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A deal or an ear: For rocker, one will get cut

The two-year deadline is up this week for Van Gogh, who vowed to lop off an ear if he didn't sign a music contract.

March 18, 2003|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

Time is running out for Van Gogh's left ear.

That's Van Gogh the musician, not Van Gogh the famous painter.

Two years ago this week, the unknown singer-songwriter started buying ads in the Village Voice, vowing to chop off his ear if he didn't get a music deal within 24 months.

In January, the Stony Brook, N.Y., resident switched his publicity drive to Billboard magazine, where he has appeared in nine ads, clutching a guitar and pleading for someone to "save me from a harsh fate and eternal ridicule."

His deadline is Friday.

Although the pitch seems like a hoax -- especially after visiting Van Gogh's Web site (www.van goghspeaks.com), on which he claims a tick bite induced a "delusional fever" that transformed his identity from Christian Smith to Van Gogh -- he insists the campaign is serious.

Using money from his job at a property management company, he has shelled out an estimated $18,000 for ads over the last two years, he says. But so far, it's a futile effort.

Everyone who has heard his music has turned him down.

"I don't get it," he says. "I'm not that much of an oddball."

Van Gogh, 39, describes his music as a cross between Alanis Morissette and David Gray. But when he asks others to categorize his sound, they invariably tell him, "You don't sound like anybody," he says.

That isn't necessarily a good thing. On his Web site's message board, one visitor writes, "You are either a comedic genius or the worst songwriter/performer I have ever heard."

When another visitor suggested that Van Gogh broadcast the slicing of his ear over the Internet, someone chimed in, "That would be totally righteous, dude. Then we can hear him scream like I did when I heard his music."

Nevertheless, Van Gogh does have his fans. At the Munchaba Lounge in Levittown, N.Y., where he is a regular on open mike nights, bar manager Alex Hangan says the performances "always get a nice round of applause. I enjoy his music."

But a record or management deal remains elusive. "I never thought it would come this close to the deadline," Van Gogh says. So, will he really follow in the footsteps of his namesake if the ad campaign fails?

"If that's my destiny, yes, that's what I'm going to do," he sighs. "I'll go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and find a Van Gogh expert so I know exactly what [the original Van Gogh] did.... I know he mailed his ear to a prostitute. I'm not going to do that."

Van Gogh says he'll hire a Frenchman he saw on PBS who specializes in amputations and mutilations. "It's an underworld kind of thing," he says. "He knows how to do it without inflicting pain." Naturally, Van Gogh would try to make the best of the situation. "I would film it. I think that would put me way big on the map."

But for now, he's doing his best not to dwell on worst-case scenarios. "I'm trying to keep a positive attitude."

Even though a record deal before Friday appears unlikely, things could be worse. He could've named himself Bobbitt.

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