I just finished reading Debby Harry’s biographyMaking Tacks/The Rise of Blondiewritten by herself, Chris Stein(photographs) and under the general supervision of Victor Bockriswho aided in the formation of the text and the selection of the photographs. It seemed the perfect time to read and review it since she just announced the release of Pollinator, Blondie’s 11th album, due for release on May 5, 2017 by BMG Rights Management. I was really looking forward to read this book since Debbie Harry and Chris Stein are the two founding members of Blondie, a band whose music would be omnipresent on ”the soundtrack of my life’s movie”, if such a thing would indeed exist. Blondie has always managed to preserve their uniqueness and integrity throughout the years. Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie is a story of perseverance, hope and faith. Seeing how often everything could have just gone down the drain, this is the ultimate proof that you really have to give it all you’ve got to make it… Sometimes even giving it what you haven’t got…Yet!
The prologue (added in the 1998 Da Capo Edition) is in fact a very juicy conversation among Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Victor Bockris, recorded in 1980 when Blondie was at the top during which it appears that Chris may hold the upper hand in their couple, a subject that is rather downplayed otherwise. It also sets the tone for the lavish story, the rocky early days and the forces at work behind the creation process since Chris and Debbie obviously are at the very core of Blondie. For the rest of the book, the story is told almost exclusively from Debbie’s point of view, constantly keeping us captivated with a very uplifting, spontaneous, straight forward and witty narrative as she goes on and about everything and everyone meaningful in her life; ”I don’t know exactly where I came from because I don’t know who my natural parents are. Chris thinks I’m definitely an alien because I fit the description in a book he read of a race of females who were put on this planet from space”. Right in this first sentence, one can immediately sense the hurting and the wounds but also the way Debbie has learned to deal with it, and how Chris later came into play. Young Deborah knew what she was destined to be before the age of six and never wavered in her firm conviction; ”I always knew I was a singer. When I began singing with the radio I was struck by the fact that I knew the next note before it was played.”
Very early on, she was a trendsetter during her High School days, dying her hair every possible color starting as soon as 1959 and always dressed in black, not giving much thought to what would people might say. ”When I was a freshman I started to draw attention to myself, with the orange hair and mostly black clothes(…)I always dressed intuitively and emotionally”.
Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie gives a very moving image of how Debbie was trying to become an artist during the mid sixties, working small jobs and passing auditions, painting, she was already singing in a folk group called Wind in the Willows. It was hardbut at the same time we get to see how much that, from the sidelines, working as a waitress at Max’s Kansas Cityby the end of the sixties, she observed, watched and learned.”When I worked at Max’s I loved all the people from Andy Warhol Factory, like Eric Emerson, Viva, Ingrid, Taylor Mead, Ultra Violet, International Velvet, Candy Darling, and all the superstars. I was just a baby growing up in the middle of this whole incredible scene, watching Andy Warhol’s eight-hours movies and listening to all kinds of fantastic music very close up at the front.”
Now of course you also get to know, in parallel, what was up with Chris Stein, how his mother was a beatnik painter and his father died when he was only 15, how he also always was into music, painting and arts in general. He is responsable for most of the incredible amount of wonderful pictures that can be found throughout the book, giving a visual dimension for each period that Debbie takes us through. Chris and Debbie went to a lot of events and shows at the same time but it took awhile before they would bump into each other. They had very similar tastes and both enjoyed seeing live the Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane. Getting influences by both the NYC and the LA scene. Chris had his own isssues, he’d taken a lot of acid and was experiencing long preriods of seing everything as cosmic dust (!). He even received his draft notice in an asylum where he spent threee months after completely flipping out at the beginning of ’69. He was twenty and this was a delayed reaction to his father’s death. Still managing to insist he had all that was needed to be NOT eligible to join the war effort, got out of there with a 4F and rushing up to Woodstock. Debbie was there too, she had served Jefferson Airplane their dinner at Max’s the night before they left for Woodstock. They just didn’t know each other yet so they went separately, never bumping into each other.
Debbie had a lot of issues of her own, being so depressed that she couldn’t sing without bursting into tears. For a while she managed to keep it all together by using various drugs but 1969 was a very pivotal year for everyone. ”Paying for the drugs and doing them became a bigger drag than the problems I was trying to solve(…)It was a tremendously down period and we all had to shake off the freakouts that occured in ’68 and ’69(…)All that sadness and tragedy just kept going through my head. I love the blues, but I didn’t want to sing them. I wanted to entertain people, have a good time, and be happy.”
So she quit the drugs and took a sabbatical from the whole scene for three years, during which time Chris, having been released from the nuthouse for good, went on welfare and, sponsored by the division of vocational rehabilitation, was studying photography at the School of Visual Arts, and making some of the connections that would eventually lead to the fatefull event of Debbie and Chris finally meeting.
Debbie gives us a very detailed description of what she was trying to accomplish musically with The Stillettoes who were Elda Gentile, Rosie Ross (later replaced by Amanda) and Debbie; ”a combination of the aggressive Shangri-La’s rock and the round solid vocals of an R&B girl group. The overall idea was to be entertaining and danceable. The original group included Tommy and Jimmy from the Miamis, Timothy Jackson and Youngblood. Tony Ingrassia was the choreographer and worked on giving them a cohesive look so that they each had a stage concept.”
Chris became involved with Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps via the School of Visual Arts by giving them an opening act with the Dolls and quickly became friends with all those people who hung out on the periphery of the Dolls and became Eric’s roadie. He was invited to the second Stillettoes gig at the Boburn Tavern on 28th Street by Elda herself who was the mother of Eric’s children. ”The most striking thing about collaboration is that it often happens in dreams. A microsecond of dream will unfold an elaborate scene in a flash.It’s an amazing form of communication and it happened between Chris and me the first time we saw each other when I was singing and he was in the audience(…) I was very nervous so I delivered a lot of songs to him. We had a psychic connection right away, which struck me particularly because I’d previously only had such string psychic connections with girlfriends”. Chris joined the group on Elda’s request.
Now I gave you a very detailed insight of the early days but the book is even more exhaustive, leaving absolutely no stones unturned as the group slowly takes shape, requiring numerous musicians replacements, new musical directions, new looks and styles, the final result of all this evolution being the band worldy known today as Blondie, still having at it’s very core Debbie and Chris Stein. Reading it you really feel as if you are right there with them, reliving every moment and all aspects of what was to become a very unique band, not really punk, not really disco, Debbie insists on saying that Blondie was a pop band, nothing more, nothing less. Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie is a very fascinating journey to the top with all its up and downs, the tours, the crazy people, the shady promoters, the providential roadies, the tragic and the funny anecdotes, and everything stardom life is about. Chris Stein and Debbie Harry being always the very core of Blondie, you get to see them on various pictures with all the punk and post punk icons as they go on tour around the world several times, living their success with an integrity as persons and artists that is rarely seen.
Starting on the Bowery’s very distinct selective CBGB’s club with The Ramones and all the other bands that have now become legends, Blondie was to later gain the international success and go around the world more then once to become one of the most successful bands to have risen from NYC. Here are a few people that you can see with Debbie and/or members of the band on photos included in the book: Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Devo, H.R. Giger, Siouxie, Chrissie Hynde, Andy Warhol, The Screamers, David Bowie, Ray Manzarek, Suzie Quatro, Joan Jett, Cherie Curie, The Buzzcocks, The Screamers, The Ramones to name very few, thanks to Chris Stein who really did an amazing job!
You also have a very interesting insight on various projects she was involved with like Blank Generation, a seminal movie about Richard Hell, a remake of Godard’s movie Alphaville that sadly has never seen the day, a promotional clip involving HR Giger ‘‘I Know You Know”. I also happened to watcha cult sci-fi horrormovie from 1982: ”Videodrome”, directed by David Cronenberg. Deborah Harry plays the role of Nicki Brand, a sadomasochistic psychiatrist and radio host. I found Debbie’s performance more than satisfying and the movie to be very prophetic.
The book doesn’t contain the usual formal complete list of everything Blondie or it’s members have been involved with nor a complete discography but rather focuses on the narrative and it’s quite ok since it’s done in a way to sustain the readers interst in the story Debbie tells with a suprising gift for writing. Such a list would have been a cool addition but I’m pretty sure it’s not that hard to find on the internet.
Making Tracks is not only about The Rise of Blondie but also about how they all handled its success. It does not contain a complete discography nor every movie she has played in Every true Blondie fan should read this book since it contains everything you want to know delivered with Debbie’s very witty way of seing things that always sustains your interest since it is written from a very intimate point of view and as I said before the photos are a very important ingredient in making you ”part of the gang”. The whole story is very cohesive and never boring. I will leave you with this quote written by Debbie near the end of the Heart of Glass Europeen Tour that I found very interesting as she compares the UK culture with the US:
”Politics is business-getting enough money to win, keeping enough to stay in power and make more as a politician. The politicization of art in the sixties was very hypocritical. It existed in the minds of the people who wanted it to exist, but the people who were in power were definitely not having anything to do with it.
I don’t think there’s too much difference between the americans and British scenes, Everybody wants the same thing for themselves and their culture, but the methods have to be different because of the differences in the way the cultures operate. In America Iggy was a radical force without saying anything political. His presence and what he did was a radical phenomenon. If somebody can get on the subway and wipe out the minds of the people who see him, he’s having an effect on them and doesn’t need to say anything. I hope the kids in England realise that we all want the same things, we’re just going about it in different ways.”
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-Wylieand 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
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
Afterthoughts on Bockris’ ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven”
I was reading ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven’‘, one of a mutlivolumesque serie of very thorough biographies written byVictor Bockris, treating of everything that has to do with some specific thinkers and doers that were behind the 60’s counterculture and social revolution. ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven” was published the day after his victory over Foreman in 1974 and it was Ali’s favorite book about himself (and mine too!). If you check out the author’s bibliography you will find some of the most iconic figures of that revolution: All of which can be related in one way or another to Beat Punks. I’ve already reviewed in-depth his remarkable biographies about Andy Warhol and Lou Reed . By the way, I intend to review all of Bockris’ biographies in the near future here on LAN.
So, in the blue corner, you have all these writers, painters and musicians and then, in the red corner, there is a real boxer, an athlete so good that he left for sure a permanent mark in the boxing world. And you may ask yourselves ”How did he get there? How does Ali fit in with all these people who triggered a revolution in the 60’s?” Let me just say for starters that they all, in their own ways, shed some blood, sweat and tears. Muhammad Ali was much more than an athlete or an inspiring success story. Most people remember him from the early days of his celebrity for being a loud mouth. He sure was one. For each and every opponent he fought he would ”bust some rhymes”, taunting his opponents, predicting in how many they would go down, making fun of them any which way he could as well as giving names and meanings to his fights likeThrilla in Manila, (Ali-Frazier IIIin Manila, Philippines, October 1, 1975) and Rumble in the Jungle (Ali-Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, October 30, 1974) that led to a documentary called”When We Were Kings”.
Ali remembers the origins of his poetry: ”It was ’62, when I fought Archie Moore. Moore rhymed with four, so the publicity for that fight was:
hit the floor
in round four
Then I fought Henry Cooper, I said:
This is no jive
leave in five
Doesn’t that sound like rap to you?? It sure does to me. The very roots of rap were precisely a verbal fight between 2 opponents and organized as such in official contests and in my mind, those verbal assaults were the very first rap rhymes ever made. Some might deny him that but he did write poems. Now Ali also was a success story and a very good story-teller, you can’t deny him that. The very first ”big book” I read was Muhammad Ali very own striking autobiography”The Greatest”that was later put into a mediocre movie in which Ali played his own character (of course!). Doesn’t it sound a lot like ”8 Mile’‘ to you?? (except for the fact 8 Mile is a good movie and Eminem a good actor). The irony is that ”The Greatest” was a fake bio written by a back muslim propagandist. Ali never read it and did not like it. Bockris’ book about the champ was Ali’s favorite book. Victor gave it to him in 1975 and Ali had himself photographed with the book in the 1990s. His wife told me she was still reading the book to him in 2009! Because it is the most accurate account of his inner life and what he planned to do after he retired from boxing in 1975. The horror of the fights he was forced to fight from 1976-1981 made it especially appealing to the peace loving champion.
But first and foremost, Ali was an actor in his own life. He was an artist as a boxer, as a promoter, as a poet, as a spiritual figure, as a counterculture thinker, as a civil right champion, as a family man, as a life coach. Furthermore as you read Victor Bockris’ ”Muhammad Ali In Fighters Heaven” you are told that they were rocks painted by Ali’s father, Cassius Clay Sr., and transported by a guy named Harvey Moyer, huge rocks on the grounds of his training camp on which were painted the names of great adversaries, each of them representing a milestone in Ali’s life, installations that should be considered as conceptual art to be on the technical side of this but his skills were in every detail. These rocks meant a lot to Ali. What made Ali so inspiring is not so much what he did as how he did it and who he was, because who he was always transpired in the way he did things. Reading through ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven’‘, you can very well imagine how everyone around him; his family, his supporters, trainers, organisers, doctors, lawyers, etc. were all devoted and loyal to him because they loved him as a person. He was running things with love and discipline, using one or the other along the way as required by the circumstances. Always true to himself and his beliefs, as a man, as a father, as a colored man and as a muslim.
Ali saw in his birth name Cassius Clay the mark of the slavery that was a burden to his colored brothers and that is the reason that he changed his name and his faith.
On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” This guy did what many thousands people promoting peace never even dared to do. This ”Black Muslim guy”, who was mistreated for as long as he can remember in his own country precisely because of the fact that he was black, said to the face of his recruiting officer that he had no intentions whatsoever to go kill another human being at the other end of the world, whom he had never met and further more who had never caused him any harm. Now it may not seem such an act of bravery but don’t forget that this young fellow still officially and originally named Cassius Clay, born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, this Muslim Black Boxer who at age 18, won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and turned professional later that year, was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion charges, and stripped of his boxing titles.
He successfully appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971, by which time he had not fought for nearly four years and thereby lost a period of peak performance as a boxing athlete. Ali’s actions as a conscientious objector to the war had made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation but he definitely paid a very steep price. Those years were lost forever for him and for all of the world to see him boxing at his best even if he is still considered by many to be ”The Greatest”.
Of course the ultimate integration as a counterculture figure was Ali’s placid but unmovable resistance to go fight the Viet Nam war. And the unveiled interest Andy Warhol had towards him just confirmed the fact that Ali had become one of the greatest leading spirits of the 60’s and the 70’s. The encounter of Andy Warhol to Ali’s training camp is detailed in Bockris’ ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven”. A man who’s dazzling virtuosity within the prize ring was matched only by his articulate and outrageous showmanship and integrity outside it.
I can see no better ending than to leave you with a poem written by Ali himself. This one of three poems that were exclusively published in ”Muhammad Ali inFighter’s Heaven” for the first time… This one is a poem about…
Better far from all I see
To die fighting to be free
What more fitting end could be?
Better surely than in some bed
Where in broken health I’m led
Lingering until I’m dead
Better than with prayers and pleas
Or in the clutch of some disease
Wasting slowly by degrees
Better than of heart attack
Or some dose of drug I lack
Let me die by being Black
Better far that I should go
Standing here against the foe
Is the sweeter death to know
Better than the bloody stain
On some highway where I’m lain
Torn by flying glass and pain
Better calling death to come
Than to die another dumb
Muted victim in the slum
Better than of this prison rot
If there’s any choice I’ve got
Kill me here on the spot
Better far my fight to wage
Now while my blood boils with rage
Lest it cool with ancient age
Better vowing for us to die
Than to Uncle Tom and try
Making peace just to live a lie
Better now that I say my sooth
I’m gonna die demanding truth
While I’m still akin to youth
Better now than later on
Now that fear of death is gone
Never mind another dawn.
– by Muhammad Ali (January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016). ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven” contains an outstanding collection of his poetry, along with his commentary on how he wrote the poems.
”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven” also contains a complete utterly interesting chapter detailling the historic encounter that took place when Warhol went to Ali’s training camp to take pictures of the champ. Here’s a glimpse…
This post is dedicated to Ali’s children: Laila Ali, Maryum Ali, Rasheda Ali, Asaad Amin, Hana Ali, Khaliah Ali, Jamillah Ali, Mya Ali, Muhammad Ali Jr. It is dedicated as well to all the children victims of crimes against humanity or civil rights violation.
LAN: This is a really in-depth biography, I have read several of your books and never before have you gone so deep into someone’s psyche. What is it about Lou Reed?
Victor Bockris: Transformer is the result of a close friendship with Lou between 1974-1979. This is fromRock’n’Roll Animalto The Bells. A solo workaholic rock star such as Lou is by definition a lonely guy. When I started hanging out with him he was living with a long time girlfriend he had known since 1966 at the Factory. Barbara Hodes had gone to Long Island and helped pull him out of his post Velvet’ slump, also offering him a nest in Manhattan. The first nightAndrew Wylie and I went out drinking with Lou in fall 1974 the three of us were sitting around a table drinking when he suddenly said, “I haven’t felt this happy in years!” I was stunned. The point is Lou was looking for people he could really talk to. He wanted to emote about his life. No bullshit. We were the same way. And once Lou got a friend he wanted that friend to be available to him at any time. We called ourselves Bockris-Wylie. The first thing Lou did was break us up. Then he developed separate relations with both of us. All my time with Lou was spent in his apartment or mine talking about his problems or mine. He gave me much good advice I rely on to this day. Lou opened his psyche to me and that is why I could write about him so accurately. He once gave me a piece of paper on which he had written “From Lou#3 to Lou#8 ‘Hi!’” Writing from a psychological angle was the only way to start a biography of Lou Reed.
LAN:How would you describe the first impression you got from Loud Reed the first time you saw him in person?
Victor Bockris: I first met Lou in 1974 shortly after interviewing William Burroughs, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali. I did not know that much about him so Bockris-Wylie met him on equal grounds, which probably helped. He was so lovely sweet kind and funny we got into a really cool conversation. I started telling him looked he looked like Frank Sinatra ands he came right back about Sinatra laying down Heroin at the Sands with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Then right in front of my eyes Lou transformed into the young Frank. It was so startling I glimpsed something dark in him. I almost fainted and ran to the bathroom trying not to throw up. The whole thing was so connected by the end of the interview he invited us to have dinner with him. Mick Jagger had called in the middle of it and we were committed to sending him a re-edited transcript the following day. So we had to decline. Later in the week we went out for that drink in Answer #1.
LAN: During the years you were the closest to him, What would you say his state of mind was and what seemed to be his main concerns?
Victor Bockris:Lou’s state of mind changed a lot during the five years I knew him. When he started living with Rachel he felt a lot more secure and protected, but he was suing his manager and most of his royalties were in escrow. For a man with an international rep touring the world he was quite poor. Of course Metal Machine Music had blown a hole in his fan base and pissed off a lot of people, but one of Lou’s greatest strengths was his courage to do it ”His Way”. There was also a truly perverse side to Lou that was his greatest weakness and his greatest strength. His greatest concern was making music that rocked but also dug deep into his psyche, likeKill Your Sons. It was amazingly moving to see Lou Reed on stage in those days singing into a storm of abuse – “It’s your life cocksucker Lou REEED ain’t no kind of human being!” – the poor bastard – but theGlory of Love now might just see you through. He was as great as Rimbaud. That was Lou. He was so beautiful he could make you cry.
LAN: At what point did you feel the need to write his biography? How did it happen?
Victor Bockris:In the summer of 1982 Andrew Wylie suggested I write a biography of Andy Warhol, saying he could get me an advance of $100,000. There was a limitation on who I could write about because I had to have spent some time with my subject. From thereon we came up with Keith Richards. In 1992 after I completed the Richards biography Lou Reed was the only big international star I knew well enough to write about. In each case Andrew got me the $100,000 advance. By the time we signed the Lou Reed contract in 1992 my books were being published in six to twelve countries, so were able to sell foreign rights to the Reed book before it was finished.
LAN: Did Lou knew you were writing his bio?
Victor Bockris:He did. In fact I heard that Keith Richards visited Lou shortly after we informed Lou I was going to write his biography. According to a witness Lou cried “I’m next – why me?” And they both cracked up. Lou had always complimented me on magazine articles I’d written about him. I also heard he appreciated my book Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story. The odd thing is that Lou could never have had the career he had without the vast number of highly appreciative well written articles about him from 1972 until his death in 2013, yet he always said he despised rock writers. Actually he befriended number of them across those forty years. I suppose if you are a star you can’t go round saying great book about me. It would not be cool.
LAN: What was the first time and circumstances you saw him performing on stage?
Victor Bockris:At the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden in 1974. It seats around 4,000 and it was packed. As I indicated in Question 3 in those early years Lou’s concerts were like shock rallies lit by Andy Warhol’s suggestion Lou used the bright white light Albert Speer employed for Hitler’s rallies at Nuremberg. Lou Reed’s hardcore audiences had a love-hate relationship with him on stage, which perfectly reflected his persona and lyrics. As a punk rocker Lou’s art was based on contradictions. Everywhere he went he was offering himself as a conduit for the confused emotions of outsiders. He was their priest.
LAN: You set up quite a few meetings between artists and you arranged for Lou Reed to meet up with Burroughs, I bet you were very nervous about it. Where you personally satisfied with the outcome?
Victor Bockris:The 29 minute conversation between Burroughs and Reed I tape-recorded in August 1979 was one of the best pieces I have ever done. We arrived over an hour late, but when we got there we found William having cocktails with four friends. After going round the table putting everybody down, Lou asked Bill questions like did you have to sleep with your publisher to get your books published and did you cut off your toe to avoid the draft? Bill’s guest froze in horror, but he thought Lou was funny and hip. When Lou said, “We who play cannot stay,” Bill did something I‘d never seen him do before, he walked Lou down the stairs and out into the street. When Lou asked Bill, “Can we get together for a quiet dinner?” Bill agreed. However when I said “We should do that,” Lou replied, “What’s this we? I just wanted to get together with Mr. Burroughs.”
When I got back upstairs into the Bunker and tested my tape all I could hear was a buzzing noise like an out take from Metal Machine Music, under which was the faint rumble of voices. I immediately sat down and wrote the whole thing out verbatim from memory. Like I said, it was a memorable experience.
LAN: I feel that this is the best biography you have ever written. How do you personally feel about Transformer??
Victor Bockris: ”Transformer: The Lou Reed Story” was the third in a trilogy of biographies written one after the other with but a few weeks break between them. I did feel Transformer benefited from my experiences writing the Warhol and Richards books. It was also more of a story and had a good sense of humor running through it. I had a more emotionally close relationship with Lou than the others. So yes, it is in some sense the best written. But the Warhol biography is a better book because it deals with a much more significant figure. Of course I updated the Lou Reed book in 2014 with Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story. So far it remains the most accurate and in-depth account of Lou’s life. I cannot imagine how anybody could beat it.
LAN: If you could say one last thing to Lou right now, What would it be?
Victor Bockris:His death awoke me from the dream of life. His relationship with Laurie Anderson brought out the best in him. And his last album ”Lulu” may well be the best thing he ever did. It was also hugely successful reaching 36 on the Billboard charts and selling over 100,000 copies in it’s first weeks of release in Europe, going into the top ten in seven nations. I was amazed by the number of critics who said it was a disaster, just like the critics had called Berlin a disaster in 1973. WAKE THE FUCK UP!
LAN: What are you up to now? Should we be expecting a new book in a near future?
Victor Bockris:So far this year my agent Helen Donlon has sold ”The Burroughs-Warhol Connection” in Korea and ”Warhol: The Biography” in Russia, both new countries for my books. We also have the film about Andy Warhol starring Jared Leto based on my book to look forward to. Meanwhile I am obsessed with finishing a memoir about my life as a writer. My lips are zipped on that one.
LAN: Thank you so much! I really appreciate that you made time for this interview! It’s always so interesting to know a little more about the circumstances and facts surrounding the writing of a book. It’s always delightful to hear your stories! I cannot wait to hear about your memoir! Hopefully I will finally be able to read more about your life as a writer! This should be totally and utterly entertaining!!
Victor Bockris: THANK YOU TOBE FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY TO REVISIT LOU REED, WHO IS STILL AMONG THE TOP FIVE ARTIST IN MY MIND. IT WILL ALWAYS GIVE ME IMMENSE PLEASURE TO LISTEN TO HIM SING. I wish somebody would take the time to look into Lou’s oft repeated claim that each of his albums was a chapter of his great electric novel. Oh yeah, the ace photographer Bob Gruen used to live above an apartment occupied solely by Lou Reed’s guitars and the man whose job it was to tune them. Bob said the sound of a hundred guitars being tuned never stopped, and sometimes they throbbed with such intensity the floor of his pad would shake and tremble.
Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story by Victor Bockris
Updated after Reed’s death in October 2013, Transformer, The Complete Lou Reed Story definitely offers a lot more than one can possibly expect from a biography. Saying that Transformer encompasses everything you can possibly want to know about the life and times of the rock icon/artist/persona would still be a huge understatement. Going way beyond the usual narration of dates, love stories, anecdotes, arguments, relationships, records and tours reviews, Victor Bockris takes us much deeper, into the artist’s mystifying mind without a single dull moment, unexpectedly delving into the psyche as well as various traumas thus making Transformer a masterpiece that may seem at times closer to an essay written with a truly contagious passion. As I was reading various passages about Lou’s most intimate, meaningful moments, I suddenly became a voyeur, travelling through space and time, only making halts to land, embedded in Lou’s cerebral cortex, at very specific, revealing moments, a caterpillar enthralled in a mind-blowing, heart wrenching, enlightening spiritual journey to redemption and self-completion.
Caterpillar….As I was sifting through other reviews, I paused as I read the word ”butterfly” and pondered. As the biography evolves you really get the sense of a colorful and vivacious punkcaterpillar struggling with an acute egoistic hedonism.Reed was constantly and desperately looking for a way to become a magnificent butterfly that proudly spreads its wonderful, astoundingly colorful wings with a rare dignified wisdom that is rarely reached by those who have such a big ego as Reed. Reading the book, you just know that in the end he had reached this point since with an ego, you cannot bend, and with an ego how can one be really dignified? How can an ego give you grace? It would be just a superficial posture, empty, impotent posture. Nothing inside, just an empty shell without any content. Reading Transformer, it is very obvious that Reed tremendously suffered from his ego all through his life. At times he may have had the posture but he was obviously to clever and sensitive to not come to the realisation that something was missing. A man should be able to be undignified too. If you are always dignified you cannot laugh, you cannot joke, you lose all humanity and become inhuman.
The book bluntly starts, and very rightly so, with the shock therapy treatment Lou received starting in the spring of 1959 after Lou’s conservative parents, Sidney and Toby Reed, sent their son to a psychiatrist, requesting that he cures Lou of homosexual feelings and alarming mood swings. According to Lou, the shock treatment helped eradicate any feelings of compassion he might have and handed him that fragmented approach that took over most of his life. Lou could be so loveable that you wanted to invite him to supper and meet your family but then behaving in such a way that you wanted to kick him out the door the next minute.
Bockris really takes his time detailing with an almost scientific manner how screwed up his relationships became from then on, not only because of the treatment itself but also how it put his relationship with his parents in a twisted love-hate trauma because he simply could not fathom how his parents could have agreed to the torture that the shock treatment therapy represented to him, and yet, he simply couldn’t remove his parents from his life, even if he really felt the urge to do so. So there you are, Bockris gets you a privileged seat in the house, an overview of Lou’s entourage through his own mind. Of course it doesn’t explain everything but it sure explains a lot of his writings and the poetry of many of the songs that songs he has written. You get an even more seizing pregnant image of Lou’s relationship with his father towards the end of the book when Bockris hands us a very important of the puzzle when he writes ”One day, as a child, Lou’s hand strayed into close proximity to where his father was standing. He received a sharp smack for this action, recounts Reed’s close friend Julian Schnabel, who adds, “He never got over the cruelty of that.”
Those who see Lou Reed as a punk icon are right, he is and will hopefully remain one but as you get further down the line reading this biography you get the urge to spread the word that he is way more than that. To me White Light/White Heatwas the first punk song ever to be recorded. Far from fast forwarding on that era, Bockris still goes through that era with all the required details even if the book Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story, by Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga and is based on interviews with Nico, Cale, Reed, Morrison and Tucker, as well as others who became part of Andy Warhol’s circle of artistic collaborators. It remains widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest rock books ever published and is an utterly interesting, if not vital complement if you want to know the complete story because in this biography Bockris does not talk about that part of Lou’s life in details. You also get to see how Lou Reed desperately needs to be the center of attention as the original formation rapidly disintegrated. After the release of each album they loose one of the original member. First Nico, followed by Cale and then finally, Reed himself. You get a really good sense of his ”behavioral pattern” in one of Reed’s favorite movies called The Ruling Class featuring Peter O’Toole.
Fortunately you also get to know other aspects of Lou’s life, especially towards the end his life when he met the one and only person who managed to rekindle all those inner conflicts that were constantly harassing Reed’s mind; his magical, almost mystical, third and last wife, Laurie Anderson. The process had already been put in motion with Robert Quinn without ending well as always but Bockris is the only one who managed to take us to a place that enabled Reed to get closer to functioning as a normal human being with the updated version of the biography. It is through the character of Lulu, who originally came to life in two plays by the ground breaking German playwright Frank Wedekind, an author who came to prominence around the same time as Oscar Wilde in the 1890s. Two great extrapolations of the play are G.W Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box.
Just the fact that Reed finally managed to reach what is the closest thing to serenity through his art and music is revealing of how much of a thoroughly honest and sincere artist Lou Reed always was. Each and every record brought him a piece of the solution, even if he sometimes got lost in the way, he obviously always made sure that each and every single thing he did was meaningful to him as an artist and as a human being. Lulu is a totally underestimated album, a collaboration between him and the band Metallica, the best band he could think of to help him forge this masterpiece that finally managed to set him free, reconciling this ongoing battle between male-female and female-male, the jealousy, the fear of being rejected, all those complex feelings he was constantly struggling with came to be irremediably exposed and somehow ”tamed”. That is why Bockris in another masterful stroke of genius explains in details everything that was implied in the making of Lulu. You may not like the album, but you must take the time to think about everything it represents. Think of it as Lou and Metallica having violent, bordering non-consensual but this twisted passion is honest and not without hope and can be seen as an exorcism with Laurie Anderson’s precious help. It was the final touch that allowed Lou Reed to spend his final years at peace with John Cale with whom he released Peel Slowly and See, the ultimate Velvet Underground re-edition as well as the Deluxe Edition of White Light/White Heat . During the last six month of his life he also worked on his final collection of photographs Rimes/Rhymesand he even went to England to publicize Mick Rock’s limited edition ofTransformer, a great collection of Lou Reed’s photographs.
Of course this isn’t the only collaboration described in Transformer. You get to witness Lou’s collaborations with some of the most influential artists of his times, from John Cale, Andy Warhol (Reed and Cale made an album called Songs for Drella in Warhol’s honor after his death), and Nico, through David Bowie, Bob Ezrin, Robert Quine, Robert Wilson, Laurie Anderson and the ghost of Edgar Alan Poe on The Raven as well as many, many more. Reading Transformer you do really get the sense that there is a convergence leading to Lulu and get to understand why Lou Reed finally reached a point where he finally got some closure and could sit back and enjoy life, love, friendship and joking around. Maybe he just stopped trying to be perfect in the end, at last. Bockris states that he had learned to enjoy what he had, what he was and was proud of what he had done and was at peace with himself and for that, I think everyone can only be happy for him.
By the way, reading transformer never gives you the overall feeling that Lou Reed was a complete degenerate asshole. On the contrary, you simply learn to get to know him and appreciate him for what he is and respect all the attempt his made to find out what really lies down at the end of every path he could take. Thanks to this book, I know that those of us who dare to try, no matter how fucked up we are, will one day reach a place that can be called home; that perfection can only be found deep inside our heart if only I we have the courage to let it bleed for the things that deeply, truly matters. I now understand that there is no such thing as an end, or death, only constant renewal. Reed reinvented himself so many times and in so many different ways. One MUST take that into consideration despite the despair and the fear the fear of the unknown. There is no ugliness, there is only a beauty that has yet to revealed itself, hidden in our deepest fears. This book is a major statement and is for sure as close as you will ever get to Lou Reed’sRock’n’Roll Heart. Make sure you give it your undivided attention because just like it’s subject, this book will slap you in the face if you don’t!
”The next step may be the electrification of all mankind by the representation of a play that may be neither tragedy, comedy, farce, opera, pantomime,melodrama or spectacle, as we now comprehend these terms, but which may retain some portion of the idiosyncratic excellence of each, while it introduces a new class of excellence as yet unnamed because as yet undreamed of in the world”
This piece was literally dictated to me in one to two hours. I don’t think I changed a word of the original text. It was not easy to get it published in 1979. All the magazine editors were frightened that it would raise the ire of the feminists. Although the girls who inspired this piece were among the strongest women I’ve ever known. Finally a bright editor at High Times, Bob Singer, chopped of the first five pages which made the piece more direct and easier to understand. High Times published its as cover story in May 1982, the same month the book I wrote with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, ‘‘Making Tracks:The Rise of Blondie” was published.
I did not know Negative Girls had also been published in an underground magazine in London called The Fred, but when I had previously submitted it to a small magazine being edited by Richard Hell he told me he had read it there. I had sent it to them a year earlier but never received a reply. I liked the magazine, edited by Bryan Maloney and Colin Charles, so much I published another related piece, ”Memoirs of A Modern Slave Girl”, in a later issue.
Actually now I’m recalling Negative Girl’s history I remember my fellow writer Legs McNeil, who had a relationship with German Playboy’s New York Rep, Monica Kind, told me they would publish it if we re-wrote it down to make it easier to understand! I actually have the manuscript of this re-write. It was published in German Playboy as ”Minus Mädchen” in 1981. The High Times piece broke it open though and next thing I knew one of William Burroughs French critics and translators, Philippe Mikriamos, published it in French in Metal Hurlant, (Heavy Metal) in 1983. This translation was then republished in two issues of an underground magazine in New York edited by Ann Hemenway. I think it was the prettiest translation. Then in 2009, Mark Kostabi asked me to write a text for a book of his paintings called ”The Only Ones” . The text was much too literal. I really liked these romantic paintings and tried to literally describe them, which did not work so well, but sometimes when you’ve written something you cannot change it. So I added Negative Girl, which was a much better text. Mark appreciated it, telling me it reminded him ofhis own feelings. ”The Only Ones” was published in a bilingual edition in English and Italian. It was most recently published as a cover story in Night Italia 2013. Negative Girls is currently being published in a book by Robert Carrithers in Prague.
Writing Negative Girl was one of the greatest experiences in my life. I made a serious effort to turn it into a book in 1982 and on several other occasions. Oh, I forgot, after High Times published the piece I received a call from an agent at the William Morris agency, the most powerful agency in America. They wanted me to turn it into a Broadway Musical. They had everyone they needed to put on the show, directors, stars etc. I told them I would think about it. But by the time I lost my desire to complete the book, when the girl who inspired it told me she was getting married, I remembered talking to Viva, then at the height of her powers after publishing ”Superstar” and a fabulous book called ”The Baby”. She was telling me how she was making headway on her third book (”The Lover”?) when Knopf asked her to go on tour with ”The Baby” and how she never made it back to her book and never published again. I suddenly realized I was on my path and could not veer off it. It was the path that lead me to”Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story” and ”Warhol: The Biography”. Of course I think Negative Girls would have been a huge hit on Broadway and I often wake up in the middle of the night singing one of its songs. Negative Girls is a timeless piece of prose. Just as there will always be Bad Boys there will always be….
By Victor Bockris Mudd’s Club Girl’s Room 4-6 AM Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 22, 1979
The live of American girls terrify me. I cannot look.
BOYS TELL LIES, GIRLS TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS
Girls are climbing all over the living room furniture, and crawling out of my hair, girls are using my eyes, girls are slipping my checkbook into their handbags, girls can’t stop talking. Allergic girls. Detergent girls. Floating girls. Stolen girls. Girls and death. Girls defeated by hammers. The girls department. Girls and money. Girls for sale. Legendary girls. Insect girls, Inspect girls. Inject girls. Girls in the supermarket. Backstreet girls. Singing girls. Driving girls. Let me go girls. Walking girls running girls standing still girls. Hot and cold girls. Hot and cold running girls.
Cunts tits feet faces hair. Electric girls. Nominated girls. Financed girls. Jungle girls at the Mudd Club. Diamond girls at the Pierre. Cunts with shields and cunts with spears. Spy girls. All the same girls. All the time girls. Finished girls. Girls in the war. Girls on tour. Girls in the mens room. Inquisitive girls. Intuitive girls. Exquisite girls. Girls who live in the crotch of metropolitan life to illustrate what it’s like to be a girl in America today. Negative girls who say, “We are second class citizens!” White girls who want to be black, they demand to be recognized as dogs at war. They learn to say,
–“I had to be a prostitute!”
–“I had to do it! He would have killed me!”
–“He shot me in the chest from four feet and then spent half an hour cleaning up the apartment before he even called an ambulance. The cop thought I was going to die and held my hand all the way to the hospital.”
Negative girls are mirrors. They are seeking for the proof of their visions every day in every activity. They take photographs of boys telling lies then show them the photographs of their lies revealing the false structure of our sexual code, which negative girls aim to break.Most girls who get thrown down stairs, beaten up, raped, left, used, abused, slutted, whored, wined and dined close up like foul black flowers and become ugly dishwashers, but negative girls never fall in love, they rise in hate. They take their pain to the public. They exorcise disappointment with its photograph. They celebrate another moon. They chase gaiety and emerge purged. A negative girl only has bad news. A negative girl only tells bad stories. She likes to tell stories about every bad person she ever knew, and if you try to cheer her up by telling her something good she’ll turn down her mouth and say it didn’t happen to her. But most of all she likes to tell bad stories about herself.
-“Did you stuff blueberries up my cunt last nigh? I thought so! I told you not to! Now I have a swollen cunt. I hate cunts. I wish I didn’t have one. All it does is get me into a lot of trouble.” -“Well… I think you have a very nice…” -“Oh stop it! I don’t care what you think. I’m going to have my cunt sewn up!”
Negative girls know that the male’s primary impulse is to insert himself as far into the female’s body as he can possibly go and they don’t care. Negative girls pretend to be forced to have sex because it proves how negative it is, how negative you feel about them, and how negative their lives are.
-“Well you fucked me last night so you’re not going to fuck me again this morning. You’re not going to fuck me in the ass. It hurts too much! I’ve tried. You can jerk off into my mouth.” -“When did you last come?”
-“Ten years ago. What happened last night?”
-“Well I was fucking you, I was fucking you for a long time and…”
-“I don’t remember anything.”
-“Then you came.”
-“I NEVER COME WITH YOU! I’m sorry, but…”
-“Oh no, it’s okay. It’s okay. No, I know, but anyway you seemed to have a good time.”
-“Well, I don’t know.”
Negative girls are very annoyed if you suggest they enjoyed themselves too much. Negative girls are distinctly unhappy if asked by their partners to adopt a superior position during coitus. Little girl who really need help, vulnerability is their strongest suit. It always hurts negative girls when you fuck them. “Ouch ouch, you’re hurting me. Stop. Oh My God.” Negative girls are embarrassed about sex and don’t like to talk about it. If you start being passionate she will scream out, “I’m very drunk! I just want to get raped and fucked! Just fuck me! Rape me! Oh God rape me!” and expect you to rip her clothes off and fuck her like a savage from the realms of Tarzan’s imagination.Lawyers, book keepers and priests everywhere tell me there are a lot of normal reasonable girls around capable of leading a straightforward adult life, getting married, settling down and raising a family. I’ve never seen any and I don’t believe it.
Every girl I meet is just as crazy and remarkable as the one before her. It’s always bad with their wheedling and whining and little girls cries: “Sally wants presents. Sally wants ten presents. Sally wants more presents. How many presents does Daddy have for Sally?”
WARNINGS ABOUT NEGATIVE GIRLS
You take a negative girl out on the town everywhere in a limousine and keep giving her cocaine, you take her to exotic private dinner parties, then you ask her if she had a good time and she says it was okay, before going uptown to turn a trick for fifty dollars – just to make sure you understand how much she needs you and how much she wants your attention. A lot of attention. All of it. A night with a negative girl is fraught with danger and can be a nightmare. At any moment she may turn its tide, leaving you washed up on the alcoholic shores of morning. Flapping off of grey rocks you wake to find yourself fully dressed alone, a cigarette between your teeth, a pork pie hat stuck on your head.
A negative girl will never stay in one place for very long. A negative girl gets bored easily and if you aren’t running around with a feather stuffed up your ass or dressed in a chicken suit, or if you haven’t got any more funny stories to tell her or famous people to introduce her to, a negative girl will run off screaming “WHERE’S THE PARTY!?!” Negative girls are not interested in newspapers or politics. Negative girls do not like to think, although you have your substrata of intellectual negatives, really bitter bitches with whiplash tongues, regal snatches up on the higher floors who make men kill to fuck, snapping turtle cunts in Jaguar’s, all whoring for power.
Be very careful who you introduce a negative girl to because she will always collect any famous phone numbers lying around and then call up the famous person and say you told her to call. Negative girls will use your name and connections indiscriminately, but if you ever try and elicit a favor from a negative girl – an introduction, a place to stay, an invitation – she will recoil in horror and assume a superior, removed position.
It has been asked: are negative girls aliens? Negative girls were certainly given different orders.
FROM KNICKERS AND KNEE SOCKS TO SWITCHBLADES AND STILETTOS: HOW BAD GIRLS UNDRESS:
Negative girls don’t have many clothes because they spend a lot of time in bed, mostly just sleeping it off, although they do have to perform or else they wouldn’t be allowed to stick around. What they wear is remarkably uniform, depending upon the image the individual chooses to employ. When dressing, negative girls concentrate on what will be immediately recognizable to negative boys, except in the few cases where the girl doesn’t have to bother what she wears she’ll get fucked.
The majority of negative girls wear black. If they wear dresses the skirts are short over black stockings or knee socks, white cotton underpants are de rigeur, high heels (to push their asses out) bras (to push their tits out) and black leather jackets. If they wear pants the pants are black the boots are black the jacket’s black. The underwear may also be black. Some negative girls throw in a few colors, wear red shoes or pink feather boas and carry yellow plastic handbags, but only on the weekend or if they’re temporarily acting in a recording company office. Negative girls are too serious to get that fanciful about their outfits. A seminal costume for the negative girl is the Catholic School Girl dress. Variations run through most schoolgirl uniforms from China to Paraguay. An alternative is the little boy’s sharkskin suit worn over black high heel boots and under short spiky hair. Add tear gas gun and – Hey presto! You’re a negative girl!
Where do negative girls get their clothes? “We shop in other people’s closets!” A negative girl rushes into an apartment and heads straight for the closet to see if there’s anything she could wear you might lend her for the night. A negative girl will never return anything she borrowed and if you ever leave anything in a negative girl’s bed it will get lost before you remember where it is. I have lost a number of small items this way. Watches, drugs, credit cards.… Negative girls are jackdaws, but even the ones with the biggest noses and worst acne are always pretty because they dress up in ballerina clothes and wear black gauze masks and spangles around their ankles. Negative girls are confectionary. Their cunts taste like candy.
NEGATIVE GIRLS AND DRUGS
Negative girls are great in bed if they’re not too sick, but they’re sick a lot. Some negative girls are always sick because they never eat anything and take as many drugs as they can. But negative girls are quite particular about what kind of drugs they will take, and most of them abhor marijuana. Boys who smoke marijuana around negative girls always catch a lot of flak-
-“What a pothead!”
-“That stuff stinks!”
-“Oh God! More marijuana again…”
– because it makes them paranoid and paranoia is the last thing a negative girl can afford to have added to her afflictions.
Negative girls like speed and their mouths are always falling out. A lot of negative girls have to take quaaludes in order to get fucked because they’re too tense otherwise. They say all girls like to get smacked and negative girls concur, liking smack better than anything else. You can pretend heroin doesn’t exist, or only underworld stooges of the lowest order use it, but negative girls shout, “We’re going to get some smack as soon as we get to London! Don’t be a boring moralist about it!” While sociologists pout, “Many young girls who fear the permanent side effects of drug addiction accept bizarre sexual experiences in the belief that they are the lesser of two evils.” What sleazy liars they are!
A boy walks through a crowd of beautiful girls wearing a black bandage across his eyes. A negative boy walks through a crowd of beautiful girls he cannot see. He covers his eyes with a black gloved hand. The wind blows a boy in a black hat and coat over, a car veers around the corner, the streetlights go out. Two priests pull up in a limousine. A negative boy goes into another world he has the pictures of. A negative girl screams: “THAT ISN’T WHAT HAPPENED! WE WANT TO HEAR ABOUT THE BIT WHERE HE TOOK HIS PANTS OFF!”
Negative girls only like negative boys and negative boys hate their girlfriends, so negative girls are always close to the flame of hate. This keeps them awake. Negative girls want to have sex with negative boys because negative boys match the desired sequence of pictures negative girls have superimposed on their sex screens. The negative girl sees the negative boy walking across the room, she appreciates his skinny ass his skinny legs his skinny head his skinny brain his skinny veins – all withered up and dried away, which is why he’s off the stuff for a while. They flip for his tight skinny mouth and his giant animal like member protruding from his pants like a rolling pin. How many times have I had to listen to negative girls describe their boyfriends’ cocks with the guy nodding out right next to them? I always think the guy is going to be embarrassed when his girlfriend says, “You can’t help the way nature made you honey, you have a beautiful cock,” but he just pops another quarter in the pinball machine.
Negative boys say, “Going to bed is really giving up. We never go to bed until we pass out. All imagination of the future is wrong and I am in a precarious position flying over unknown territory without control of my plane, so don’t bother me.”
How do negative girls deal with negative boys? Most negative girls are frigid. They can usually cover it up pretty well with their acting experience, but most negative boys are impotent, even after reading textbooks on the physiology of erections and this creates a problem. She tries to jump on top of him wearing a red knee socks and a tee shirt that says FETISH or ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL on it, but he can only jerk off to her voice over the telephone. A negative girl will never masturbate her boyfriend.
-“Could I just ask you a favour that’ll only take two minutes. Would you just jerk me off?”
-“There’s nothing wrong with asking as long as you don’t try and force someone!”
-“There’s nothing worse than asking.” She is embarrassed if you mention masturbation.
-“Getting caught masturbating would more embarrassing than getting caught turning a trick,” a negative girl told me over a lunch which she ordered, stirred around and disdained at Mortimer’s. It is unwise to take a negative girl to a restaurant. She’ll make sure it’s expensive, then keep the waiter standing around while she bites her nails and asks what everything looks like. When it comes you realize why. She just likes to look at the food and push it around. (Unless she’s at DAVE’S LUNCHEONETTE, where she’ll eat everything on the plate and lick it.)
Negative girls communicate with their bodies as bait, but negative girls own their own bodies completely and can do whatever they want with them. The city is strewn with corpses of boys who thought they owned negative girls. Negative girls like to boast about how much they’ve been getting. They insist on their right to be debauched. Negative girls demand to get fucked. “I want to get fucked!” they scream at you over the telephone, and running into your apartment they hand you a rubber, wail “Wanna Fuck?” and dash into the bedroom. Negative girls demand control. Negative girls want to get excited. Negative girls like to seduce young boys. Negative girls like to be little girls and fuck famous old men. Negative girls like to fuck drummers, singers and guitar players. Negative girls look for cute boys wherever they go. Negative girls rip off straight men whenever they can. Negative girls have sex with giant insects. Negative girls are treated like garbage and they come. Negative girls are fulfilling comic book fantasies.
A negative girl would never think of getting married because she knows if she sits at home and watches television knitting and washing dishes and walking around the block with babies, she will become suicidally depressed, and her boyfriend will become incredibly bored with her ugly pan and will hardly ever want to see it, let alone touch her creepy flesh. Negative girls are smart. They keep moving.
Grab a negative girl by the wrist, fling her onto the carpet, drag her across the floor and throw her out the door into the corridor and she will threaten to sue and walk around with a bandaged wrist for a week, but all she really wants is an apology. Apart from photographs, negative girls like to collect confessions. They always make it seem like it’s you fault and they are very persuasive so you often end up apologizing to negative girls. This one girl was complaining about how her boyfriend wouldn’t even give her fifty cents to go uptown so she could be a model for Penthouse magazine and I said, “But he arranged for you to make two hundred dollars so that’s pretty nice of him,” and she goes, “Yeah, but because of that stupid jerk I met at Penthouse I went on the Scarsdale diet and consequently became a junkie and a whore again, so I don’t think arranging a photo session at Penthouse for me was really such a nice thing for him to do.” The same girl saw Quadrophenia three times and blamed its destructive influence on the boy who had given her his tickets. Intercourse is when she is “used” by her partners, pregnancy is when she is “ill” and childbirth is when she “gets better.”
Negative girls can be very violent very suddenly. The only way to handle this is to be equally violent. All negative boys have had to beat up negative girls. Zsa Zsa Gabor says, “I love it!” And most negative girls make a big thing out of getting beaten up. Bruises are beautiful
IS THERE ANYWAY TO TELL IF A NEGATIVE GIRL IS HOMICIDAL?
There you are. No. That’s what makes them so dangerous. Makes them change from being your friend into being your murderer in a second’s time. We all hate to a certain extent. You’d be surprised at the murderous daydreams that some sweet old lady is indulging in, but it’s only when hate is so damned up that it breaks out in murder. Imagine an infant enraged over some slight frustration like having a toy taken away. Then think of her with the strength and imagination of a negative girl. She would kill.
NEGATIVE GIRLS AND MONEY
SCIENTIST:”In order to maintain replacement fertility, financial incentives to encourage childbearing may eventually become necessary” NEGATIVE GIRL:”I’m a beautiful girl and I shouldn’t have to do that!”
Negative girls are irresponsible. They deny any demands. They don’t owe you anything. Try and find a negative girl on Thanksgiving Day. She shakes her fist at the sky and screams, “Thanks! Thanks a lot!” before running inside. Negative girls never have any money but they often “have some coming.” The mysterious source of their supply is not easy to discover. Negative girls spot friends in the morgue and identify them for newspapers, making an extra buck on the side. Sometimes their grandmothers back in Wyoming died and they got two thousand dollars, all of which they will immediately spend on shoes, airplane tickets and heroin. Some negative girls have families living somewhere else who occasionally send them money, like maybe there’s a baby in the background or they’re getting paid to stay away. Negative girls are brave because they always live alone. Alone she goes to the hospital in a cab to have her baby, paying with a jar full of change. Inside the hospital no one tells her anything. She screams, the brat is stuffed in an incubator.
Negative girls count their money and curse. They expect you to pay for everything and they expect it to be good or they will complain. A negative girl only reads the wine list to make sure the wine is expensive. She will not accept a house wine. She recommends prophylactics made from imported lambskin, ($6.98 for 3, but definitely don’t break.). If you ask her to pay for anything a negative girl will be insulted. If she does give you any money she will throw it at you, having taken fifteen minutes to extract it from her boot. If you expect her to pay again she will start to flirt with other men in the restaurant, or run uptown to turn a trick. Meaning rises out of what we don’t understand.
NEGATIVE GIRLS ON TELEVISION
Negative girls are nervous, irritable and excited. They cannot just sit staring at television, they have to get up and go out and do something. “OH GOD. WELL LET’S GO TO THE MUDD CLUB. FIRST ONE’S ON ME!” And all the girls run down the street for a drink.
Negative girls are much more interested in how horrible life is now than how terrible it was then, and this is, in my opinion, much to their credit. Did television come as voice-overs in your future? They rarely talk about the past. Of course you had a bad childhood, childhood is a bad time and people didn’t use to pretend they did until television put the alphabet in its grave.
Negative girls are appearing in increasing numbers on television. Look for these scenes: crying on the toilet. Beating up on their kids. Really pretty but always tight lipped. Must be the season of the witch. Sociologists say negative girl beating is widespread, but a negative girl always wants a negative boy to take care of her because she always has a lot of problems. It’s like a cop show on T.V.: a chick arrives with a problem. The policeman comes to her aid and helps her solve her problem. In the end, the chick is happy again. But then another chick arrives with another problem for another sucker. Negative girls spin out their mythological routines on television. Negative girls are Cleopatra. They want to live in electric times and quiver in the silver light of morning with the haunted duchesses of history where television is Shakespeare.
NEGATIVE GIRLS IN THE FUTURE
A negative girl will never be happy. A negative girl will never be satisfied. A negative girl will never be afraid to admit she is bored, tired, depressed, broke and has V.D. again. Every negative girl carries a camera in her cunt, a tape recorder in her head, a loudspeaker in her mouth and television in her eyes. Negative girls are agents. Sex with them is dangerous. They keep files. They hold conferences. A negative girl’s common complaint: I am a photograph fixed in the imagination of men. They are whatever they want to be. Negative girls don’t think about whether they’re happy or not. What a dumb thought.
A negative girl’s main ambition is to have fun, but in order to really have fun she is going to have to get a gun. I am putting forth a motion for all negative girls to be able to have licenses to carry effective handguns in their garter belts. They should all be allowed. Of course a lot of people would get shot but so what. If they want to mess around with negative girls that’s their prerogative. It’s par for the course to get smashed up by a negative girl. At some point she will do her best to bring you down crash. The trap in her magnet is honesty and pain. Sitting next to it you get hit.
A negative girl wears a shield on her wrist – her suicide scars: all negative girls have scars. All negative girls have abortions. There’s a little bit of whore in every negative girl. Sex is too dangerous. All negative girls have been raped and will admit it. But when you try and talk seriously to a negative girl about taking more precautions and not being out alone at 4 a.m. drunk and depressed she gets annoyed and says, “Well you make it sound like it was my fault.” A negative girl will not be intimidated. She appears in my room three times in the night crying, “I am dead. I am dead.”
A negative girl is a play. A negative girl is an abortion, a moment, a mirror, a mirage, a motor, a meat cleaver, a meathook. Negative girls are Queens of the Mudd, negative girls are bright and beautiful, negative girls walk grandly in regal splendor, negative girls always have a lot of cash in their voices, negative girls are demons and sorcerers and witches – messengers from a contorted night star. Negative girls rise like wraiths in a funnel of black silk over forests and disappear into fairylands forlorn. Negative girls go out of their bodies and have electric sex. Negative girls are all supposed to be good at pinball but this isn’t a magazine world. Negative girls read their schoolbooks and paint the cave walls and experiment with nitroglycerine. Negative girls are serious students learning the skills necessary to qualify They are invisible in your dreams.
I urge you to make a contact with them. They are the language. They will teach you how to fall over without hurting yourself and how to plan your itinerary with the doctors. Negative girls are the bottom line in girls. You cannot retreat or advance further. They are capable of blurring into the essence of adolescence and freezing in future frames.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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 ExplodingPlastic Inevitable(EPI).
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 anattempted murder. This clearlyhad 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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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 magazineInterview). 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 bookand 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.
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
In 1972, Velvet Underground alumni Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico reunited before the cameras of the POP2 TV program at Le Bataclan (yes that very place where those terrorists killed 89 people on November 15th 2015), a well-known and very intimate, Paris venue . It was Cale’s gig originally and he invited Reed and Nico to join him. Reed, who hated rehearsing, spent two days with Cale working out what they were going to do. According to Victor Bockris’ Lou Reed biography Transformer, rock critic Richard Robinson videotaped these rehearsals, which took place in London.
Both the videotape and the audio from this show have been heavily bootlegged over the years. A legit CD release happened a few years ago, but it still sounds like a bootleg. A high quality video turned up on various torrent trackers and bootleg blogs after a rebroadcast on French TV. It’s fairly easy to find. Now if only some of the outtakes from the Le Bataclan filming (if there were any) would slip out—they did “Black Angel’s Death Song” which I’d dearly love to see—not to mention what Richard Robinson might have (There is an audio only recording of the rehearsals attributed to Robinson’s tapes already making the rounds on bootleg torrent trackers.)
One thing worth pointing out here is that during “Berlin” you can see Nico’s face as Reed sings a song which he told her was about her. She might even be hearing it for the first time.
Nico Interview 1972
Reed and Bowie performing “I’m Waiting For The Man”: