Ali Wanted To Be…

In Depth Interview with Victor Bockris, Author of ”Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven”

by Tobe Damit

Victor walking around the camp with Ali holding his daughter in his arms, 1973. photo ©Bockris-Schmidlapp.

Foreword by Victor Bockris:

The Ali-Warhol Photo Tapestry shown up above as the ”banner” for this article is 60 x 32 inches and comes in various forms ranging from The Ali-Warhol Boxed Set (on 24 separate canvases) to the popular vertical edition on one large print thirty by six four inches, three images across and eight down. It is a beautiful and historic work executed by the Bockris-Schmidlapp team. Copies still available.

In order to enjoy this interview as I hope you will it helps  to know that I am talking about two slightly different Ali books. The first one called Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet was published in October 1974 on the day after Ali defeated George Foreman and regained his World Heavyweight Champion Crown. It was authored by Bockris-Wylie and contained over sixty splendid photographs by Peter Simon. It was also the last book published by the notorious Maurice Girodias’ Freeway Press. Bockris-Wylie was a writing and interviewing team of myself and my early seventies collaborator Andrew Wylie. Girodias, a great friend of mine, was a legend for publishing in the nineteen fifties some of the best books of our times, from Nabakov’s ”Lolita” to William Burroughs’ ”Naked Lunch”. The second one called Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven” published in 1998 in the U.K. and 2000 in the U.S. by Victor Bockris consists of the original book without the photographs but with a new introduction and final chapter on Andy Warhol’s Ali portrait visit as well as over one hundred stills from Anton Perich’s Ali documentary, parts of which were filmed when Bockris-Wylie was visiting Ali in 1973. To snatch from flames the burning pages of  those days were to twist words into breathing wires in my brain. Let this flog of  memories attend you best. -Victor Bockris

Victor Bockris and Andrew Wylie by ©Elsa Dorfman

This interview was done to complete the article ”Beat Muhammad Ali” previously posted in LAN by Tobe Damit.

Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven by Victor Bockris.

LAN: In ”’Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven”, you explain the important role Gerard Malanga played in the birth of the whole project but I want to know why and when you got convinced that Ali was such an important player in the counterculture of the 60’s?

By November of 1972 I had established myself as a poet in Philadelphia by publication of two well reviewed books of poems and a documentary about me on local TV. I had included interviews in both books of poems when I found in them the poetry of human speech. I was now shifting my focus from writing poems to conducting a series of interviews with poets. In fact, in collaboration with Andrew Wylie I was about to embark on a collection of these interviews called ‘The Life of Poetry” . By 1972 poets had become more relevant than ever. We clung to the counterculture as the best thing to come out of the nineteen sixties, but in the early seventies it was constantly being attacked by the Nixon administration and poets were often our most articulate voices. The problem was it was virtually impossible to make money to help finance our work on ”The Life of Poetry” (unpublished) from interviewing poets. One afternoon Wylie and I asked ourselves, “Who is the most famous poet in the world?”  The great British poet W.H. Auden, who was the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in England, had just died. Some radical British students were suggesting that Muhammad Ali should be voted Oxford’s  new professor of Poetry. When we read in the local newspapers that Ali had playfully replied he would be delighted to accept the position, we instantly knew we should do a big interview with Muhammad Ali the Poet. Since the Supreme Court had reversed the sentence he received in 1967 for refusing to be drafted, Ali had increasingly been marketed as the champion of the  underdogs and anti-war protestors around the world. Furthermore, by becoming a Muslim in the sixties and staging his key fights of the seventies in third world countries he certified his credentials as one of the world’s best known anti-war voices. As far as we were concerned the fact that he used his fame to attract attention to the cause of World Peace made him one of us. I got the phone number of his training camp from a sports writer at a Philadelphia tabloid. It was ninety minutes north of us in Pennsylvania. Andrew was usually better at getting interview appointments than I was, but on his occasion since I had a strong British accent I made the call. Much to my surprise, Ali answered the phone on its second ring and when I asked him if we could do an interview about his poetry he gave us an appointment two days later. When we first met him that November morning at 10 a.m. Ali was stark naked. Was this his response to being asked about his poetry? Was he in fact in the tradition of Allen Ginsberg, who sometimes took  his clothes off during a poetry reading, emphasising how naked his poetry was? I have to ask these questions because I am looking for comparisons between my people. You have to wonder otherwise why write at all? Ali was coming off two victorious fights that year and approaching the top of his post sixties game. He was full of energy, he looked terrific. I think he granted us the interview because talking to young people who liked him kept him alert. He was a masterful talker cum rapper and being asked about his poetry sent him into a great long, funny rap about the origins of his poems.  As an indication of how in tune he was to our expectations, at the end of our first visit to Fighter’s Heaven Ali asked me to be his spokesman to, ”The white longhairs in the colleges”.

Muhammad Ali: A Poet In And Out Of The Ring. Gettyimage

LAN: I use the term ”project” for this book because it feels to me that it gave birth to numerous side projects that all had roots in what you were doing. Could you please elaborate on who was doing what and what were the ending results and concrete repercussions of all those things taking place ”in the side lines”?

Your are right in this perception. Between September 1971 to June 1972 I worked with Andrew Wylie and Aram Saroyan on our proto punk poetry press, Telegraph Books.  We published ten volumes including Patti Smith’s first book ”Seventh Heaven”, the Warhol Superstar Brigid Polk’s book Scars as well as my ”In America”. This work and my subsequent work received a lot of press attention in the Fall of 1972 leading up to the Ali interview. Outstanding amongst these works was an interview I did with Patti Smith and a poem I wrote called 1972”, which consisted of a list of some three hundred names of the counterculture’s favorite stars. It began with the names of the Rolling Stones, who reached their zenith in 1972 with Exile On Main Street”These two pieces, published together at a new friend Jeff Goldberg’s Red Room Books, marked the beginning of a new period. The first Ali interview, which became the base of the book Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet”, was published the same month it was conducted in Phildelphia’s underground weekly, The Drummer.  It too was a transitional piece, taking us beyond poets to interviewing the One Hundred Most Intelligent People. Rock and Roll was central in my work, which has provided something of a bridge between the Sixties and the Seventies, leading up to Punk  Rock/Art. That was another thing that tied Ali in with my favorite subjects: during the early years of the 1960s Andy Warhol, Keith Richards and Muhammad Ali were all written off in the mainstream press as punks! Punk after all dates far back in time, for punk as I understand it describes a person who is fully committed to transforming themselves into who they want to be and equally committed to their calling. Above all they always do the very best they possibly can and never retreat or surrender. In its June 1974 issue Penthouse magazine featured our Ali interview, which made him happy because it was one of the few times when what he actually said was published instead of some phony rewrite by an editor.

The ”other book”: ”Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet” authored by Bockris-Wylie photographs by Peter Simon.

LAN: The Deer Lake training camp obviously represented a lot more to Ali than just a place to train with these huge rocks painted by Cassius Clay Sr, each one of them bearing the name of a great boxer; What was the very first impression YOU got about the camp itself?

Ali’s training camp Fighter’s Heaven has not received the attention it deserves as one of Ali’s greatest achievements. It was his idea. He was tired of paying huge sums of money to house his entourage in hotels and train in other people’s gyms in Miami. Ali decided to build his own camp and he found a good place at the top of a hill leading off Highway 61 in Deer Lake Pennsylvania. When I first got there Ali only had the gym, the kitchen and his log cabin built. The boulders had not arrived yet, but he worked on the place every time he stayed there. It was his drive that got it done.  Between 1972-1973 he surely turned it into a perfect place to get his head, body, spirit and fight together with his team.  Ali treated everybody he employed well, he often gave guys without the money to develop their skills jobs as sparing partners, etc. Ali made it clear to me how much he gained from living there, fresh home-grown vegetables, fresh water, fresh air, endless space to run, great camaraderie among his men. The camp also had an inspiring view across many miles of open country. He had great visions for the camp and every time we visited him he was showing us new stuff. One day he introduced us to Mr Moyer, who was just beginning to deliver the huge boulders on which Ali’s father would paint the names of the greatest champions. Ali got the idea from Archie Moore, who had the same thing in his camp when Cassius Clay trained there in 1962. Ali was exultant about the whole thing. It always felt good to be there. In between 1972-1974, the greatest period the camp ever had, Ali was close with his wife and children I often saw them there.  Everything and everyone was on his spot. Building organizing and running what became his superb camp was the most sustained and successful things he ever did outside the ring. The good vibes and solidarity of Ali’s camp had a lot to do with his victories in Zaire and Manilla. The camp still operates today. He could have made money renting it to fighters, but Ali chose to rent it free to organizations who ran summer camps for poor black kids from the ghettos.

The camp still operates today. He could have made money renting it to fighters, but Ali chose to rent it free to organizations who ran summer camps for poor black kids from the ghettos.

LAN: Obviously this book was never meant to be about boxing per se. It seems that Ali was really proud about his poems and other aspects of his personalities. This must have been very thrilling. Would it be accurate to say that it was really important to Ali that people recognize him to be more than just an athlete at this point in time?

The main thrust of the Ali book was to make this transition in the popular conception of Ali. At this time he had in view defeating Frazier in their second fight and defeating Foreman to win back his crown. Many things interceded before he got there, but Ali made it clear to me in 1973 and 1974 that he soon planned to retire. Then it became retire after the third Frazier fight in Manilla in 1975. Ali had really enjoyed touring the colleges in the late sixties. Travelling was in his blood. He’d been led to believe Elijah Muhammad was going to give him an assignment to travel to mosques around the world. Ali dreamed of travelling around the world giving inspiring lectures seeking peace between East and West. It all made sense. After the Foreman and Frazier fights he would have enough money to support his family for the rest of their lives. It is quite possible he could have played a role in bringing east and west together via his Muslim religion. Unfortunately, none of this would ever happen. Ali’s business manager, one of Elijah Muhammad’s sons, took 50% of his income and the rest of Ali’s money after high taxes was so poorly handled he never had enough and was forced to keep fighting, like a cash cow for his handlers,  until everything was used up. It was one of the most vicious examples of what can happen to a man of Ali’s calibre when he des not have control of his resources, but trusts others to take care of them. This is never a good idea.

Ali applauds during a speech given by Elijah Muhammad at a convention of the Nation of Islam in Chicago

LAN: I think it’s a correct assumption to say that Ali truly revealed his ”real self” to you. What aspect of Ali’s blazing personality was the most striking to you?

I don’t think Ali revealed his true self to me. I mean Ali was complex, holding in himself contradictory motivations which left him supreme in his profession but weak outside of it. He once told one of  his daughters that he had never been able to feel  anything. He had insecurities. I saw none of these things. Remember I had asked for an interview. What he gave me on that first day was eight hours of his time, from talking to riding in his bus to watching one of his fights on video while Ali sat behind me and flicked punches just past my ear. He was playful. He was joyful. Nearing the end of this marathon visit to Fighter’ Heaven he became a little more personal. Over the years I knew him he always recognized me but never knew my name.

‘I’m so mean I make medicine sick’! Muhammad Ali. Photograph by ©Chris Smith/Hulton

LAN: The book contains an outstanding collection of his poetry; Ali read a lot of his raps and poetry to you. I know most people had heard his raps and rants (!) but was it the first time that he was reading complete poems he had written, commenting them and explaining the events and emotions involved. Do you think he was considering becoming a writer one day?

While Andrew and I were interviewing Ali between 1972-1974 our friend Anton Perich was shooting a documentary about Ali, which included the day Ali gave us a real poetry reading. Many years later I was sitting at a table in a nightclub in Copenhagen when I noticed a silent film of a man moving his head and body back and forth in a rocking motion projected slightly larger than life on a wall to my right. Loud disco music was blowing through the room that  seemed so perfectly in time with the man in the film I was thinking they should put this music on the soundtrack of the film when I suddenly realised ”WHATTT!?!” I was looking at Anton’s film of the poetry reading Ali had delivering so hypnotically at us thirty years ago. That image sums up the power of Ali’s delivery. He undoubtedly had a love affair with language but he also communicated with the language of his body.  We have to bear in mind that most of Ali’s poetry was copied from or translated from religious texts. This is no different from Bob Dylan taking songs from the past and making them his own. Ali’s voice was his greatest weapon outside the ring. Asking, “Can Muhammd Ali  write?” is like asking, “Can David Bowie act?” In the verbal department Ali was the most impressive world athlete of all time. Ali mesmerized the world with the language that he used. Millions of Ali’s words in interviews have been published all over the world. His verbal pyrotechnics were not the product of a slow mind. The man was sharp. If he had travelled the world giving speeches those speeches would have turned into books. Can he write? The man had a Great Rap! His gift was in the delivery of the poems and in working them into his raps, his strength was in the performance of the words. He was a great communicator. He could have gone on to be a great orator. Except by the time they were through with him Ali no longer had a voice.

LAN: There is a very interesting chapter about Warhol’s visit to the camp. Warhol seemed a bit ambivalent towards the champ even if Andy still managed to produce Ali’s favorite portrait, it seems there was sort of some ”disconfort” in the air when they actually met for the shooting. What would be your take on it?

Warhol taking photos of Ali. Thursday, August 18, 1977 Photo by ©Victor Bockris.

Andy Warhol’s visit to Fighter’s Heaven came three years after publication of ”Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet”. He had read the book and took me along as a buffer. I had also just published a profile of him which asked the question, ”Who Does Andy Warhol Remind You of Most? Answer: Muhammad Ali.” From the introductions onwards I was struck by how rude Ali was to Warhol. I’d never seen him behave like that. At the same time as we walked over to the gym to take the pictures he annealed himself to my side and talked nonstop. Ali acted this way because he knew Andy was gay. After he finished taking the pictures and got a perfect pose it seemed as if Andy had cracked the ice with Muhammad, who invited us on a tour of the camp. This delusion came crashing down when we got to his cabin and, after reading us a new poem he had written on the Concorde the previous night, Ali pulled a thick stack of index cards out of a big briefcase and proceeded for more than thirty minute to harangue Warhol about the gay influence on the nation. Suddenly I was astonished to see Muhammad abruptly break down in confusion saying he did not know what was happening but he could not talk anymore. When Andy told me afterwards he was so glad Ali kept staring into his eyes, I realised he had delivered the Warhol coup de grace, in which Andy would slice people up with his eyes, instantly discombobulating and dismissing them. Believe me I’ve been on the receiving end of it  and it is extraordinarily effective. On that occasion, Andy Warhol was much stronger than Muhammad Ali.

Warhol, Ali and his daughter Hana by ©Victor Bockris,1977 

LAN: Do you know what were Ali’s feelings towards ”The Greatest”?

 One day Ali started complaining about how his publishers were treating the book. “Look at this,” he said handing me a  cheap xerox  invitation to its launch. The book might have given Ali an opportunity to sing his story, but his manager hired a well-known Black Muslim propagandist to write the book and it was not accurate. The way his managers marginalized or ignored Ali should have sent shock bells of warning ringing in his ears, but Ali’s fixation on his mission did not allow him to doubt his people. It was a dilemma he never overcame until his fourth wife, Lonnie Ali, took over his finances. So far as I know he never read the book, which is a sad conclusion to his only book contract. Thus is a boxer neutralized and boxed in. His lack of control over his book would soon become a lack of control over his life. You could say Ali got much more from the Muslims than they took from him. Elijah helped to transform Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali which led to Ali becoming the most famous man in the world. He was also a strong father figure Ali really needed. But the Black Muslim’s did not just take the majority of his money they took way his voice not just once but twice. The first time was in his autobiography. Then by forcing him to fight  his last five years of brutal fights (1976-1981) they took it away again. By the time they were through with him Ali  was no longer able to give any speeches. Was this like some kind of mafia torture where they maximize the suffering? Ali won’t say a bad word against them, but people said he was frightened of the Muslims from the beginning. They destroyed and killed people with seeming immunity. No one was ever caught for killing Malcolm X in broad daylight. The bottom line was just like any crook they got the money, but they also neutralized the Champ. It’s a dark road between Ali and the Black Muslims. After Elijah’s death in 1975 Ali slowly changed his affiliation to the regular Muslims. I don’t want to go there because more than anything Ali was a huge Beacon of Light in a darkening world. When he came into it he was happy along with the Kennedy’s Best and Brightest men.  Then as the evil came out of the land and started shooting down those other beacons so did the evil come to Ali. That he overcame that evil again and again, even prevailing over the broken years of the mid 1980s is his greatest achievement. It took a great man to rise above all the corruption, theft, greed and murder, but he did. That is why he remains to this day that bright Beacon of Light. Now Ali’s light will never go out because it has become a star. Those of us who look up at it from all over the world see different things. For me Ali will always stand for his artistic integrity as a very strong voice for world peace. That’s what he wanted his message to be. He wanted to be seen as a man of peace.  That is what his message was. So let it go forth.

”The book might have given Ali an opportunity to sing his story, but his manager hired a well-known Black Muslim propagandist to write the book and it was not accurate.”

LAN: When Ali got your book, ”Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven” do you feel he genuinely loved the book and that it played an important part compared to all the book that have been written about the champ? If so, what makes it so special to him and/or to the public in general?

I first showed the book to Ali in the Spring of 1975 while we were walking down Central Park South in New York followed by a crowd of a hundred or more people. Bedlam surrounded him as he walked to a restaurant to have dinner. Cops shouted from horses, “Ali! Ali!” Cabs came to screeching halts, people yelled out of car windows, kids ran amongst our feet as he paged through the mass paperback book complaining about the clarity of the pictures on its cheap paper. He was also pissed because he had planned to use the photo he had given us which we used on the cover somewhere else! It was partially in humor. We had left a box of two hundred copies of the book in his suite at the Essex House hotel. We never told him that, just as the advance copies were starting to sell like hotcakes, the printer shredded the entire edition of 50,000 copies of the book because our publisher had not paid his bill. I always wondered what happened to those two hundred copies we gave Ali. Then in 1996 I got a copy of a book of Ali’s favorite photographs of himself called Muhammad Ali in Perspective by Thomas Hauser. It included a Howard Bingham photo of Muhammad holding the book up and reading it at a table sitting next to Lonnie. Both of them wear expressions of supreme satisfaction. I had never seen a photograph of Ali reading a book other than the Koran. Anyway I continued working on Ali projects like The ALI-WARHOL PHOTO TAPESTRY by Bockris-Schmidlapp (See top of the page). Then in 2000 my book ”Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven” was published in the U.S. and I sent Lonnie and Muhammad  copies. They thanked me. Then In 2009 Lonnie sent me a letter saying that she was reading the book to Muhammad when he went to bed at night. It reminded him of a time in which he almost broke free from his violent profession to become the man of peace he wanted to be so now the book brought peace to him. What more perfect image can we end on? 

Ali riding his horse in Deer Lake ”fighter’s Heaven” training camp by ©Anton Perich

LAN: Indeed!! Thank you so much for your time but most of all in this precise case, I’d say thank you for letting the whole world know that Ali was much more than just one of the greatest boxer in the world. Looking back, how do you feel about having accomplished that??

I always loved the Ali book. It was my first book of prose and I loved everything about it. It was beautifully designed, it contained the only collection of Ali’s poetry. It as alive with his voice. I knew it was good, we also received a positive quote from George Plimpton we used on the cover and postcards praising the book from our friends Ted Berrigan and Eartha Kitt. By the time it was published in 2000 I had a better perspective of the book as part of my  Collected Works in fourteen volumes. Back in 1979 Andy Warhol wrote, “Victor Bockris only writes about three people, Muhammad Ali, William Burroughs and me.”  It is the relationship  between these names I see as my accomplishment. My achievement is that I was able, without planning, to write a connected series of books about outstanding artists of our times who shared in common an ability to communicate attitudes and  take actions which combined to play a large role in creating an enlightened counterculture in this country and around the world. And that counterculture, based on its international population’s efforts to stop the war in Vietnam and its lasting influences on our lives today, should in turn be recognized as one of America’s greatest achievements. 

Muhammad Ali by Andy Warhol
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Andy Warhol Interviews Alfred Hitchcock (1974)

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Few midcentury cultural figures would at first seem to have as little in common as Andy Warhol and Alfred Hitchcock. Sure, they both made films, but how straight a line can even the farthest-reaching cinema theorists draw between, say, Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Warhol’s Vinyl (1965)? Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and Warhol’s Empire (1964)? Yet not only did both of them direct many motion pictures, each began as a visual artist: “Warhol had started his career working as a commercial illustrator, Hitchcock had started out creating illustrations for title cards in silent movies,” says Filmmaker IQ’s post on their encounter in the September 1974 issue of Warhol’s Interview magazine. Yet in the brief conversation printed, they discuss not drawing, and not filmmaking, but murder:

Andy Warhol: Since you know all these cases, did you ever figure out why people really murder? It’s always bothered me. Why.

Alfred Hitchcock: Well I’ll tell you. Years ago, it was economic, really. Especially in England. First of all, divorce was very hard to get, and it cost a lot of money.

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[ … ]

 

Andy Warhol: But what about a mass murderer.

Alfred Hitchcock: Well, they are psychotics, you see. They’re absolutely psychotic. They’re very often impotent. As I showed in “Frenzy.” The man was completely impotent until he murdered and that’s how he got his kicks. But today of course, with the Age of the Revolver, as one might call it, I think there is more use of guns in the home than there is in the streets. You know? And men lose their heads?

Andy Warhol: Well I was shot by a gun, and it just seems like a movie. I can’t see it as being anything real. The whole thing is still like a movie to me. It happened to me, but it’s like watching TV. If you’re watching TV, it’s the same thing as having it done to yourself.

Warhol openly proclaimed that he was nervous upon meeting the legendary director,” adds Filmmaker IQ, “and posed with Hitchcock by kneeling at his feet,” resulting in the photo you see at the top of the post. They also include three portraits Warhol made of Hitchcock, the best known of which Christie’s Auction House describes as “a variation on the doubled self-image that Hitchcock played with in his title sequence, layering his own expressive line-drawing over the director’s silhouette, suggesting the mischievous defacement of graffiti as much as the canonization of a hero through the timelessness of the inscribed profile.” These images and the brief interview excerpt leave us wondering: can one call a work — on film, in a frame, in a magazine — both Hitchcockian and Warholian? A question, perhaps, best left to the theorists.

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John Lennon

A Visual Narrative

In 1969, a 14-year-old Beatle fanatic named Jerry Levitan, armed with a reel-to-reel tape deck, snuck into John Lennon’s hotel room in Toronto and convinced John to do an interview about peace. 38 years later, Jerry has produced a film about it. Using the original interview recording as the soundtrack, director Josh Raskin has woven a visual narrative which tenderly romances Lennon’s every word in a cascading flood of multipronged animation. Raskin marries the terrifyingly genius pen work of James Braithwaite with masterful digital illustration by Alex Kurina, resulting in a spell-binding vessel for Lennon’s boundless wit, and timeless message. ”I Met the Walrus” was nominated for the 2008 Academy Award for Animated Short and won the 2009 Emmy for ‘New Approaches’ (making it the first film to win an Emmy on behalf of the internet).

I Met the Walrus!!

 Actors: Jerry Levitan, John Lennon

Director: Josh Raskin

Producer: Jerry Levitan

Scenario: Josh Rankin

Release Date: 2007

Warhol

The Biography by Victor Bockris

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It is actually the 4th book I have read that was written by Victor Bockris and the third one about Warhol. I have never been deceived by Bockris in the past but I have to say that this one, written in 1989, must have been a very hard and complex task that he managed to achieve with his usual amazing brio. Bockris has this gift of being able to cut the crap and swiftly reach out to what is relevant. Bockris for sure have learned from the best since it was Warhol himself who taught him how to make an interview. You will get the facts, don’t worry about it but you will also get, and that’s what makes all the difference in the world, all the surrounding facts; friends, events, traumas and personal victories.

Bockris has this ability to be very thorough but also doesn’t make you feel like you are just showered with a timeline of events and facts. It is written a little like a documentary in which you get to hear the people who were implicated in the occurring events in turn, hearing from their mouth what they saw and what were their thoughts at that time, an ongoing non-stop interview in which people take turns to enhance Bockris’ interesting narrative until the very end.

I must say that I thought the book ended a bit abruptly. Still it fits with the whole concept of this as it doesn’t pretend to resolve the enigma of Warhol’s persona and anyone pretending to do so would be a fraud because Warhol precisely was a living contradiction of himself. Being at the same time as authentic, even if detached and minimal, as one could possibly be while at the same time declaring that ”art is anything you can get away with”. This is the perfect example of perfectly working paradox! While some will say on one side he was just exploiting everyone else and letting himself be exploited if he felt it was ok, he clearly must had a very clear path in his mind of what was art and what wasn’t.

Victor Bockris from ''Bad Boys'' photograph by Marcia Resnick, , 1977
Victor Bockris from ”Bad Boys” photo by Marcia Resnick, 1977

Reading the book you can clearly understand as he went through a lot of heart breaks and traumas, and that led him to try to become a machine, a certain robot deprived of emotions and that feeds on pills instead of actual food, well, he certainly made an art of it! That right there is one essential part of starting to understand Warhol. This is why Warhol is such an important keystone in the history of modern art! Warhol made it possible for everyone to become an artist, he was the first to use multimedia coverage for an event, the Velvet Underground was not just a band playing, it was a multimedia event called the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (EPI).

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You get to really know Andy Warhol’s childhood, his relation with his mother, his first love, his first heartbreak, his friends, the ones that remained friends; the ones that became enemies and the ones he simply didn’t care about or apparently so.. Reading this bio, one really get to observe as Andy slowly, inevitably builds a fortress around his heart and his emotions.

How can one manage to never lose it even after  an attempted murder. This clearly had a huge effect on him, very palpable in the book but he managed to turn it around and live the most prolific happy period of his life. Another thing that is interesting is to be able to see how and why he started to be involved in writing, photography, music, cinema and why he would always come back to painting, his insecurities, why his apparent ”numbness” , you get all the naked truth here. While we’re at it, I would like to do something that only has been done on very rare occasions, (one being done by Bockris) I would like to underline the relevance of his novel a:a novel as well as some movies like Flesh , Trash or Beauty No. 2.

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Gun by Warhol. This is an exact replica of the gun that was used in his attempted murder by Solanas.

One look at the very essence of the modern USA in a time where everything was possible and more but at the very base of it today, you find the hope given by Warhol that everyone is an artist or in other words that everyone’s life could be a subject of art. Of course, it isn’t literally true but you get the sense reading the bio that if you really believe in yourself, if you work really, really hard, you listen to what others people say, you support some of them, associate with them or if you take some parts that fits with your ideas and/or most importantly if you have the talent, you will have a chance to being seen and/or even better a chance at success. Of course another paradox may be that Andy managed to create the first corporation that became a millionaire by creating an art factory ( literally) and made art a monetary valuable product. Andy worked really hard. He did all that but reading the book it seems the most difficult part is to find some people who were trustworthy and not too greedy. Luckily Andy was very stingy.

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Today, you can be your own PR agent, you can create your own window in the world and run it yourself! What an amazing, uplifting thought it is also to know that no matter if you are good enough to have worldwide or even nationwide success, some people will get to know you, some people across the world will like your stuff for what it is, not because they are your friends, just because they like it!! It is such a shame that Warhol died before all the computer revolution he had foreseen… But he knew!! warhol-amiga05

It never ever took me such a long time to read a book but with experience you realise that reading a very good book for the first time is a very rare and unique experience. I made sure that I didn’t miss a line!! But even if it took me a really long time to read it and make sure I wouldn’t miss a thing, there is so much going on that for sure I will have to read it again. This is NOT the kind of book you just borrow from the library! You have to own it!! I got the amazing surprise just as I finished the book to see that Jared Leto has bought the rights  to Victor Bockris’ 1989 book Warhol: The Biography and not only will he co-produce the new biopic but he will also star in it as Warhol himself.

David Bowie as Alex from A Clockwork Orange with a background that says a lot to me..

I always felt I had this gift to sense what was to be ”in the air” or anything that is about to get important somehow, but Andy was creating art with nothing, he was only slightly influenced by the beat generation and maybe Dali (according to Ultra Violet) but he wasn’t Dada, It was something different, it was Pop Art, an art that has more or less the same criterias as today’s art. Like I said, reading this book, I also got to know the fragile, heartbroken, insecure artist and human being Warhol was. I could so relate when he tried to be a machine, not showing any emotions, no love, no trust, no friends, no compassion and maybe he managed to pull it off for a while but you can feel that this isn’t working for him, deep inside, I’m pretty sure anyone who knew him felt he was lonely and sad but mainly uncomprehended. So for all the future greedy psychopath-by-choice to be, know that it is impossible to really be happy that way mk? . You will get hurt, you will be betrayed, you will suffer, just like Andy, but you have to keep on going, keep trying, always and until your last breath, something will come out of it. If anything, understand that message he left for us. RIP Edie.

 Six Self Portraits by Andy Warhol.
Six Self Portraits by Andy Warhol

I really am shocked at the amount of people who don’t really know who Andy Warhol is. I’m trying my best to make him known to the present and future generations and this book is an essential part of your culture (including the creation of the magazine Interview). Meet the guy who made the impossible possible to anyone who has the talent and the will. You owe it to yourself to read this book. Of course there are autobiographies but the way this book is written gives you more objectivity I think. Add that to Bockris’ talent to cut the crap and go to the heart of what is happening and you will realize why Leto chose this book and not another one, not even one Warhol wrote himself, to base the biopic on. This book is a must for anyone that reads and I clearly must mention here the 16 pages of amazing pictures that illustrates key moments in Warhol’s life. Andy Warhol must never be forgotten. I sincerely thank Victor Bockris not only for this book, but also for all his amazing work allowing those who weren’t part of ”it” in the 60’s and the 70’s to feel as if they were, to be able to really get a sense of what was going on back then in such a heartfelt way. In the end I would simply state that even if the biography is, Andy Warhol’s personality still is and always will be incomplete to me.

tonight

Just a little update; This is the reaction about my review I got by the author himself! Don’t forget to read the related interview!

‘Thank you Tobe. This is the most comprehensive review of the book which has been published in nine countries since 1989 and remains in print in several. I appreciate your comments and insights regarding all of my work”. -Victor Bockris

Interview with Sterling Morrison

On the road, Fall 1968 (Sterling Morrison Archives)

This interview conducted by Gregg Barrios was originally printed in Fusion, March 6, 1970.


Sterling Morrison was once described as the most underrated person living. He has been with The Velvet Underground since the dawn of history and hopefully will continue in that capacity forever. He was also called indomitable as well as an astute Italian duke. In any case, he is generally conceded to be a superior musician, as far above in talent as he is distant from the hype of current guitarists. In an interview while on tour in Texas, he spoke with Greg Barrios.


The group originally included Angus MacLise?

You know all kinds of secrets… How did you find that out? Yes, originally we were just jamming around and live in this unheated apartment and Angus lived in the unheated apartment next door. He had just come back from India. He didn’t want to be in a group, though, he thought it was fun to play music now and then whenever he felt like it; so Angus couldn’t be the drummer though we were good friends. At that time, we did some of the absolutely first mixed media things…

…the Exploding Plastic Inevitable?

No, before that. The antecedent of that was done in the old Cinematheque – all done by film people – things which Angus called ritual happenings. “Rites of the Dream Weapon” did you ever see a poster for that? Yes, that was the first one. Before Ken Kesey or anybody. Angus had seen lot of Dervish dancing while he was in India. He had been there for eight years and he came back with his raga scales and assortment of drums and so we used to put on these things and they had films. Piero Heliczer was involved in that.

I’ve seen his Dirt.

Yeah, and his New Jerusalem. Piero just had a showing about a month ago. He’s back in the country. He’s enigmatic.

I gather from some of his poetry…

What was that? Aquarium Productions?

No. Some items in the Film-makers coop catalog and newsletters.

There are really underground personages who have never been transformed by public acclaim. People like Piero, Angus, Tony Conrad, and Walter DeMaria, though Walter is doing somethings in art at present. Underground movies didn’t mean a thing in 1964 in New York. You were just sneaking around with no money.

There are many of them still like that even those who have produced important works like Jack Smith.

Well, yes, and take someone ever more amazing like Harry Smith who should be restrained from destroying his films. He makes those incredible hand-drawn cartoon films. I don’t know how long it takes him, they’re amazing. Have you seen any of those?

I’ve seen the Mirror Animations which is quite short.

They’re really marvelous. And every once in a while Harry flips out and destroys all he can get his hands on.

I met him once at the Chelsea Hotel with Barbara Rubin.

Yes. Barbara is one of the illuminaries.

Getting back to the group. Where did the name Velvet Underground come from? Did Andy…

No, this was before that.

Was the group composed of yourself, Maureen, and John Cale at the time?

Right and Lou Reed. And every group has to have a name so one day we saw the name on a book.

That paperback s&m book?

Yes, and we said, that’s nice. It’s abstract and the word underground meant something, and so we said sure why not – never figuring we would rise above our particular little echelon at the time, so that was fun. It was outrageous, the only people playing in New York City at the time were ourselves and the Fugs. We were lurking around the old Cinematheque and the Bridge and occasional gala underground events at the Village Gate downstairs. It was us and the Fugs – living in the lower East Side with around $25 a month combined (just about).

The first introduction I had to the group was an NET film on television in late 1965. The film was on Andy Warhol and it showed him holding a tryout for a group to use in his EPI.

It wasn’t a tryout at all. They didn’t know what was happening. They came there to do a thing on Andy and found us. We were already working with him.

Part of that film used your music alone. It was very nice.

They (people from NET) didn’t know what to make of it except that it sounded very peaceful and what we were playing was actually an instrumental version of Heroin. The final thing as they were showing the credits and it went droning on, that’s what that was. They didn’t know what was going on. The Factory (Warhol’s studio) in those days was so hectic and they had certain security measures to enforce.

The second time I heard the group was on the soundtrack of Andy’s film Hedy in 1966.

Oh, Hedy. Mrs. Lamarr!

Yes. I thought the music added to the pretentious mood of the film. It was very funny.

The movie was very funny. Almost everyone had a cameo part in the film. I think Jack Smith played the judge.

It was Harvey Tavel. I think Ronnie Tavel wrote the script. How did the group actually become connected with Warhol for a period of time?

He heard us playing in the Village. Barbara Rubin brought Gerard Malanga to hear us and he brought Andy. He thought it would be real nice – he always had the idea to do a media type thing with all types of films, with all possible ways to involve people.

Did that begin at the Dom on St. Marks Place?

Yes. And that wised us up in a hurry about where business begins and that sort of thing. We had the Dom an a three-year lease believe it or not. It really sickens me still when I go to St. Marks Place because more than anyone we invented that street. There was nothing going on there. Absolutely nothing. The Spa at one end and just Polish type stores, and Khadija Design, and the Bridge at the other end. No one had been there very long. Khadija had been there longer than anyone. It was an African clothing store. That was in 1964. Somehow we showed up at the DOM looking for a big room, and we said, ah, Dom (Polish for home), this is it. No one went down to St. Marks Place. No people coming in off the street. There was no point in being there. It appeared to be a disaster.

No concerts in Tompkins Square Park going on at that time?

No. This was way before that. If it was used I don’t know what for. So we got the building for three years and we opened it up and did extremely well. The people came down there and a person who worked in our box office said I’ve got an idea, why don’t we go and play in California. We said sure, why not. So we all went out to California even though we had been at the Dom for about a month.

Was that the trip to California which they said they weren’t ready for?

Yes, we played at the Fillmore and the Trip. We had a great time. I loved it, and when we came back we went back to our room since that was our thing. We owned it for three years, and when we came back we discovered it was now called The Balloon Farm. Actually our lease had been torn up and the director of the Polish home had been bribed and bought off and so our building had been taken away from us and later sold to the Electric Circus for around $300.000.
We did have some valuable property – so I discovered early in life that when you have something valuable someone is going to try and take it away from you unless you go around knowing things. I couldn’t believe something like that could happen and if you bother to sue or do anything like that – by the time it came up in the courts, you’d passed caring.

Were items like The Whip Dance with Gerard Malanga and Ingrid Superstar used all along?

Gerard and Mary (Waronov) though Ingrid did some. They could do anything they wanted. The actual number of people who would travel with us varied. The dances were Gerard’s domain, and the lights Andy’s. We only worried about the music. The way the Whip Dance came about was when someone gave Gerard a bullwhip and one particular night – the night he came down to hear us in the Village, he happened to be carrying it with him and later he started dancing with it. There was no deep dark s&m motivations. Someone gave him the whip just for laughs. He also used flashlights and lifted weights. Gerard is amazing. He was a regular on Allen Freed’s old TV show.

“The Big Beat”? Wasn’t Baby Jane Holzer also on there?

Jane used to be around there, too. When Allen Freed got kicked off the air, his final publicity picture was of him and two regulars. Gerard happened to be one of them.

When did Nico join the group?

Well, she appeared with us at the Dom, so it was right before that.

Was it Andy’s idea that she join the group?

She was around because of Andy, but he couldn’t talk us really into anything. We thought it would be a good idea. I mean that’s how the whole thing was worked on the first album: The Velvet Underground and Nico. In other words, we were a unit with or without her. And she could do some things we really like, so we said do some songs. it was a complicated working arrangement because she said if I don’t sing, I don’t do anything. So it was always a question of how many songs Nico would do, should she do all of them, which we didn’t want, and that was the only cumbersome aspect of it.

Last night as Doug was singing “I’ll Be your Mirror” I detected the Germanic accent…

Oh yeah, we mimic the way she did it. She never said, “I’ll be your mirror,” it was “I be your mirrah.” It’s amazing how those songs are still so good.

What was the reaction to the first “banana” album? I know many people couldn’t get into things like “European Son” and a couple of the other cuts.

“European Son” is very tame now. It happens to be melodic and if anyone actually listens to it, “European Son” turns out to be comprehensible in the light of all that has come since – not just our work but everyone’s. It’s that just for the time it was done it’s amazing. We figured that on our first album it was a novel idea just to have long tracks. I’m not referring to any particular song, but any song running 8 or 9 minutes. People just weren’t doing that – regardless of what the content of the track was – everyone’s album cuts had to be 2:30 or 2:45 minutes.

The three-minute song.

Then here’s “European Son” which ran eight minutes or something. And basically all the songs on the first albums are longish though there are a few short ones. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is rather long.

I have your first single which has an abbreviated version of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” on it.

Well don’t lose it. I really liked that record. You can’t get copies of it anymore. I have about two of those singles. There were never that many. “White Light/White Heat” was also a single. I don’t have many of those either.

I heard many rumors as to why Nico left the group. Would you clarify that?

It was all very informal. We stopped working for a while. We used to do that periodically – just refused to do anything. Nico needed money so she went out on her own. She was working downstairs at the Dom (Stanley’s) and we said sure, do anything you want, and so she was doing that. We’d take turns backing her up. I’d do it for one week, then John Cale, Lou, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Jackson Browne – everyone was showing up as Nico’s accompanist. When we decided to start work again we told her about it, and she said, oh, I have three more weeks here. So we told her to decide what she wanted to do and she decided that perhaps she could go on her own and be a big star, and we said okay. There never was any ill feelings. For instance, Lou played and composed some of the selections for her first album on Verve.

Didn’t you help compose the song, “Chelsea Girls” for her?

Yes I did some meddling with chords.

I liked the first album she did. It was mostly Jackson Browne but it did have some Dylan on it.

Dylan was always giving her songs.

There have been rumors that he wrote several songs with her in mind?

I don’t know, perhaps. It’s very hard to avoid these people in New York. Dylan was always lurking around.

Didn’t Andy use Dylan in a film?

There was one film with Paul Caruso called, The Bob Dylan Story. I don’t think Andy has ever shown it. It was hysterical. They got Marlowe Dupont to play Al Grossman. Paul Caruso not only looks as Bob Dylan but as a super caricature he makes even Hendrix looks pale by comparison. This was around 1966 when the film was made and his hair was way out here. When he was walking down the street you had to step out of his way. On the eve of the filming, Paul had a change of heart and got his hair cut off – closer to his head – and he must have removed about a foot so everyone was upset about that. Then Dylan had this accident and that was why the film was never shown.

What was the general reaction to The Velvet Underground’s second album?

They were stunned.

To the fact that Nico wasn’t on there?

Oh no. By what the album was – kind of raw electronics (most of it). We liked the album very much. Generally reaction to our albums is late in coming. They just lay around for a year and then people start to pick up on them. There isn’t much you can say about your own albums.

Have you always had the liberty to put on your albums what you wanted?

Yes… it was kind of… we just did it. The company wasn’t especially aware of what we were doing.

The production credit for the first album list Andy Warhol as producer. I assume he doesn’t operate like Phil Spector?

No. This was “producer” in the sense of producing a film. We used some of his money and our money. Whoever had any money that just went all into it. Andy was the producer but we were the “executive producers” too. We made the record ourselves and then brought it around and MGM said they liked it. We just never cared to do it the way most people do.

There has been some bad reactions in critical circles toward narrative things like “The Gift” and “The Murder Mystery.” Last night, Lou said that he wasn’t going to do anymore of the narrative things because of the reaction to them. He felt “The Murder Mystery” succeeded. I do too.

I thought they liked “The Gift”. I don’t know. They might react against “The Murder Mystery” but “The Gift” is more coherent. I thought people liked it.

Do you perform either one on stage?

We used to play the music from “The Gift”, occasionally. We never did perform “The Murder Mystery”, it’s too hard. Anything involving narration is really ridiculous to try and do before a live audience.

Now with the third album you have some people saying, “now they’re on to Jesus.” Can you say that’s a progression?

No. It’s just something that you do.

In other words, they keep looking for another “Heroin,” or “Sister Ray,” and so forth.

I think the third album is a lot more subtle.

Exactly. There doesn’t seem to be anything that really comes out and grabs you like “Sister Ray.” (Excluding “The Murder Mystery” of course).

That’s okay by us. As an album, I think it holds up better than the other ones. The others, when you listen to them, something reaches out and hits you over the head, and something else drops back. The new album is a lot more cohesive. I mean why would we do another “Sister Ray”? For our purposes, we’ve already covered that ground.

Well, since you are now on the MGM label, some people thought you might have toned down because of some pressure.

That was only an administrative change so that we can use a different sales manager or something like that. Also, they have a prettier label, aqua and gold; those were my junior high school colors (laughter).

Which of the three albums do you like best?

I don’t know. It changes. Whichever one I haven’t heard lately. If I have been listening to one… for instance, I didn’t listen to the first album for a year… then I went back and decided I really like it. I’m sure no one plays much of what they do everyday. You just let it sit around for a long time, then you drag them out and listen to them.

It was nice last night when you played “Femme Fatale” and “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and later some new songs like “I Can’t Stand It Anymore.”

Yes, there’s all kind of things. We just shuffle them around.

Do you think the group misses John Cale and his presence or not?

Yes… no… it’s hard to answer.

I miss the viola.

Yes, but it wasn’t used that much, and it wasn’t an essential ingredient as far as we were concerned. Everyone thought when we first showed up doing that that it was a gimmick. It wasn’t that at all. You could get a sound out of it that we thought suited the song. It was used only for about three songs.

I think It’s a Beautiful Day makes excellent use of the electric violin.

The electric viola works better than the electric violin. One might say it’s an electric violin but it’s not. The electric viola registers a little deeper, so it has a nicer sound.

Have you heard John Cale’s Stooges album?

No, I haven’t listen to that yet.

Have you heard The Stooges at all?

No.

Have you heard John’s album with Nico, The Marble Index?

Yes I like some of the songs on there. I haven’t heard The Stooges album, I’ll have to do that.

They have some of the early qualities of the Stones way back when Phil Spector would sit in and…

… play zoom bass… (laughter) if they sound that good I’ll have to listen to them.

Which of the current groups do you really like? (Doug Yule interrupting: Taj Mahal)

I do? (Doug Yule: Sure you do. I thought you did.)
I’ve always liked The Byrds. I’ve always liked The Kinks. I like Dr. John’s first album.

Gris-Gris?

Yes.

(Doug Yule: The Rolling Stones.)

Everyone likes them. Let’s see who’s unusual?

(Doug Yule: Creedance Clearwater.)

They get sort of monotonous.

(Doug Yule: But they have some good stuff.)

Yes.

(Doug Yule: Just like us. We all have our ups and downs…)

… and all arounds

Indeed. And Quicksilver, I like them too.

Are there any groups you think have imitated The Velvet Underground’s style? or songs?

Yeah, everybody, kind of. It doesn’t pay to get into it, however, cause people might say, well you’re imitating Josh White, or someone else. If you release records you hope people will listen to them and whatever they do with it you should be happy about it. There isn’t anything to complain about.

What about people like Van Dyke Parks?

I dismiss him summarily. I don’t care what he does. I don’t think he has the credentials. Whatever he’s supposed to be doing – he isn’t good enough.

In the sense of a commercial success?

In any kind of success. If he’s such a great musician then let him go to Tanglewood. His work just sounds like some clever exercises.

He does a creditable job in co-producing Guthrie’s new album.

Oh, as a producer he might be able to do something. It’s that I don’t think classical music, or formal composition, if you will – needs people to release it on the unsuspecting pop world. If you want them to listen to that then go listen to Vivaldi or something Baroque.

But I don’t just sense the classical influence…

Okay, so he’s the great synthesizing mind of the 20th century, well he’s not that either.

Do you consider Zappa more appropriate to that title?

Zappa is incapable of writing lyrics. He is shielding his musical deficiencies by proselytizing all these sundry groups that he appeals to. He just throw enough dribble into those songs, I don’t know, I don’t like their music. I like some of the people in the group. Zappa figures how many opposites can I weld together. I’ll take this phrase from god knows who (i.e. Stockhausen – the magic name!) never heard of him. What is Zappa? I say Frank can I hear a song leaving out the garbage cans? I think that album Freak Out was such a shuck.
For instance, the following is something that would haunt me to the grave. He had this utterance in one of his albums – god knows which one – “I’m not saying I want to be black but there are times I wish I weren’t white.” Now how can anyone come on like that? And he just keeps going on. Now as a satirist, or something, he might be okay. Satirists are capable of knocking things. It’s a label you can hide behind. You might say that I myself am knocking him, well, not really. He’s doing something nobody else is doing. So in that sense he has his little niche.

There have been some comparisons drawn, somewhat outrageously, between The Velvet Underground and the MC5.

That’s a comparison that would drive me to an early retirement.

What do you think of the MC5?

I think seldom of the MC5.

Is there anything we’ve left out?

Well I don’t want it to appear that I’m knocking Zappa because too much has already gone down between us.

I thought his We’re Only in it for the Money was fun. It was a good satire on what they saw in the Beatles’ album.

Yes. But let me see him come out with something as good as Sgt. Pepper. If he comes out with one song that is as good as any song on Sgt. Pepper I revise my opinion. I can make fun of Sgt. Pepper. Everyone can. If anyone thinks that cover was clever, I have no art ability at all, and I can come up with one as funny. I mean here is what The Beatles did and without any stretch of the imagination one can come up with a parody. What Zappa saw in Sgt. Pepper was something good which showed real perception and talent, and lacking these attributes himself, he decided to do something else, and make fun of it. Is there anything on We’re Only in it for the Money that compares even remotely with anything on the original?

Well, the attitude of Zappa on some of the songs toward runaways seems more realistic that the maudlin content of “She’s Leaving Home.”

Yes. But Sgt. Pepper is still a great album. When I think of The Mothers I don’t think of anything they did – I just think of who they’re imitating. Who Zappa is deriving his horn lines from and so forth. The Mothers started out in the early days as essentially an old rock/boogie group. Zappa was doing what he knew best: old rock. There was a real good guitar player on the first album by the name of Elliot. He left because Zappa saw a chink in the social structure and he was going to fill the hole. For better or worse, he did it.

Well, he’s finally disbanded the whole group.

At last. The person Zappa always admired the most was his manager. He wanted to be his manager. Zappa is the kind of person who should be a manager or a publishing representative. He wants to be one of the really sleazy industry types. And he has some need for this too.

What direction do you want The Velvet Underground to go? Are you happy the way it’s going now?

I’d like to see us have a hit single. It’s really important that you do that. Our singles so far are a joke.

I thought some of the new songs you played last night have the potential to be good hits.

Everything, if perhaps not a hit, could be distributed. Most of our singles were never distributed. However where they appeared on jukeboxes, people have really liked them. “White Light/White Heat” as a single is nice. that single was banned every place. When it was banned in San Francisco, we said, the hell with it. That’s as far as it ever got.

You have a single out at present from the third album, “What Goes On.”

That was not a real single. It was just a cut put on a single. There’s a subtle distinction between what is a real release and what is a real real release.

In other words, a single produced for a market different from the album market.

It’s hard to say. It might, it might not. We have all sorts of strange things lying around in the can, as they say. We record them and get tired with them before they’re released. It happens many times. We get demos and we play the demos and get tired of them.

I think there is much humor in your music.

Oh, there is.

Many people, however, tend to emphasize the darker s&m qualities.

Yes, but this is not reflected in fact. We’ve made no attempt to dispel them but if anyone asks us, we say, no, don’t be ridiculous. We owe that legacy to Gerard who in his infinite wisdom did all kind of outrageous things. Suppose that title which we took for our name had been on a detective novel or whatever. It just happened that the book was about that. It was a really dumb book.

Many people consider the light show as an essential part of your image. Now that you are no longer associated with the EPI you no longer have any special lighting effects with your show…

… we got away from that. Actually we built the light show at Fillmore Auditorium. Bill Graham didn’t nor did any San Francisco entrepreneur. When we showed up Graham had a slide projector with a picture of the moon. We said, that’s not a light show, Bill, sorry. That’s one of the reasons that Graham really hates us.

In his recent book on San Francisco rock, Gleason says it (light shows) officially started in SF.

Marshall McLuhan gave us credit for it in his book. He’s the only one.

Right. I remember the photo he used of the EPI and Velvet Underground in The Medium is the Massage. That was quite nice of him.

It was nice. He showed the group that did at all. People like Gleason – he was one of our archenemies. They had the thing sewed up. The reviewer has a piece of the action. Bill Graham has the room, he has apiece of the action, too. San Francisco was rigged. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. The fish being the innocent heads prowling around Haight-Ashbury. We came out there as an unshakable entity. I’d never heard of Bill Graham, in fact. I’ve never heard of him since. I don’t know who he is, I just thought he was an insane sob, totally beneath my abilities to observe. He just didn’t exist as far as I was concerned. An absolute nonentity. He knew what we thought of him. The day I arrived at his club, I was thrown out. I just walked in with my guitar and he said, you, get out of here. They told him , you’ve lost your mind, he’s playing here tonight. He said, get out, get out, you s.o.b. I wish I had. If any man really needs a beating, it’s Bill Graham.

He, of course, has his own defense mechanism. He’s currently telling everyone how S.F. will be dead without his Fillmore West.

Well, it was always like that. When we arrived it was an attack against their way of life. Graham made so much money that week-end we played at the Fillmore, that he didn’t believe it. That’s what blew his mind. We arrived, at a time before Jefferson Airplane was known to anyone, they didn’t even have Grace Slick yet. Everyone was nowhere at the time, The Mothers, and of course, ourselves. Warhol was the name at the time that made the impact with the public.

What groups shared the bill with you that night?

The Mothers of Invention, you see. The Mothers were following us around California. they also had an audition group perform. During the show, Zappa would keep putting us down, like on the mike he would say, these guys really suck. But Zappa is really a great guy, if he weighed fifteen more pounds he’d be in a hospital. No, he’s just a jerk. So The Mothers were chasing us around California so we arrived in Bill Graham country. He always had an audition group. The reason for this was he didn’t get any money. He would say, if you’re really good, I’ll let you play. This guy’s an operator. The audition group that night happened to be The Jefferson Airplane, whom he was managing. They wanted publicity and The Mothers wanted publicity because they were so many people capitalizing on our show that night. We were just a neutral party. We were going back to New York to greener pastures, supposedly, but when we got back our club was gone.

I understand you spent much time in Boston after that.

Yes, because we were so furious about New York and a lot of people who should have been behind us at the time but weren’t.

Were you there during the infamous Boston Sound period?

Yeah, Alan Lorber was responsible for that. He just wound up ruining a lot of Boston groups. Boston, however, is a really nice city, we have lots of fun there. It seems to have much more potential than San Francisco. So we played in Boston as opposed to New York City. Last time we played in New York was at the Brooklyn Academy, private parties, that sort of thing, superbenefits like the big NET one.

Have you been back to The Scene?

It’s closed. The Mafia was beating people up. They were having these incredible fights, thugs coming in. So Steve Paul just shut it down. That was going on at Arthur’s, too. The liquor laws work in such a way that if you have a trouble spot your liquor license can be revoked. So organized crime come in and says, I want a piece of the action, and they say, no, you can’t have it. So they just start these giant fights there. And the clubs lose their license. That’s what happened at Arthur’s. The Mafia people will even beat themselves up just so the police will come. That’s what happened at The Scene.

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Iggy and the Stooges: Interview with Scott Asheton | Montreal Freelance Writer – Chris Barry

It only took three decades or so after they split up for the world at large to recognize how thoroughly brilliant they were, but Ann Arbor, Michigan band the Stooges, widely considered little more than a sick joke by the time they finally called it a day in 1974, are now right up there alongside Chuck Berry, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones when people start talking about rock ’n’ roll greatness. I spoke with drummer Scott Asheton a little earlier this week, a man who doesn’t generate quite the attention his bandmate Iggy Pop does, but whose contribution to the still unique sound of the Stooges is only underestimated by fools.

Source: Iggy and the Stooges: Interview with Scott Asheton | Montreal Freelance Writer – Chris Barry

Ray Caesar

The Trouble with Angels 

Ray Caesar says that issues with his father contributed to the arrival of Harry, an “alternate,” when he was 10. The boy is disguised as a girl in Caesar’s art, and remains present in his daily life as an alter ego. “Harry is beyond anger – he enjoys it,” says Caesar. “My job is to keep Harry under control.”

Sort of. 

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Caesar suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder, uses his art as an outlet to express trauma. He was born in London, England in 1958 and moved with his family to Canada in 1967. He describes his childhood art as “atypical and aberrant” as it was unlike the bright pop art of the 60s and 70s. Drawing inspiration from era paintings, Caesar creates fantasy scenes that include innocent young girls, sensual young women or ageless divas or cold blooded predators, sirens/octopussy creatures. Some of these feminine characters seem out of place in their antiquated world, posing in a manner that would have been very unseemly a century ago. I hope you will like these surreal paintings. Ray Caesar is considered by many one of the best of the Pop Surrealist modern painters with Mark Ryden. 

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Weapons of Unique Creation

Bull Shotgun Paintings

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During his later years in Kansas, Burroughs developed a painting technique whereby he created abstract compositions by placing spray paint cans in front of, and some distance from, blank canvasses, and then shooting at the paint cans with a shotgun. These splattered canvasses were exposed in various Galleries during the early 1990s. 

In an interview with Gregory Ego, entitled “William Burroughs & the Flicker Machine”, as published in David Kerekes’ 2003 “Headpress (the journal of sex religion death)”, William explains how he made shotgun art painting, and others. Here’s a portion of this interview: 

EGO: Are you still doing your “shotgun art?”

BURROUGHS: Oh, all kinds. Brushwork. Shotgun. Paint. Knife.

EGO: What exact process do you use for your visual art?wsb63

BURROUGHS: There is no exact process. If you want to do shotgun art, you take a piece of plywood, put a can of spray paint in front of it, and shoot it with a shotgun or high powered rifle. The paint’s under high pressure so it explodes! Throws the can 300 feed. The paint sprays in exploding color across your surface. You can have as many colors as you want. Turn it around, do it sideways, and have one color coming in from this side and this side. Of course, they hit. Mix in all kinds of unpredictable patterns. This is related to Pollock’s drip canvases, although this is a rather more basically random process, there’s no possibility of predicting what patterns you’re going to get.
I’ve had some I’ve worked over for months. Get the original after the explosions and work it over with brushes and spray paints and silhouettes until I’m satisfied. So, there isn’t any set procedure. Sometimes you get it right there and you don’t touch it. The most important thing in painting is to know when to stop, when everything is finished. Doesn’t mean anything in writing.

EGO: It does rely to a high degree on chance — the shotgun art? images

BURROUGHS: It introduces a random factor, certainly.

EGO: Just like the cut-up method.

BURROUGHS: Yes. But you don’t have to use it all, you can use that as background. There’re a lot of other randomizing procedures like “marbling.” Take water and spray your paint on top of the water and then put your paper or whatever in the water and pull it out and it sticks in all sorts of random patterns. And then there’s the old inkblot. [Ruffles imaginary paper] Like that. Sometimes they’re good only as background or sometimes you get a picture that you’re satisfied with at once. There is no certain procedure.

EGO: Allen Ginsberg proposed to me that the cut-up technique you developed with Brion Gysin is a sort of counter-brainwashing technique. Do you agree with that?

Burroughs Art Works - Courtesy of William S Burroughs Estate, which will be pat of the Animals in the Wall exhibition

BURROUGHS: It has that aspect in that you’re breaking down the word, you’re creating new words. Right as soon as you start cutting, you’re getting new words, new combinations of words. Yes, it has that aspect, sure.
But remember that all this brainwashing and propaganda, etc., is not by any means expected to reach any intelligent corners. It isn’t expected to convince anybody that has any sense. If they can get ten percent, that’s good. That’s the aim of propaganda; to get ten percent. They’re not trying to convince people that have a grain of sense. spb

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Hunter S. Thompson on Outlaws

Interview by Studs Terkel

Blank on Blank | PBS Digital Studios

Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs is a book written by counterculture icon Hunter S. Thompson, first published in 1966 by Random House. It was widely lauded for its up-close and uncompromising look at the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club, during a time when the gang was highly feared and accused of numerous criminal activities. The New York Times described Thompson’s portrayal as “a world most of us would never dare encounter.” It was Thompson’s first published book and his first attempt at a nonfiction novel.

Previous Posts on Hunter Thompson HERE and another one about his death HERE

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The Stranglers

40 years of fights, Drugs, UFOs and Doing All the Wrong Things… 

The Stranglers’ Jean-Jacques Burnel and Hugh Cornwell playing in Battersea Park in London in 1978
The Stranglers’ Jean-Jacques Burnel and Hugh Cornwell playing in Battersea Park in London in 1978. Photograph: Gus Stewart/Redferns

The Stranglers are infamously known for inciting a riot in Nice, starting a fight with The Clash, exploiting strippers on stage and writing “Golden Brown” about heroin. Taking H was a conscious decision by the band to see what would happen creatively. Two members stopped after one day, while Hugh and Jean-Jacques fell deep inside the rabbit hole. These punks turned pop darlings have had a continuously successful career ever since they began in Guildford, England in 1974. Even though singer Hugh Cornwell quit in 1990, the rest of the band are still going strong without him today.

A Fight with Punk Royalty

Jean-Jacques Burnel (bass): In 1976, we played with the Ramones. In those days, [Clash bassist] Paul Simonon had a nervous tic: he used to spit on the ground. He did this just as we came off stage at Dingwalls in London, so I thumped him and it all kicked off. We were thrown out by the bouncers and it continued in the courtyard. On one side were the Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones and a load of their journalist friends. On the other side was us, a few of our fans and me, nose to nose with Paul. Dave [Greenfield, Stranglers keyboards] had John Lydon up against the ice-cream van.

Jet Black (drums): It polarised opinion against us, but we’ve always been at our best with our backs against the wall.

Burnel: Contrary to what has been written, Hugh [Cornwell, Stranglers singer] and I never had punch-ups. There was one incident in Rome where he tried jumping in the air during Hanging Around and managed to get two inches off the ground. I said something afterwards and he threw a glass against the wall. I pushed him and he just went straight through a paper-thin wall. It was like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, with a silhouette in the wall in the shape of Hugh. the stranglers (3)

Touring in an Ice-Cream Van

Black: I had an ice-cream business and decided to sell it to start a band, but I kept one of the vans. It was the perfect mode of transport for two years. We had a special way of arranging all the speakers and equipment so they’d all fit in.

Burnel (bass): Jet would drive and the rest of us would lie on top of the gear. After some gigs, we’d pile out and sleep in a field, surrounded by cows.

Black: In Bude, we once slept on a lawn by the sea. The next morning, we were woken by the sound of a lawnmower. We’d slept on a cricket pitch and they were cutting the wicket around us.

Burnel: There were some funny incidents in those early days. We were booked to play a Young Conservatives dance.

Black: At the start of the first song, there were 300 people in the hall. By the end, there were four left watching. But they started following us. It was a similar story all over the country

Gaffer-Taping a Journalist to the Eiffel Tower

Burnel: A guy called Philippe Manoeuvre – who’s now head of the biggest music magazine in France – was always bugging me. One day, he turned up at our hotel demanding an interview, so I agreed – if we could do it at the Eiffel Tower. We took his trousers off, gaffer-taped him to one of the girders and left him there to be photographed by Japanese tourists. It was only the first floor. Admittedly, that is 400ft off the ground.

Black: He wasn’t best pleased.

Deciding to Take Heroin for a Year

Burnel: It was an artistic decision to see what would happen.

Black: It was crazy.

Burnel: Jet and Dave were sensible and quit after a day. Hugh and I didn’t. We headed into a surreal, dark, necromantic abyss.

Black: We were making an album called The Meninblack, which was based on this phenomenon back then known only to a small coterie of UFO obsessives – that people who saw UFOs were visited by strange people wearing black to shut them up. Anyway, as soon as we started making the album, studios blew up, tour buses broke down and gigs became riots. People working for us dropped dead. We were convinced something occult was going on.

Burnel: One night, I was so blissed out I thought it would be wonderful to die. I wrote a lovely suicide note, took loads of heroin and woke up three days later. The band hadn’t even noticed I hadn’t been in the studio. the-stranglers_6

Being Escorted Out of Sweden by Armed Police

Burnel: This happened twice. The first time, 200 members of this teddy boy gang who hated punk drove up in their big 1950s American cars, beat up our road crew and smashed our equipment. We were locked in our dressing room, but managed to escape by throwing a few Molotovs before the police arrived. The second time was your fault. You destroyed the hotel restaurant!

Black: That’s true. I kicked up a fracas because I couldn’t get served any food and the hotel threatened to call the police, who turned up with machine guns again to escort us on to the next plane. There’s been so many incidents in hotels. We once locked a hotelier in the broom cupboard, where he was found the following morning by the receptionist.

Burnel is dragged back on stage by Hells Angels during a 1977 concert in Bracknell. Photograph: Peter Still/Redferns
Burnel is dragged back on stage by Hells Angels during a 1977 concert in Bracknell. Photograph: Peter Still/Redferns

Performing with Strippers in a Park

Burnel: The Battersea Park incident was completely misinterpreted. I was living with my girlfriend, Tracy, who shared her flat with a stripper called Linda. When we became the focus of attention, right-on shops such as Rough Trade banned our records, saying they were sexist and misogynist. So Linda said: “Look, I’ve got some friends who’d love to strip for you – to show we’re in control of our bodies.” So these girls stripped off on stage at Battersea during Nice’n’Sleazy and, of course, everyone thought we were being exploitative.

Black: The police inspector wanted everybody arrested, but he couldn’t find his coppers. They were all in the front row watching the show. maxresdefault

Being Jailed for “Inciting a Riot”

Burnel: We were booked to play Nice University but unknowingly walked into a war between the students and the authorities, who wouldn’t let us use any of the power points on campus. We ended up having to run elevated cables from generators outside the university, because the authorities wouldn’t let them touch the campus grounds. It was ludicrous. Every time we went on stage, the power failed. In the end, we gave up and told the crowd: “We’re really sorry. Just remember it’s not our fault.” All hell broke loose. A full-scale riot ended with us being put in prison, where I shared a cell with two murderers.

Black: We were facing 10 years. In the end, a large fine was split between us and the university, but we laughed all the way to the bank. Before that, we were unknown in France. From then on, we played to packed houses.

Burnel: You might well ask why we are still here. The latest tour is our biggest-selling ever. We’ve done all the wrong things – but they turned out to be right.

BBC Documentary

BBC Choice documentary presented by jazz singer and art critic, George Melly. Producer/Director: Angus McIntyrethe tells the unusual story of The Stranglers, charting the band’s rise to fame in the 1980s to present day:

Hangin’ Around

No More Heroes

Walk On By


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