Legendary speed freak Billy Name, who created the original Factory’s metallic installation art design, learned lighting design under Nick Cernovich, who was part of the Black Mountain College group that also included John Cage.
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
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.
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.”
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.
From Chapter 5 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Ed Sanders fully immersed himself in the underground film scene after seeing Jonas Mekas’s Guns of the Trees at the Charles Theatre and meeting Warhol at a Film-Makers’ Cooperative screening. “Finally the inspiration of Jonas Mekas and the Film-Makers’ Cooperative made me decide to acquire a 16-mm camera,” he recalled. “I went to my friend Harry Smith for advice.” Smith was known in music circles for his Anthology of American Folk Music, but he was a man of many talents and interests, including experimental filmmaking. Harry suggested buying a “battle camera, like the kind they used filming the war,” which he found at Willoughby’s Camera on West Thirty-Second Street. Filmmaker Stan Brakhage showed Sanders how to use it, and Mekas helped him locate inexpensive film stock. By 1965, Sanders started making Amphetamine Head: A Study of Power in America, about Lower East Side speed demons such as Billy Name and Ondine. “There were plentiful supplies of amphetamine,” Sanders recalled, “sold fairly cheaply in powder form, on the set.” The set, as Sanders’s friend Peter Stampfel explained, was their slang term for the scene: “Like, ‘That guy’s such a dick, he should be bricked off the set,’ ” Stampfel said. “You know, being kicked out of the scene for being an asshole.” Sanders observed that because so many “viewed their lives as taking place on a set, there was no need to hunt afar for actors and actresses. What a cast of characters roamed the Village streets of 1963!”
From Chapter 10 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Andy Warhol’s early cinematic experiments in time, such as Sleep and Empire, were also explored in the music of minimalist composer La Monte Young, who moved to the city in 1960 and became involved in Yoko Ono’s Chambers Street Loft Series and the Fluxus art movement. Just as Warhol and other 1960s underground filmmakers expanded the temporal possibilities of film, Young and his collaborators did the same with music and sound—stretching out notes for hours at a time, creating elongated drones. Warhol, Young, and Jack Smith were at the center of a swirling vortex of collaborative activity that touched many areas of downtown life and art. The Flaming Creatures soundtrack, for instance, was assembled by Tony Conrad, who performed in Young’s group the Theatre of Eternal Music alongside Factory custodian Billy Name and future Velvet Underground member John Cale. Warhol also commissioned Young to produce droning sounds to accompany his silent films when they were screened at the 1967 New York Film Festival, and he worked with Jack Smith on several other projects.
Andy Warhol used an Auricon camera for his first sync sound film, Harlot, which was shot in December 1964. Gerard Malanga had been taking Warhol to Wednesday night poetry readings at Café Le Metro, where the writing of Jack Smith’s friend Ronald Tavel caught the artist’s attention. Warhol hired Tavel to write some “scenarios” for Harlot, and they soon began working together on Warhol’s other film projects. These sorts of collaborations happened often because the mimeo poetry zine scene frequently overlapped with the audiences for underground movies; Beat poet and Fugs cofounder Tuli Kupferberg, for example, could be seen selling his own mimeo publications at Mekas’s screening events. Harlot starred drag queen Mario Montez, who had previously appeared in Flaming Creatures and was named after Smith’s favorite 1940s starlet, Maria Montez. Warhol’s film depicts Gerard Malanga in a tuxedo blowing a puff of smoke at Montez, who is suggestively eating bananas. The only audio is Tavel and Billy Name having a conversation off-screen, perversely defeating the point of using a sync sound camera. “Mario maintained a wonderful duality,” said Montez’s friend Agosto Machado. “If you saw him in the neighborhood, you would pass him on the street and he was an attractive Puerto Rican man. But you would not know that he could transform himself into a goddess as Mario Montez, this goddess muse of Jack Smith and Andy Warhol.” He also appeared in several other Warhol films: Banana, Batman/ Dracula, Camp, Chelsea Girls, Lupe, and 1966’s Hedy, the last of which was part of Warhol’s “Hollywood trilogy” (a series of odd biopics that also included Harlot).
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.”
From Chapter 11 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
While Lou Reed dabbled in experimental music in college, John Cale had an extensive background in that world. Born in South Wales, he received an undergraduate degree in classical music and absorbed the works of Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. In 1963, Cale was awarded a Leonard Bernstein scholarship to study modern composition at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, but he quickly fell out with composer Aaron Copland, who had helped Cale secure the scholarship. “Copland said I couldn’t play my work at Tanglewood,” he recalled. “It was too destructive, he said. He didn’t want his piano wrecked.” Cale then moved to New York and dove straight into the city’s avant-garde scene, participating in an eighteen-hour performance organized by John Cage soon after arriving. Once settled there, Cale began playing with La Monte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music ensemble, which also included Factory custodian Billy Name and Tony Conrad (the friend of Jack Smith who compiled the soundtrack for Flaming Creatures).
The Velvet Underground’s first show as a Factory band was at an annual meeting of the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry on January 10, 1966, in the posh Delmonico Hotel. Andy Warhol was originally invited to give a lecture, but instead suggested a multimedia performance that would be staged during a dinner for the psychiatrists and their spouses. As films projected behind the group, the Velvets shared space on the stage with a go-go-dancing Edie Sedgwick. “The second the main course was served, the Velvets started to blast, and Nico started to wail,” Warhol recalled. “Gerard and Edie jumped up on the stage and started dancing, and the doors flew open and Jonas Mekas and Barbara Rubin with her crew of people with cameras and bright lights came storming into the room and rushing over to all the psychiatrists asking them things like: ‘What does her vagina feel like?’ ‘Is his penis big enough?’ ‘Do you eat her out? Why are you getting embarrassed? You’re a psychiatrist; you’re not supposed to get embarrassed!’ ” When asked if Warhol’s account might have been exaggerated, Mekas said, “It’s embellished, yes, but not too much. The main purpose was to try to embarrass them. I think we succeeded in doing that, but we were not pushy. We did it quite politely. And because of the politeness in which our questions were presented, they sounded even more outrageous than they actually were.” As Billy Name noted, “We didn’t shock anybody. Psychiatrists may be stiff but they all have a sense of humor, and they’re all intelligent.”
Jackie Curtis, Candy Darling, and Holly Woodlawn weren’t clinically insane or homicidal, but they still contributed to the Factory’s edgy atmosphere. It was fueled by heavy drug use and hard living, which Warhol mined as grist for his movies Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), and Women in Revolt (1972), which featured this trashy trio. “He took advantage of them, and I didn’t really like that at all,” said Curtis’s friend Melba LaRose. “I always found Andy very cold, and with not much to say. And of course the people around him said all these witty things and then he’d get credit for it. Jackie and Candy were always very witty.” Their exhibitionism, which made for compelling cinema and great PR, stood in contrast to Warhol’s wordless, blank persona. “Jackie, Holly, and Candy had problems with Warhol because he didn’t really pay them,” said another friend, Bruce Eyster. Warhol did give them token money, but they still ended up marching over from Max’s Kansas City to the Factory to scream and beg for more money—something that underscored a genuine divide between Warhol and some of those he mixed with. Even though many vied to be in his social world, Warhol wasn’t revered or respected in the same way as Jack Smith, Harry Koutoukas, and other struggling downtown artists who prioritized art over money. “You wondered if some of the entourage people—Billy Name, Taylor Mead, and so forth—would jump out the window,” Robert Heide added. “They’d go back to their shabby little rooms because there was this double standard going on. I think ultimately that’s one of the reasons I think Andy got shot.”
From Chapter 18 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore