Warhol’s Bio/Recent Movie Deal

Warhol and Bockris by Marcia Resnick
Andy Warhol and Victor Bockris, New York Mudd Club, 1978. © Marcia Resnick

Interview with Victor Bockris   

By Tobe Damit
By Tobe Damit

Following my review of Andy Warhol’s biography by Victor Bockris, I was pleased to know that the author himself was kind enough to grant me an interview regarding the book itself as well as the recent deal that was made regarding the making of a biopic involving Jared Leto. The actor Jared Leto, the producer Michael De Luca and Terence Winter are teaming to tackle the life of Andy Warhol, the famed pop art artist whose blend of art and commerce made him a household name. Winter, the ”Boardwalk Empire” creator who wrote ”The Wolf of Wall Street”, will pen the screenplay, using the 1989 Victor Bockris book, ”Warhol: The Biography”, as a jumping-off point. Leto and De Luca jointly acquired the rights to the book, having had a desire to partner on a project for some time now and since it is now a done deal, I thought it was the perfect time for a little chat with the author of the well acclaimed biography which has been published in nine countries since 1989 and remains in print in several. 

LAN: Do you remember how, where, why and under what circumstances Andy Warhol caught your attention for the first time? 

Victor Bockris: Andy Warhol had a tongue in cheek “Retrospective” at the I.C.A. on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia in October 1965. (Tongue in cheek because he had only started showing paintings in 1962 and it usually takes much longer than three years to get a retrospective!)I had moved from my British boarding school Rugby to Central High School in Philadelphia in February, a week before Malcolm X was assassinated in New York. My transition from the one school to the other was fraught with the most extreme culture shock I had ever experienced in a life of shocks. During my first two months at Central I had a nervous breakdown, which I kept confined to the afternoons at home so nobody else knew about it. The trauma faded as soon as I started making friends amongst the cool kids who were all folkies. They were mad about Bob Dylan and took me to  Convention Hall to see him on the early 65 tour he did with Joan Baez. My closet friend, Elliot Fratkin, invited me to go to the Warhol opening in early October.
images

As we approached the I.C.A that night walking across the lawn at the center of the campus I started seeing people standing around in small groups hugging each other and crying or lying on the ground like the victims of a nuclear attack in Peter Watkins famous film The War Games, which I had seen in the same place the previous week. As we got closer I could see and smell the aftermath of some hideous event such as a lynching or a riot.

I was right about the riot. Apparently when Warhol swept into the gallery with Edie Sedgwick, Girl of the Year and star of eight films Andy shot in six months, Gerard Malanga, superstar stud of the Factory, and Henry Geldzahler, curator of modern art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the ecstatic crowd of students packed like penguins in the small space and spontaneously exploded in a riot that reminded Geldzahler of a Beatles concert. People were screaming and crying “Andy and Edie! Andy and Edie!” This was the moment at which Andy crossed over from being a famous artist to something more akin to a rock star, somebody who has transformed themselves from a person into a magician. Of course I was not there, but Andy Warhol’s essence hung in the air like the acrid smell of machine guns and wild horses.   

 

LAN: What made you decide back then that Warhol was to be the subject of your next bio? Do you have similar reasons for the other biographies you wrote? Is there a link? How do you connect the dots (if any)?

Victor Bockris: I did not decide to write the Warhol biography. My agent, the young and ambitious Andrew Wylie just at the beginning of building his literary agency, suggested it in 1982.  I was spending the summer writing ‘Negative Girls into a book in Philadelphia. He called right after the girl who inspired the book phoned to tell me she was getting married, (to a rock star!) which drained all the desire and drive to finish Negative Girls out of my frenzied mind. We discussed the book for six weeks before I decided to take it on. There was much at stake, not in the least my friendship with Andy. I knew nothing about biography, which is a complex form one can only master by learning on the job like The Ramones did on stage. I decided to do it because Andy was the most mysterious figure in the vanguard of the American culture. Nobody knew anything about his childhood or the years before he became a pop artist. He was also a sitting duck for a writer who wanted to grab the attention of the country. Earlier that year Jean Stein had done just that with her bestselling book, “Edie” (Sedgwick). The most powerful part of that book was the long section about Edie’s relationship with Andy.  According to Stein He was a verrrry bad man. His nickname at the Factory, Drella, summed up the impression. He was a monster, half Cinderella half Dracula. He never slept, he never ate, he drank blood. He wanted to be machine, he did not believe in love, and that was the tip of  the iceberg. I had known Andy for almost ten years and I loved him the way you love a hero, like a comrade in a war. Believe me, stating your alliance to Andy Warhol could still ignite a bar fight in 1983 New York. He was still the most hated artist in America, but he was the most loved artist in France, Italy and Germany.  

Andy working on as portrait, second Factory 33 Union Square West, 1973 by Victor Bockris
Andy working on as portrait, second Factory 33 Union Square West, 1973 by Victor Bockris
There are several links between all my books: I never wrote about anyone unless I knew them well enough to see how they got through the day; everyone I wrote about was a  remarkable talker; everyone I wrote about played a role in the development of the Counterculture in New York in the 1970s. They were all living in William Burroughs Magic Universe.
As soon as I garnered good reviews for the Warhol biography I wanted to dash off and write my own biography. However my Dutch Uncle and mentor in biography, Albert Goldman, who published a masterpiece, ”Ladies and Gentlemen Lenny Bruce!” as well as first class biographies of Elvis and John Lennon, told me, “You’ve just mastered how to write a biography, don’t throw away what you’ve learned, do at least two more.” Keith Richards was a dream subject and ”Keith Richards: The Biography” was published right before the release of his first solo album. The book has been published in ten countries and stayed in print in the English language since it’s original publication in 1992. The third book in my trilogy of biographies, ”Transformer: The Lou Reed Story” was well received in the U.K. and U.S. in 1995 and did a lot to broaden his audience in the six countries in which it was published.
Burroughs-Warhol photo tapestry Chelsea Hotel 1980 by Bockris-Schmidlapp
Burroughs-Warhol photo tapestry Chelsea Hotel 1980 by Bockris-Schmidlapp
This biography obviously required an incredible amount of work. So many subjects, so many people! How did you manage to achieve such a complete story of his life without being drowned in archives of all sorts!? Did it require a different methodology than your other books??

Victor Bockris: It required a one hundred percent commitment for five years. At several stages I employed an editor to keep me on track. Writing a biography is quite different from writing the portraits I had previously published of Ali, Burroughs, Blondie and The Velvet Underground. Warhol was by far the hardest book I ever wrote, in fact it almost killed me. I have always been lucky with my timing.  My first seven books were perfectly timed. Andy died two and a half years before the book was released. It was the first and remains the only real biography of Warhol. I started it by going to Pittsburgh with Keith Haring and meeting Andy’s oldest brother Paul Warhola, who was a lovely man and became a good friend who helped me out until the very end. Andy did not want me to write the book but he never told anybody not to talk to me. I think he realized that somebody was going to do it and he was in safer hands with me than with some hack who did not know him and would mess it up.

There are by the way two distinctly different versions of my biography. When Andy died in February 1987 my British editor, Paul Sidey, at Hutchinson (Random House UK) got in touch and played a strong role in helping me complete the book. This climaxed with an all expenses paid six-week visit to London during which I was given a full-time editor and copy editor. By the time Sidey gave me the retyped 721 page manuscript of Warhol: The Biography’ I was in heaven, because it had come out much as I originally envisioned it. The British were planning to publish in May 1989. This euphoria was short-lived. A week after I delivered it to my agent, word came back, or so I was told, from Warner Books that the manuscript was “unpublishable.” I never found out if this was actually true, but the long and short was Warner wanted a re-edit. At this point I was exhausted. I had given it everything I had. Finally Hutchinson published their version ”Warhol: The Biography” in May 89. It received wonderful reviews and was published in paperback by Penguin. Warner  Books published their version, on which I worked for six weeks with an editor they had flown in from England, ”The Life and Death of Andy Warhol’, in October 1989. It was about one hundred pages shorter and much of the life had been cut out of it. 

Whereas the U.K. edition did well and remains in print twenty-seven years later, the Warner edition was a fiasco. Although it was well reviewed it suffered very disappointing sales for the advance they had paid me. Today, the British edition is in print in the U.S. (with DaCapo) and in France and Poland. With the movie coming out in 2017 we are looking forward to seeing it in print in several other countries.
411mukxmztl-_sx322_bo1204203200_
a: A Novel
LAN:How do you perceive Warhol’s contribution to the literary world? I know you feel pretty strongly about a: A Novel…?
Victor Bockris: I think it’s a disgrace that Andy Warhol’s books have not been released in uniform paperback editions or in a complete twelve volume set. Starting in 1967 and continuing until after his death Andy published a series of between nine and twelve books. They are as vital to an understanding of his oeuvre as his paintings and films. There is much more interest in his writing in Europe than America. Language is the basis of all Warhol’s work. In his college years his confrontation with the American language distressed him so much it became the root of his artistic drive to portray America as a land of Deaths and Disasters. He is a conceptual artist. His first works like the Campbell’s Soup Can paintings and his first film Sleep were seen by few people, but their names became part of our culture. He published at least three classic books: a: A Novel; The Philosophy of Andy Warhol and The Andy Warhol Diaries.” His collected literary works are ignored by the Warhol Foundation because they do not make enough money to warrant even an investment of time. They appear uninterested in developing his literary reputation and have done nothing with the unpublished books in his archives. There appears to be nobody taking care of Andy Warhol’s literary works and nobody to defend the books against people who claim they wrote them. Andy Warhol’s writing is pure Warhol. I hope one day somebody will wake up to the fact that there is actually a goldmine yet to be discovered in the many unpublished volumes in the files of the Warhol Museum. Somebody should write a book called ”Andy Warhol: The Writer, but they might have a problem getting permission to quote from his writing. There appears to be a determination to keep him down or out of print. I have published six essays about Andy’s writing in various sources, including the current DaCapo version of the Warhol biography.
da-capo-us
Warhol: The Biography DaCapo Press US
LAN: You were obviously close to Warhol. What were the most valuable things you learned from him or about him?

Victor Bockris: The most valuable things I learned from Warhol:  To grow my ambition higher; to realize works is the most important thing in my life; to simplify; to minimize and to recognize that most growth comes via connections to people who open doors to other people. To never let anybody take your work away from you. To collaborate.  To do interviews without questions, to just let them happen. To connect to the power in yourself.  To be a very tough businessman. To never lose your self-respect.  To treat people well. To not get hung up on your problems. To discipline yourself to not waste your life on alcohol or hard drugs. To believe that you can transform yourself.  

American author Victor Bockris, dressed as an MP, talks with Pop artist Andy Warhol at the Mudd Club's 'Combat Love' event, New York, New York, June 17, 1979. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)
Meeting at The Mudd’s Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images 1979
LAN:Do you feel you have resolved the enigma of Andy Warhol’s persona through this book?

Victor Bockris: Jared Leto told me my book was the only one who made him feel that he got Andy, got to know him and understood him.  My original motivation for writing this book was to reveal Andy so that people could feel as if they knew him and liked him. So, yes I think I succeeded.   

LAN: Do you feel that part of the enigma of Warhol persona is whether he was a psychopath or simply an oversensitive person who simply just couldn’t afford to deal with a heartbreak, betrayal or negative feelings of any sort?
Victor Bockris: This question is difficult for me to understand. Andy was not a psychopath in any way. That sounds like the kind of word somebody desperate to write something new about Warhol might come up with, but I can’t imagine anybody who knew Andy saying that. He was, much like William Burroughs, the opposite of his image. Andy was a supersensitive romantic who found it harder as he got older to be alone. He certainly denied his emotional distress, but there is no question that he became increasingly lonely as he got older. At the same time he was turning out an extraordinary stream of great paintings.There is something almost too poignant for words about his final works, The Last Supper paintings which regained the vitality of the Car Crash paintings. And the fact that when he died he had so much work to do but perhaps nobody to look forward to seeing. Nobody he could give his love to. He checked into the hospital under the name Bob Robert. In his last phone call to Vincent Fremont, Vice President of Andy Warhol Enterprises, he was full of energy and humor. Some people called him Superman some called him the Angel of Death. He was an otherworldly figure who gave us everything he had. 
Victor on Warhol's Grave, Pittsburgh 1988 Picture by George Warhola
Victor on Warhol’s Grave, Pittsburgh 1988 Picture by George Warhola
LAN: Do you feel Warhol’s works and ideas are still relevant today?

Victor Bockris: Much has been written about the Legacy of Andy Warhol. I think he will be relevant forever in the sense that Shakespeare is still relevant. I wrote his biography and it would be hard for anybody to write a new one because most of the sources on the first thirty years of his life are dead. However, I don’t think anybody has yet put together an understanding of the impact of his collected work, not in the least because nobody has recognized the importance of his writing in his oeuvre. A writer who could show us the overall influence of Warhol’s contribution, without being over influenced by the prices of his art, but saw the art the films and the writing as the triangular base of his huge body of work would be doing us a great service. Andy Warhol may be the greatest artist of the twentieth century because he harnessed the century’s theme of death. But we will not know until somebody  emerges who isn’t frothing at the mouth about the money.

Paul Warhola by Victor Bockris Pittsburgh 1983
Paul Warhola by Victor Bockris Pittsburgh 1983
Andy’s brother Paul Warhola told me Andy never really changed. Sophisticated art dealers might scoff at that remark, but Paul is right. The Andy who drove his assistants mad by endlessly pushing them with his divine energy was the same Andy who as a child drove his brothers  wild in the same way with his insistent, “What are ya gonna do now?”
Jared Leto by Steven Taylor
Jared Leto by Steven Taylor
LAN: How do you feel about your book becoming a biopic next year and Jared Leto with his very talented friends being so enthusiastic about co-producing it and playing Warhol himself?

Victor Bockris: I have seen several opportunities to make the book into a film come and go, starting with Gus Van Saint in 1992.  I’m sure he would have made a good film, but I don’t think there was the large international audience for Warhol’s heroism back then. I hope we are going to see a film about a revolutionary culture hero who changed the world with his brilliance and his machine like drive. Something like ”Lawrence of Arabia” but with the desert being the streets of New York. Mind you this comes from a fevered brain in the middle of a hurricane. I am confident that Leto will be Warhol by the time he starts making the film and I imagine he will give us something we cannot even imagine until we see it. Something Magic.    

Andy pulling out a rabbit for Catherine Deneuve, Edie Sedgwick, and Zouzou 1966 by Jean-Jacques Bugat
Andy pulling out a rabbit for Catherine Deneuve, Edie Sedgwick, and Zouzou! Photo by Jean-Jacques Bugat 1966.
LAN: I wish you all the best!! I hope you will finally get all the credit you deserve for the quality of your books and that the world will remember your name and that the movie will be an incentive to check out the rest of  your work as well. You do have a very special place as the witness of an era, an author and as a very special friend, you most certainly had a huge influence on everything that went on since the 60’s. It seems it’s not about to stop…

Victor Bockris:  Thank you Tobe for the opportunity to talk about Andy. It went well because you asked stimulating questions and I enjoyed answering them.  I wish you all the best with Loud Alien Noize. And I look forward to contributing some of my favorite pieces to you in the future. I hope your readers enjoy with what we’ve come up with above.  

tlc-victor-bockris-2
Victor Bockris Self Portrait, New York, August 1972
I’m not even worried!! Thank YOU Victor!
All rights tobedamit.com 2016
All rights reserved tobedamit.com 2016
 

Alex Soria

Friends Recall the Brilliant Montreal Musician Too Few Heard

Miror cover by CHRIS BARRY  Up until his tragic passing at age 39 last December, Alex Soria was the impetus behind one of Montreal’s finest rock ‘n’ roll bands ever, the Nils. One of the first punk bands on the local scene, going all the way back to the ’70s, the Nils were responsible for creating some of the most criminally beautiful music to ever emerge from these parts. And though they never quite made it to the toppermost of the poppermost, like so many feel they deserved, Alex’s musical legacy continues to touch and influence countless musicians around the globe. The following is an all-too-brief accounting of his life and times, as told by his friends, associates and brother Carlos, now 42.

CARLOS SORIA In the late ’70s, I was playing in punk bands around town and I’d come home and show Alex songs. Eventually I bought an $80 guitar for him, showed him three chords, and a week later the guy’s playing solos. He was about 13 years old. You’d show him something and then he’d be playing it better than you. He was like that with a lot of things though. He was a killer hockey player, soccer player. As soon as I brought the Pistols and Clash records home, he took them to his little corner and turned their ideas into his own thing. We shared a bedroom in our house in St-Hubert, his bed and my bed faced each other and we’d just sit on our beds writing songs. They weren’t great tunes but, like, a week later he was coming back with better songs and really cool covers of songs he’d figured out. The rest of us had to work pretty hard at it but Alex, it’s like a light shone on the kid, he had a natural God-given talent. And it made no sense either, because just to get a word out of the guy took a week, but dude, when he came onstage and sang it was like, “Wow, how does that come out of that guy?”

BILL MOSER [Nils road manager ’87–’89] Alex and Carlos had this twin-like thing. They knew what the other was thinking. I mean, Alex never had to talk, he’d shoot a look to Carlos who would tell people what was going on based on what he’d just read in Alex’s look. I think he must have been so quiet because of the family issue. The mom ran off when they were kids and stuff.

CARLOS SORIA The very saddest day of both of our lives was on my 18th birthday when my mother took off. I think it had a lot to do with the sadness Alex carried with him.

JIMMY HYNES [friend/roadie] Carlos, Alex and I all went to Macdonald-Cartier on the South Shore together. I used to go over and listen to records in the brothers’ bedroom. Their dad was never around, which probably wasn’t a good thing. So they both kind of ran wild, dropped out of school. Well, maybe Alex finished high school, but no more than that. But they didn’t seem troubled. Man, we used to laugh our heads off together, watching Carlos ride this little girl bicycle up to Grande-Allée Blvd. to go to this bar to buy hash and come back with the stuff on this little bike. All we talked about then was music.

CARLOS SORIA In 1979, the Nils started playing out a bit as a four-piece. They did a song “Scratches and Needles” for this BYO compilation, Something to Believe In, and split up shortly afterwards. I convinced them to keep going, joined the band, and that’s when we did “Call of the Wild” for that Primitive Air Raid compilation and recorded the Paisley EP – around ’82 or ’83. What makes no sense is that everyone agreed the Nils had the best song on that BYO compilation but they never contacted us again. All they cared about was SNFU and Junior Gone Wild, and we were, like, “Hey dude, give us a chance, we’ve got killer songs, come on.” We’d gotten a lot of press, people were into the band and all that, but they didn’t care. I’ve always said if the Nils had John Kastner’s business skills we would have succeeded. But everyone looked at us as these crazy little kids, you know. Alex eating

JOHN KASTNER [Asexuals/Doughboys singer] As soon as the Asexuals left the suburbs around ’83, after our first single, we started playing Cargo downtown and the first band we met were the Nils. The Asexuals and the Nils were always close because we were kind of similar – punkish but with a lot of melody. Right away you could tell Alex had something more than everyone else. But there was always something going wrong for the Nils. They could never get out of their own way, those guys. There was always something fucking them over, be it money or people or… And it was frustrating to be around them. I tried to help the Nils in every way possible, but nothing ever panned out.

SEAN FRIESEN [Asexuals guitarist] Nobody played an SG like that little fucker, crushing his big nose into the mic and singing a great lyric while playing a great riff. Alex was very underrated in the guitar department.

MONTREAL’S NEXT BIG THING  cover_music_1.0

JOHN KASTNER If the Nils had been from the States, they probably would have been as big and influential as the Replacements were. But they were from Canada, and at that time, nobody was really able to shoot out from there. And worse, they were from Montreal. Montreal is a great city for talent but there’s not a lot of industry, at least there wasn’t then.

CARLOS SORIA We never had a proper manager. Nobody ever approached us for anything like that. The Asexuals, 39 Steps, all these bands had people working for them. We always thought, “Fuck, this isn’t fair,” but I guess we had a bad reputation. Around 1985, we became pretty good friends with Ivan from Men Without Hats, who took us to his bank to co-sign a $3,500 loan to record Sell Out Young. We wanted Ivan to produce it because of his pop sensibilities. We wanted to be on the radio, you know? Ultimately he brought in his brother Stefan, and together they were great. At the time we bitched about it, but in hindsight that was a pretty good record. And it helped us a lot. It was voted one of the top 50 records in Canada or something.

IVAN DOROSCHUK [musician/producer] I honestly don’t think Alex was capable of writing a bad song. But it was really hard for me to get anyone – even my own label – interested in them. They would’ve rather seen me produce something more like Men Without Hats, something they could bank on. The Nils were a hard sell. People never understood why I was involved with them, including my wife at the time, who didn’t understand what these four kids were doing in my living room every morning, eating all our food and drinking all our beer. But then they got that deal with Rock Hotel/Profile and Chris Spedding, which was a pretty big thing for them.

CHRIS SPEDDING [musician/producer] Alex never really said much making that record, he just stood there. Still waters run deep, you know. But as soon as the band started playing it was obvious he was the guy to concentrate on, to bring out. The Nils was a very good record, I was proud of the results. [Rock Hotel CEO] Chris Williamson hired me to do the job, not knowing what would happen. He gave me a small budget but as soon as the record started sounding really, really good, he decided to put his name on it as executive producer. I don’t think I ever got any royalties for it.

BILL MOSER Rock Hotel was run by Chris Williamson, a real dickhead. Profile had Run-DMC and were making lots of money. It was a happening label. The Rock Hotel division was actually designed to lose money. So they signed a bunch of rock acts like the Nils and the Cro-Mags. The Nils started out okay with Williamson. He bought them equipment and shit. But when the record came out, they just didn’t get behind it. He said, “I’ll have you opening up for these guys and those guys,” but nothing ever materialized.

CARLOS SORIA Everyone told us not to sign the Rock Hotel contract, going, “Wait, you’re going to get better offers.” But dude, we’d been working it for 10 years and this was the only offer we’d ever got. We’re supposed to turn it down? Our lawyer, this big respected character, told us to just sign it as is and send it back, saying, “Look, you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.” So we signed it. We just wanted to make a good record. In the end I think it sold something like 50,000 copies.

JIMMY HYNES    1987/88 were great years for the band. There was a big vibe about them, they were hugely popular and we were able to get decent sums of money. They could pull $750 a night when only a year before they’d be lucky to get $200.

CARLOS SORIA So the record comes out, everybody’s going nuts, we’re listed in the Rolling Stone charts, it’s going great. Profile paid to get us in on this amazing U.S. tour with the Godfathers, who were happening back then. Those fucking Godfather guys never gave us a sound check the whole tour, but we were still blowing them away every night, and they knew it. After a few weeks, we’re playing Minneapolis with them. I remember Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum, Paul Westerberg, all these guys were there that night. Anyway, the next leg of the tour was the West Coast, where we’d actually sold most of our records, and where the Godfathers had some killer gigs lined up. But that day Profile calls us up and says, “Sorry, you’re going home.” Just like that. We were devastated. We had to drive all the way back to Montreal, and let me tell you, that was the most silent trip anyone has ever been on. The beginning of the end, that day. Profile didn’t want to pay for us to tour anymore. If we could’ve finished that tour I know things would have turned out very different.

IVAN DOROSCHUK That was a hot tour, but again, they didn’t have a manager. And they were all nice guys too, you know, up against these cutthroats in the music business.

THINGS TURN TO SHIT

CARLOS SORIA     Fuckya! Everything turned to shit once we got home. When Rock Hotel went under, Profile wanted to keep us, but Williamson saw us as his guys and wouldn’t let us out of the deal. We got held up in legal shit for over a year. All these other companies wanted to sign us but without that fucking release form, we couldn’t do fuck all. Shortly afterwards, [Nils member] Chico and I had a little punch-up in the van coming back from some show and he left the band. I lost my girlfriend Tracy, the girl I should have married; Chico, who was one of my best friends, and my record contract all in one week. We tried to keep it going but it was over. The momentum had been killed and it never picked up again.

BILL MOSER We were doing a show in Montreal and Williamson shows up. And you know, the Nils actually sold a few records, but they never saw a dime. They were flat broke, but the brothers still had some Marshall gear the label had bought for them. Williamson arrives and decides to take their equipment back. So not only does he completely fuck them over, he reclaims their beloved Marshalls. Alex always took on these menial, shitty jobs, going way the fuck up to Montreal North for six bucks an hour and coming home depressed. He hated those fucking jobs. But there wasn’t one night when we were living together where we wouldn’t pick up the guitars, cop a six-pack and just start playing. I often had to coax him into it, but once he picked up the guitar he’d forget about shit and go for hours. Alex knew enough about the music business not to be delusional about becoming a rock star. He just wanted to make enough money so he didn’t have to go to the factory the next day. I can’t tell you how many times he told me, “Man, I just want to make another record.”But they couldn’t because of the legal problems, and that really depressed him. You know, he was fucked.

JIMMY HYNES Carlos and I lived together. One night in 1989 he went out for cigarettes and never came back. He was just freaking out in Montreal. Which left Alex, the world’s worst organizer, to take care of things.

CARLOS SORIA I was so down about the Nils that when I got an offer to play with Mike Conley from MIA in California, I just took it. As soon as I left, I began to get wind that Alex and his girlfriend Karen were using [heroin]. I wrote it off that they were just experimenting but when I returned a few years later I discovered they were full-fledged fucking on it. I started hanging out with them, and yeah, I fell into it too. I think it’s important people know the Nils never started messing with heroin until it was, like, very clear everything had gone very bad.

JIMMY HYNES Karen’s previous boyfriend had been that junkie guy [Dave Rosenberg] from the Chromosomes, and you know how he ended up. [dead]. She was this older woman who took care of Alex, and Alex always wanted a mommy. He loved to be mothered by women and women loved to mother him. Karen mothered him for 10 years or more. After they split up, things weren’t so easy for him anymore.

JOHN CAMPBELL [friend] Alex always had Karen to take care of him, but when Carlos got into dope it became more problematic. Alex felt a kind of responsibility there. At the same time, Carlos felt responsible for Alex, and I think in a way he got in to heroin to be closer to his brother.

BILL MOSER Alex, no matter what his situation, would never rip you off – I dunno if I can say the same about Carlos. Alex never hustled people. Drugs were not the primary focus of his life, music was. I had money, but he never asked me for a dime. He was very embarrassed about his drug problems. It’s kind of fucked people started seeing him as just this junkie guy.

TRYING TO COME BACK

CARLOS SORIA When I got back from L.A, we decided to make a Nils comeback with another lineup. We were using, but there were possibilities there. That was one of the best Nils lineups ever, with Alex McSween on drums. There was hope there, but at the same time you’re battling addiction, so people realize that and sure, they want to help you but they’re saying, “They’re not reliable, they can’t tour because of drugs.” Of course, even before we were on drugs they were telling us that. It was bullshit, gossip talk. We were reliable, we never missed one show. On the contrary, if we were told to show up somewhere at 3 p.m., we’d be there at noon.

JIMMY HYNES After 1995, there was nothing. That’s when Carlos became a mess, and if Carlos was a mess, not much got done. Other people had to organize things for Alex. If there was nobody to organize things, Alex would have stayed on his couch for the rest of his life. How many shows do you think Alex played in his life outside of Montreal without Carlos? The answer is five. Eventually Alex moved in with one of his friends from St-Hubert, Eric Kearns. He’d been doing nothing for three years and Eric just bugged him relentlessly to start playing music again. So much so that he found Alex a band, found him a guitar because Alex had sold his, bugged him to practice, and borrowed $2,000 to pay for the Chino EP, Mala Leche.

CARLOS SORIA By late ’96, Alex had split up with Karen, was pretty clean, and started Chino. By then we had both gotten ourselves together. Well, at least, we both weren’t dependent on it. He put together Chino without me. I knew his reasons. I’d been in Portage rehab clinic for six months anyway. I roadied for them and shit, but yeah, it stung. It was awkward for him as well.

BILL MOSER Carlos had done some pretty shitty [junkie-type] things which led to the demise of the Nils. Alex was cautious about letting him around again, but it was his brother, so he’d always let him back into his life.

CARLOS SORIA I’m not denying that when I was fucked up on heroin, I did some shitty things, but I wasn’t the only one. Alex was no angel either. It was just a really bad situation. You do things for money when you’re strung out that you regret, you know. It was a lot easier for Alex to just maintain than me. He had Karen looking out for him.

JIMMY HYNES Alex never should have let Carlos back in his bands but he always did. It was always the same thing. Alex would have something good going – which he should have kept going – and then he’d stop it to let his brother back in the band. He could never say no to Carlos. Like, Chino were doing pretty well, why didn’t they keep playing? Because Carlos had come around helping out as a roadie. And then he’d be in Alex’s ear saying, “I should be the bass player,” and before you knew it they would be the Nils again. You know, to a lot of people it was kind of a joke that 22 years later, they were still playing around, going, “Look out, the Nils are back!”

MARK DONATO [Chino/Nils guitarist] Chino never had any push. The typical story: no tour, poor distribution. You can’t push your record sitting in your apartment in St-Henri. Of course Alex was frustrated with his career, hearing all these nothing bands on the radio when he’s got all these wonderful songs in his head. But he never really vocalized his frustration. It was more ‘Los who was saying, “My brother should be up there, that should be my brother.” Not Alex.

WOODY WHELAN [Mag Wheel Records] I’d been a huge Nils fan back when I was growing up in Newfoundland. Alex’s lyrics always moved me; there was something about the way he wrote songs, the way he said things, that got to you instantly. I must have listened to that song “Scratches and Needles” nine times in a row when I first got it. I still can’t believe how good it is. When I reissued their Paisley EP and put together [Nils tribute album] Scratches and Needles, it was mostly a labour of love. I’d no idea if they’d sell or not. Same with their [“hits”] compilation, Green Fields and Daylight. I figured some people would be interested, but primarily I thought it important to get their stuff out. I’m sure they’d talked to other people about releasing their records but at that time they were pretty down, you know? People in Montreal were saying to me, “What, are you crazy? Don’t get involved with these guys, they’ll burn you, they’ll never go anywhere, don’t you know they have problems?” But I decided to just do it and see what happens. And funny, when it came back from the pressing plant, all these people who’d told me I was crazy to get involved with the Nils were thanking me for getting their CD out. They still sell, you know. I still get these strange letters from Nils fans, so happy these records are available.

CARLOS SORIA Alex could never understand why somebody would put up money for the old records when he could just give them a bunch of new songs. I’m not ragging on Woody, who I love and who did a lot for the band, but you can understand our frustration. Alex was always about new songs. He didn’t care about the old stuff. It was like, too little, too late.

WOODY WHELAN In 1998, Alex was back, straight, had Chino going, and was really happy and energetic. That’s the thing people are heartbroken about now. For that brief time we thought we had him back again, that things were finally going to go right for him. But you know, again, it didn’t work out and by 2001, they’d split up. Basically, they didn’t get their FACTOR grant to make their record. They were only looking to get eight grand and I know it kind of broke Alex’s heart. He felt bad his dreams weren’t coming true, and one thing kind of leads to another and they started getting in to other things again.

CARLOS SORIA He got more cynical as time went on. We both did. Especially after Chino went the same way as the Nils. A few years ago, we were working at the same place, Alex was my boss there, and he comes in one day feeling down and says to me, “You know, I’m getting tired of this shit. If this fuckin’ music doesn’t work, I don’t want to be moving boxes around my whole life.” I realize now he was saying, “If this is all there is, I don’t want any part of it,” but I didn’t see it as a red flag at the time. Maybe I should have. His cynicism was really beginning to show.

THE END

JOHN CAMPBELL The last year was very difficult for him. Alex liked stability, and he was starting to slip into drugs again. Maybe a month before he died, he went into detox and when he got out he sounded really good. For the first time, it seemed like he was really taking serious steps to combat his drug issues. He’d already signed up to go to Fosters, which is a serious rehab facility. But apparently he was feeling the pressure that his family had become aware of his addiction problems. His girlfriend Debbie had pretty much outed him. She loved him tremendously and it was killing her to watch him slide.

CARLOS SORIA I saw him two days before he died. We were jamming, drinking beers, smoking doob, he was starting a new job that Monday, thinking about playing again, everything was looking good. I knew he’d been having a hard time a few weeks earlier, feeling very down, but I really don’t think he was planning a suicide.

BILL MOSER The day he died, something snapped in him. It was probably like two hours of psychosis in his life and he just didn’t see any way out – just black. He and Carlos had some job packing kosher products or something, and they went into work one day to discover the place had been shut down. So they not only lose their jobs but they don’t get paid at the same time. I know things started spiralling from there. Alex was definitely not a violent guy, but I know that on the day he died he’d had a big fight with Debbie and one of their neighbours called 911 because of all the commotion. After he left their apartment, he went to some restaurant up the street and apparently spent a bit of time in the bathroom there, doing what, I can’t be sure. But when he comes out of the place, he sees the cops at his door and in a panic, takes off towards the tracks. He just freaked, I guess.

JOHN CAMPBELL He might have been high. Whatever the case, he clearly wasn’t in his right mind when he ran down to the train tracks. I dunno what he was thinking. Apparently he gave a half-salute to the conductor, as if to say, “Sorry,” before diving in front of that train.

JOHN KASTNER Alex Soria was more rock ‘n’ roll than anybody I’ve ever met. He had a bit of that Kurt thing to him. I can picture Alex wanting to go out in some weird way, where people would go, “Holy fuck, man!” I honestly think he’ll be remembered as one of the great rock ‘n’ roll guys to ever have come from Montreal. I really don’t think he’ll be forgotten.

BILL MOSER I’ve worked with a lot of people – John Cale, David Johansen, Lou Reed, all of these clowns – and talent-wise, this kid was right up there. I think if he’d been able to just play music, not have to do all these shitty little jobs, none of this would have happened.

CARLOS SORIA When he was with me, even if we weren’t angels, I made sure nothing ever happened to him. When I saw he was freaking out, I’d put him in my arms and wouldn’t let him move until he calmed down. And I worked that guy, I picked him up when he was drunk, sick, I fuckin’ wiped that kid like he was my own little baby, you know. Nothing ever happened to him when he was in my care. If I’d been there that night, no matter how stoned, I would have grabbed him and sat on him until he calmed down. And I know this probably sounds stupid, saying all this, but dude, that’s just how I feel. I dunno, to this day I still don’t understand. It’s almost like it’s not real, like he’s on a trip and is going to come back. A lot of people have come up to me and said, “I never thought it would be him, I always thought it would be you.” Thanks a lot, you know, have a nice fucking day. Nobody loved that guy more than me. Even my mom and sister say, “Carlos has not only lost his brother, he’s lost his best little buddy.” Honestly, everything I ever did was for him, not for me. I always figured that no matter what happened, I’d at least have a job carrying his guitar around. And he always used to say, “‘Los, no matter what happens, I’ll always be with you, man.” And it was the one thing in my life that I always knew was true.

Watch here the Alex Soria memorial concert with John Kastner, Chris Spedding, Ian Blurton, Mack Mackenzie, Idées Noires, Chris Page, Jerk Appeal, members of the Nils, Chino and Los Patos, and other special guests, at the Main Hall on Friday, March 11, 8:30 p.m., $10. Proceeds go towards the MIMI’s Alex Soria Fountains Award for most promising local songwriter, and to the Portage Program for drug dependencies.

Chris Barry just started a new blog called looselips.ca check it out!

Note from Publisher: If you want to know more about Alex Soria I would very strongly advise you to check out Johnny Campbell’s blog who was his closest friend.he made it easy for Alex fans to find all the posts concerning anything related to Alex and/or The Nils, Los Patos or Chino. Lots of very intersting stories on there and related links. Thank you very much Johnny for these precious memories you shared with us.

From the Margins/Blog Archives of Johnny Campbell/Archives of Old Posts since 2002

Here is just about everything you need to hear of the music Alex composed and sang with The Nils, Chino and ”Next of Kin” his unplugged post-mortem solo album. Give it a good try. It is most definitely worth it. Also post-mortem was an album released called ”The Title Is the Secret Song”. 

Also here is for you the legendary ”Green Fields In Daylight” to play on spotify:  

Also for you theMala Leche” album by Chino also on Spotify:          

I suggest you buy the vinyl ”It Must Be Something” (IMBS!). The very best album from The Nils to my taste. There in an insane second release of all The Nils albums on colored split vinyls here in Montreal. tdisc1

Charles Bukowski

Born Into This

Born Into This, a film documenting the author’s life, was released in 2003. It features contributions from Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton and Bono (U2’s song “Dirty Day” was dedicated to Bukowski when released in 1993).

Henry Charles Bukowski was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. His writing was influenced by the social, cultural and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles. It is marked by an emphasis on the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over sixty books. In 1986 Time called Bukowski a “laureate of American lowlife”. Regarding Bukowski’s enduring popular appeal, Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker wrote, “the secret of Bukowski’s appeal. . . [is that] he combines the confessional poet’s promise of intimacy with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp-fiction hero.”

Bukowski died of leukemia on March 9, 1994, in San Pedro, California, aged 73, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp. The funeral rites, orchestrated by his widow, were conducted by Buddhist monks. An account of the proceedings can be found in Gerald Locklin’s book Charles Bukowski: A Sure Bet. His gravestone reads: “Don’t Try”, a phrase which Bukowski uses in one of his poems, advising aspiring writers and poets about inspiration and creativity. Bukowski explained the phrase in a 1963 letter to John William Corrington: “Somebody at one of these places […] asked me: ‘What do you do? How do you write, create?’ You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: ‘not’ to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.”

Bukowski published extensively in small literary magazines and with small presses beginning in the early 1940s and continuing on through the early 1990s. These poems and stories were later republished by Black Sparrow Press (now HarperCollins/ECCO) as collected volumes of his work. In the 1980s he collaborated with illustrator Robert Crumb on a series of comic books, with Bukowski supplying the writing and Crumb providing the artwork.

Bukowski often spoke of Los Angeles as his favorite subject. In a 1974 interview he said, “You live in a town all your life, and you get to know every bitch on the street corner and half of them you have already messed around with. You’ve got the layout of the whole land. You have a picture of where you are…. Since I was raised in L.A., I’ve always had the geographical and spiritual feeling of being here. I’ve had time to learn this city. I can’t see any other place than L.A.”

One critic has described Bukowski’s fiction as a “detailed depiction of a certain taboo male fantasy: the uninhibited bachelor, slobby, anti-social, and utterly free”, an image he tried to live up to with sometimes riotous public poetry readings and boorish party behaviour. Since his death in 1994 Bukowski has been the subject of a number of critical articles and books about both his life and writings. His work has received relatively little attention from academic critics. ECCO continues to release new collections of his poetry, culled from the thousands of works published in small literary magazines. According to ECCO, the 2007 release The People Look Like Flowers At Last will be his final posthumous release as now all his once-unpublished work has been published.

abukowskigrave