives back to the community, as well as murdering and assaulting select members, as demonstrate in the opening moments of the Wise Guy video where he hands out dollar-dollar bills to street urchins on account of them staying in school.

It’s not all egregious acts of violent misogyny and mafia-related murderisation. Pesci’s is also teaching us the ways and means with which to live the High Life. The President, then Bill Clinton, everyone’s favourite cheating, morally-questionable saxophonist, calls him, presumably for some advice on the proper care and management of reeds, causing Pesci to claim that he will call him back, proving that all men are equal in the eyes of Joe. Pesci celebrates the fact that he never gets a ticket, probably on account of his fine driving skills, or the fact that there’s rarely enough space to park a limousine in high traffic areas. He enjoys visiting sporting events and fine millenary, and values intellect and respect, which conveniently rhyme. He assures us he does not do crack, thereby keeping a clear head to commit acts of massive violence.

It is clear that there is a subtle double-meaning to the song’s title, not simply a reference to his characterisation in Scorsese’s ouvre and indeed the stereotypical of the Italian-Americans in the media, and their unfair association with the mob. Indeed Pesci is a Wise Guy, an individual with a unique and compelling world view with much to teach us in the ways of living and rhyming flyyy tunes. I shall leave you with the most charming quadruplet, that sums up Pesci’s whole attitude, the balance of street smarts and sophisticated eloquence, the yin and the yang, that embody the complex, engaging vitality that ensures he remains at the forefront of our cultural and sociological lexicon:

Her mother didn’t like me, I never gave a fuck
Her brother didn’t like me, I hit him with a truck
Her sister was a rip, everybody got a ride
Her father was a rat, so I buried him alive

* It may or may not be worth noting that Joe Pesci does not appear to have a criminal record.

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