Poet Gerard Malanga became part of the Factory scene after being hired as Andy Warhol’s screen-printing assistant; he could also be seen wielding a whip while dancing to the Velvet Underground in the Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia series, and costarring with Mary Woronov in Vinyl at Caffe Cino.
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.”
From Chapter 3 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
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.”
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
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).
From Chapter 10 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
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.”
“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.
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.”
Andy Warhol’s association with the Velvet Underground deepened his reach into the world of popular music, expanding his multimedia empire. “The Pop idea, after all, was that anybody could do anything,” Warhol wrote in POPism, his memoir of the 1960s, “so naturally we were all trying to do it all. Nobody wanted to stay in one category, we all wanted to branch out into every creative thing we could. That’s why when we met the Velvet Underground at the end of ’65, we were all for getting into the music scene, too.” In November 1965, before the Velvet Underground’s Café Bizarre residency abruptly ended, a theater producer named Michael Myerberg came up with the idea of opening a Warhol-branded discotheque. He approached Paul Morrissey—Warhol’s sort-of manager and assistant filmmaker—who put the word out that the Factory wanted to find a house band for the space. Malanga, Sanders, and underground filmmaker Barbara Rubin had already seen the Velvet Underground, which led to Warhol signing the group to a management deal. (Myerberg eventually chose the Young Rascals, a better business move for someone looking to draw in a large teen and young adult audience.)
In April 1966, the Velvet Underground began their residency playing with Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable at the Dom, where Factory newcomer Mary Woronov joined in. “Gerard Malanga felt we would be center stage and liven things up,” Woronov said. “So he brought me on with the black leather suit and a whip, and we worked out a dance with a sort of S&M kind of theme.” Their routines were supposed to be dark and theatrical, but they sometimes veered into goofier realms. “For ‘Waiting for the Man,’ I would lift weights,” Woronov said. “For ‘Heroin,’ Gerard would run around with a plastic needle that was two feet long and shoot up. It was sort of an act, to music.” Meanwhile, the Velvet Underground unleashed sheets of sound as Warhol slipped colored gelatin slides over film projector lenses or just stood on the balcony, observing the crowded scene. One night he saw “a small, muscular blond kid make a ballet leap that practically spanned the dance floor.” Warhol promptly went downstairs and met the young man, Eric Emerson, whose good looks and magnetic personality secured him a spot in several Warhol films. He was cast alongside Nico and Woronov in The Chelsea Girls and appeared in Lonesome Cowboys, San Diego Surf, and Heat.
From Chapter 15 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
When Ed Sanders signed the lease for his Peace Eye Bookstore in late 1964, at 383 East Tenth Street, Beat hero Tuli Kupferberg was already living next door, above the Lifschutz Wholesale Egg Store. They first met in 1962 outside the Charles Theatre on Avenue B, where Jonas Mekas screened underground films and Kupferberg was selling copies of his magazine Birth to the audience. Sanders let Kupferberg publish a poem in Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts and the two attended poetry readings at Café Le Metro, where Andy Warhol and Gerard Malanga mixed with literary heavyweights like Allen Ginsberg. After these readings, everyone congregated at a dance bar on St. Mark’s Place called the Dom—formerly a Polish wedding and social hall—where Sanders suggested to Kupferberg that they should form a band. Sanders suggested various band names such as the Yodeling Socialists and the Freaks, but it was Kupferberg who came up with the Fugs—fug was a term that writer Norman Mailer had used as a euphemism for fuck in his novel The Naked and Dead. With a name secured, their next order of business was to write songs. Sanders had been setting William Blake poems to music since his days of sitting in Washington Square Park as an NYU student, and he was more a poet than a rocker. “I don’t think I took the Fugs seriously as music. I just liked the scene, but I didn’t really listen to it as music,” said Village Voice rock critic Richard Goldstein. “But the idea of Blake’s ‘Ah! Sun-flower! / weary of time’ as a rock song was amazingly unusual.”
Patti Smith had been interested in doing public poetry readings, though she was wary of many of the poets’ staid, practiced delivery. In the early 1970s, Beat poet Gregory Corso started taking her to readings hosted by the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, a collective based at the same church where Theatre Genesis was located. It was home to A-listers like Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, and Ted Berrigan, but Corso was less than reverent. He heckled certain poets during their listless performances, yelling, “Shit! Shit! No blood! Get a transfusion!” Sitting at Corso’s side, Smith made a mental note not to be boring if she ever had a chance to read her poems in public. On February 10, 1971, Gerard Malanga was scheduled to do a reading at the Poetry Project and he agreed to let Smith open for him. Her collaborations with Shepard taught her to infuse her words with rhythm, and she sought out other ideas about how to disrupt the traditional poetry reading format. For the St. Mark’s event, Sam Shepard suggested that Smith add music—which reminded her that Lenny Kaye played guitar. “She wanted to shake it up, poetry-wise, and she did,” said Kaye, who recalled that it was primarily a solo poetry reading, with occasional guitar accompaniment. “I started it with her,” he said. “We did ‘Mack the Knife,’ because it was Bertolt Brecht’s birthday, and then I came back for the last three musical pieces.” Setting chords to her melodic chanting, Kaye recalled that she was easy to follow because of her strong sense of rhythmic movement. “I hesitate to call them ‘songs,’ but in a sense they were the essence of what we would pursue.”
From Chapter 25 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore