Daughter of artist Al Hansen, Bibbe Hansen was a regular at the Factory in the mid-1960s—where she co-starred with Edie Sedgwick in the 1965 Warhol film Prison and also appeared onstage as a go-go dancer at an early Velvet Underground show.
Greenwich Village was filled with eccentrics and bohemians, but it was also where many families and kids resided, such as Lisa Jane Persky. “This place had a certain history in it,” she said. “It called to people who wanted to feel comfortable being different.” When Persky’s parents first moved to the Village in 1962, they stayed in a nearby apartment building off Sheridan Square. One of the first sights she saw while looking outside her bedroom window was Bob Dylan, who was sporting the same coat he wore on his first album cover. Bibbe Hansen was another kid who grew up in the Village—living at 609 East Sixth Street, between Avenues C and D, and on Great Jones Street. Her junior high school was in Greenwich Village, where her teachers imbued students with a utopian outlook. “One of the things to really get about these times is how incredibly optimistic we were, how incredibly blessed we felt,” Hansen recalled. “We conquered childhood diseases and diphtheria and smallpox and polio, and we were conquering the civil rights injustices.” It felt like so many evils were being eradicated, and they were inheriting a new world in which the seeds of social justice were finally bearing fruit. When Persky attended P.S. 41, near the progressive New School for Social Research, she recalled, “It was hammered into us that we were in a melting pot. So I thought by the time I’m an adult, there will be so much interracial marriage that we’d all just be one color.” It was common to see interracial couples in the neighborhood, along with other sights that would have scandalized people in other parts of the country.
From Chapter 1 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
The peace movement thrived in the Village, and Bibbe Hansen’s school chums were the son and daughter of poet and activist Grace Paley. One day in 1963, she tagged along with them to an early protest against the Vietnam War while conservative Italian Americans threw tomatoes and shouted epithets at them. (As the 1960s wore on, New York City became a hotbed of antiwar activism.) The poet and activist Ed Sanders also joined Paley when they renovated a storefront on West Third Street, between Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue, which became the Greenwich Village Peace Center. “Meeting Grace Paley and Bob Nichols was a big inspiration,” recalled Ed Sanders, who had recently relocated from his Missouri hometown before gaining notoriety as the frontman of the Fugs and the publisher of Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts.
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.”
From Chapter 3 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
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.”
When Beatlemania shook the city in 1964, its reverberations could be felt deep in the downtown underground. “Even those of us on the Lower East Side without a television set had to notice that something called the Beatles had come to town,” Ed Sanders recalled. “It was the youth explosion,” Bibbe Hansen said. “So whatever vestiges of the old, we were gonna just blow right away because there were just too many of us, and we were all fairly enlightened. With the Beatles and all these things, these cultural explosions absolutely captivated the world and put my generation at the forefront.” The Beatles even inspired her to form a short-lived girl group, the Whippets—with Janet Kerouac (Jack Kerouac’s daughter) and another friend, Charlotte Rosenthal—which released one single. As with many boys their age, future Ramones frontman Joey Ramone (born Jeffrey Hyman) and his little brother Mickey Leigh (Mitchel Lee Hyman) wanted to join a band when Beatlemania erupted in the mid-1960s. “By the time I was twelve,” Leigh said, “I had a little guitar and a little amp and a microphone that I’d take around to like kids’ birthday parties—playing Beatles songs and Dave Clark Five with friends.” He continued to play in bands around Forest Hills, Queens, where he met two older teens who, with his older brother, later cofounded the Ramones. Before John Cummings and Tommy Erdelyi played guitar and drums as Johnny Ramone and Tommy Ramone, they performed in a 1960s garage band called the Tangerine Puppets. “Tommy was really nice, really intelligent. We were friends ever since that time,” Leigh said. “John never really changed. Even back then, people said, ‘Watch out for that guy. He gets a little nasty sometimes.’ He was just kind of grouchy and barking to the rest of the other guys. But he was cool.”
From Chapter 4 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
When the Holy Modal Rounders’ Peter Stampfel arrived on the Lower East Side in 1959, the midwesterner was a bit leery of living in a slum. Is it dangerous? he wondered. Is there trouble? Yes, it could be a bit sketchy, but this was counterbalanced by the incredibly cheap rents. Bibbe Hansen—who lived at 609 East Sixth Street, between Avenues C and D—recalled that it was an extremely poor neighborhood. “It was more about poverty than anything else,” she said. “There were artists living around where I was living, but mostly because we were poor. There are so many important people that were part of the everyday landscape that are now these monumental, awesome giants of alternative culture and experimental art.” Agosto Machado had always found the West Village to be a little expensive, so he mostly lived on the East Side. “Now, we’re talking thirty-, forty-, fifty-, sixty-dollar-a-month apartments,” Agosto Machado said. “That allowed a generation of people to come to New York City and spend, like, three-quarters of their time being an artist and a quarter of their time doing some sort of pickup day work to pay for your rent.” By the mid-1960s, the social and economic dynamics in the neighborhood were shifting—as was the Lower East Side’s name. “The landlords changed the name to the East Village so they could make a little more rent,” recalled Peter Crowley. “That began in the early sixties, and by the mid to late sixties it was like a gold rush.” Richard Meyers was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and landed on the Lower East Side in late 1966; within a few years he had reinvented himself as Richard Hell. As a child, he and his mother had visited his grandmother in the West Village every three or four years, so he already had an impression of the city. “The West Village was—in terms of New York—deceptively quaint and peaceful and beautiful,” Hell said. “It wasn’t until I actually came here that I got exposed to Fourteenth Street and Forty-Second Street and the East Village—the real New York, which is much more squalid than this isolated Village where my grandmother lived.”
From Chapter 7 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
By the late 1950s, city government leaders had written off much of New York City’s downtown as a “blighted” zone, and they targeted some now-iconic areas for demolition. Into the fray stepped a West Village writer named Jane Jacobs, who helped preserve sizeable swaths of the downtown landscape, allowing people to transform largely abandoned industrial areas into places to live and make art. Jacobs’s first foray into activism began when she became aware of a plan hatched by the powerful city planner Robert Moses to put an expressway ramp through the middle of Washington Square Park. He was responsible for the hundreds of miles of expressways and bridges that linked New York City to the national interstate system, so Moses wouldn’t think twice about running a multilane roadway through the center of that beloved park. Jacobs joined the fight after 1956, when a coalition of Village groups formed to oppose Moses’s plans, and she soon took a leadership role, holding meetings at her apartment and organizing at the White Horse. “Jane Jacobs single-handedly saved the Village,” Bibbe Hansen said. “She was an incredible community activist, and she prevented the bulldozers from plowing that place.” Jacobs would go on to be a major thorn in Moses’s side, eventually causing city officials to scuttle his proposal to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have run through SoHo, along Broome Street.
From Chapter 8 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
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
Happenings and other experimental performances had an impact on the plays that Larry Kornfeld staged at Judson Poets’ Theatre. What Happened wasn’t a play in the traditional sense. It was more of a poem uttered by different unnamed characters, which posed several challenges for director Larry Kornfeld, though he embraced the nonlinear narrative and wordplay. This Judson Poets’ Theatre production included five dancers and four actors—with Al Carmines onstage playing piano—and its use of the space and lighting was quite radical for the time. What Happened featured a protopsychedelic wash of light masterminded by Johnny Dodd, Caffe Cino’s resident lighting genius, who also worked at Judson and other venues. “The pews were taken out, folding chairs were put in, and so we played in every direction, in every corner, every possible way of using that space,” Kornfeld said, describing the upstairs choir loft that overlooked Judson’s open area of worship. “We sat audiences upstairs, they looked down, they sat downstairs, and looked up. Every kind of focus was explored—even two and three foci at the same time. It was an exploration of space.” Bibbe Hansen still treasures her vivid memory of seeing What Happened as an adolescent. “It was absolutely, for me, a turning point culturally, artistically, because it was by nature very experimental and nonlinear,” she said. “And yet it was lyrical and it was lovely and very winsome and captivating.” Hansen was even more surprised and delighted when the piano, which had remained in place throughout the performance, was swiftly moved from one end of the church to the other by the actors and dancers—all while Carmines continued playing. “At every performance from the first performance on,” Kornfeld recalled, “audiences just stood up and cheered at that moment, because they had never seen a piano move like that.”
In early 1966, Paul Morrissey booked a multimedia show, Andy Warhol, Up-Tight, as part of Mekas’s Cinematheque series, which was then based in the Forty-First Street Cinema. “Hey, we’re doing a gig tonight at the Cinematheque,” Gerard Malanga told Bibbe Hansen one afternoon in February 1966. “We need go-go dancers. Will you come?” Hansen and others danced on the front sides of the Cinematheque’s stage while Warhol projected Banana, Blow Job, Sleep, and other films that were blended into a primitive light show. Malanga also danced onstage as he twirled a long strip of phosphorescent tape while the band played in the shadows. The Velvet Underground repeated this event in March 1966 at Rutgers University, and again at Paraphernalia, a hip boutique that sold clothes designed by a young Betsey Johnson.
From Chapter 11 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
The Factory became a second home for Bibbe Hansen, a streetwise kid who—rather than feeling out of place among all these strange adults—felt they were entering her world. “We were the ones with miniskirts,” Hansen said of her generation. “We’re the ones with silver everything. We’re the ones with great pop music. Because with the Beatles and all these things, these cultural explosions absolutely captivated the world. So not only did we have the numbers, we had the culture, we had the PR, we had the forward thinking, the enlightenment, the freedom, and then we had this incredibly rich cultural scene happening all around us in the Village.” On a typical day at the Factory, Hansen might go up to the roof and smoke a joint with someone, or get a double bacon BLT with a milkshake or a soda at the corner diner. “Lunch was big,” she said. Hansen already knew Factory people like Ondine and Billy Name, part of the contingent of speed-freak Mole People who lived near her Lower East Side tenement apartment. Ondine liked to repurpose clothes left lying around at the Factory, turning a cashmere sweater into a loincloth or turban. “One time we came in to find him in a plastic bag outfit made out of trash bags,” Hansen said, “years before that punk fashion became popular.”
Like many who were part of the Factory scene, Bibbe Hansen had a chaotic childhood. Her mother was, at times, an amphetamine and heroin addict who had troubling alliances with men. By the time Hansen was fourteen, an escalating series of troubles landed her at the notorious Spofford Juvenile Detention Center in the South Bronx. After serving several months in 1965, she was released into her father’s custody on a Friday. The next day, Bibbe and Al Hansen resumed one of their weekend rituals: walking the uptown art gallery circuit that stretched from Fifty-Seventh Street to Seventy-Ninth Street. After their visit to Castelli Gallery, they wound up at a restaurant-bar called Stark’s, where her dad’s artist friends asked them to join their table. “Roy Lichtenstein offered to buy us burgers, and after a few months in the youth house, that was really a wonderful thing, let me tell you,” Bibbe said. “They’re all talking artist-guy stuff, which is pretty uninteresting to me, but I’m very happy with my burger. Suddenly, eyes are peering at me from across the table, and it’s Andy Warhol.” He was a familiar sight from Jonas Mekas’s underground screenings, which she attended with her dad and where she would sometimes nap on a pile of coats, and soon she would be spending many of her days at the Factory.
Bob Dylan also maintained his cool when he sat for his Screen Test portrait in late 1965 or early 1966—stone-faced in his dark sunglasses, scratching his nose and looking unfazed. When he got up to leave, the acerbic musician decided to help himself to Warhol’s silkscreen print of Elvis dressed as a cowboy: “I think I’ll just take this for payment, man.” Robert Heide recalled, “Andy’s face turned tomato-soup red, because Andy would promise people things, and he wouldn’t necessarily deliver. He wasn’t expecting Dylan to do that.” The friction between the two camps was partially rooted in the cult of authenticity that surrounded Dylan, a sensibility that clashed with Warhol’s unapologetic embrace of artifice and commercial culture. The musician’s involvement with Sedgwick (the likely subject of his songs “Just Like a Woman” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”) also exacerbated tensions. Dylan and his manager, Albert Grossman, hoped to turn Sedgwick into a film ingénue and encouraged her to break with Warhol, which she did. “If you get to the emotional truth of the thing, Andy and Edie loved each other,” Bibbe Hansen said. “Just like when two people are very, very fond of each other and something happens and people get in the way and they get riled up, the split is that much bigger.”
“And you,” Andy Warhol asked Bibbe Hansen when he first met her, “What do you do?” Before she could say a word, Al Hansen proudly blurted out, “I just sprung her from jail!” The curious artist asked, “Jail? Why? Please tell us all about that!” In her element, Bibbe jumped up and performed three or four of her best war stories from the big house. Clapping his hands in delight, Warhol said, “We have to make a movie out of that. Would you come to the Factory and make a movie with me about jail?” Bibbe of course said yes, and Warhol assistants Gerard Malanga and Chuck Wein made plans for her to come to the Factory at the start of the next workweek. “She can’t come Monday,” her dad countered. “She has to go to school! If she doesn’t go to school they’re gonna send her back to jail.” Everyone burst out laughing: “Oh, right, right, right. She has to go to school! Of course!” In a compromise, it was agreed that she could go to the Factory after school let out that Monday, and they eventually shot the feature-length Prison with Edie Sedgwick. The film consists of a static shot of Bibbe telling Sedgwick about her jail experiences as they sit on a box in a bare room; at one point, some female guards burst in and rob them of their possessions.