I was reading ”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. ”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
*This is a quote from Ali in Bockris’ ”In Fighter’s Heaven”.
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’ ”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 ”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’ ”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 Fighter’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). ”In Fighter’s Heaven” contains an outstanding collection of his poetry, along with his commentary on how he wrote the poems.
”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”:
Questions and Answers About ”NYC Bad Boys” and a Lifetime Partnership
Introduction in Disguise
I will try to, like the Clash album says, ”Cut the Crap” and say that I heard about Victor Bockris the first time through a book called ”Conversation”, which I read avidly the first time it fell in my lap and have re-read a few times. Those Conversations were a goldmine for a Burroughs and Warhol amateur like me who believed that both of them have been to art in general what the Sex Pistols were to music. To me, ”Conversation” is an essential book that should be archived and kept for safety like a mystical artefact, exactly like Burroughs’ paranoid mind would have imagined it; like files that unknown alien forces are constantly updating, thus keeping tabs on the underworld agents. Numbered transcripts sourced and supported by audio, film, and/or photographs, describing meetings between liberating forces from one of the leading underground artistic mind and the Godfather of the surgeons of the Beat Generation, leading to a whole new way of deconstructing and re-creating different realities that were bearers of an extremely particular strain of virus calledPUNK.
I also knew, reading that book, that Victor was already working very closely with Marcia Resnick back then. I followed the timeline traced by her photos and discovered a whole new world in Resnick’s fascinating images and thoughts, starting with Re-Visions and already seeing that Punks, Poets and Provocateurs that was onlyreleased in 2015 (yes! the very day this article was posted!) already was and always has been in the making very early on after the day those two kindred spirits met for the first time. In fact Marcia began the book the same month they both met in September 1977, and finished taking the pictures in 1982. She then worked sporadically on videos of the pictures, showed some of the images in group shows through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. She also participated in a traveling show, which became a book, called ”Bande A Part, New York Underground 60’s-70’s-80’s’‘ which featured the photographs of many of her contemporaries. This was showcased as a ”travelling show” in venues in Tokyo, Paris, London, Hong Kong, LA and New York, from 2005 to 2009. This was a very positive sign that her work was still alive and growing. In 2010, she had a one-woman show of her vintage portraits from the 1977 to 1982 period at the Deborah Bell Photographs in NYC. It was also in 2010 Marcia and Victor began to ”physically” put the book together. The result is a shared vision of the world that is exposed through a sincere, honest, disarming, straightforward series of photos, poems, thoughts, paintings and a variety of ways and any possible means to recreate the feelings attached to those vivid memories. Each of those forever preserved time capsules humbling me, reminding me of how fragile some of us are or were, especially some of those NYC Bad Boys, but also revealing how our weaknesses are non-dissociative parts of our inner beauty.
No need to say I was delighted when I was asked to do an article about Punk, Poets and Provocateurs in an interview format. Marcia and Victor were kind enough to gently respond to some questions I had in mind after I got the chance to read and feel ”Punks, Poets & Provocateurs: NYC Bad Boys, 1977-1982” that is righteously presented here as the triumphant accomplishment of a lifetime collaboration between two artist I admire so much. I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as I did!!
LAN: ”How did you two met?”
Victor Bockris: ”We met at an opening of a photo show at the Andrew Crispo gallery in September 1977. And spent the next six weeks talking and running around town meeting all sorts of people. I helped Marcia collect back cover quotations for “Re-Visions” and published “Why I Hate My Girlfriend” about her in High Times in 1978. Fuelled by love and hate.”
LAN: ”Do you think the term Bad Boy is as appealing to the general public as it was in the 60s and the 70s? Has anything changed?”
Victor Bockris: ”Bad Boys is a generic term which has lost most of its meaning. That’s why we changed the title from Bad Boys to “Punks, Poets and Provocateurs” which had previously been her sub-title. Although Marcia does a good job defining the Counterculture’s Bad Boy Icon in her outstanding texts. ”
LAN: ”Do you see some of them as angels with broken wings?”
Marcia Resnick: ”I see Bad Boys as rebels of attitudes and codes who often shake things up in the best way.”
LAN: ”Do you still find inspiration in your old friendships and acquaintances? You must have developed special everlasting relationships with some people!”
Marcia Resnick: ”We know the people we used to hang out with and love and support them. We are always overjoyed to see them, like veterans of a war. We definitely find inspiration in all our living and departed friends.”
LAN: ”It’s a well-known cliché to say that most good artists have suffered a lot, and somehow channeled this suffering and/or anxiety through their art. Do you consider you went through that too?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Art is an act of confronting what distresses you most and overcoming the distress by turning it into art.”
LAN: ”Has it ever happened to you that on the moment something appeared to be a bad thing, but you later came to realise it was in fact a good thing?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Contradiction is one basis of creativity. Challenges that appear to be bad are often very good for you. This can also be said about artistic mistakes.”
LAN: ”Do you consider yourselves more as Poets, Punks or Provocateurs or none of the above? If none of the above, how do you consider yourselves if you had to pick one or few words?”
Both: ”Punk Poet!”
LAN: ”What do you think Burroughs and Ginsberg (and by extension the Beat Generation) brought to the punk scene? Do you think they fit into that equation?”
Victor Bockris: ”The punk scene shone a light of affection and affiliation on the Beat scene. Allen and Bill lived in the midst of a punk neighbourhood, the Lower East Side. Punk was neo-beat.
LAN: ”What about The Velvet Underground?”
Victor Bockris: ”The Velvets were the archetypal punk band. Lou Reed was the most important person who visited CBGB’s. He supported punk from the outset. Punks loved Lou.”
LAN: ”Punk was about industry, not virtuosity.” Could you expand on what you meant by that?”
Victor Bockris: ”Punks worked very hard to make beautiful music. This industry was inspired by passion and could be accomplished with a DIY attitude as opposed to a stringent technically proficient prowess.”
LAN: ”With everything that is going right now and the overall empowerment of the world by the 1%, do you think that we would need to return back to the sources with a very simple, bold, loud, clear and shall I say even aggressive message that was the very essence of Punk Rock?”
Victor Bockris: ”I think we need to bring back the counterculture as a global force for humanity.”
LAN: ”Do you find that everything is more diluted today? Do you think that the messages delivered by today’s artists are as strong today as they were in the 60s and the 70s?”
Victor Bockris: ”Artists of the 50s 60s 70s were all connected by the umbrella of protest against the atrocities of WWII. Passionate realism is the key. Post 83 or so the people have no single ring to fight against.”
LAN: ”Do you think sex should be a hidden thing or more out in the open like in Japan? I’m asking because you represent both sexes and have lived as adults in a period Pre-AIDS and without shame but you also know what shame is… You also lived in an era in which homosexuality and transexuality were illegal. I’m thinking for example of Candy Darling, and Lou Reed who received I think 19 (if not more) shock treatments just because he had gay THOUGHTS.”
Marcia Resnick: ”Sex is like God. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened but its been co-opted by same people who say God is on our side. Nobody owns sex but a lot of people exploit it, like the Catholic Church or the Sex Industry. Obviously do what thou wilt is all of the law. Everything is permitted. Sex is good. No laws against sex are recognized in the magic universe.”
LAN: ”If you could talk to the young ”you(s)” when you were 15, what would you say to yourself?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Focus on learning how to live the artistic ways of life. It has great benefits but if you don’t know how to live it doesn’t make much difference”
LAN: ”Do you consider yourself a survivor? If so, what or who made you able to overcome what could have been your downfall?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Collaboration. We have helped each other survive by working to a united end on this book.”
LAN: ”The 1977 Blackout in New-York was seen as a turning point by many people because they were seeing judges and doctors turning into looters in the anonymity provided by the dark. Were you there? If yes did it have any effect on you at the time?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Sounds like a fantasy! The July 77 NY Blackout heralded a great new period because everybody walking around in Greenwich Village was exhilarated to see each other and was full of joy! People were conversing with people they didn’t know!”
LAN: ”What beauty have you ever witnessed coming out of what some would describe as a wreckage?
Marcia Resnick: ”Andy Warhol, Keith Richard. Lou Reed, William Burroughs for starters.”
LAN: ”This one I guess goes out more to Victor. Since Warhol himself was always taping and taking pictures, did you feel at times that you were interviewing the interviewer??”
Victor Bockris: ”I learned about how to do interviews from Andy Warhol. I cannot understand why a book of his interviews has never been published. I wrote the first draft of “Exposures” with him. He had an enormous influence as a writer which has been strangely subdued.”
LAN: ”Since we are talking about Warhol, I was curious to find out if you saw a change in Warhol after he was shot by Solanas?”
Victor Bockris: ”Everybody says that his presence was everything before he was shot. It took him a long time to recover, but the man I met in the mid seventies had more energy than anyone. It made him cautious about hanging out with hard-core people. He really bloomed in the early 80s painting with Jean-Michel (Basquiat).”
LAN: ”Have you ever been personally the victim of a blatant injustice?”
Victor Bockris: ”No. I avoid policemen and lawyers. It is dangerous to get involved with them.”
LAN: ”Any words of advice for the generations to come?”
Marcia Resnick: ”Collaboration is the Key to Life. You can go into any field you want to, from poetry to the law, but your chance of success will always be much greater if you find other people or another person to do it with.”
”Punks, Poets & Provocateurs: NYC Bad Boys, 1977-1982” by Marcia Resnick and Victor Bockris is now available in the nearest bookstore!!
Book signing with Photographer Marcia Resnick Punks, Poets and Provocateurs: New York City Bad Boys, 1977–1982 by Marcia Resnick and Victor Bockris Published by Insight Editions Tuesday, November 10, 2015 6:30–8:30 PM / Admission free! Click on picture below for a lot more infos on related events to come!
Warhol directed over 400 screen tests, and they serve now and forever as a remarkable archive of the personalities of the New York art scene and the Factory. Artists, male and female prostitutes, art dealers, transexuals, collectors, critics, writers, musicians, lesbians, actors, poets, dandys, painters, sculptors, dancers, strippers, athletes, sinners and saints, servers and patrons are all very well represented, as are the celebrities of the ”Factory’s Studio System” themselves. Those series of portrait films were shot from 1964 to 1966 and each test was about four minutes long. Warhol would place his subject in front of a 16mm Bolex with instruction to face the camera until the film stopped. In many cases, Warhol would walk away from the subject as the film was shooting without any further instructions, giving them absolute freedom to be and to do whatever they wanted as long as they remained in the frame.
William Burroughs never sat for a screen test. Given the hype and excitement that surrounded Burroughs during his time in New York City in 1964/1965, this is somewhat surprising. At the time, Burroughs was an underground celebrity, a perfect subject for a screen test. Yet Burroughs and Warhol did not hit it off in the 1960s. Panna Grady, a rich heiress and a groupie of underground poets and writers, took Burroughs to meet Warhol for dinner. They went to a Chinese restaurant, where Burroughs was offended by the manners of those in Warhol’s entourage. Burroughs walked out.
The personalities of the two men were quite a bit different, as must have been obvious when they met. Warhol cultivated a camp and effeminate gay persona that was the polar opposite of Burroughs’ gun-toting machismo. Burroughs’ letters of the 1950s are filled with his dislike for swishes, so coming face-to-face with Warhol must have aroused some level of distaste. Creatively, however, the two had much in common. Before their ill-fated dinner, Warhol arrived at Burroughs’ loft with a bag of tape-recording equipment. Surely this piqued Burroughs’ interest because Burroughs asked Warhol to leave the recorders at the loft.
I am fascinated by Warhol during the Factory years, and it is an interesting “what if” to me to wonder what a collaboration between Burroughs and Warhol would have been like. How would Burroughs have reacted to a screen test? If anybody could have out-stared a Bolex, without a doubt, it would have been Burroughs. For my part, I catch myself fantasizing about it and think that the camera would have blinked, tore up, or broke down under the strain of Burroughs’ impassive, sullen gaze or that, on the contrary, Burroughs would not even register on the film…. After all, In Mexico City, Peru, Panama, and Tangier, Burroughs stalked back alleys anonymously, melting into the shadows without leaving a trace on his surroundings. The banker’s suit and the grey hat were the uniform of the 1950s Everyman. Or maybe a Nobody. Not for nothing did Burroughs’ ability to blend in and disappear earn him the name “El Hombre Invisible.”
Face to Face
Ironically, Burroughs’ non-descript clothes became iconic by the 1970s. Immediately recognizable, precisely because he was invisible. The banker’s clothes disguised a revolutionary: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When Burroughs returned to New York City from 1974 to 1981, Warhol was still holding court, although the Factory gave way to Studio 54. The screen tests were replaced by celebrity portraits painted for a sizable fee. Interestingly, it was at this period, when Burroughs truly broke into mainstream consciousness, that Warhol and Burroughs would connect. When Burroughs lived in New York City at the Bunker, he and Warhol met again for dinner, and the results were much more cordial than 1965. Victor Bockris who wrote A Report from the Bunker taped several of these meetings, made all the transcripts, added his personal notes and photos as well as others by Marcia Resnick, Bobby Grossman, Jenny Moradfar and David Schmidlapp in a very interesting book that was released first under the title ”The Warhol-Burroughs Tapes”, later changed to ”Conversations”. At first glance the conversations appear to be somehow superficial but nevertheless, because of its honesty, you still can very well get a good insight of each participant’s particular behavior ”au naturel”. ”Conversations”gives you the same feeling that one would get from looking at Warhol screen tests; It may seem superficial at first but you get to see the real person if you wait, watch closely and pay attention without waiting for ”something” to happen. For some reason this book was controversial and I will not go into the details of why because to me, no matter what people say, it still is a very important document that would not have seen the day if it wasn’t for Bockris relentless efforts to make it happen. Let me give you a delightful example here as Bull and Warhol have an open conversation, talking sex, sharing about their ”First Time”:
Burroughs: Cocteau had this party trick that he would pull. He would lie down, take off his clothes, and come spontaneously. Could do that even in his fifties. He’d lie down there and his cock would start throbbing and he’d go off. It was some film trick that he had.
Bockris: How’d he pull that off? Have you ever been able to come through total mental—
Burroughs: Oh, I have indeed. I’ve done it many times. It’s just a matter of getting the sexual image so vivid that you come.
Warhol: How old were you when you first had sex?
Burroughs: Sixteen. Just boarding school at Los Alamos Ranch School where they later made the atom bomb.
Warhol: With who?
Burroughs: With this boy in the next bunk.
Warhol: What did he do?
Burroughs: Mutual masturbation. But during the war this school, which was up on the mesa there thirty-seven miles north of Santa Fe, was taken over by the army. That’s where they made the atom bomb. Oppenheimer [the scientist who invented the bomb] had gone out there for his health and he was staying at a dude ranch near this place and said, “Well, this is the ideal place.” It seems so right and appropriate somehow that I should have gone to school there. Los Alamos Ranch School was one of those boarding schools where everyone rode a horse. Fucking horses, I hate ‘em. I had sinus trouble and I’d been going to New Mexico for my health during the summer vacations and then my family contacted the director, A. J. Connell, who was a Unitarian and believed very much in positive thinking, and I went there for two years. This took place on a sleeping porch, 1929.
Warhol: How great! Was the sex really like an explosion?
Burroughs: No no … I don’t remember it was so long ago.
Warhol: I think I was twenty-five when I first had sex, but the first time I knew about sex was under the stairs in Northside, Pittsburgh, and they made this funny kid suck this boy off. I never understood what it meant…
Burroughs: Made him do what?
Warhol: Suck this boy off, but I didn’t know what it meant, I was just sitting there watching when I was five years old. How did you get this kid to do it, or did he do it to you?
Burroughs: Oh I don’t know, sort of a lot of talking back and forth…
Here’s a remarkable clip of the pair chatting in the very room in which Arthur Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey! The footage is from an episode of the BBC documentary program Arena about the Hotel Chelsea and there are a couple of odd narrative elements to it, but the clip mercifully ends with Nico singing a haunting rendition of “Chelsea Girls”—in the Chelsea Hotel itself, one wonders if it was in Room 506…..
In 1974 William S. Burroughs and David Bowie got together for a little chat, documented by Rolling Stone. Here’s a particularly weird part where Burroughs and Bowie talk about the alien and reptilian nature of Andy Warhol:
Burroughs: Have you ever met Warhol?
Bowie: Yes, about two years ago I was invited up to The Factory. We got in the lift and went up and when it opened there was a brick wall in front of us. We rapped on the wall and they didn’t believe who we were. So we went back down and back up again till finally they opened the wall and everybody was peering around at each other. That was shortly after the gun incident. I met this man who was the living dead. Yellow in complexion, a wig on that was the wrong colour, little glasses. I extended my hand and the guy retired, so I thought, ‘The guy doesn’t like flesh, obviously he’s reptilian.’ He produced a camera and took a picture of me. And I tried to make small talk with him, and it wasn’t getting anywhere.
But then he saw my shoes. I was wearing a pair of gold-and-yellow shoes, and he says, ‘I adore those shoes, tell me where you got those shoes.’ He then started a whole rap about shoe design and that broke the ice. My yellow shoes broke the ice with Andy Warhol.
I adore what he was doing. I think his importance was very heavy, it’s becoming a big thing to like him now. But Warhol wanted to be clichi, he wanted to be available in Woolworth’s, and be talked about in that glib type of manner. I hear he wants to make real films now, which is very sad because the films he was making were the things that should be happening. I left knowing as little about him as a person as when I went in.
Burroughs: I don’t think that there is any person there. It’s a very alien thing, completely and totally unemotional. He’s really a science fiction character. He’s got a strange green colour.
Bowie: That’s what struck me. He’s the wrong colour, this man is the wrong colour to be a human being. Especially under the stark neon lighting in The Factory. Apparently it is a real experience to behold him in the daylight.
Burroughs: I’ve seen him in all light and still have no idea as to what is going on, except that it is something quite purposeful. It’s not energetic, but quite insidious, completely asexual. His films will be the late-night movies of the future.
Despite the coldness of their first meeting, Burroughs and Warhol briefly bonded in Burroughs’ loft over the tape recorder. This machine proved central to the creative work and philosophies of both artists in the 1960s. Burroughs: “I am a recording instrument.” Warhol: “I want to be a machine.” Burroughs utilized the tape recorder from the late 1950s on. In his essay ”The Invisible Generation”, Burroughs proclaims such technology as an agent for revolutionary change. Warhol relied on the tape recorder for most of his literary projects. A: A Novel is at its simplest a transcription of Warhol star Ondinetalking about the events of his day. Tape transcriptions made up the bulk of Popismand The Philosophy of Andy Warhol as well. Ideally, Warhol sought to just let the tape run and present verbatim transcriptions. There would be no stopping or re-starting of the tape, no edits, no cuts. On the other hand, Burroughs aggressively manipulated the tape. He inched it backwards and forwards, recording and re-recording. He cut and spliced the tape. The resulting transcripts were heavily revised and altered. These two creative icons are on the opposite ends of the spectrum concerning the process of editing. Yet the goal is the same: a dissolving of the control of the artist, a striving for the impersonal.
The major difference between the films of Warhol and Burroughs is, again, the cut. Burroughs’ films are full of aural and visual cuts, and Warhol uses the cut sparingly, if at all. Despite opposing editing techniques, the desire to displace the artist is the same. Of course, just the reverse occurs. Reading Burroughs cut-up texts, his personal obsessions and style shine through. The same occurs with his films. The selection of images and sounds betray his hand. He cannot help but impose his personal imprint. The same holds true for Warhol. Within the seemingly very strict parameters of the screen test, extremely individual, personal performances result. No screen test is exactly the same, even with the same subject filmed for several different tests. If you doubt this, view the several different tests taken of Baby Jane Holzer or Edie Sedgwick. Each test has its unique qualities. The personalities of the sitter show through as does that of Warhol.
UPPERS, DOWNERS & WITHDRAWALS SYMPTOMS
Watching the films of Burroughs and Warhol from a drug perspective, I feel that their styles could have been reversed. The drug of choice for Warhol and his art was amphetamine, while Burroughs preferred heroin. One would expect rapid cuts of image and sound from Warhol, and yet it was Burroughs’ cut-up films that reflect the speed freak’s sense and sensibility. Conversely, Warhol films like Sleep and Empire seem to capture the perspective of the junkie on the nod. Burroughs famously wrote in Naked Lunch that while on junk he could stare with interest at his shoe for hours. What would Burroughs have thought of a movie like Empire? Given his interest in editorial manipulation, Burroughs might have found it boring, preferring instead a movie like Chelsea Girls with its split-screen projection. Burroughs’ fascination with multiple perspectives hammers home the point that the world he described is largely seen through the lens of withdrawal. The kicking junkie is besieged by sensation. Spontaneous orgasms, crawling flesh, runaway thoughts. Burroughs’ art, cinematic and literary, captures and reproduces the experience of withdrawal more than the sensation of the fix. The hardcore addict fails to experience the euphoria of heroin in the same manner as a first-time user. Part of the kick is trying to recapture that initial rush. Burroughs’ strong sense of nostalgia stems in part from the longing of the addict for the first fix.
As Warhol was making screen tests in the 1960s, so in a way was Burroughs (along with Brion Gysin, Anthony Balch, and Ian Sommerville). Towers Open Fire (1963) opens with a long static shot of Burroughs which mirrors the portraits Warhol would begin creating a year later. In Guerrilla Conditions, later to become the basis for The Cut-Ups (1966), Burroughs introduced chance / found techniques similar to Warhol’s. Barry Miles writes, “The Cut Ups was literally that, with four reels of film being cut into twelve-inch lengths and assembled in rotation by a lab technician… No artistic judgment was made, and Balch was not even present.” The similarities to the restraints imposed on the screen tests are obvious.
I am more intrigued in considering a film like Bill and Tony(1972) as a Burroughsian screen test. The movie consists of the image of Burroughs mouthing Balch words, and Balch doing likewise to Burroughs’ words. Balch and Burroughs experimented with merging images to form a composite person. Burroughs was very interested in such superimpositions. Burroughs states, “Anthony Balch and I did an experiment with his face projected onto mine and mine onto his. Now if your face is projected onto somebody else’s in color, it looks like the other person. You can’t tell the difference; it’s a mask of light.” He states further, “Another experiment that Anthony and I did was to take the two faces and alternate them twenty-four frames per second, but it’s such a hassle to cut those and replace them, even to put one minute of alternation of twenty-four frames per second on a screen, but it is extraordinary.” Burroughs and Gysin also played with such techniques in The Third Mind experiments. The New Reformers photographs, produced in connection with the Colloque de Tanger in 1975, utilized such superimpositions. In 1971, Jan Herman visited Burroughs and Balch at St. Duke Street in London. At this time, the two men were making Bill and Tonyand performing the experiments Burroughs describes above. Herman took part in these experiments and recorded a session on videotape. The results are available exclusively on RealityStudio.
As the video shows, Burroughs introduces montage to the screen test. Montage, collage, assemblage, like the cut-up technique, all center on the cut. In the screen tests, Warhol avoided the edit, the physical cut. The duration of the movie was dictated by the length in feet of the packaged roll of film. No takes, no director yelling cut, no splicing of the film. On the other hand, Burroughs urged a generation to cut up everything. Film, text, audio tape all was fair game for the scissors. Warhol and Burroughs’ editing techniques differed but their goal of depersonalization (and eventual failure to achieve those goals) were the same.
Both Warhol and Burroughs were well exposed to the world of experimental film from Russian avant-garde film of the 1920s to Surrealist film of the 1930s to the New American Film of the post-WWII era. Warhol was a fixture at The Filmmakers’ Co-op and a friend of numerous underground filmmakers like Jonas Mekas, Jack Smith (before their falling out), Willard Maas, and Marie Menken. These filmmakers were subjects for screen tests. Through Gysin and Balch (who distributed European soft-core films), Burroughs would have been exposed to a number of experimental films. I suspect Burroughs and Warhol were well aware of each other’s films as well.Towers Open Fire was completed in 1963 before the underground film boom of the next year. Much of what became The Cut-Ups were filmed around that time. Sections ofThe Cut-Ups were filmed in the Chelsea Hotel in 1965, the year Warhol and Burroughs first met. Given his connection with Mekas and others, Warhol may have heard about Burroughs’ film experiments as early as 1963. Interestingly, despite Burroughs’ absence from Warhol’s films, particularly the Screen Tests, they are Burroughsian in spirit (alternatively Burroughs’ films are Warholian) as both men had similar obsessions and interests. Burroughs’ films of the mid-1960s have images of young men in bed, of static portraits, of artwork being created in Factory-type fashion.
One day a young man appeared at the Factory introducing himself as Julian Burroughs, the son of William Burroughs. The man was in fact Andrew Dungan. Here is the real actual story of what happened, as told by the man himself (see comment section for current post):
”I was drafted into the army in 1966 and deserted in June 1967. In October, after the March on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. I arrived in NYC. Walking down the street I met Warhol and Paul Morrissey by chance and they asked me to be in a movie that evening. They had asked me my name and I did give him my fugitive name which I had constructed from the knowledge that he did have a son, (who oddly enough I later met as he was a friend of my brother), and I felt it would get me off the hook if I was busted by the FBI agents presumably looking for me. Well, we made the movie that night and I sort of got along with Andy and Paul and the others and, being straight, was passed around among the females in the entourage. Heady experience, but the heavy paranoia of living in NYC made it difficult. Still, I hung out, dined on the Warhol tab at Max’s Kansas City, and came up with the concept for Lonesome Cowboys- based on Romeo and Juliet, hence Ramona and Julian in the film. The police did get word I was connected with Warhol and I got out of town to Paris in April 1968. Lived there for six years before getting an amnesty when Nixon got his pardon, saw Andy a few times, but returned to California, and have led my quiet life here in LA though I still am in contact with people like Viva. Saw William Burroughs once and told him my story and he enjoyed it. But it was really a chance encounter not a con or an attempt to get into the Warhol scene.”
The idea of a doppelganger of this type always appealed to Warhol (who probably got that from Dali who was obsessed by doubles and copies). He played such tricks himself. Before all that took place Warhol had already sent Allen Midgette (who sat for a screen test) on a speaking tour of the United States posing as Warhol himself in October 1967 before the time of the Julian Burroughs hoax. Most famously, Edie Sedgwick had dyed her hair silver and accompanied Warhol to parties and openings as a female version of Warhol. Quite possibly, the hoax perpetrated on the Factory inspired Warhol to try it himself, although forgery and impersonation were already staples of the Factory aesthetic. In any case, Warhol cast Dungan / Julian in Lonesome Cowboys and Nude Restaurant. So indirectly Burroughs was a Warhol superstar. Burroughs appeared on Saturday Night Live, was the Godfather of Punk, was profiled in People. Such flash and recognition captivated Warhol. The pinnacle of this type of attention would be the Nike adin 1994 that capitalized on Burroughs’ iconic status in the realm of, not Punk, but Cyber-Punk. Burroughs may never have set foot in the Factory but his presence was felt there and bled into Warhol’s films of the period. Similarly in the screen-test feel of Bill and Tony, Warhol proves to be a ghost in the machine in Burroughs’ films.
This article is largely inspired by Jed Birmingham and his ideas on the cinema of Burroughs and Warhol. The links have been updated and some have been added but you don’t have to check every single one of them although I really made a big effort to make this interesting to people who aren’t that much into this kind of stuff.