Wednesday, June 8, 2016


If I was anything at this point,
I was a sponge. Soaking up most
everything I saw and learned in
my new city digs. The good, the
bad, and the ugly, to quote a 1960's
spaghetti western. The first few
weeks there, it seemed like all
I kept seeing were the laundry
service trucks, driving all over
the place, everywhere I was :
Second Ave., First Ave., Eighth
Street, Bleecker and MacDougal,
Canal, Houston, Greenwich, and
Fourteenth Street  -  each truck
had a large painting of a waterfall
on the side, as a huge logo  -
'Cascade Laundry Services', it
said, in large white letters. I
felt like that stupid logo, for
a while, owned me, knew
of me, and described me  -
drowning in a cascade of new
information raining down on
my head like a waterfall apt
to kill me should I not catch
a breath. At every turn,
there was something
new : the times, those
times, were a'changin',
and they weren't. Shit,
all times change and as
always, the entire concept
was  stupid, but people bit
at it. There was politics a'stir,
and all that was changing too.
The Red Scare crap was just
about over, those who knew
they had to hide were still in
hiding, I guess, but no one else
knew crap. Woody Guthrie it
was, who said : 'I'm not a
Communist, but I been in the
red my whole life.' I always
liked that line. Pete Seeger
had showed up for his trial,
down at Foley Square, looking
like a clown. For the sake of
ridicule  -  dressed in a plaid
shirt, a checked suit,  and a
a garish yellow necktie  -  to
ridicule the very 'system' that
was churning him up. He
waived his right to take
the Fifth, (why didn't he
just get a shot glass and
take the fifth?  -  That was
my lame booze joke on my
solitary stand-up act nights).
He battled with them for
over an hour. Why roll
over for the bastards? He
fought their terms, whether
he was a patriot or a
subversive, by their words,
and then he walked out.
Just got up and left; for
which he was indicted by
Congress for contempt
(stupid, those bastards
too). While awaiting trial,
he wrote the song, 'Where
Have All the Flowers Gone?',
and it somehow then became a
huge folkie hit in mainstream
play and opened up a whole
new world  -  right in the face
of spite. Congress and the geeks
had surely lost that one. Who'd
a'thunk? His ten-year conviction
was overturned, and things had
begun to turn around. By 1967,
pretty late in the game already,
it was all mostly over  -  the
hard, dark stuff, I mean. Ten
years later, he's on TV singing
to The Muppets. Goes to show;
and what's up with all that?
I had this little diner I used to
hang out at, across from some
movie place  -  I was always
reading the marquee but I
never went to anything. I
hate movies  -  I can't
extend credibility to the
extent needed, it's all
too long, I know the
actors and actresses are
faking a chance, and
they're all full of shit,
and themselves, anyway.
Unless maybe that's
the same deal. This old
restaurant, The Greenwich,
or something, had a counter
and then two dining areas.
Back in those days people
still 'dined' with serious intent -
none of that Ronald McDonald
bunkum, no waffles and cream,
Happy Meals and Whoppers
and all that crap  -  and pizza
was still exotic fare. Since then
 -  as part of the control
mechanism put in place by
the soft-nazi tactics of a
police state, (nobody even
sees the stick nowadays;
just chasing the rabbit),
everything's been infantilized
and people have lost their
brains. Logo mascots shit
multi-colored jellybeans now,
and gleefully hand them out
to kids who just as gleefully
eat them. This place was
different : sort of dark and
woody, quiet and gloomy.
In the farther out of the two
dining rooms (by distance)
they had for-sale paintings
hanging up, on the dark
mahogany walls  -  things
painted by 'locals' - those
enterprising and artsy-craftsy
Greenwich Village types
back then. Little tags with
names and prices. They did
often sell too, and were then
replaced. None of it, seemed
to me, was 'real' art, in the
art-history, school of art
sort of 'museum' stuff. Just
nice hobbyist work  -  boats
and harbors, peaceful suns,
forest scenes, lakes and all
that. Every so often I'd see as
interesting, brooding portrait
of some Spanish Senorita in
blouse and scarf, or some of
any of the usual matador and
bull stuff. Funny how it went.
I had a few interesting other
moments in there. One time
one of those payoffs guys
came in, looking for somebody
or money or something, and
trashed the whole cash-register
and counter corner area, until
the cook guy came out with a
battering ram baseball bat.
There was yelling and screaming
everywhere, and then it ended.
The girl there, counter-waitress
and cashier, she was all mixed up
in something, over her brother
and some gang crap, and she got
all crazed up too. The entire scene
was nutso. Outside of once or
twice a World Series game
getting hooted and hollered at
on the TV there, it was the most
exciting moment the place ever
saw. Even the potatoes mashed
themselves in the hub-bub.
In 1967 the high point of all the
Andy Warhol stuff had just been
reached. From that point on, it
was a slow decline. I saw lots of
it, saw those people around,
thought about trying to get
involved, but got scared off
by my usual reticence. There
was still a lot of drugs around.
All the freaky people in what
was called 'The Factory' (Warhol's
stable of fans and hangers-on,
studio-helpers and paint-can
guys and those who made his
movies, etc., they were always
lurking. Gay, transvestite,
bizarre, demonstrative, all
with fake names and funny
monikers (like Billy Name,
Ingrid Superstar, Maria
Montez, and others). That
whole operation was taking
people in like nothing at all,
and I probably could have fit.
They had taken over a place
called the Dom, which had
been like a Polish Social
Center, large space, for music
and films and stuff. Right in
middle of St. Marks Place (e8th
Street), painted it weird colors,
and renamed and re-opened it
as a freak club called the Electric
Circus. Light shows, the Velvet
Underground as house band,
weird people, hippie crowds,
lethargy, ennui, drugs, overdose,
creepy stuff, colored smoke,
strobe lights. The whole loud
and turbulent freak-music
scene. It was kind of cool, and
then it would wear thin  -  but
man oh man it brought the
people out. Crazies in droves,
night after night. I'll let a
long paragraph by Lewis
MacAdams suffice: "In
hindsight, the Summer of '67
was the end of the Warhol era.
A year later, Warhol would be
shot by a factory hanger-on
named Valerie Solanis, and he
never really recovered, physically
or psychically, from his wounds.
Both his health and his art would
decline. The Summer of 1967 was
the crest of a wave. Paul Morrissey,
who was about to take over the 
actual making of Warhol's films, 
was a regular that Summer at
Max's Kansas City [a hang-out
for the arty types back then] 
usually sticking the velvet knife
[of sarcasm] into the back of
Ondine [a Warhol starlet] whom
he looked on as a talentless 
fuck-up. Billy Name and
Ingrid Superstar were still
around.  The dapper Fred
Hughes, who would soon take
over Warhol's business enterprises
and move the Factory to much
more respectable quarters, had
started to come by. Nico and the
Velvet Underground were going
their separate ways by then, but
she still showed up. Even if they 
were too 'cool' to show it, every-
body in the room was focused on
Warhol  -  wondering what he was
thinking, speculating about what
he would do next, trying to under-
stand his meaning and  -  though 
this went nearly always unspoken  
-  gauging where they stood in 
his world. In my mind's eye, it 
was like watching the Last 
Supper...The Summer of '67 
was a stormy one for me. I was
living on St. Marks Place, working
at a bookstore, and selling a little 
pot on the side while my wife
modeled at the New School. I got
stuck up at knifepoint on Eighth
Street that Summer and spent
every night I could drinking at
Max's, and though I didn't know
anyone there I sometimes wandered
into the backroom [Warhol's haven].
One night, in response to something
someone in his inner circle had just
murmured to him behind the back of
her hand, I caught Warhol mouthing
a nearly silent "Oh, wow," a phrase
that Warhol's old friend Ivan Karp
says Warhol often used to express
his 'perpetual state of amazement,
his constant surprise; his admiration.'
To me, the silent circle of his mouth,
the eyebrow arched in slight surprise
represented cool  -  a universe of
emotions from total acceptance to
cynical disapproval to utter passivity
to final judgment. I saw his ability
to take the precise temperature of the
room and alter it with a flicker of a
smile, and at that moment I experienced
a shiver of cool  -  simply by being 
there and seeing what I saw."
.....More on all this, tomorrow.

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