Friday, May 10, 2013

A Toast for Taylor Mead

It's a sad morning here at the Auto de Fey. I've just learned of the passing of one of the great characters of New York City, the very bohemian Taylor Mead.

If ever there was someone who sashayed to a different drummer, it was Taylor. He was born in Grosse Point, a child of wealthy parents. He referred to his private school education as "brainwashing for the bourgeoisie". Back in the day he lived in a tiny cramped apartment on Ludlow Street and was known in all the worst places. You might stumble upon him reading his poetry at some dive, or you might find him feeding cats in cemeteries. He was often described as the first underground movie star. He was involved in the San Francisco Beat Poet scene, when a filmmaker saw him shouting his poetry over a crowd of drunks in a bar. The filmmaker, Ron Rice, started following Taylor around, filming him with a hand held 16mm camera. The result was "The Flower Thief" (1960), in which Taylor played a befuddled and wide eyed mystic who wandered around San Francisco carrying his three most precious possessions - a teddy bear, a flag, and a stolen gardenia. In other words, he played himself.

He moved to New York City because he thought it would be easy to be anonymous there. But Taylor wasn't the kind of guy who could be anonymous for long (he tended to attract attention) and was soon asked to be in a play by poet Frank O'Hara. He won an Obie. As a regular on the fringes of the Lower East side arty scene, he became involved with Andy Warhol and the gang at the Factory. He played Tarzan in one of Warhol's first movies; as he climbed around in the trees his loincloth kept falling off, leading one critic to complain of the film's featuring two hours of Taylor's derriere. Warhol wrote a letter to the Village Voice noting that no such footage existed, but that he would try to rectify the situation - he made an hour long film called (ahem, my more gentle readers may wish to avert their eyes) "Taylor Mead's Ass".

Dennis Hooper and Taylor Mead in "Tarzan and Jane Regained... Sort Of"
a film by Andy Warhol (1963)
In the late 1970's and early 1980's, in a world before cable tv, the most outrageous program on the air was "The Anton Perich Show" which appeared well after midnights on NYC's own UHF channel 31. Perich was another of the Factory regulars, and his outré avant-garde show featured a number of the Lower East Side crowd like the punk rock country western singer Wayne County (before he was Jane County). The show was vulgar, crude, and absolutely hysterically funny. The funny part was usually Taylor being flamboyantly gay in an era when such things simply weren't done.

For the last several years, Taylor had been in a fight with realtors who were trying to force him out of his long time (and rent controlled) apartment so they could convert it to a high priced market rental. He'd just made a settlement with them and was visiting a niece in Colorado when he passed. He was 88. I want to write "Rest in Peace", but he wouldn't do that. If there is an afterlife, I suspect he'll be busy writing poetry and being very, very, deliciously naughty.

(Bill Rice and Taylor Mead in a scene from Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes".)

1 comment:

Austan said...

Very sad news. There are few with the courage to be unique anymore.