“Andy Warhol didn’t create me as a Superstar. I was a Superstar.” –Taylor Mead
Sitting in the MoMA sculpture garden on Monday watching poet, actor and Warhol superstar Taylor Mead jiggle his ass in Warhol’s aptly titled film Taylor Mead’s Ass, which was shown in conjunction with Dirty Looks: On Location and Dirty Looks at MoMA: Mining The Collection, I realized that I will really miss Mead who passed away in May.
Made in response to a critical letter in the Village Voice, which accused Warhol’s films of featuring “Taylor Mead’s ass for two hours,” Taylor Mead’s Ass presents Mead (or his ass) swishing his way through Warhol’s camera’s detached gaze, as Mead pretends to feed photographs of Elizabeth Taylor, dollar bills and Anna Karenina into his ass. Even though Warhol told Mead to be completely still like a sculpture, Mead’s wonderful humor dominates the film, rendering it captivating, campy and completely about Mead.
While watching Mead participate in a solo burlesque show for Warhol’s camera, I just then felt the fey and impish hole in the New York art, poetry and queer community that Mead left. A seminal figure of the Downtown community, Mead could be seen almost up until his death at his regular stint at the now-shuttered Bowery Poetry Club or feeding stray kitties in the East Village and the Lower East Side.
I was lucky enough to watch Mead on a Warhol panel at the New York Public Library (which can be viewed here) with some of the other Warhol Superstars such as whip-wielder and incredible dancer Gerard Malanga and Bibbe Hansen where he quipped about titling an article of his “I would have shot Andy Warhol.” Even though I was disappointed that my absolute favorite Warhol Superstar, the always naked talker, Brigid Berlin (also known as Brigid Polk for all the amphetamine pokes she gave other Factory regulars in their rear) was a no show, Mead thoroughly made up for it with his quirky, dirty and self-deprecating humor.
Becoming famous with his starring role in the classic San Francisco Beat film The Flower Thief, Mead has been called the “first underground movie star.” Introduced to Warhol by his friend and Met curator Henry Geldzahler, Mead became a quick friend and collaborator with Warhol.
As Warhol describes in his account of the 1960s, Popism: The Warhol Sixties:
“That’s what Taylor used to love to do all day—drift all over town in that way he had that people called pixieish or elfin or wistful. He always had a slight smile on his face and in his eyes—one of them drooped and that was a little trademark. He looked so chronically relaxed you felt that if you lifted him up by the back of his neck, his limbs would just dangle. I mean, he looked like he didn’t have a nervous system, that was the attitude he had. He’d never seen any of my work, but he’d just read an article about my Campbell’s Soup Cans in Time, and when Henry introduced us, he said ‘You are the Voltaire of America. You’re giving America just what it deserves—a can of soup on the wall'” (45).
Embarking on Warhol’s first trip to the West Coast, Mead starred in one of Warhol’s first films with sound Tarzan and Jane Regained…Sort Of as the most unexpected Tarzan imaginable. Continuing to appear in Warhol’s films from Taylor Mead’s Ass to Nude Restaurant and Lonesome Cowboys, Mead’s feminine, flamboyant and queeny personality stood in direct and significant contrast to Warhol’s hustler types such as Paul America and Joe Dallesandro.
While there is undoubtedly a huge amount of various aspects of Mead’s life and career to analyze deeper from his campy persona to the greedy New York landlords who fought hard to kick him out of his longtime, cockroach-filled apartment on Ludlow Street, I feel like the best way to honor the overwhelming debt the queer art community owes to Mead is by listing my top 5 favorite Mead video moments:
1. Taylor and Joe Dallesandro in Lonesome Cowboys
What is a Taylor Mead clip retrospective without a Warhol film, particularly one featuring the most recognizable hustler hunk from 1960s underground cinema, Joe Dallesandro? Is there room for a third in this cowboy dance off, Taylor and Joe? Oh I guess not.
2. Taylor Mead Remembers Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis
Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis were some of the most art historically important drag queens around. While Candy was undoubtedly as glamorous as a Hollywood star, Holly and Jackie were downright scary and trashy, which obviously means I loved them the most. Mead recalls when they would walk around in clothes that looked like rugs. How enviously awful!
Mead also speaks on getting beat up in front of the so-called liberated Greenwich Village residents for proudly admitting to an aggressor that he was queer. Before Stonewall, there was Mead.
3. Candy and Daddy (Taylor Mead) by Anton Perich
Speaking of Candy Darling, Taylor and Darling starred (and in Darling’s case caterwauled) in this hilarious short by Cable Access terrorizer and artist Anton Perich in the 1970s. Look for Mead’s accusatory questioning about Darling’s mysterious stain on her dress.
4. Bill Rice and Taylor Mead in Coffee And Cigarettes
All I can say is yes, let’s pretend this swill coffee is decadent champagne, Taylor.
5. Taylor Mead and Quentin Crisp in Conversation
Finally if delving into Mead’s campy performances and aesthetic, it only makes sense to reference the grand queen himself Quentin Crisp. Luckily there is documentation of when Mead and Crisp joined each other for a coffee at a Village diner. It’s a meeting of two great witty minds.