A Reader Request

A regular reader of this "blogue" recently wrote:

I have been curious to know if you have seen films that have depicted Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, the "scenes" that I am unfortunately too young to have enjoyed and possibly any other people you may have known over the years. Have you seen, "I Shot Andy Warhol," "Basquiat", "Factory Girl"...? What is your opinion of the interpretations of the people and the times in these films?

Good question. When I arrived on the scene as a youngster, I had the funny feeling that I was late—I mean, I had missed the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, the Silver Factory, and Edie Sedgwick. Some of the characters I met, such as the legendary Ondine, had clearly seen more brilliant days. But later I began to think, "Oh well, maybe it's for the best I came when I did. At least I never injected methamphetamine like Lou."

Here I am interviewing my friend Jean-Michel Basquiat on my cable-access show TV Party in 1979:

I remember being contacted in the '90s by the Polish filmmaker Lech Majewski, who wanted to make a film about Jean-Michel. I did everything to discourage him, saying that it would be almost impossible to capture his personality, and reminding him that Jean-Michel hadn't been gone ten years. To drive home my point I brought up the problem of casting.

"I mean, who could you get to play him?" I said, oozing sarcasm. "Terence Trent D'Arby?"

Two days later I read in the New York Post's Page Six that filmmaker Lech Majewski was trying to sign Terence Trent D'Arby for his Basquiat film project. Sometimes sarcasm doesn't translate.

This, as well as my feelings about such films as Clint Eastwood's Bird (1988), caused me to write an essay called "The Alexander Nevsky Theory," in which I argued that a real person should be dead for approximately 900 years before their life is made into a drama. Alexander Nevsky, of course, being the Russian Prince who defeated of the German Teutonic Knights near Novogriod in 1242, as well as a film of the same name by the great director Sergei Eisenstein. He created a masterpiece at a time when Russia was again threatened by German invasion, and the battle scene on a frozen lake is probably the most spectacular depiction of combat in cinema history:

Of course, my point was that Nevsky was dug up at the right time, for the right reasons, and his family and friends certainly wouldn't mind.

But Basquiat with Basquiat gone only a few years… I could see what was happening. It would be the same old suffering-artist story—a little Van Gogh, a little Jimi Hendrix. The real Jean-Michel was so complicated, how could somebody capture him? Especially someone who didn't know him?

Enter Julian Schnabel, who did know him, but who was hardly his friend. Schnabel took over the project. I was approached by Michael Holman, a bandmate of Basquiat's in Gray, whom Julian had hired to write a screenplay. He wanted to talk to me. I told him I didn't want to participate and I expressed my doubts as to whether anything resembling our mutual friend might come to the screen. He shrugged off my comments and that was that.

I was working as creative director at Island Records at the time Julian Schnabel's Basquiat was completed. Island had recently released an album of the artist singing songs he had composed, and was also about to release the soundtrack album. So Julian screened the film for me. Later, on the phone, he asked me what I thought and I remember how it started: "I know you meant well…."

Actually, I was exaggerating. I see that film as Schnabel's pre-emptive strike on art history, an attempt to position himself as the wise mentor to the unstable protégé, when in fact, of course, Jean-Michel is, as T.S. Eliot would put it, "il miglior fabbro."

Schnabel does show the well-known incident in which J.M.B. pissed on the floor of his studio, but he depicts it as if he were a stoner, stumbling into the wrong spot, unable to hold his water, when in fact he was the alpha dog marking his territory.

Jeffrey Wright is, of course, a genius, and he does Basquiat as well as he can be done given the script and the intentions of the director. Despite having little resemblance to the artist, Wright delivers an uncanny reading of his mannerism and speech patterns. David Bowie does less well portraying my old boss Andy. In fact I was moved by Basquiat and I Shot Andy Warhol to write posthumous diary entries depicting Andy's activities as a ghost, haunting Manhattan—"Excerpts from the Andy Warhol Diaries, Summer 1996." Here's a bit:

"July 19, 1996: Keith Haring finally dragged me to see that film where I get shot. (Cab $10, tickets $16.) Just seeing the marquee gave me the creeps. I can't believe I let that English girl who directed it hang around the office. She was so polite I couldn't tell she was really mean. And I was so nice to her. The kid who plays me—Richard Harris's kid—is kind of cute but I come off like a big nothing. I guess it could have been worse. She made Fred and Paul into dumb and dumber. And Cand is so butch, she's going to really hate it…I wanted to leave but Keith made me stay. It was so mean I had to go to the bathroom during the scene where Valerie shoots me. It hurt just thinking about it. I can't believe they gave it a good write up in Interview. I don't get what people like about it. I guess it's the first dyke action film."

"August 1, 1996: Went to the opehning of Julian Schnabel's film with Jean-Michel. (Cab $12.) He was so mad. He kept calling Julian a "bad fool." He said the movie was a fake and a distortion. I think he was really mad because he thinks Jeffrey Wright isn't good looking enough to play him. Jeffrey Wright is cute but not as handsome as Jean Michel. He was even madder because Julian cast Gary Oldman to play Julian. I said "Did you really think he'd have somebody fat play him?" Gary Oldman was pretty good but Steven Seagal would have been even better.

"It was really funny seeing David Bowie play me. He was so nelly that it made me feel like a he-man. I can't believe the Foundation loaned Julian my hair…I thought my wig was the worst part of the film, and there were a lot of worst parts…"

Yes, Bowie was dreadful, but we love him so all is forgiven. Such a big sissy as Drella. I remember the day Dave came up to the Factory to sing "Andy Warhol" to Andy, who didn't know if we should let him in. He wasn't famous in America, yet, but I told AW he was famous in England, so he sat there and was nice. At the end he didn't know whether to like it or hate it. (I didn't either, but he meant well.)

Here's some footage of their introduction:

Last night there was nothing on the tube so I checked in on I Shot Andy Warhol again. It's still awful. Allow me to quote myself from an old essay entitled, "Shooting Andy Warhol Again":

"Without changing the cast and the set too much, writer/director Mary Harron could have made a pretty good attempt at the Fran Lebowitz Story. Lili Taylor would have had to gain some weight and switch to Lark cigarettes, but the rest she had down pat." I knew Valerie Solanas, and Harron's Valerie is more like Mary Richards from The Mary Tyler Moore Show than Valerie Solanas, a truly scary and twisted person who is depicted here as a warm-and-fuzzy though a little misguided feminist hero."

Stephen Dorff tries heroically to be Candy, but he's just not the actor for the part. Maybe Johnny Depp could have pulled it off, but Dorff was out of his depth. Quoting myself again:

"The revisionist Warhol gang is a bunch of decorative losers and stoned-out poseurs. Stephen Dorff gives his all to animate the character of Candy Darling, the most glamorous of Warhol's drag queens. It's not his fault that the complexity, the edge, the twisted wryness and mordacious wit and true glamour of the original Candy is lost. This Candy lacks the femininity, the queenliness, mostly the attitude and dialogue of the original. Mary Harron couldn't turn a phrase with a tugboat."

I find it a contemptible film. Quoting me again:

"In an interview with New York magazine, Lou Reed wondered out loud if a film called "I Shot John Lennon" would have been met with such acceptance. Reed's point…is that Andy Warhol still doesn't get the respect he deserves."

As for the other Drella impersonators, I must say that Jared Harris did a creditable job with Andy's intonation, and a pretty good job with his posture and body language, although he never would have offered his hand for a shake. Guy Pearce's turn as the boss in Factory Girl, which will go down as one of the worst movies ever made, would have greatly amused Andy. Not only is Pearce a handsome devil, he plays Andy with that I-know-I'm-hot meanness that must come naturally to him.

Andy was, of course, a loser nerd who would have fit in with the trenchcoat mafia in high school, and he had none of that air. He said of the Factory that it wasn't people hanging around him, he was hanging around them.

The most bizarre Andy is, of course, Crispin Glover in Oliver Stone's The Doors. He has nothing to do with the real Andy, but Glover is such a compelling actor that his creepy character, which sees Andy as quite abstract as if on acid, oh so unlike him, is still quite amusing.

I read the script of Factory Girl by Captain Mauzner and discovered that the writer thought Gerard Malanga was "Gerald Malanga." He was also unsure if Richie Berlin, Brigid's sister, was a boy or a girl. In the lot of these movies there are very few interesting performances, the exceptions being Michael Imperioli (best known as Christopher in The Sopranos) as Ondine in I Shot… He captures a lot of that manic spirit and brilliant manner. And Michael Wincott does a fair job as Rene Ricard, given the lines he has to speak.

At least we have Andy's films and quite a bit of him on tape to preserve a sense of the historical record, although I'm constantly amazed by how much credence people give these films. You always have to wonder why a film was made.

I happened to wind up in the same restaurant as Schnabel one night around the release of the film, which I had not yet seen. Diego Cortez was there that night, too, and Julian came and sat with us for a minute. Diego and I had as much to do with Jean-Michel's career as anyone and I knew we weren't in the film, so I asked Julian, who played Diego in the film. He said something like, well, a screenwriter sometimes has to combine certain characters and change things for dramatic reasons. Then I asked who played me. Same answer. Then I asked who played him. "Gary Oldman."

That reminded me of a story about Julian making a phone call to a mutual friend, rather urgently looking for a number for Willem Dafoe. It was reported to me that he said, "Gary Oldman is in rehab and I need someone to play the lead in my film?"

"The lead?"

"Yeah, me."

A Fitting (Room) Heir to CBGB


In this space on October 17, 2006, I discussed my feelings about CBGB, the famous birthplace of punk rock on New York's legendary Bowery. Mainly how I found the mass whinging over the demise of this down-at-the heels landmark excessive and hypocritical, even as a longtime patron of the historic nightspot—yes, even as an alumnus of that notorious stage. CBGB changed the world and it changed my life. Among the acts I saw there: Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads, Suicide, the Contortions, Television, DNA, Elda and the Stilettos, the Damned, Robert Gordon, Mink de Ville, Heartbreakers, the Fleshtones, the Patti Smith Group, Jayne County, Tuff Darts, the Dictators, the Marbles, the Dead Boys, the Mumps, the Feelies, the Sic Fucks, the Steel Tips, the Shirts, Pere Ubu, the Kojaks, and even AC/DC. It was a whole new world of music.

My own band, Konelrad, the world's first socialist-realist rock band, performed here. In fact we caused a riot, a sort of low-key Altamont when Hell's Angels, upset by groupies throwing the bikers' drinks at our guitar player, began using the latter as punching bags. That night I got to use Mick Jagger's line from Gimme Shelter: "Brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters, why are we fighting?" It was great.

CB's was an interesting club. It was pretty big and had one of the longer bars in New York City. Just inside the door was a coat check which had been converted into a space where the dogs belonging to the owner of the club, Hilly Krystal, could take a dump anytime they wanted. Still, it was cleaner than the patrons' bathrooms downstairs.

Hilly lucked into a gold mine with CBGB (& OMFUG), as the marquee read. That stood for Country, Blue Grass, Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizers. I guess that was Hilly's idea. He seemed like the kind of guy who would have rather been listening to Waylon Jennings. But then Television wandered in off the street, saw the stage and PA and asked if they could play there, and the rest is history. Sort of. History is a strange thing. Spike Lee's film Summer of Sam, which takes place in about 1977, shows a punk show at CB's, and the audience is a bunch of pogoing, safety-pin-punctured leatherettes with dayglo Mohawks. Not authentic. In fact, nobody called punk rock "punk rock," and everybody then dressed kind of regular, in denim and leather with a little sharkskin and rockabilly thrown in. The full-dress caricature punks did eventually show up, a decade or so later when the place had become institutionalized and a venue for hardcore and other mutant forms of "punk." And CBGB became a sort of caricature of its former self. Sometimes death is better than lingering. What was the old punk expression? Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. But CB's was on life support for years.

I lived in the neighborhood but I tended to avoid the place because I usually had no interest in the maybe six bands that would be playing on a given night, and might not have mixed well with the trenchcoat-mafia, fourth-generation rebels that now frequented the place. I'd rather go the Knitting Factory or the Blue Note. But of course I looked kindly on the place until people began protesting the raising of the rent and getting political, or pseudo-political, about it. I'm sure Hilly had the chance to buy the place many times over but didn't bother until those market forces the Republicans are always talking about kicked in and Bowery real estate went through the roof. But there was something hypocritical about the whole thing. Hilly had been raking it in for years. It wasn't a charity. I felt that if Patti Smith was really that upset she should have put up the money for Mr. Krystal to buy the joint. But it's more fun to blame the capitalists who ruined the city by eliminating slums and crime.

Eventually I got so tired of hearing about it I must admit I was totally ready for somebody to take over the lease and turn it into an Italian restaurant. But instead, rather to my surprise, I was on my way to Whole Foods the other day to pick up some unpasteurized cheeses and Balthazar Bakery bread when I noticed that a new marquee was there, where the former club had been boarded up. John Varvatos.


Now I'm sure that lots of people are finding some "sell-out" angle in this, but I don't mind at all. Any clothing designer that uses Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper for models is okay by me. I immediately walked into the store and, what do you know, my close personal friend James Chance was playing there. Well, on the stereo system. James was singing his jazzy version of James Brown's "King Heroin." It was too perfect. James played here live on many occasions, with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and with his own bands the Contortions and James White and the Blacks. At this point I'm sure he'd rather be playing here on the store stereo than playing live in a CBGB filled with dayglo-haired teen tourists.

In the front of the store is a good selection of vinyl for sale. Then there is a bunch of pretty high-end vintage amplifiers and stereo receivers and other components. There are some Fender telecasters in a glass case, undoubtedly played by someone historic like Tom Verlaine or Richard Lloyd, and then there is the big old famous bar. It was the first time I had seen it without a Budweiser on it, but it looked beautiful and polished. Just behind that are a lot of clothes and a little stage, not where the original was, but fully set up with drums, amps, mics, the whole thing. I guess if the salesmen feel like jamming, there you go. I'm not really sure. I didn't stay long, because I had cheese on my mind, but I figured I'd come back some time and try on some of those dead-man's boots they have for sale. Like Ralph Lauren, Vavartos offers choice vintage stuff alongside the new merch, and some of it looked refreshingly gnarly. At my age you can either buy a Corvette or a pair of studded motorcycle boots.

Anyway, I approve, slightly conditionally, of this neighborhood transition. Jesus, it could have been Starbucks.

And I believe that John Varvatos is genuinely rock and roll. I mean, as genuinely as anything rock and roll can be. Because rock and roll is ultimately a pose. And despite the fact that at some point in the history of what is called punk, "poseur" was about the worst thing anyone could call you, the whole point was posing until the pose took and your dreams became authentic. Today, in the world where the Bowery is where millionaires live, authenticity is what you make of it. I wear it, therefore I am.


Better Vacationing


Vacation, of course, means the act of emptying, and boy did I need that last week, after a particularly grueling deadline. I had had it up to here. So I did the right thing and booked a villa at Goldeneye, Chris Blackwell's resort in Oracabessa, Jamaica, W.I.

This was not a shot in the dark. I've been going there for more than twelve years and I knew that it was exactly the place to go to empty the bilges and clear my head. I would do absolutely nothing except eat, sleep, read, and… nothing. And it's easy to do that at Goldeneye because you don't have to do anything else. I didn't even register until I was ready to leave. You can eat in your villa. You don't have to see any of the other guests—it's a private world. And unlike many places in Jamaica, nobody is going to try to sell you anything. You're not in a touristy area, but you're also behind walls and nothing intrudes unless you want it to. Here's my villa:


When I first went to Goldeneye it was still a private home, the residence of Chris Blackwell, the brilliant man behind Island Records. The visionary who brought us Bob Marley and the Wailers, among a host of reggae artists, as well as acts such as Traffic, Marianne Faithfull, Grace Jones, Tom Waits, and U2, to name but a few. Chris, a Jamaican-born Englishman, has homes in New York, Miami, the U.K., and the Bahamas, but Goldeneye seemed to be his heart's principal residence.

Goldeneye was originally the home of Ian Fleming, and he wrote his James Bond novels there. Chris's mother Blanche lived just up the road at Bolt House, and up the hill from Blanche was Firefly, the residence of the great Noel Coward. This little corner of Jamaica was and is a perfect escape. It's out of the way and not easy to get to.

Here's the main house:



In the old days a trip to Goldeneye wasn't exactly easy. The road from the airport in Montego Bay was a mess, and it could take three hours to drive the twenty-six miles. It was so bad that it was better to take a small plane or helicopter from Montego Bay or Kingston.

I like arriving by copter. I remember the first time I came in at night and we landed on the tennis court. I remember driving in the night from Mo Bay on a moonless election night and almost hitting a black cow in the middle of the road, then driving through a town where the entire population seemed to be standing in the road celebrating the election by firing guns into the air.

But no matter how crazy it was getting there, it was always worth it. The house and grounds were beautiful. The beach was private, the water perfect, the food the height of masterful Jamaican home cooking. Fish fresh from the sea, fat chickens running around the grounds, exotic fruits dropping from the trees. And there are trees and bushes and vinces everywhere. The big change I noticed on this trip was how much the place had grown, literally. The property was always lush, but decades of planting have made the place a jungle garden of incredible diversity.



During the years I worked for Island Records it was nothing to hop on Chris's jet and go to Goldeneye for the weekend, so I was there. The first time I took my wife down Chris invited us, as is his custom with favored guests, to plant trees in the garden. I planted a Bombay Mango and Gina planted a grapefruit tree. Gee, that was twelve years ago. That little clump of dirt with a shoot rising from it. It was like waking up one day and suddenly discovering the kids have all grown up. And Gina was happy that her tree is bigger than mine. Well, we'll see about that in the long run. But it's great to wake up in the morning to a glass of fresh orange juice and a plate of incredibly perfect exotic fruits which come from trees planted by the likes of Princess Margaret or Michael Caine or Larry Mullen, Jr. There are papayas, pineapples, mangos, the purple starapple, the brown cinnamony naseberry, the sweetsop.



The Fleming house is sizeable, especially by Jamaican standards, but it has only four bedrooms. So some years ago Chris began building smaller structures around the property—a villa for himself, one for his mother, one for an office. Soon there was a little village, fronting on the sea and on an azure, river-like lagoon, and it was probably the layout of the place, as much as anything, that gave Chris the idea of opening Goldeneye to the public. A factor in the decision, of course, was the fact that he had another house on the island, a very special farm in old plantation country, a magical spot that's a bit like Africa and a bit like Ireland.

Each villa has its own place to swim, and its own garden and verandas, and its own personality. Each has a name taken from a Bond girl. We were staying in Honey Chile, which is actually two little houses connected by a roof. There's a big bathtub in the bedroom and a fantastic outdoor shower with a serious water flow. The other building is basically a living room and a kitchen, and Oscar slept there, loving the idea of a house to himself. Other villas have two or three bedrooms. I remember spending time a few years back at Domino, watching my friend Hooman play backgammon with Dickie Jobson, a legendary local playboy, for thousands of dollars. The secret of their game was that nobody ever paid off, but it sounded good when one of them was up twenty grand.



Every time I turn a corner at Goldeneye there's a funny memory. Rita Marley drinking Goldeneye cocktails after debarking from the giant bus she uses to travel the island in; Naomi Campbell calling Chris "Daddy"; Martha Stewart heading out for a dancehall in Manolo Blahnik high heels with Dickie Jobson in pursuit; Anh Duong going for a nocturnal skinny dip; and walking by the villa of Chris's ninety-year-old mother and discovering a copy of the Breakfast at Tiffany's film script, with Audrey Hepburn's signature on the the cover, just sitting on the veranda.


After a few days a Goldeneye I was feeling nice and chill, and it was time to go back to New York and enter the fray once again. The main house, which had been occupied by guests during our stay, was empty, and so I had a chance to show it my son Oscar, who had never been there. He has a vague idea who James Bond is, and no idea who Ian Fleming was. He hasn't even seen the film version of Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang yet, but he loved the décor of the house, the crazy giant Asian carvings that Barbara Hulaniki decorated the place with, and he thought the Fleming bedroom's bed was spectacular. It is incredibly massive, made from giant bamboo. It's so massive you have to give it a wide berth, and one night when I was staying in that room I sleepwalked toward the bathroom for a pee and smashed my little toe on the bamboo. I remember at breakfast looking at my swollen, purple little piggy toe and saying to Chris, I think I broke my toe on that bed. "Oh," he said, with interest. "Princess Margaret broke her toe on that bed!"


I returned to New York refreshed, with no injuries, but a little sunburn. I knew I was strong again. I survived the return trip on Air Jamaica, on a flight that was three hours late and with flight attendants who seemed to have gone to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Charm School. The last time I wrote a letter to the chairman of Air Jamaica, after they tried to seat my two-year-old by himself, it began, "Once Aeroflot was the worst airline in the world…"

Anyway, my Goldeneye vacation made me ready for anything. And now I'm saving for my own jet.