Friday, October 11, 2013

The Art Set: On Vanishing Bohemia and High Francophilia

A spread from the program at Taylor Mead's send-off.
The Art Set: On Vanishing Bohemia and High Francophilia
by Charlie Scheips

In the early 1990s when I was living in the heart of the East Village (which up until that time was still more often called the Lower East Side), there existed the remains of what was a bohemian world — not just in that area, but also in pockets all around the island.

Two of my favorite bohemians that I came to know then in the East Village were Quentin Crisp, the “Naked Civil Servant”, who lived in a tiny squalid apartment on East Third Street, and Taylor Mead, who also lived in a tiny squalid apartment on Ludlow Street.

Quentin Crisp, photographed by Dimitris Yeros.
Crisp shunned even the idea of housecleaning, explaining that he “discovered, after five years, things don’t get any dirtier.” I got to know Crisp at first after he was the houseguest of friends of mine for a weekend in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a hilarious wit but frequently with an acid tongue — when I asked what kind of music he liked, as we sat with one of his hosts, composer James Sellars, he said without hesitation: “I hate music.”

I didn’t write down his explanation but I found a quote by him that repeats what he said to me that day: “There’s too much music everywhere. It’s horrible stuff, the most noise conveying the least information. Kids today are violent because they have no inner life; they have no inner life because they have no thoughts; they have no thoughts because they know no words; they know no words because they never speak because the music’s too loud.” Ouch!

After spending the weekend with Crisp I saw him frequently around the East Village — most mornings I spotted him, with his lavender-tinted cotton candy hair, having breakfast in an old fashioned diner on 2nd Avenue. In retrospect the East Village was already becoming gentrified with chic shops and fancier restaurants beginning to open.

But Tompkins Square Park was still dicey and there was even a bar with no name that was nicknamed “Betty Ford” because if you were drinking there (it stayed open at least to 4 a.m.) then detox was metaphorically just your next step around the corner.

Taylor with his Dewar's; photographed by Bob Russell.
It was in the bars of the East Village that I came to know Taylor Mead. When you could still smoke in bars and restaurants I frequently ended my workday with a cocktail. Indochine on Lafayette was one of my favorite hangouts. It was the perfect place — you always ran into friends there — and if you got hungry you could order snacks at the bar or move on to a table for a delicious dinner. I think it was at Indochine that I first bought a drink for Taylor.

At that first meeting he remarked, after sizing me up dressed in my grey suit and Charvet bow tie, that he was from a fancy family in Grosse Point, Michigan where people wore such outfits. Of course I knew about Taylor since my teenage years when I first became fascinated with all things Andy Warhol.Actor, poet, filmmaker, Taylor was one of the star characters of the Warhol Factory Set — and survived for more than a quarter century after the artist’s death. Taylor had a love/hate relationship with Warhol but his yet to be published memoir is nevertheless titled “Son of Warhol.”

Taylor was an amusing character with an unbelievable capacity for drinking — particularly copious amounts of Dewar’s Scotch. Over the years, I shared unplanned drinks with him at various places around the East Village including the restaurant 103 at Sixth and Second Avenue — or at the great Monday night parties called “Sugar Babies” at a Caribbean restaurant called Sugar Reef a half-a-block down the avenue. In 1994, when Eric Conrad started throwing his amazing “Beige” parties on Tuesday nights at the B Bar at the Bowery, I probably saw Taylor there every week. After I moved to the Upper East Side, I still went downtown for all my fun for years until Michael Bloomberg’s smoking ban and the Internet changed nightlife permanently.
Taylor with Keith Haring in the 1980s; photographed by Bob Russell.
Since 2003, I have finally adopted my mother’s admonition of my teenage years: “Nice people stay at home” — at least after dinner. I wouldn’t know where to go these days — we are certainly not living in “the city that doesn’t sleep!” So I became nostalgic about those halcyon days of fun and folly when I first learned that Taylor had died this past May.

On Saturday afternoon I returned to the East Village for Taylor’s memorial service at the historic St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery on 10th Street. It was entitled “Goodbye (Whatever) Taylor Mead 1924-2013” and was organized by a group of Taylor’s friends and family. The casually organized program was pleasantly informal and was emceed by Taylor’s niece Priscilla Mead and Bob Holman of the Bowery Poetry Center where Taylor frequently read his poetry.
Saint Mark's in the Bowery, the site of Taylor’s memorial service. I'm not sure what Peter Stuvesant would have thought of Taylor Mead, but the Dutch are famous for their permissiveness
Taylor Mead's ashes, cap, and bag with his little boom box at Saint Mark's. The program handed out at Taylor's send-off.
The program ...
I sat with chandelier designer Bob Russell who was my frequent companion on our prowls around the East Village in the old days. Before I knew Bob he had spent time as bouncer at Mickey Ruskin’s famous art and music hangout Max’s Kansas City that closed in 1974.

Bob, a RISD graduate, worked at Max’s during its heyday in the late 1960s and early 1970s while he was by day helping artist Larry Rivers in his studio.Today, Bob creates some of the most amazing custom-designed chandeliers: www. chandeliersbyrwrussell.blogspot.com.
Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, and Tim Buckley, at Max's Kansas City, 1968 (Courtesy Elliott Landy/Landyvision and Steven Kasher Gallery, NYC).
Pedro Almodovar at Flamingo East, 1994.
Flamingo East, 1994.
Flamingo East, 1994.
Bob Russell, Todd Gribbon, and Charlie Scheips. Flamingo East, 1994.
Chandelier artist Bob Russell, today.
There was a scarcity of surviving members of Mead’s Warhol cronies at St. Mark’s that day. But besides several dozen grey heads there — there was also a lot of much younger people who presumably knew Taylor in his later years. Priscilla read a letter from John Heys, who founded, in 1969, the Gay Power Newspaper, for which Taylor was a frequent contributor. John couldn’t be there as he is in Berlin editing a film called “The Actress” starring Zazie de Paris loosely based on monologist Ruth Draper 1920's work.
Zazie de Paris in “The Actress."
The film will premiere next year at the Berlinale Film Festival. There is still a bohemia there! Blake Boyd, the actor and visual artist told of Taylor’s Quaalude and alcohol-infused visit to New Orleans a few years back to work on an art project. Playwright and writer Bob Heide spoke of escaping from his prep school in New Jersey in the late 1950s to the Gaslight in Greenwich Village where he first saw Taylor in the company of people like Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac. Other speakers included: Agosto Machado, Charles Rydell, Dorothy Friedman and Rachel Turner. Between speakers Bob Holman read some of Taylor’s short poems such as Life goes on, and on, and on, and then I guess I lost my place.
Taylor's niece Priscilla Mead passing out cupcakes. Brian Buterbaugh and Charlie Scheips at the Mead tribute.
Michele Gerber Klein, Bob Holman, and Colette.
Afterwards, we all were invited for champagne and cupcakes in the Church’s meeting room that opens out to the beautiful garden that surround St. Marks. Among those exchanging stories and anecdotes about Taylor were: Michele Gerber Klein, Anthony Haden-Guest, John Gilman, Jeremiah Newton, Brian Buterbaugh, and Colette. We all had fun trying to list all the bars that Taylor had been thrown out of over the years. I was told that one swank restaurant in SoHo, which Taylor liked to frequent, was left, at his death, with a five- or six-figure unpaid bar tab!
The Garden at Saint Mark's.
Bob Russell's Taylor Mead drawing of one of his beloved cats. We each had a souvenir at the Mead Tribute.
Both Quentin Crisp and Taylor Mead came to New York to recreate themselves — Crisp from England and Mead from Grosse Pointe. Crisp died at age 90 in 1999 on a visit to the less than glamorous Manchester, England; Mead died at 87, in Denver, after being evicted from his apartment of 34 years. They were two bohemian characters (among the legions that used to exist here) that contemporary New York no longer has any use for. It’s a sad testament of our times.

The present demise of the Chelsea Hotel, where I also lived briefly, is yet another example of the death of bohemia. New York really no longer has a bohemia; there are far too many rules. You can’t have a smoke-free, fat-free, alcohol-free or baby-friendly bohemia. May the animating spirits of Quentin Crisp and Taylor Mead inspire a new generation to start questioning convention once more. After all, that is how new art is born — not by auction records and vapid stardom. They both flaunted their eccentric personalities shamelessly and New York was a more colorful and interesting place because people like them lived here.
Charlie Scheips with two friends who are sadly missed, Christopher Scott and Will Harmon,
in the East Village in the early 1990s. Christopher, who helped start Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theater Company, was a one-time partner of Henry Geldzahler. He also worked for me in the Conde Nast Archives before his untimely death at 56. Photograph by Bob Russell.
A couple days later, I got just about as far from bohemia as you can imagine. On Wednesday night Ambassador Gérard Araud, the Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, threw a cocktail party at his residence in the historic 740 Park Avenue building. The occasion was a reception to celebrate the French Institute Alliance Francaise’s (FIAF) annual Trophée des Arts Gala that will take place this year November 15.

FIAF’s longtime charismatic director Marie-Monique Steckel explained that the Friday evening date was chosen so that everyone can have no excuse not to have a rollicking good time. What a good idea! Of course, “school nights” used to be the nights New Yorkers went out.
FIAF President Marie-Monique Steckel and French Ambassador to the U.N. Gérard Araud.
This year FIAF is honoring actor François Cluzet and Carlos Ghosn, the Chairman and CEO of Renault-Nissan. FIAF is one of New York’s most lively places for the education and celebration of Francophone culture. Its building on 60th Street (between Madison and Park) is home to more than 6000 students studying French each year. The facility also has a first floor gallery for changing art exhibitions (I am on its gallery committee), the largest private French library in the United States, the 400 seat Florence Gould Hall which presents performing arts and film throughout the year as well as the Tinker Auditorium for literary programs and culinary events. FIAF’s Le Skyroom on the roof is site to a variety of other special events and programs.

There must have been a couple hundred guests in the spacious apartment. I got a chance to chat with the charming Ambassador as well as well as with the great film director Costa-Gavras (his recent thriller Capital starring Gabriel Byrne, Gad Elmaleh and Liya Kebede premieres in New York this later this month). The Oscar winning filmmaker was chatting with Mr. and Mrs.Charles Cohen (Cohen’s media company is distributing the film in the United States).
Marie-Noelle Pierce, Anne-Sophie Jaume, and John Pierce.
Others there were: Vranken Pommery champagne’s Stanislas Thierry and his lovely wife Mailys Vranken Thierry, Eric Mourlot, Ultra Violet (who couldn’t make it to Taylor’s memorial), Daniel Colón, Larry Kaiser, (who actually grew up in the apartment we were in), Christian Moretti (who recently wed his wife Kate Bouquard-Moretti in Venice), Florent Vaidie, author Nathalie Sann Regnault, FIAF board member Nabil Chartouni, Melanie Bouvard, Francois Chateau, Anne Sophie Jaume of Doctors of the World, Frederic Fekkai; Adrienne Halpern, John and Marie-Noelle Pierce, Nathalie Kaplan, Ketty Maisonrouge, and Beatrice Pei.

For tickets to the FIAF Gala contact: Michele Klapper at 646.388.6632 or mklapper@fiaf.org.
Pommery America President Mailys Vranken Thierry, Stanislas Thierry, Dovile Drizyte, and Eric Mourlot.
Pascal Blondeau and Ultra Violet.
Melanie Bouvard and guests.
Karin Rispal and Beatrice Pei.
John Kochman, Charles Cohen and Clo Jacobs Cohen, and Costa Gavras.
Hall Witt and friend.
Eric Mourlot, Marie-Monique Steckel, and Robert G. Wilmers.
Clemence von Mueffling and Marie-Noelle Pierce.
Christian Moretti and Kate Bouquard-Moretti.