Depending on casting, you will play one of the following luminaries of the Bohemian Underground in 1963. You’re gathered for a Manhattan Happening, following Elise Cowan’s suicide and James Johnson’s fatal motorcycle crash.
Poet and writer; your benzedrine-fueled manuscript, On the Road was published 6 years ago and propelled you to unwanted fame and acting spokesperson for your literary movement and artistic generation. You’re bitter and no one is listening to your real message, so this year, you’re pushing your agent to get your manuscript Visions of Gerard, about your angelic younger brother who died in your childhood, published. You’ve been drinking too much, your daughter Jan is 11 and you rarely, if ever, see her, and you’re 41 years old and not at all happy about the changes to the scene that are happening. You’re here because you’re an icon, because people expect you to be, because your friends are here, because maybe you can get a taste of that authenticity again, just one more time.
Poet and counter-culture personality, you’re most famous for your narrative poem, “Howl (for Carl Solomon”, published in 1956; but your second major collection, including your epic poem “Kaddish” was published in 1961, and your collection, “Reality Sandwiches” as well as a letter collection with William S. Burroughs, The Yage Letters, are due out later this year. After Howl was published you were at the center of an obscenity trial in San Francisco, for the graphic depictions of homosexuality and homosexual sex in the poem. You prevailed. You’re here with your lover and life partner Peter Orlovsky, also a poet, whom you have been with for nearly a decade now. Elise’s suicide has hit you particularly hard; you were lovers years ago, and a fervent supporter of her work.
You’re the youngest of the Beat Inner Circle (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs) and a streetwise poet who writes with surprising whimsy and bonhomie. You spent your first 11 years in various foster homes in New York City, and your birth family had ties to mobsters and underground dealings in drugs and crime. Your father brought you home in 1941 with the hope that he would not be drafted; he was and you became homeless at the age of 12. You still attended Catholic parochial school, and stole your food “with permission” in The Village. At age 13, you were sent to The Tombs prison, incarcerated with adults, for selling a stolen toaster, and at age 18, after you broke into a tailor shop to get a suit to go on a date, you were arrested and sentenced to Clinton Prison, for the state’s most hardened criminals. There you began to write poetry and your first collection, Gasoline, was published by City Lights in 1958. You were brought to Washington DC and taken under the wing of Library of Congress poet Randall Jarrell, who recognized your talent. However, your buddy Jack Kerouac kept crashing at your space, getting drunk and carousing, and you lost your patronage (and your home) as a result. You’re recently married and have an infant daughter, and you’re living in Manhattan with your family, while remaining very connected to the underground scene. Your on-again, off-again family responsibilities causes some tension between you and your wife, Sally, and Ginsberg still harbors his lifelong crush on you. You and Ginsberg tour college campuses and give dual readings, and you’re involved with the folk music scene as well.
LUCIEN “LU” CARR
Brought up in a well-to-do family in St Louis, you became Ginsberg’s knowledgeable guide to the pleasures of Greenwich Village in New York. Known affectionately as “Lu,” you introduced Ginsberg to Jack Kerouac and to William Burroughs, whom he had known in St Louis. At this time (and for the past 5 years), you’re the sober one who holds down a job, cautions against excess, and keep hustlers and parasites at arm’s length. You’re an esteemed editor at United Press International (as Lou Carr) and you asked Ginsberg to remove the dedication to you from his poem, “Howl.” However, your underbelly remains, and you enjoy tempting others to take up the cause of extremism and art. Years ago, killed your former teacher, David Kammerer, stabbing him with your boy scout knife, tying his hands and feet and dumping him into the river near Riverside Park. Kerouac & Burroughs were arrested as material witnesses; Burroughs’ family posted his bail, while Kerouac only got out of jail when his then-girlfriend, Edie Parker’s, parents agreed to post bail if he married their daughter. You served your 2 years in prison, but many in the press were calling your crime an honor killing, since you stated that Kammerer, a homosexual, had been stalking you.
You’re a junkie and a connection to the seedy underside of Times Square. You don’t mind taking these wealthy kids (and their money) and introducing them (and their wallets) to your pals. You’re more than happy to move supply and meet demand, and to be invited to all these parties where you get free food, free drink, and new customers.
DIANE DI PRIMA
You’re an Italian-American poet and a writer who wrote from an early age and have been friends and correspondent with Ezra Pound for many years. Your first poetry collection, This Kind of Bird Flies Backward was published in 1958. You’re actively working on your memoir, which will be published in a few years (Memoirs of a Beatnik). You’re considering moving to San Francisco as you’re having some conflict with your co-editor of The Floating Bear, Leroi Jones, and you are thinking of abandoning the project. You’re talented and beautiful, and you are ready to be recognized as an artist and poet in your own right, not just a pretty woman for the men to “dig” or be a muse for.
You escaped from genteel and restrictive parents, from an uptown middle-class Jewish upbringing, into the whatever-turns-you-on world of the Beat Generation and Greenwich Village, where you imbibed the liberating life of the Beats. You were Jack Kerouac’s girlfriend for a turbulent 18 months surrounding the publication of On the Road in 1957, finally breaking up with him in 1958 after you tired of his drinking and carousing. Your novel, Come and Join the Dance was published in 1962 and is semi-autobiographical, telling the story of yourself and your best friend and roommate, Elise Cowan. Kerouac endorsed it, calling you “the best woman writer in America,” but it has gone unnoticed by critics and the public. It explores the repression (you) and exploration (Elise) of sexuality and being female in the scene and trying to stay true to artistic visions and exist in a world where women, like your friend Elise, are committed to mental institutions and commit suicide for straying too far out of the realm of acceptability and decorum. This has been a rough year for you. Elise committed suicide last year, and your husband, hard-drinking abstract expressionist painter James Johnson has just died in a motorcycle accident. You’re still heartbroken, rather angry, but unwilling to give up on your writing. You can’t help but feel heavily the double-standard in the scene.
WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS
You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, the heir to the Burroughs adding machine fortune. Your privilege allowed you to finance trips to Paris and Tangier for yourself and your buddies, but it also meant that you were always a little separated from them. In 1951, you killed your wife, Joan by shooting her in the head in an apparently drunken attempt at playing William Tell. Your book, Junkie, was published in 1953, Naked Lunch in 1959, and you’re in the middle of your Nova Trilogy, with the first two volumes — The Soft Machine (1961) and The Ticket that Exploded (1962) — out, and you’re working furiously on the third volume, which you’re calling Nova Express. The Yage Letters, a collection of correspondence and other writings between you and Allen Ginsberg has just been published by City Lights Books, run by your pal Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
You met Allen Ginsberg while working as a model for the painter Robert La Vigne in San Francisco in December 1954, and you’ve been together ever since, as partners and lovers. With Allen’s encouragement you began writing poetry, and your work has appeared in Yugen (run by Hettie & Leroi Jones) and Outsider, another journal printed in The Village. You appeared in Robert Frank’s 1959 short film, Pull My Daisy, based on a script by Kerouac, which also starred Ginsberg, Corso and other Beats. You’re currently working with Warhol on his film project, Couch.
You grew up on the streets of Denver in and out of prison and reform school, until you were befriended and mentored by a teacher who took an interest in smart boys (both intellectually and sexually). You met Kerouac and Ginsberg in 1945 at Columbia University and have traveled cross-country with Kerouac several times. You’re immortalized in On the Road as Dean Moriarity, and like Corso and Huncke, you serve as an inspiration for the Beat writers with your streetwise smarts, spontaneity, and lack of respect for laws and authority. You’ve recently returned briefly to New York City. Your marriage to Carolyn is on the rocks, as you haven’t been able to return to family life after serving your time in San Quentin for selling marijuana to an undercover agent. You’re a bisexual who digs experience, you’re an on-again, off-again lover of Ginsberg, and you’re ready to try the next new thing. You’re saddened by what has become of your friend Kerouac, who has grown bitter and quarrelsome, and you see this party as a place to recruit for the San Fran scene. Your letters and manner of speaking are the inspiration for Kerouac’s break from his Thomas Wolfe writing style, to the stream of consciousness “be-bop prose” seen in On the Road. Kerouac describes your communication style as: “in a rush of mad ecstasy, without self-consciousness or mental hesitation” or a kind of hypermanic rapid-fire conversation.
You’re here with Neal, your husband of 15 years. He doesn’t know it yet, but you’re about to divorce him. You’ve had enough of his irresponsible ways. You stood by him while he served two years in San Quentin, but he hasn’t returned to work since getting out three years ago, and you’re not too fond of his new friends. You’ve always been fine with your open marriage, and sharing Neal with others was never the problem — you liked your freedom too. But you have three children with Neal, Cathy, Jami, and John Allen (named for Jack and Allen). You’ve had a three-year affair with Kerouac (with Neal’s encouragement), and you’ve more than once thrown Neal out after he’s done things like spend your savings on a new Hudson or take off again with Jack to leave you behind with the kids. You’re immortalized as “Camille” in On the Road and “Evelyn Pomeray” in other Kerouac works such as Big Sur and Desolation Angels. You’re a portrait artist and a costume designer in your own right.
You’re the staff photographer for The Village Voice and you have an in to the New York art world, music world, and subterranean scene. You are anywhere anything is happening, which is why you are here tonight, to dig and document, to capture the essence of the energy, to participate and feel, but remain distant enough to keep your artistic eye and control of your camera.
You’re fairly new to the scene, having moved to NYC two years ago. You’re fresh from your performance at the March on Washington, and see yourself as a voice for protest and change. Your second studio album, “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” was released a few months ago and is taking off, especially your original song “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Some are calling you the voice of a generation. You hate that. Your girlfriend of the past two years, Suze Rotolo, returned from Italy earlier this year, and it’s definitely over between you. You got some great love and breakup songs out of that relationship. You met Joan Baez around the time of your album’s release, and she invited you on stage with her to sing duets at a few recent gigs, including this past summer’s Newport Folk Festival. She amazes you and the affection seems mutual.
When you were five years old you declared she would be a writer. At the age of 12, you sent some of your poems to T. S. Eliot, who replied with a two-page letter of encouragement. At age 17, you published your first poem. You’re from Britain, but have been in the US for over 15 years and are a naturalized citizen. Your poetry has been published in Yugen, the journal run by Hettie & Leroi Jones. You appeared in Kerouac’s Desolation Angels as Alise Nabokov.
You’re Leroi Jones’ wife and you’re struggling to find an identity. You’ve been outcast from your Jewish family and being the wife of a black artist during the Civil Rights Movement makes you a pariah in many circles, not fully belonging to white or black society. You work part-time at the Partisan Review, a small NY journal that receives covert funding from the Central Intelligence Agency as part of the agency’s efforts to shape intellectual opinion during the Cold War. Editor William Phillips has just negotiated moving the editorial offices of Partisan Review to the campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, which suits you fine. You’re the founder of Yugen, a literary journal you co-edit with Leroi, and you publish many of the new voices of this generation.
You joined a loose circle of Greenwich Village artists, musicians, and writers in 1957 and then married Hettie Cohen and began co-editing the avant-garde literary magazine Yugen with her in 1958. You also founded Totem Press, which has published 13 pamphlets, including works by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and others. Your first volume of poetry, Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note was published in 1961. Currently, you’re the co-editor, with Diane Di Prima, of The Floating Bear, a literary newsletter, and it appears that Totem Press may have published its last. Your increasing hostility toward and mistrust of white society has been seen in your two recent plays, The Slave and The Toilet, both written in last year. Your book, Blues People: Negro Music in White America, has just been published and you are feeling the hypocrisy of this counter-culture scene and being drawn more and more to the Civil Rights Movement and Black Muslims in particular.
You’re a new-to-the-scene guitarist and songwriter. You haven’t quite found your groove yet, but you’re performing and meeting others, and soon you’re going to have the band that will become The Velvet Underground. At this point, that title is a just-published salacious paperback about sex fetishes and the underground sex scene or “paraphilia” by journalist Michael Leigh.
Writer, poet, art critic, and assistant curator of painting and sculpture exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, you’re much more stable and well-connected than some of the folks in the scene. Known for your extreme sociability, passion, and warmth, you have hundreds of friends and lovers. In 1959, you wrote a mock manifesto (originally published in Yugen in 1961) called Personism: A Manifesto, in which you explain your position on formal structure: “I don’t … like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve.” You’re actively working on your poetry collection that’s been accepted by City Lights Books (Lunch Poems will appear in 1964).
JANET HOFFMAN aka VIVA
Tonight you’re just meeting Andy Warhol for the first time. You’re a rebellious daughter of a strict Catholic family. Warhol, who is looking to outfox the censors who would find “nudie” films obscene unless they had “redeeming social value” feels that he could use you as a woman who “could look beautiful, take off her clothes, step into a bathtub, and talk as intellectually as [you] did”. Later you’ll decide to go for it, and you’ll go fully nude and have on-screen sex in several Warhol films a few years later, but for now you want him to pay for your room at the Chelsea Hotel and you’re not too polite to ask (or do whatever it takes to make that happen).
You’re a trans actress who is a favorite of Warhol’s for your beauty, charm, grace, and on-screen presence. You’re slated to star in two of Warhol’s upcoming films, Flesh, and Women in Revolt. You’re also a muse for Lou Reed and his pals; their band is rather the House Band for the Factory, and you dig their sound and style.
ROTTEN RITA / KENNETH RAPP
Referred to as “The Mayor” at the Factory, you’re an influential member of the Factory cohorts, always connecting everyone with everyone else and playing artistic and sexual matchmaker. You were born as Kenneth Rapp and work a day job at a fabric store as Kenneth. You’re an opera aficionado and a speed-freak, and you know where to get the best stuff. Although, not an artist yourself, you are a beloved queen and you encourage those around you to pursue their creative endeavors. You’re the muse of multiple songs written by Lou Reed, and your audacious behavior, freedom of expression, and community organizing make you beloved by nearly all. You’re known as “The Mayor” because, according to Warhol, you “screw everybody in town”.
Born Isabelle Collin Dufresne, you’re an artist and author, and you serve as a muse to both Salvador Dalí and Warhol. Earlier this year, Dalí introduced you to Warhol, who suggested you adopt the stage name Ultra Violet, since your hair is often dyed a purple shade. You’re a regular at the Factory now, and working on avant-garde and experimental cinema with Warhol, Frank, and others in the scene.
You’ve finally got a studio space that isn’t your apartment, and you’ve started your Factory from atop a hook and ladder fire company in Manhattan. You’ve started taking speed (Obetrol) to lose weight after seeing a picture of yourself in a magazine, and you’re taking barbituates (Seconal) to counteract the speed and allow you to sleep. You’re having a good year: you’ve painted your (in)famous paintings of Electric Chair, Mona Lisa, Tunafish Disasters, and Race Riots and you’ve had an art show at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art. You’re connected to the underground dance scene, your photobooth photos have appeared a few months ago in Harper’s Bazaar. You just finished your “Silver Liz” collection of prints of Elizabeth Taylor. You’ve just bought your first movie camera (a 16 mm Bolex) and recorded your first short film, Sleep. You’ve started working on your next movie, Kiss. You’re here because this is a happening, and there will be dance, poetry, music, philosophy, and new projects planned.
You’ve just moved to New York City and tonight is the first time you will meet Andy Warhol. He’ll be enthralled with you, and the feeling is mutual. You’re an aspiring model, and maybe you can be convinced to act as well. You have an addictive personality and seem to take things a bit too far with alcohol and drugs, trying most anything once, and then twice, and then … You burn bright, captivate a room, and live ferociously.
You’re finally really making it as an artist now. Your first solo show at the Museum of Modern Art was a couple years ago, and the museum actually bought four of your pieces. You’ve just founded the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts with composer John Cage and artist Elaine de Kooning with the goal of sponsoring and raising funds in the performance field. Your art is being appreciated as a bridge between abstract expressionism, Neo-Dadaism, and the new kid on the block: Pop Art, which is about to take off in its popularity as you showcase familiar popular symbols to demonstrate how we make meaning. Your art contains multiple layers and media, and you view the world as complex and beautiful. You’re connected to the “high art” world but drawn to the populism and creativity of The Village and its denizens.
You’re a composer and music theorist known for your non-standard use of musical instruments and your challenge to assumed definitions of musicianship and musical experience. You’re already a well-known and controversial figure due to your 1952 piece, 4’33”, in which musicians assemble on stage and do not play for the duration indicated in the title. It’s not silence, of course, but the environmental sounds made during that time that are being heard, and your avant-garde idea is often used as an example in discussions of both musicology and the broader aesthetics of art and performance. You’re here with your life-partner, choreographer Merce Cunningham, with whom you frequently collaborate for his dance theatre, where Robert Rauschenberg is also the resident artist. You and your student Allen Kaprow pioneered the participatory art form of the Happening, a multi-disciplinary, semi-improvised work co-created by those in attendance, usually around a theme. Tonight’s Happening has drawn you, as it’s a multi-generational, multi-genre group and you’re interested in where it goes.
You’re the founder and director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and this year you’ve joined with your partner, John Cage to create the Walker Art Center’s first performance. One of your techniques is to use the I Ching to determine the sequence of your dance steps and dancers often are not informed of the order until the night of the performance. You and Cage used stochastic procedures to generate material and you do not feel that music and dance need to be intentionally coordinated with each other. You value indeterminacy as a design principle and do not believe that choreography needs to be in a specific or linear order and that the various interpretations by randomizing the steps create a new kind of spontaneous performance that more closely approximates life. Sometimes you give your dancers a series of moves that they should incorporate somewhere into their freeform dance, in whatever order they please and with improvised steps in between. You also redesigned how the stage is used in performance, moving away from a “front and center” and single perspective orientation to the audience. You’re here with Cage for this happening, and you hope someone will dance.
You embraced a bohemian lifestyle shortly after earning your university degree and contracting osteomyelitis which requires that you use a cane. You’re a long-time contributor to publications such as Partisan Review, The New Masses, Poetry and Art Front, which you briefly edited. You coined the term Action Painting a decade ago, to describe the style of works of painters such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Jasper Johns. You stressed the way that they approached their work, the act of creating, not just the creation itself, which is a reflection and artifact of the creation. You believe that their works are an authentic expression of individuality and humanity. You’ve just begun a visiting professorship of art history at Princeton for this school year and you write for The New Yorker. You’re here because the movements are shifting and you’re interested in what’s coming next. You want to be the one to write about it.
WILLEM de KOONING
You’re a bit of an oddball at this gathering, older than most in attendance, but well-connected nonetheless. Your art is a fusion of cubism, surrealism and expressionism, and you’re one of the most well-known members of the “action painters” or abstract expressionists. Unlike others in your art movement, you never abandoned the human form as a subject. You are known for painting the female form, and have an already well-known series of paintings called Woman, which were highly controversial and although touted by the two top NY art critics, Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg, were condemned by many as being violent and degrading towards women. To members of the Pop Art movement, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, you represent everything they want to break away from, a macho movement full of grand heroics, high-brow separatism, and pandering to critics. In 1953, Rauschenberg purchased (or you gave him) one of your drawings, which he then erased and exhibited as his own artwork. It speaks to the simultaneous creation and destructive impulses in art, a vision you shared and was even reminiscent of your own creative process. You have just become a US citizen a little over a year ago (you came to the US in 1926 as a stowaway), and you have just moved from Broadway to a small house in East Hampton, where you have a studio. Your tumultuous relationship with your wife, Elaine, is currently off, but it’s good to see her again while she is in town.
ELAINE de KOONING
You’re an Abstract Expressionist and Figurative Expressionist painter and an editorial associate for Art News magazine. You’ve been married to Willem for 20 years now, though you’ve been separated for the past 6 years while you both struggle with alcoholism. Your marriage has always been an open one, and you aren’t above having affairs with those who can advance Willem’s career, such as Harold Rosenberg. You’re very serious about your own work, but you’re well aware that it is often overshadowed by your husband’s fame. Women were often marginalized in the Abstract Expressionist and Beat Generation movements, functioning as objects and accessories to confirm the masculinity of their male counterparts. In protest of this, you sign your artwork with your initials rather than your full name, both to avoid your paintings being labeled “feminine” and so as not to be confused with your husband. You have a solo exhibition going on right now at the Graham Gallery, which you are in town to open. You’ll be returning to your teaching position at UC Davis after. It’s the first time you’ve seen your husband in a while. You both still care deeply about each other but the tension of the past is real.
You have three gold records already, and you’ve been on the cover of Time Magazine. You’re the “Queen of Folk” and a few months ago you met Bob Dylan, and began bringing him on stage with you to sing duets. This worked well at the Newport Folk Festival in July, and the two of you are now smitten with each other. Your endorsement and exposure are helping Bob launch his own career, though his Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released a few months ago, with “Blowin’ in the Wind” taking off as a song of the generation. While you do write your own songs, you’re most known for your voice and how you interpret songs in new ways. Dylan being a songwriter intrigues you and riff well off each other.
DAVE VON RONK
A native New Yorker and known in The Village as “The Mayor of MacDougal Street,” you are an amalgam of your own music style that combines jazz, blues, and folk and you’re among the first to adapt traditional jazz and ragtime to the solo acoustic guitar. You began your music career playing tenor banjo with traditional jazz bands around New York, then became enamored with the blues style of finger-picking, which you transliterated into your own folk-blues style on the acoustic guitar. You occasionally write your own songs but spend much of your time arranging the work of earlier artists and your folk revival peers. To Bob Dylan, you’re a guru. To everyone else, you’re an avuncular figure who believes in art and artists to express and change the world. Your album, “In the Tradition” has just been published, which showcases your dichotomous personality and career. The album is evenly split between tracks where you are backed by a Dixieland jazz-style combo and by your more customary acoustic folk-blues solo guitar.
In 1955, you and three friends founded The Village Voice, a newspaper dedicated to documenting and promoting those stories, artists, and subcultures that were excluded from the mainstream. Your essay on the American Hipster, or “White Negro” as you called them, was published in 1957 to acclaim and criticism. You’re instrumental in developing the philosophy of the generational, literary, and artistic movement you see around you, coining the terms “hip” and “American Existentialism” and showcasing the figure of the Hipster as one who stands in opposition of forces that seek debilitating conformity in American society. You haven’t published a book since 1955, but you’re working on your fourth novel, An American Dream, which you intend to serialize in Esquire magazine, beginning in a few months. You continue as a silent partner and investor in The Village Voice, occasionally writing columns. You attended the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 1960 and are planning to attend again in 1964. You’re mesmerized with John F. Kennedy, whom you call an existential hero. You’re one of the most stable and well-connected folks gathered here, and you’re fascinated with how the Hipster movement is beginning to change, with more focus on visual arts and film and the uptick in activism that you, for one, are happy to see.
You’re a columnist for The Village Voice, capturing Village nightlife in reviews for your weekly “Riffs” column. You’re also the editor for ABC-TV Hootenanny, a magazine featuring the folk musicians who appeared on the television series Hootenanny. Your Village Voice review of Bob Dylan’s second and breakout album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, published this year, has brought you some notoriety, and you take seriously your calling to find, promote, and share the songs, songwriters, and performers who are changing the face of American music. You’re much more into the folk scene with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez than you are the avant-garde scene represented here by John Cage, but you’re mostly about breaking down the walls constraining expression and you are excited about new collaborations between artists who have something to say. You’re here to cover the event, but also to participate. Often you’re in the audience, while tonight everyone is a performer in some way.
ROBERT OLIVO aka “ONDINE”
You’re a speed-freak from Queens and a regular at the San Remo Cafe. You met Andy Warhol in late 1961 at an orgy, and had him thrown out because he wouldn’t participate. You didn’t know then that Warhol is mainly a voyeur, but now that Andy is making films, you’re more friendly to him. You’ve signed on to appear in Couch, which is in its early stages at this time. You’re flamboyant and audacious and bring a party wherever you go, but sometimes your drug-taking and destruction is a bit too much for everyone.
JANE HOLZER aka “BABY JANE”
The daughter of a wealthy real estate investor, you are high-society to the bone, and Andy Warhol has noticed. It’s why you’re here. He’s courting you for his projects. You’ve been modeling in England and Paris since you were a teenager, and you find this whole life boring. Making avant-garde and edgy films and art with Andy is far more interesting. You have an infectious enthusiasm and gorgeous hair. Your spark shines through on the screen and on the page, and people are drawn to you. You’re friends with Edie Sedgwick and here on the scene for the first time.
You’re a photographer best known for your collection, The Americans, published in the US in 1959, including an introduction written by Jack Kerouac. You’re also the producer of the 1959 film, Pull My Daisy, written and narrated by Kerouac and starring Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, and others from the Beat circle. The film conveyed the quality of having been thrown together or even improvised, a central tenet of the Beat philosophy, and was praised as an improvisational masterpiece. You’re fresh from your photography show at MoMA in New York in 1962. You’re one of the main visual artists to document the Beat subculture, which matches with your interest in documenting the tensions between the optimism of the 1950s and the realities of class and racial differences. You show this in your photography by using unusual focus, low lighting, and cropping that deviates from accepted photographic techniques of the time, which concentrate on showing the gloss of American culture and wealth. These techniques earned you derision from “high culture” artists and photographers, and admiration of the underground scene.
You’re a painter and sculptor known for your “Combines” of the previous decade, in which you combine non-traditional materials and objects including photography, printmaking, papermaking, and performance. You and Jasper Johns tend to exemplify”Neo-Dadaism,” and you state that your passion is to work “in the gap between art and life.” Because you and Johns question the distinction between art objects and everyday objects, you are inspirational to Andy Warhol and the Pop Art movement, who are also experimenting with photographs transferred to canvas and silkscreening — something previously only used in commercial applications. You famously acquired a Willem de Kooning drawing, erased it, and then exhibited it as your own work, and submitted a telegram stating “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so” as your portrait entry for a show at Clert’s gallery. Your silk-screened collage pieces “Retroactive 1” and “Estate” are now on exhibition. You combine newspaper photographs, art reproductions, and your own snapshots to the canvas, making no separation between the public and private, the banal and personal, the couture and the mass. You also do performance art and are part of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (with John Cage and others). You’re all about flouting rules and establishing freedoms and making the art world a more open place. You consider yourself a work-in-progress and you encourage anyone and everyone to make art.
You’re back in New York City for a fresh start after a spate of arrests in the past few years, most recently in April in West Hollywood for using the word schmuck, a Yiddish insult for penis. Most of your arrests are for obscenity; you’re fond of using vulgar language and talking about sex in your performances as you try to break down prudish barriers and speak up about discrimination in your signature stream-of-consciousness, spontaneous, free association style. You consider yourself an oral jazzman, and in that way are akin to Jack Kerouac and his bebop prose, and other practitioners of automatic writing. You have four albums of original material available on Berkeley-based Fantasy Records, with rants, comic routines, and satirical interviews on the themes that make up your art: jazz, moral philosophy, politics, patriotism, religion, law, race, abortion, drugs, the Ku Klux Klan, and Jewishness, and you performed in Carnegie Hall in 1961, but it’s been a rough couple of years. Some friends, Howard and Elly Solomon are working to open a cafe on Bleecker Street in the Village, Cafe Au Go Go, and you have the support of your pals, Norman Mailer, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, and others in the scene.