Best known for his Pop Art silkscreened work, Andy Warhol was a key connector figure who circulated not only through uptown art circles, but also within the underground film, poetry, theater, and music scenes.
The Living Theatre’s Monday Night Series, held during the acting company’s night off, hosted many kinds of artists: musicians John Herbert McDowell and Bob Dylan, painters Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, poets Diane di Prima and Frank O’Hara, dancers James Waring and Freddie Herko. In his memoir Fug You, Ed Sanders recalled that the Living Theatre “was an important place in my personal world. I had heard historic poetry readings there; I had first seen Bob Dylan perform as part of the General Strike for Peace in February ’62 . . . [and] I had typed the stencils for the recent issue of Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts.” It was this latter endeavor—his infamous mimeographed poetry zine, Fuck You—that established Sanders as a ubiquitous downtown presence. When the Living Theatre staged Paul Goodman’s The Cave, the group was fully prepared to go to jail. One scene contained three uses of the word fuck—something that was unheard-of—but these ahead-of-their-time punks staged it anyway.
From Chapter 2 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Andy Warhol circulated among the artists, poets, theater people, and gay crowds that populated Greenwich Village bars such as Lenny’s Hideaway, the San Remo, and the White Horse—which were central nodes in social networks that connected artists who worked in different mediums. Playwright Robert Heide first encountered Warhol around 1960 at a place named Aldo’s on Bleecker Street, a relatively upscale gay restaurant with white table cloths. “That’s where I met Andy,” Heide said, “but I didn’t really connect with Andy until a little later, though I would see Andy now and then in different situations.” In the late 1950s, Heide began coming to the Village from his parents’ house in New Jersey, hanging out in the Gaslight on MacDougal Street and other coffeehouses. Before it became known for hosting Bob Dylan performances in the early 1960s, the Gaslight was a haven for Beat writers. “One night there was Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Jack Micheline, Ted Joans, Taylor Mead—all these people,” he recalled. “So I was the middle of this crazy scene.” Heide permanently settled in Greenwich Village, and by 1965 he began working with Warhol on screenplays for some of his early films.
From Chapter 3 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Andy Warhol’s connection to the underground poetry world intensified when Gerard Malanga, a poet who also had a background in commercial printing, became his primary printing assistant in the summer of 1963. The two began working together in an uptown studio near Warhol’s brownstone home until the artist needed a larger studio, leading to his acquisition of a space in a midtown industrial building that became the Factory. By this point, Warhol had shifted from creating paintings with brushes—as he did with his famous Campbell’s soup can series—to his mass production–inspired silkscreened prints. By many accounts, Warhol was inspired by the amateur techniques used to make the experimental films, mimeographed poetry zines, and Off-Off-Broadway theatrical productions he was taking in. He then applied this DIY approach to his own messily printed silkscreens. “The spirit of the aleatory, that is, of John Cage’s chance operations, which Cage featured in his compositions, came into play in these early silkscreens, when talent overwhelmed technique,” recalled Ed Sanders. “I was friends at the time with Warhol’s assistant, poet Gerard Malanga, who told me about some of the casual and accidental silkscreen results.”
Growing up during the Depression in a working-class immigrant family near Pittsburgh, Andy Warhol spent much of his early life on the outside looking in. The seductive world of consumer goods remained out of his reach as a child, and as an adult he found himself shut out of the fine art world because of his advertising background. Andy’s first published drawing was, appropriately enough, an image of five shoes going up a “ladder of success,” published in the summer 1949 issue of Glamour. By the 1950s, Warhol had established himself as a successful commercial illustrator—a profession that clashed with prevailing notions of what it meant to be a “real” artist. Abstract Expressionism, which was exemplified by hard-drinking macho painters like Jackson Pollock, dominated America’s postwar painting world. Its frenetic, expressive style was celebrated by American and European critics as the authentic, spontaneous eruption of the human spirit—an antidote to the deadening standardization of popular culture that Andy grew up with and admired. If Pollack’s drip paintings communicated a wild emotional intensity, Warhol’s silkscreened prints were deliberately flat and deadpan, the antithesis of the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic.
Bibbe Hansen found a home at the Factory, along with two of her favorite Lower East Side neighbors. “There was nobody in the world who was ever handsomer to my way of thinking than Freddie Herko,” she said. “Billy Name did lights at Judson Church, but he was also this guy who lived a block and a half away, and Freddie was sometimes there. And at the same time, my mother’s an amphetamine addict, and she’s running with the whole A-Head scene on the Lower East Side, which is a particularly demented group of folks.” The Factory began as a private world occupied mostly by Name, Gerard Malanga, and Andy Warhol—a place to get work done, an artistic factory with a seemingly passive Warhol at the center. “I think Andy was very into a kind of dumb Marilyn Monroe thing,” Robert Heide observed. “He wore the wig, and it was almost like the wig is holding in his brain somehow. Sometimes you’d see the little black wire—he didn’t bother to cover it up too much.”
Through these social scenes, Playwright Robert Heide got to know some Andy Warhol associates, like Billy Name (born William Linich). “I immediately was attracted to Billy,” Heide said. “He had a terrific aura, and was very good-looking, wearing tight black dungarees and a white shirt. So we carried on.” Billy ended up living at Warhol’s Factory studio, working as its unofficial custodian when it opened in 1964 until the end of the decade. Before meeting Warhol, he was already embedded in a variety of downtown scenes: experimental dance, Off-Off-Broadway, and the subterranean world of the Mole People, a group of gay speed fiends also known as A-heads (A as in amphetamine). Name learned lighting design in underground theater and apprenticed under Nick Cernovich, who was part of the Black Mountain College group that also included John Cage (dozens of experimental artists passed through that influential North Carolina school). Billy lit shows at Judson Church and the Living Theatre, as well as the New York Poets Theatre, and his Lower East Side apartment was filled with shiny aluminum foil and other metallic surfaces that he carefully lit to create a degenerate space-age look. The interior of his apartment can be seen in Warhol’s 1963 silent film series, Haircut, which features Billy giving poet John Daley a haircut as James Waring and Freddie Herko watched. “Andy didn’t just see a guy’s place and think, ‘That’s really cool—he’s got foil all over the place,’ ” Name recalled. “He saw that I had done an installation.” Warhol asked his new employee to decorate the studio, and during the first three months of 1964 Name transformed a rather dour workspace into the embodiment of a “living art form” by covering its walls and ceiling in foil, bits of broken glass, and silver Krylon spray paint.
Billy Name’s mentor Nick Cernovich worked at the time in a Zen bookstore, another big influence. Buddhism was all the rage among downtown artists such as Ray Johnson, and Warhol surely absorbed Zen’s penchant for repetition in his own silkscreen prints. “You can’t really understand Andy Warhol or any of these people—John Cage or any of them—without understanding Zen,” said Bibbe Hansen. “All these people who were interconnected were going to Zen classes, and even people who weren’t regularly practicing, like my dad, Al Hansen, would drop in once in a while.” Zen practices informed John Cage’s Untitled Event, a proto-Happening produced in the summer of 1952 at Black Mountain College. Standing on a stepladder and wearing a suit and tie, Cage read passages on “the relation of music to Zen Buddhism” as David Tudor played a “treated” piano and Merce Cunningham danced through the aisles. The space was also decorated with Robert Rauschenberg’s provocative White Paintings (in a Zen-like gesture, the canvases were completely painted white). “Rather than being predetermined,” art historian Judith F. Rodenbeck wrote, “the interactions of any given set of actions with any other was the result of aleatory juxtaposition of performances as perceived by an audience at a particular moment, creating a temporal collision. Thus anything that happened, according to Cage, ‘happened in the observer himself.’” By the late 1950s, Cage and his partner Cunningham would incorporate these strategies while working in their studio in the Living Theatre building.
The Factory was eventually populated by Billy Name’s speed-freak friends, such as Ondine (born Robert Olivo) and Herko, and then the uptown’s upper classes came down to slum there. Into this swinging scene stepped Baby Jane Holzer—Andy Warhol’s first “girl of the year”—followed in 1965 by Edie Sedgwick, who was virtually inseparable from Warhol until early 1966. They looked like androgynous doppelgängers, especially after she dyed her hair silver. “I always wanted to do a movie of a whole day in Edie’s life,” Warhol later said, anticipating the reality television aesthetic. “What I liked was chunks of time all together, every real moment.” Sedgwick was the star of Chelsea Girls and appeared in other Warhol films—Poor Little Rich Girl, Restaurant, Face, Afternoon, Kitchen, Beauty No. 2, and Lupe—before meeting a tragic end. “Edie took a lot of drugs,” said Bibbe Hansen, who costarred with Sedgwick in the feature-length Warhol film Prison. “Andy didn’t give them to her. She would have done drugs wherever. I gave her drugs. I had drugs. My mother’s boyfriend robbed a pharmacy, and I had a giant jar of speed and I was dealing all over the place. She knew Andy Warhol for a little over a year, and it was one of the most magical times of her life, and it made her immortal, it captured her.”
As was often the case throughout his career, Andy Warhol was more a popularizer than a pioneer. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, Jasper Johns and his boyfriend Robert Rauschenberg were already pushing back on the art world’s informal ban on real-world objects by painting familiar things like flags, targets, and maps. They made their work under the influence of their friend John Cage, who encouraged others to incorporate chance methods and mundane materials from mass culture into their work. During this time, Sally Banes noted, artists turned their attention to everyday life: “It had become a symbol of egalitarianism, and it was the standard stuff of avant-garde artworks and performances.” By 1962, the term Pop Art was being applied to work produced by the likes of Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, and its poster man-child, Warhol. Pop Art’s buzzy, glowing sheen fit the cultural mood of the day, when the consumer economy exploded with color and abundance. This public interest intensified after Warhol’s first solo show at the Stable Gallery in November 1962, which featured his silkscreened Marilyn Monroe portraits, Coca-Cola bottles, and other works that became iconic. Pop Art ran counter to the serious sensibilities of Ab-Ex painters, who treated commercial culture with contempt and thought Warhol’s work was vapid and commercial (he was happy to be guilty as charged). For some of the chest-beating, chin-massaging painters whose work was quickly being supplanted by Pop Art’s new guard, Warhol’s persona was too fey to be taken seriously. (This was another criticism Warhol never bothered to counter.)
Before becoming a Factory regular, Taylor Mead was already a star of underground film after his appearance in The Flower Thief, a 1960 film by Ron Rice. The actor, activist, and scenester Jim Fouratt fondly remembered Mead as an early performance artist whose head-scratching routines could be seen in a variety of downtown venues. During one show, he sat on a swing while wearing red long johns attached to several Campbell’s soup cans. “He was doing this sort of burlesque,” Fouratt said, “throwing the cans to the ground, while swinging.” Taylor also read poems at the San Remo with lines like, “There’s a lesbian in the harbor that has been carrying a torch for someone for a hundred years” and “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. And let me blow them.” Mead was typical of the people who surrounded Warhol, because he was given an inheritance to keep him away from his hometown. The money gave Taylor the kind of privilege that Edie Sedgwick also enjoyed—that is, as Fouratt noted, “until Edie ran out of money, because Andy always made her pick up the check. And she always graciously picked up the check.” Money was a constant source of tension at the Factory, causing Mead and many others to eventually fall out with Warhol.
Along with Lenny’s Hideaway on West Tenth Street and Seventh Avenue, the San Remo was another regular stop on the downtown circuit—a traditional village tavern with pressed-tin ceilings and wooden walls that was further south, on MacDougal Street and Bleecker. There, playwrights Harry Koutoukas and Tom Eyen rubbed shoulders with eccentric characters like Ian Orlando MacBeth, who spoke in iambic pentameter, dressed in Shakespearean garb, and sometimes wore a live parrot on his shoulder. (He also dyed his beard pink.) MacBeth and others favored a drink called the Clinker, a powerful apricot brandy concoction served in a brass cup. “People would wind up on the floor drinking these things,” Robert Heide recalled. “They were really powerful.” Koutoukas appropriated MacBeth’s affectation and began wearing a stuffed parrot on his own shoulder. The bird perched on his black cape was as much tongue in cheek as it was a genuine attempt to cultivate himself as a memorable Village character. “Harry created this persona with his colorful clothing and dramatic flourishes,” Heide recalled, “and Andy Warhol as well. Andy created a whole persona that was kind of the opposite of Harry’s: affectless.” Whereas Koutoukas dramatically waltzed into the San Remo—with a cigarette held high, wearing his cape and stuffed parrot—Warhol was more likely to be barely seen and not heard, quietly sitting at a table, observing.
Patti Smith was another New Jersey native who grew up on rock ’n’ roll. The flamboyantly queer rhythm and blues pioneer Little Richard first rocked her world, introducing the young tomboy to androgyny. Later, in Patti’s teen years, Factory superstar Edie Sedgwick made a similar impression with her boylike stick figure. Recalling the time she first saw Sedgwick in Vogue magazine during the mid-1960s, Smith described her as looking like a thin man in black leotards. “That’s it. It represented everything to me,” she recalled, “radiating intelligence, speed, being connected with the moment.” Smith saw Sedgwick in person during the fall of 1965, when she accompanied Andy Warhol to the opening of his first retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. “Edie Sedgwick with the blonde hair and dark eyebrows,” Patti recalled, “she didn’t mess around. She was really something.”
From Chapter 4 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Ed Sanders was a new father who needed a steady stream of income—publishing a mimeo literary magazine and fronting the Fugs certainly didn’t pay the bills—and in 1964 he opened the Peace Eye Bookstore on 383 East Tenth Street. It served the East Village in much the same way Paperbook Gallery and Eighth Street Bookshop did Greenwich Village. By this point Sanders was friends with Andy Warhol, who was working on a popular new flower print series that anticipated the “flower power movement three years ahead of its time,” as the Peace Eye proprietor recalled. After Warhol agreed to print flower banners for the grand opening of his store, Sanders bought some colored cloths from one of the many fabric vendors on Orchard Street and carried them to the Factory. Warhol silkscreened red, yellow, and blue banners for the bookstore’s walls—though Sanders certainly didn’t treat them as precious works of art made by a famous artist. He used one banner as a rain cape, which he accidentally left at a deli, and ripped apart another onstage during a frenzied performance with the Fugs. The store’s grand opening attracted Time magazine reporters and even middlebrow celebrity author James Michener, who was dropped off in a limousine in his evening attire. While the occasional famous figure might drop by, Poet Andrei Codrescu described Peace Eye as a neighborhood bookstore for poets, activists, street riffraff, travelers, visionaries, and crazies. “It was a scene,” he said, “because Sanders’s mimeograph machine was right in the middle of the store, and Abbie Hoffman hung out there a lot. It was a hanging-out place for various activists of the age.”
From Chapter 5 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Mimeo publications circulated among an interconnected group of artists working in a variety of mediums. The mailing list for Diane di Prima and LeRoi Jones’s semi-monthly newsletter The Floating Bear was a who’s who of the underground poetry, film, visual art, and Off-Off-Broadway worlds, which facilitated artistic and personal exchanges between these audiences on the page as well as in person. The only way to get a copy of their stapled poetry zine was to know someone who worked on it, and Andy Warhol’s name was likely added to the mailing list through his association with printing assistant and poet Gerard Malanga. Soon after the artist received an issue of The Floating Bear that described one of the “haircut parties” held in Billy Linich’s glimmering Lower East Side apartment, Andy began shooting his Haircut movies. Linich performed typing and collating tasks for The Floating Bear until he had a falling-out with di Prima, so he shifted allegiances to Andy Warhol’s Factory scene and became known as Billy Name. Ted Berrigan got to know Ed Sanders through these mimeo zines, which anticipated the kinds of back and forth that occur on today’s social media platforms. They often contained gossip and announcements about what was going on downtown, which was another way Warhol and others kept their ear to the ground. They also shared images via mimeo publications, like the time Warhol provided Sanders with the cover for an issue of Fuck You (a black-and-white frame from his 1964 movie Couch). Poet Ted Berrigan recalled, “There got to be groups, because there were a lot of people . . . because we had a magazine—that’s how you get a group, I think, you start a magazine.” The zines were distributed on the streets, via mail, and in select bookstores that served as important hubs in the downtown’s social networks.
Al Hansen’s long, strange trip began when he served as a GI in post–World War II Germany, where he impulsively pushed a piano off the edge of a bombed-out building. He always considered that his first performance piece, and even reprised it as the Yoko Ono Piano Drop during his involvement in the Fluxus art movement, when he appeared at the Judson Gallery and many other downtown spaces. (Fluxus artists often named pieces after their friends, in a sort of intertextual social networking game.) “Al Hansen was one of these crazy figures that marries all of these scenes together,” said his daughter, Bibbe Hansen. “He’s the connect-the-dots guy between the post–World War II beatnik to neo-Dada to Pop Art and Fluxus and Happenings and performance art and Intermedia.” He was a roommate of Beat poet Gregory Corso, and when Bibbe was a young teen she lived in a Lower East Side apartment with Janet Kerouac, daughter of Jack Kerouac. Bibbe also tagged along with her father to see underground film screenings at Jonas Mekas’s loft that were attended by Andy Warhol, with whom she would later collaborate on a couple of films (she also appeared in some of Jonas Mekas’s films).
From Chapter 9 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore