Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story by Victor Bockris
Updated after Reed’s death in October 2013, Transformer, The Complete Lou Reed Story definitely offers a lot more than one can possibly expect from a biography. Saying that Transformer encompasses everything you can possibly want to know about the life and times of the rock icon/artist/persona would still be a huge understatement. Going way beyond the usual narration of dates, love stories, anecdotes, arguments, relationships, records and tours reviews, Victor Bockris takes us much deeper, into the artist’s mystifying mind without a single dull moment, unexpectedly delving into the psyche as well as various traumas thus making Transformer a masterpiece that may seem at times closer to an essay written with a truly contagious passion. As I was reading various passages about Lou’s most intimate, meaningful moments, I suddenly became a voyeur, travelling through space and time, only making halts to land, embedded in Lou’s cerebral cortex, at very specific, revealing moments, a caterpillar enthralled in a mind-blowing, heart wrenching, enlightening spiritual journey to redemption and self-completion.
Caterpillar….As I was sifting through other reviews, I paused as I read the word ”butterfly” and pondered. As the biography evolves you really get the sense of a colorful and vivacious punkcaterpillar struggling with an acute egoistic hedonism.Reed was constantly and desperately looking for a way to become a magnificent butterfly that proudly spreads its wonderful, astoundingly colorful wings with a rare dignified wisdom that is rarely reached by those who have such a big ego as Reed. Reading the book, you just know that in the end he had reached this point since with an ego, you cannot bend, and with an ego how can one be really dignified? How can an ego give you grace? It would be just a superficial posture, empty, impotent posture. Nothing inside, just an empty shell without any content. Reading Transformer, it is very obvious that Reed tremendously suffered from his ego all through his life. At times he may have had the posture but he was obviously to clever and sensitive to not come to the realisation that something was missing. A man should be able to be undignified too. If you are always dignified you cannot laugh, you cannot joke, you lose all humanity and become inhuman.
The book bluntly starts, and very rightly so, with the shock therapy treatment Lou received starting in the spring of 1959 after Lou’s conservative parents, Sidney and Toby Reed, sent their son to a psychiatrist, requesting that he cures Lou of homosexual feelings and alarming mood swings. According to Lou, the shock treatment helped eradicate any feelings of compassion he might have and handed him that fragmented approach that took over most of his life. Lou could be so loveable that you wanted to invite him to supper and meet your family but then behaving in such a way that you wanted to kick him out the door the next minute.
Bockris really takes his time detailing with an almost scientific manner how screwed up his relationships became from then on, not only because of the treatment itself but also how it put his relationship with his parents in a twisted love-hate trauma because he simply could not fathom how his parents could have agreed to the torture that the shock treatment therapy represented to him, and yet, he simply couldn’t remove his parents from his life, even if he really felt the urge to do so. So there you are, Bockris gets you a privileged seat in the house, an overview of Lou’s entourage through his own mind. Of course it doesn’t explain everything but it sure explains a lot of his writings and the poetry of many of the songs that songs he has written. You get an even more seizing pregnant image of Lou’s relationship with his father towards the end of the book when Bockris hands us a very important of the puzzle when he writes ”One day, as a child, Lou’s hand strayed into close proximity to where his father was standing. He received a sharp smack for this action, recounts Reed’s close friend Julian Schnabel, who adds, “He never got over the cruelty of that.”
Those who see Lou Reed as a punk icon are right, he is and will hopefully remain one but as you get further down the line reading this biography you get the urge to spread the word that he is way more than that. To me White Light/White Heatwas the first punk song ever to be recorded. Far from fast forwarding on that era, Bockris still goes through that era with all the required details even if the book Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story, by Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga and is based on interviews with Nico, Cale, Reed, Morrison and Tucker, as well as others who became part of Andy Warhol’s circle of artistic collaborators. It remains widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest rock books ever published and is an utterly interesting, if not vital complement if you want to know the complete story because in this biography Bockris does not talk about that part of Lou’s life in details. You also get to see how Lou Reed desperately needs to be the center of attention as the original formation rapidly disintegrated. After the release of each album they loose one of the original member. First Nico, followed by Cale and then finally, Reed himself. You get a really good sense of his ”behavioral pattern” in one of Reed’s favorite movies called The Ruling Class featuring Peter O’Toole.
Fortunately you also get to know other aspects of Lou’s life, especially towards the end his life when he met the one and only person who managed to rekindle all those inner conflicts that were constantly harassing Reed’s mind; his magical, almost mystical, third and last wife, Laurie Anderson. The process had already been put in motion with Robert Quinn without ending well as always but Bockris is the only one who managed to take us to a place that enabled Reed to get closer to functioning as a normal human being with the updated version of the biography. It is through the character of Lulu, who originally came to life in two plays by the ground breaking German playwright Frank Wedekind, an author who came to prominence around the same time as Oscar Wilde in the 1890s. Two great extrapolations of the play are G.W Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box.
Just the fact that Reed finally managed to reach what is the closest thing to serenity through his art and music is revealing of how much of a thoroughly honest and sincere artist Lou Reed always was. Each and every record brought him a piece of the solution, even if he sometimes got lost in the way, he obviously always made sure that each and every single thing he did was meaningful to him as an artist and as a human being. Lulu is a totally underestimated album, a collaboration between him and the band Metallica, the best band he could think of to help him forge this masterpiece that finally managed to set him free, reconciling this ongoing battle between male-female and female-male, the jealousy, the fear of being rejected, all those complex feelings he was constantly struggling with came to be irremediably exposed and somehow ”tamed”. That is why Bockris in another masterful stroke of genius explains in details everything that was implied in the making of Lulu. You may not like the album, but you must take the time to think about everything it represents. Think of it as Lou and Metallica having violent, bordering non-consensual but this twisted passion is honest and not without hope and can be seen as an exorcism with Laurie Anderson’s precious help. It was the final touch that allowed Lou Reed to spend his final years at peace with John Cale with whom he released Peel Slowly and See, the ultimate Velvet Underground re-edition as well as the Deluxe Edition of White Light/White Heat . During the last six month of his life he also worked on his final collection of photographs Rimes/Rhymesand he even went to England to publicize Mick Rock’s limited edition ofTransformer, a great collection of Lou Reed’s photographs.
Of course this isn’t the only collaboration described in Transformer. You get to witness Lou’s collaborations with some of the most influential artists of his times, from John Cale, Andy Warhol (Reed and Cale made an album called Songs for Drella in Warhol’s honor after his death), and Nico, through David Bowie, Bob Ezrin, Robert Quine, Robert Wilson, Laurie Anderson and the ghost of Edgar Alan Poe on The Raven as well as many, many more. Reading Transformer you do really get the sense that there is a convergence leading to Lulu and get to understand why Lou Reed finally reached a point where he finally got some closure and could sit back and enjoy life, love, friendship and joking around. Maybe he just stopped trying to be perfect in the end, at last. Bockris states that he had learned to enjoy what he had, what he was and was proud of what he had done and was at peace with himself and for that, I think everyone can only be happy for him.
By the way, reading transformer never gives you the overall feeling that Lou Reed was a complete degenerate asshole. On the contrary, you simply learn to get to know him and appreciate him for what he is and respect all the attempt his made to find out what really lies down at the end of every path he could take. Thanks to this book, I know that those of us who dare to try, no matter how fucked up we are, will one day reach a place that can be called home; that perfection can only be found deep inside our heart if only I we have the courage to let it bleed for the things that deeply, truly matters. I now understand that there is no such thing as an end, or death, only constant renewal. Reed reinvented himself so many times and in so many different ways. One MUST take that into consideration despite the despair and the fear the fear of the unknown. There is no ugliness, there is only a beauty that has yet to revealed itself, hidden in our deepest fears. This book is a major statement and is for sure as close as you will ever get to Lou Reed’sRock’n’Roll Heart. Make sure you give it your undivided attention because just like it’s subject, this book will slap you in the face if you don’t!
“Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheep herder’s jacket . . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . .
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
”The hippies , who had never really believed they were the wave of the future anyway, saw the election results as brutal confirmation of the futility of fighting the establishment on its own terms. There had to be a whole new scene, they said, and the only way to do it was to make the big move — either figuratively or literally — from Berkeley to the Haight-Ashbury, from pragmatism to mysticism, from politics to dope… The thrust is no longer for “change” or “progress” or “revolution,” but merely to escape, to live on the far perimeter of a world that might have been.”
”Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality. Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of ‘the rat race’ is not yet final”
”Bush is a natural-born loser with a filthy-rich daddy who pimped his son out to rich oil-mongers. He hates music football and sex, in no particular order, and he is no fun at all.’‘
”There are times, however, and this is one of them, when even being right feels wrong. What do you say, for instance, about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death? If making love might be fatal and if a cool spring breeze on any summer afternoon can turn a crystal blue lake into a puddle of black poison right in front of your eyes, there is not much left except TV and relentless masturbation. It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die. Who knows? If there is in fact, a heaven and a hell, all we know for sure is that hell will be a viciously overcrowded version of Phoenix — a clean well lighted place full of sunshine and bromides and fast cars where almost everybody seems vaguely happy, except those who know in their hearts what is missing… And being driven slowly and quietly into the kind of terminal craziness that comes with finally understanding that the one thing you want is not there. Missing. Back-ordered. No tengo. Vaya con dios. Grow up! Small is better. Take what you can get…”
”Maybe there is no Heaven. Or maybe this is all pure gibberish — a product of the demented imagination of a lazy drunken hillbilly with a heart full of hate who has found a way to live out where the real winds blow — to sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whisky, and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested…”
”Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right. I shared a vagrant optimism that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top. At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles – a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other – that kept me going.”
”But with the throttle screwed on, there is only the barest margin, and no room at all for mistakes. It has to be done right… and that’s when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. You can barely see at a hundred; the tears blow back so fast that they vaporize before they get to your ears. The only sounds are the wind and a dull roar floating back from the mufflers. You watch the white line and try to lean with it… howling through a turn to the right, then to the left, and down the long hill to Pacifica… letting off now, watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge… The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others- the living- are those who pushed their luck as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it’s In. The association of motorcycles and LSD is no accident of publicity. They are both a means to an end, to the place of definitions.”
”But speaking of rules, you’ve been arrested dozens of times in your life. Specific incidents aside, what’s common to these run-ins? Where do you stand vis-à-vis the law? “Goddammit. Yeah, I have. First, there’s a huge difference between being arrested and being guilty. Second, see, the law changes and I don’t. How I stand vis-à-vis the law at any given moment depends on the law. The law can change from state to state, from nation to nation, from city to city. I guess I have to go by a higher law. How’s that? Yeah, I consider myself a road man for the lords of karma.”
”America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.”
”Going to trial with a lawyer who considers your whole life-style a Crime in Progress is not a happy prospect.”
”In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”
”The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”
”A man who has blown all his options can’t afford the luxury of changing his ways. He has to capitalize on whatever he has left, and he can’t afford to admit — no matter how often he’s reminded of it — that every day of his life takes him farther and farther down a blind alley… Very few toads in this world are Prince Charmings in disguise. Most are simply toads… and they are going to stay that way… Toads don’t make laws or change any basic structures, but one or two rooty insights can work powerful changes in the way they get through life. A toad who believes he got a raw deal before he even knew who was dealing will usually be sympathetic to the mean, vindictive ignorance that colors the Hell’s Angels’ view of humanity. There is not much mental distance between a feeling of having been screwed and the ethic of total retaliation, or at least the random revenge that comes with outraging the public decency.”
”Sometimes at dusk, when you were trying to relax and not think of the general stagnation, the Garbage God would gather a handful of those chocked-off morning hopes and dangle them somewhere just out of reach; they would hang in the breeze and make a sound like delicate glass bells, reminding you of something you never quite got hold of, and never would.”
”When the going gets weird , the weird turns pro. But it never got weird enough for me to turn pro.”
”Anything that gets the adrenalin moving like a 440 volt blast in a copper bathtub is good for the reflexes and keeps the veins free of cholesterol… but too many adrenaline rushes in any given time span has the same effect on the nervous system as too many electro-shock treatments are said to have on the brain: after a while you start burning out the circuits. When a jack-rabbit gets addicted to road-running, it’s only a matter of time before he gets smashed — and when a journalist turns into a politics junkie he will sooner or later start raving and babbling in print about things that only a person who has Been There can possibly understand.”
”I sat there for a long time, and thought about a lot of things. Foremost among them was the suspicion that my strange and ungovernable instincts might do me in before I had a chance to get rich. No matter how much I wanted those things that I needed money to buy, there was some devilish current pushing me off in another direction toward anarchy poverty and craziness. That maddening delusion that a man can lead a decent life without hiring himself out as a Judas goat.”
*Football season is over. No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won’t hurt.
Originally filmed in 1922, this version was updated in the mid 1960’s to include english narration by William S Burroughs while he was in London. The writer and director Benjamin Christensen discloses a historical view of the witches through the seven parts of this silent movie. First, there is a slide-show alternating inter-titles with drawings and paintings to illustrate the behavior of pagan cultures in the Middle Ages regarding their vision of demons and witches. Then there is a dramatization of the situation of the witches in the Middle Ages, with the witchcraft and the witch-hunts. Finally Benjamin Christensen compares the behavior of hysteria of the modern women of 1921 with the behavior of the witches in the Middle Ages, concluding that they are very similar.
Questions and Answers About ”NYC Bad Boys” and a Lifetime Partnership
Introduction in Disguise
I will try to, like the Clash album says, ”Cut the Crap” and say that I heard about Victor Bockris the first time through a book called ”Conversation”, which I read avidly the first time it fell in my lap and have re-read a few times. Those Conversations were a goldmine for a Burroughs and Warhol amateur like me who believed that both of them have been to art in general what the Sex Pistols were to music. To me, ”Conversation” is an essential book that should be archived and kept for safety like a mystical artefact, exactly like Burroughs’ paranoid mind would have imagined it; like files that unknown alien forces are constantly updating, thus keeping tabs on the underworld agents. Numbered transcripts sourced and supported by audio, film, and/or photographs, describing meetings between liberating forces from one of the leading underground artistic mind and the Godfather of the surgeons of the Beat Generation, leading to a whole new way of deconstructing and re-creating different realities that were bearers of an extremely particular strain of virus calledPUNK.
I also knew, reading that book, that Victor was already working very closely with Marcia Resnick back then. I followed the timeline traced by her photos and discovered a whole new world in Resnick’s fascinating images and thoughts, starting with Re-Visions and already seeing that Punks, Poets and Provocateurs that was onlyreleased in 2015 (yes! the very day this article was posted!) already was and always has been in the making very early on after the day those two kindred spirits met for the first time. In fact Marcia began the book the same month they both met in September 1977, and finished taking the pictures in 1982. She then worked sporadically on videos of the pictures, showed some of the images in group shows through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. She also participated in a traveling show, which became a book, called ”Bande A Part, New York Underground 60’s-70’s-80’s’‘ which featured the photographs of many of her contemporaries. This was showcased as a ”travelling show” in venues in Tokyo, Paris, London, Hong Kong, LA and New York, from 2005 to 2009. This was a very positive sign that her work was still alive and growing. In 2010, she had a one-woman show of her vintage portraits from the 1977 to 1982 period at the Deborah Bell Photographs in NYC. It was also in 2010 Marcia and Victor began to ”physically” put the book together. The result is a shared vision of the world that is exposed through a sincere, honest, disarming, straightforward series of photos, poems, thoughts, paintings and a variety of ways and any possible means to recreate the feelings attached to those vivid memories. Each of those forever preserved time capsules humbling me, reminding me of how fragile some of us are or were, especially some of those NYC Bad Boys, but also revealing how our weaknesses are non-dissociative parts of our inner beauty.
No need to say I was delighted when I was asked to do an article about Punk, Poets and Provocateurs in an interview format. Marcia and Victor were kind enough to gently respond to some questions I had in mind after I got the chance to read and feel ”Punks, Poets & Provocateurs: NYC Bad Boys, 1977-1982” that is righteously presented here as the triumphant accomplishment of a lifetime collaboration between two artist I admire so much. I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as I did!!
LAN: ”How did you two met?”
Victor Bockris: ”We met at an opening of a photo show at the Andrew Crispo gallery in September 1977. And spent the next six weeks talking and running around town meeting all sorts of people. I helped Marcia collect back cover quotations for “Re-Visions” and published “Why I Hate My Girlfriend” about her in High Times in 1978. Fuelled by love and hate.”
LAN: ”Do you think the term Bad Boy is as appealing to the general public as it was in the 60s and the 70s? Has anything changed?”
Victor Bockris: ”Bad Boys is a generic term which has lost most of its meaning. That’s why we changed the title from Bad Boys to “Punks, Poets and Provocateurs” which had previously been her sub-title. Although Marcia does a good job defining the Counterculture’s Bad Boy Icon in her outstanding texts. ”
LAN: ”Do you see some of them as angels with broken wings?”
Marcia Resnick: ”I see Bad Boys as rebels of attitudes and codes who often shake things up in the best way.”
LAN: ”Do you still find inspiration in your old friendships and acquaintances? You must have developed special everlasting relationships with some people!”
Marcia Resnick: ”We know the people we used to hang out with and love and support them. We are always overjoyed to see them, like veterans of a war. We definitely find inspiration in all our living and departed friends.”
LAN: ”It’s a well-known cliché to say that most good artists have suffered a lot, and somehow channeled this suffering and/or anxiety through their art. Do you consider you went through that too?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Art is an act of confronting what distresses you most and overcoming the distress by turning it into art.”
LAN: ”Has it ever happened to you that on the moment something appeared to be a bad thing, but you later came to realise it was in fact a good thing?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Contradiction is one basis of creativity. Challenges that appear to be bad are often very good for you. This can also be said about artistic mistakes.”
LAN: ”Do you consider yourselves more as Poets, Punks or Provocateurs or none of the above? If none of the above, how do you consider yourselves if you had to pick one or few words?”
Both: ”Punk Poet!”
LAN: ”What do you think Burroughs and Ginsberg (and by extension the Beat Generation) brought to the punk scene? Do you think they fit into that equation?”
Victor Bockris: ”The punk scene shone a light of affection and affiliation on the Beat scene. Allen and Bill lived in the midst of a punk neighbourhood, the Lower East Side. Punk was neo-beat.
LAN: ”What about The Velvet Underground?”
Victor Bockris: ”The Velvets were the archetypal punk band. Lou Reed was the most important person who visited CBGB’s. He supported punk from the outset. Punks loved Lou.”
LAN: ”Punk was about industry, not virtuosity.” Could you expand on what you meant by that?”
Victor Bockris: ”Punks worked very hard to make beautiful music. This industry was inspired by passion and could be accomplished with a DIY attitude as opposed to a stringent technically proficient prowess.”
LAN: ”With everything that is going right now and the overall empowerment of the world by the 1%, do you think that we would need to return back to the sources with a very simple, bold, loud, clear and shall I say even aggressive message that was the very essence of Punk Rock?”
Victor Bockris: ”I think we need to bring back the counterculture as a global force for humanity.”
LAN: ”Do you find that everything is more diluted today? Do you think that the messages delivered by today’s artists are as strong today as they were in the 60s and the 70s?”
Victor Bockris: ”Artists of the 50s 60s 70s were all connected by the umbrella of protest against the atrocities of WWII. Passionate realism is the key. Post 83 or so the people have no single ring to fight against.”
LAN: ”Do you think sex should be a hidden thing or more out in the open like in Japan? I’m asking because you represent both sexes and have lived as adults in a period Pre-AIDS and without shame but you also know what shame is… You also lived in an era in which homosexuality and transexuality were illegal. I’m thinking for example of Candy Darling, and Lou Reed who received I think 19 (if not more) shock treatments just because he had gay THOUGHTS.”
Marcia Resnick: ”Sex is like God. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened but its been co-opted by same people who say God is on our side. Nobody owns sex but a lot of people exploit it, like the Catholic Church or the Sex Industry. Obviously do what thou wilt is all of the law. Everything is permitted. Sex is good. No laws against sex are recognized in the magic universe.”
LAN: ”If you could talk to the young ”you(s)” when you were 15, what would you say to yourself?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Focus on learning how to live the artistic ways of life. It has great benefits but if you don’t know how to live it doesn’t make much difference”
LAN: ”Do you consider yourself a survivor? If so, what or who made you able to overcome what could have been your downfall?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Collaboration. We have helped each other survive by working to a united end on this book.”
LAN: ”The 1977 Blackout in New-York was seen as a turning point by many people because they were seeing judges and doctors turning into looters in the anonymity provided by the dark. Were you there? If yes did it have any effect on you at the time?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Sounds like a fantasy! The July 77 NY Blackout heralded a great new period because everybody walking around in Greenwich Village was exhilarated to see each other and was full of joy! People were conversing with people they didn’t know!”
LAN: ”What beauty have you ever witnessed coming out of what some would describe as a wreckage?
Marcia Resnick: ”Andy Warhol, Keith Richard. Lou Reed, William Burroughs for starters.”
LAN: ”This one I guess goes out more to Victor. Since Warhol himself was always taping and taking pictures, did you feel at times that you were interviewing the interviewer??”
Victor Bockris: ”I learned about how to do interviews from Andy Warhol. I cannot understand why a book of his interviews has never been published. I wrote the first draft of “Exposures” with him. He had an enormous influence as a writer which has been strangely subdued.”
LAN: ”Since we are talking about Warhol, I was curious to find out if you saw a change in Warhol after he was shot by Solanas?”
Victor Bockris: ”Everybody says that his presence was everything before he was shot. It took him a long time to recover, but the man I met in the mid seventies had more energy than anyone. It made him cautious about hanging out with hard-core people. He really bloomed in the early 80s painting with Jean-Michel (Basquiat).”
LAN: ”Have you ever been personally the victim of a blatant injustice?”
Victor Bockris: ”No. I avoid policemen and lawyers. It is dangerous to get involved with them.”
LAN: ”Any words of advice for the generations to come?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Collaboration is the Key to Life. You can go into any field you want to, from poetry to the law, but your chance of success will always be much greater if you find other people or another person to do it with.”
”Punks, Poets & Provocateurs: NYC Bad Boys, 1977-1982” by Marcia Resnick and Victor Bockris is now available in the nearest bookstore!!
Book signing with Photographer Marcia Resnick Punks, Poets and Provocateurs: New York City Bad Boys, 1977–1982 by Marcia Resnick and Victor Bockris Published by Insight Editions Tuesday, November 10, 2015 6:30–8:30 PM / Admission free! Click on picture below for a lot more infos on related events to come!
Warhol directed over 400 screen tests, and they serve now and forever as a remarkable archive of the personalities of the New York art scene and the Factory. Artists, male and female prostitutes, art dealers, transexuals, collectors, critics, writers, musicians, lesbians, actors, poets, dandys, painters, sculptors, dancers, strippers, athletes, sinners and saints, servers and patrons are all very well represented, as are the celebrities of the ”Factory’s Studio System” themselves. Those series of portrait films were shot from 1964 to 1966 and each test was about four minutes long. Warhol would place his subject in front of a 16mm Bolex with instruction to face the camera until the film stopped. In many cases, Warhol would walk away from the subject as the film was shooting without any further instructions, giving them absolute freedom to be and to do whatever they wanted as long as they remained in the frame.
William Burroughs never sat for a screen test. Given the hype and excitement that surrounded Burroughs during his time in New York City in 1964/1965, this is somewhat surprising. At the time, Burroughs was an underground celebrity, a perfect subject for a screen test. Yet Burroughs and Warhol did not hit it off in the 1960s. Panna Grady, a rich heiress and a groupie of underground poets and writers, took Burroughs to meet Warhol for dinner. They went to a Chinese restaurant, where Burroughs was offended by the manners of those in Warhol’s entourage. Burroughs walked out.
The personalities of the two men were quite a bit different, as must have been obvious when they met. Warhol cultivated a camp and effeminate gay persona that was the polar opposite of Burroughs’ gun-toting machismo. Burroughs’ letters of the 1950s are filled with his dislike for swishes, so coming face-to-face with Warhol must have aroused some level of distaste. Creatively, however, the two had much in common. Before their ill-fated dinner, Warhol arrived at Burroughs’ loft with a bag of tape-recording equipment. Surely this piqued Burroughs’ interest because Burroughs asked Warhol to leave the recorders at the loft.
I am fascinated by Warhol during the Factory years, and it is an interesting “what if” to me to wonder what a collaboration between Burroughs and Warhol would have been like. How would Burroughs have reacted to a screen test? If anybody could have out-stared a Bolex, without a doubt, it would have been Burroughs. For my part, I catch myself fantasizing about it and think that the camera would have blinked, tore up, or broke down under the strain of Burroughs’ impassive, sullen gaze or that, on the contrary, Burroughs would not even register on the film…. After all, In Mexico City, Peru, Panama, and Tangier, Burroughs stalked back alleys anonymously, melting into the shadows without leaving a trace on his surroundings. The banker’s suit and the grey hat were the uniform of the 1950s Everyman. Or maybe a Nobody. Not for nothing did Burroughs’ ability to blend in and disappear earn him the name “El Hombre Invisible.”
Face to Face
Ironically, Burroughs’ non-descript clothes became iconic by the 1970s. Immediately recognizable, precisely because he was invisible. The banker’s clothes disguised a revolutionary: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When Burroughs returned to New York City from 1974 to 1981, Warhol was still holding court, although the Factory gave way to Studio 54. The screen tests were replaced by celebrity portraits painted for a sizable fee. Interestingly, it was at this period, when Burroughs truly broke into mainstream consciousness, that Warhol and Burroughs would connect. When Burroughs lived in New York City at the Bunker, he and Warhol met again for dinner, and the results were much more cordial than 1965. Victor Bockris who wrote A Report from the Bunker taped several of these meetings, made all the transcripts, added his personal notes and photos as well as others by Marcia Resnick, Bobby Grossman, Jenny Moradfar and David Schmidlapp in a very interesting book that was released first under the title ”The Warhol-Burroughs Tapes”, later changed to ”Conversations”. At first glance the conversations appear to be somehow superficial but nevertheless, because of its honesty, you still can very well get a good insight of each participant’s particular behavior ”au naturel”. ”Conversations”gives you the same feeling that one would get from looking at Warhol screen tests; It may seem superficial at first but you get to see the real person if you wait, watch closely and pay attention without waiting for ”something” to happen. For some reason this book was controversial and I will not go into the details of why because to me, no matter what people say, it still is a very important document that would not have seen the day if it wasn’t for Bockris relentless efforts to make it happen. Let me give you a delightful example here as Bull and Warhol have an open conversation, talking sex, sharing about their ”First Time”:
Burroughs: Cocteau had this party trick that he would pull. He would lie down, take off his clothes, and come spontaneously. Could do that even in his fifties. He’d lie down there and his cock would start throbbing and he’d go off. It was some film trick that he had.
Bockris: How’d he pull that off? Have you ever been able to come through total mental—
Burroughs: Oh, I have indeed. I’ve done it many times. It’s just a matter of getting the sexual image so vivid that you come.
Warhol: How old were you when you first had sex?
Burroughs: Sixteen. Just boarding school at Los Alamos Ranch School where they later made the atom bomb.
Warhol: With who?
Burroughs: With this boy in the next bunk.
Warhol: What did he do?
Burroughs: Mutual masturbation. But during the war this school, which was up on the mesa there thirty-seven miles north of Santa Fe, was taken over by the army. That’s where they made the atom bomb. Oppenheimer [the scientist who invented the bomb] had gone out there for his health and he was staying at a dude ranch near this place and said, “Well, this is the ideal place.” It seems so right and appropriate somehow that I should have gone to school there. Los Alamos Ranch School was one of those boarding schools where everyone rode a horse. Fucking horses, I hate ‘em. I had sinus trouble and I’d been going to New Mexico for my health during the summer vacations and then my family contacted the director, A. J. Connell, who was a Unitarian and believed very much in positive thinking, and I went there for two years. This took place on a sleeping porch, 1929.
Warhol: How great! Was the sex really like an explosion?
Burroughs: No no … I don’t remember it was so long ago.
Warhol: I think I was twenty-five when I first had sex, but the first time I knew about sex was under the stairs in Northside, Pittsburgh, and they made this funny kid suck this boy off. I never understood what it meant…
Burroughs: Made him do what?
Warhol: Suck this boy off, but I didn’t know what it meant, I was just sitting there watching when I was five years old. How did you get this kid to do it, or did he do it to you?
Burroughs: Oh I don’t know, sort of a lot of talking back and forth…
Here’s a remarkable clip of the pair chatting in the very room in which Arthur Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey! The footage is from an episode of the BBC documentary program Arena about the Hotel Chelsea and there are a couple of odd narrative elements to it, but the clip mercifully ends with Nico singing a haunting rendition of “Chelsea Girls”—in the Chelsea Hotel itself, one wonders if it was in Room 506…..
In 1974 William S. Burroughs and David Bowie got together for a little chat, documented by Rolling Stone. Here’s a particularly weird part where Burroughs and Bowie talk about the alien and reptilian nature of Andy Warhol:
Burroughs: Have you ever met Warhol?
Bowie: Yes, about two years ago I was invited up to The Factory. We got in the lift and went up and when it opened there was a brick wall in front of us. We rapped on the wall and they didn’t believe who we were. So we went back down and back up again till finally they opened the wall and everybody was peering around at each other. That was shortly after the gun incident. I met this man who was the living dead. Yellow in complexion, a wig on that was the wrong colour, little glasses. I extended my hand and the guy retired, so I thought, ‘The guy doesn’t like flesh, obviously he’s reptilian.’ He produced a camera and took a picture of me. And I tried to make small talk with him, and it wasn’t getting anywhere.
But then he saw my shoes. I was wearing a pair of gold-and-yellow shoes, and he says, ‘I adore those shoes, tell me where you got those shoes.’ He then started a whole rap about shoe design and that broke the ice. My yellow shoes broke the ice with Andy Warhol.
I adore what he was doing. I think his importance was very heavy, it’s becoming a big thing to like him now. But Warhol wanted to be clichi, he wanted to be available in Woolworth’s, and be talked about in that glib type of manner. I hear he wants to make real films now, which is very sad because the films he was making were the things that should be happening. I left knowing as little about him as a person as when I went in.
Burroughs: I don’t think that there is any person there. It’s a very alien thing, completely and totally unemotional. He’s really a science fiction character. He’s got a strange green colour.
Bowie: That’s what struck me. He’s the wrong colour, this man is the wrong colour to be a human being. Especially under the stark neon lighting in The Factory. Apparently it is a real experience to behold him in the daylight.
Burroughs: I’ve seen him in all light and still have no idea as to what is going on, except that it is something quite purposeful. It’s not energetic, but quite insidious, completely asexual. His films will be the late-night movies of the future.
Despite the coldness of their first meeting, Burroughs and Warhol briefly bonded in Burroughs’ loft over the tape recorder. This machine proved central to the creative work and philosophies of both artists in the 1960s. Burroughs: “I am a recording instrument.” Warhol: “I want to be a machine.” Burroughs utilized the tape recorder from the late 1950s on. In his essay ”The Invisible Generation”, Burroughs proclaims such technology as an agent for revolutionary change. Warhol relied on the tape recorder for most of his literary projects. A: A Novel is at its simplest a transcription of Warhol star Ondinetalking about the events of his day. Tape transcriptions made up the bulk of Popismand The Philosophy of Andy Warhol as well. Ideally, Warhol sought to just let the tape run and present verbatim transcriptions. There would be no stopping or re-starting of the tape, no edits, no cuts. On the other hand, Burroughs aggressively manipulated the tape. He inched it backwards and forwards, recording and re-recording. He cut and spliced the tape. The resulting transcripts were heavily revised and altered. These two creative icons are on the opposite ends of the spectrum concerning the process of editing. Yet the goal is the same: a dissolving of the control of the artist, a striving for the impersonal.
The major difference between the films of Warhol and Burroughs is, again, the cut. Burroughs’ films are full of aural and visual cuts, and Warhol uses the cut sparingly, if at all. Despite opposing editing techniques, the desire to displace the artist is the same. Of course, just the reverse occurs. Reading Burroughs cut-up texts, his personal obsessions and style shine through. The same occurs with his films. The selection of images and sounds betray his hand. He cannot help but impose his personal imprint. The same holds true for Warhol. Within the seemingly very strict parameters of the screen test, extremely individual, personal performances result. No screen test is exactly the same, even with the same subject filmed for several different tests. If you doubt this, view the several different tests taken of Baby Jane Holzer or Edie Sedgwick. Each test has its unique qualities. The personalities of the sitter show through as does that of Warhol.
UPPERS, DOWNERS & WITHDRAWALS SYMPTOMS
Watching the films of Burroughs and Warhol from a drug perspective, I feel that their styles could have been reversed. The drug of choice for Warhol and his art was amphetamine, while Burroughs preferred heroin. One would expect rapid cuts of image and sound from Warhol, and yet it was Burroughs’ cut-up films that reflect the speed freak’s sense and sensibility. Conversely, Warhol films like Sleep and Empire seem to capture the perspective of the junkie on the nod. Burroughs famously wrote in Naked Lunch that while on junk he could stare with interest at his shoe for hours. What would Burroughs have thought of a movie like Empire? Given his interest in editorial manipulation, Burroughs might have found it boring, preferring instead a movie like Chelsea Girls with its split-screen projection. Burroughs’ fascination with multiple perspectives hammers home the point that the world he described is largely seen through the lens of withdrawal. The kicking junkie is besieged by sensation. Spontaneous orgasms, crawling flesh, runaway thoughts. Burroughs’ art, cinematic and literary, captures and reproduces the experience of withdrawal more than the sensation of the fix. The hardcore addict fails to experience the euphoria of heroin in the same manner as a first-time user. Part of the kick is trying to recapture that initial rush. Burroughs’ strong sense of nostalgia stems in part from the longing of the addict for the first fix.
As Warhol was making screen tests in the 1960s, so in a way was Burroughs (along with Brion Gysin, Anthony Balch, and Ian Sommerville). Towers Open Fire (1963) opens with a long static shot of Burroughs which mirrors the portraits Warhol would begin creating a year later. In Guerrilla Conditions, later to become the basis for The Cut-Ups (1966), Burroughs introduced chance / found techniques similar to Warhol’s. Barry Miles writes, “The Cut Ups was literally that, with four reels of film being cut into twelve-inch lengths and assembled in rotation by a lab technician… No artistic judgment was made, and Balch was not even present.” The similarities to the restraints imposed on the screen tests are obvious.
I am more intrigued in considering a film like Bill and Tony(1972) as a Burroughsian screen test. The movie consists of the image of Burroughs mouthing Balch words, and Balch doing likewise to Burroughs’ words. Balch and Burroughs experimented with merging images to form a composite person. Burroughs was very interested in such superimpositions. Burroughs states, “Anthony Balch and I did an experiment with his face projected onto mine and mine onto his. Now if your face is projected onto somebody else’s in color, it looks like the other person. You can’t tell the difference; it’s a mask of light.” He states further, “Another experiment that Anthony and I did was to take the two faces and alternate them twenty-four frames per second, but it’s such a hassle to cut those and replace them, even to put one minute of alternation of twenty-four frames per second on a screen, but it is extraordinary.” Burroughs and Gysin also played with such techniques in The Third Mind experiments. The New Reformers photographs, produced in connection with the Colloque de Tanger in 1975, utilized such superimpositions. In 1971, Jan Herman visited Burroughs and Balch at St. Duke Street in London. At this time, the two men were making Bill and Tonyand performing the experiments Burroughs describes above. Herman took part in these experiments and recorded a session on videotape. The results are available exclusively on RealityStudio.
As the video shows, Burroughs introduces montage to the screen test. Montage, collage, assemblage, like the cut-up technique, all center on the cut. In the screen tests, Warhol avoided the edit, the physical cut. The duration of the movie was dictated by the length in feet of the packaged roll of film. No takes, no director yelling cut, no splicing of the film. On the other hand, Burroughs urged a generation to cut up everything. Film, text, audio tape all was fair game for the scissors. Warhol and Burroughs’ editing techniques differed but their goal of depersonalization (and eventual failure to achieve those goals) were the same.
Both Warhol and Burroughs were well exposed to the world of experimental film from Russian avant-garde film of the 1920s to Surrealist film of the 1930s to the New American Film of the post-WWII era. Warhol was a fixture at The Filmmakers’ Co-op and a friend of numerous underground filmmakers like Jonas Mekas, Jack Smith (before their falling out), Willard Maas, and Marie Menken. These filmmakers were subjects for screen tests. Through Gysin and Balch (who distributed European soft-core films), Burroughs would have been exposed to a number of experimental films. I suspect Burroughs and Warhol were well aware of each other’s films as well.Towers Open Fire was completed in 1963 before the underground film boom of the next year. Much of what became The Cut-Ups were filmed around that time. Sections ofThe Cut-Ups were filmed in the Chelsea Hotel in 1965, the year Warhol and Burroughs first met. Given his connection with Mekas and others, Warhol may have heard about Burroughs’ film experiments as early as 1963. Interestingly, despite Burroughs’ absence from Warhol’s films, particularly the Screen Tests, they are Burroughsian in spirit (alternatively Burroughs’ films are Warholian) as both men had similar obsessions and interests. Burroughs’ films of the mid-1960s have images of young men in bed, of static portraits, of artwork being created in Factory-type fashion.
One day a young man appeared at the Factory introducing himself as Julian Burroughs, the son of William Burroughs. The man was in fact Andrew Dungan. Here is the real actual story of what happened, as told by the man himself (see comment section for current post):
”I was drafted into the army in 1966 and deserted in June 1967. In October, after the March on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. I arrived in NYC. Walking down the street I met Warhol and Paul Morrissey by chance and they asked me to be in a movie that evening. They had asked me my name and I did give him my fugitive name which I had constructed from the knowledge that he did have a son, (who oddly enough I later met as he was a friend of my brother), and I felt it would get me off the hook if I was busted by the FBI agents presumably looking for me. Well, we made the movie that night and I sort of got along with Andy and Paul and the others and, being straight, was passed around among the females in the entourage. Heady experience, but the heavy paranoia of living in NYC made it difficult. Still, I hung out, dined on the Warhol tab at Max’s Kansas City, and came up with the concept for Lonesome Cowboys- based on Romeo and Juliet, hence Ramona and Julian in the film. The police did get word I was connected with Warhol and I got out of town to Paris in April 1968. Lived there for six years before getting an amnesty when Nixon got his pardon, saw Andy a few times, but returned to California, and have led my quiet life here in LA though I still am in contact with people like Viva. Saw William Burroughs once and told him my story and he enjoyed it. But it was really a chance encounter not a con or an attempt to get into the Warhol scene.”
The idea of a doppelganger of this type always appealed to Warhol (who probably got that from Dali who was obsessed by doubles and copies). He played such tricks himself. Before all that took place Warhol had already sent Allen Midgette (who sat for a screen test) on a speaking tour of the United States posing as Warhol himself in October 1967 before the time of the Julian Burroughs hoax. Most famously, Edie Sedgwick had dyed her hair silver and accompanied Warhol to parties and openings as a female version of Warhol. Quite possibly, the hoax perpetrated on the Factory inspired Warhol to try it himself, although forgery and impersonation were already staples of the Factory aesthetic. In any case, Warhol cast Dungan / Julian in Lonesome Cowboys and Nude Restaurant. So indirectly Burroughs was a Warhol superstar. Burroughs appeared on Saturday Night Live, was the Godfather of Punk, was profiled in People. Such flash and recognition captivated Warhol. The pinnacle of this type of attention would be the Nike adin 1994 that capitalized on Burroughs’ iconic status in the realm of, not Punk, but Cyber-Punk. Burroughs may never have set foot in the Factory but his presence was felt there and bled into Warhol’s films of the period. Similarly in the screen-test feel of Bill and Tony, Warhol proves to be a ghost in the machine in Burroughs’ films.
This article is largely inspired by Jed Birmingham and his ideas on the cinema of Burroughs and Warhol. The links have been updated and some have been added but you don’t have to check every single one of them although I really made a big effort to make this interesting to people who aren’t that much into this kind of stuff.
On June 13, 1978, Garage punk band The Crampsgave a free concert at the California State Mental Hospital in Napa. It is, simply put, one of the single greatest rock and roll experiments ever captured on videotape (in this case, on a half-inch open reel Sony Portapak by Joe Rees and his Target Video outfit). Also on the bill wereThe Mutants from San Francisco. One hundred years from now I hope this video will be not considered so outraging and that people who have mental health problems will no longer be ostracized from the rest of society. This was done with utmost respect to the patients, hope you watch it with that respectful point of view too.
Artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard meticulously recreated this event (and the video itself) as an elaborate art project at the ICA in London in 2003. Forsyth and Pollard’s “Cramps” also performed in front of an audience comprised of psychiatric patients in their “File Under Sacred Music” re-staging of the infamous 1978 gig.