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« Guerilla Filmmaking | Main | Risk, Reward and the New Class »

February 16, 2007

Manualism: A Short History

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

And here I thought that YouTube's Manualist was one of a kind ...

Manualist is a 46 year old guy named Gerry Phillips who's able to deliver renditions of songs by squeezing the palms of his hands together. The action makes squirty-farty-tooty sounds, yet they're rhythmic, they're pretty much on pitch, and the results can be hard to resist. Here he plays a resonant "'Till There Was You." Here's his soulful version of "Maybe I'm Amazed":

I do believe I like it better than the original.

Interesting to see that Phillips has been practicing manualism since the age of 9, and that he has had to learn some bitter lessons along the way:

having started so young i have been used and lied to by everyone from letterman to leno shows. they have left such a bad taste in my mouth that i now have no desire to ever be on television. so, please don't ask! i'm happy making videos and featuring them on youtube where people like you can see them!

God bless YouTube.

Still, I just now discovered that Phillips is in fact working within a tradition, if a small one. According to this page, someone named Cecil Dill was the first manualist to have his work recorded, 'way back in 1914. Another well-known manualist was a lawyer named John Twomey, who made several appearances on the Johnny Carson Show in the '70s and '80s. Here's my favorite:

Wikipedia has an entry on John Twomey, but I've been unable to discover what's become of him since the late '90s.

The work of a few other well-known, relatively speaking, manualists can also be enjoyed thanks to YouTube. Bruce Gaston amazes by introducing a a tremolo into his manualizing version of "Yankee Doodle Dandy":

And Gaston shares a rock duet with Jim Rotondo:

Manualism: an artform unto itself.

Links abound on all these pages for the those interested in further research.

Somewhat related: Here's a posting I wrote about the 19th century French music-hall star Joseph Pujol, aka "Le Petomane" or The Fartiste. Here's Wikipedia on Pujol.

I do love a good novelty act.



posted by Michael at February 16, 2007


The best thing about the Manualist is that look of grim resolve he wears through every performance. Like he's defying the entire world for his art.

Posted by: Brian on February 16, 2007 1:31 PM

It's that look guitar players get when they solo. Artists, eh? Still, maybe manualizing to a Beatles song really is hard. I bet it takes a lot of concentration.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 16, 2007 7:40 PM

It might be grim resolve but sometimes I think it's a look of jokey smugness -- the kind that would spring from, say, having had a powerful weapon in high school. He's probably torn between commitment to his art and a desperate need to be a guerilla Foley artist.

I wonder if he'll eventually get around to "Nessun Dorma." I wish at least he'd get a new couch.

Posted by: Flutist on February 17, 2007 3:33 AM

Beatles' song?

Posted by: Herb Levy on February 20, 2007 9:59 AM

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