Harvey Perr has written more than 16 plays, including “Rosebloom,” “Afternoon Tea” and “The Night Little Girl Blue Made Her Social Debut.” He has acted in off-off-Broadway shows and movies such as “Stranger than Paradise.”
I lived most of my childhood in Flatbush and East Flatbush, Brooklyn. My father was in prison from the time I was a year old, so I had a lot to write about. In 1955, I went to London and saw a production of “Waiting for Godot,” which really changed my life. I went to the New School for Social Research. I wrote a play about being a working-class Jew, and it was about my own life. It was called “Upstairs, Sleeping.”
Edward Albee was conducting a workshop at the Circle in the Square. I was about 23. When Albee started the Playwrights’ Unit, he asked me to join and that started my career.
In 1965, I was asked to go to Universal Studios for a screenwriting seminar. I went out there for two weeks. I came back to New York. They called and asked me if I wanted to come out there on a one-year contract. I had no choice. At the time, I had a wife and small daughter. We were poor. I was working in the credit office of a trucking company that had just gone bankrupt. I said, “Of course.” It was the last thing I wanted to do. I felt it was a mistake, but I went anyway. The only thing of mine that wound up on the screen was “Tobruk,” this terrible war movie with Rock Hudson. It was incoherent. I was called to rewrite some of that stuff.
When my career as a screenwriter went out the window after a year, I didn’t have enough money to take my family back to New York. I really became a playwright in Los Angeles. I was stuck there. I started doing my plays at the Mark Taper Forum. To make a living, I worked in the music business.
Ed Field thinks of me as a bohemian because he loves my writing and I’ve never made a penny. I have never compromised and I have never given it up. I never thought of myself as a bohemian. I thought of myself as a survivor. Maybe they are one and the same thing. I never knew where I fit in. I have been produced commercially, but I have never had a commercial success. It is no longer important to me if I become successful or accepted. I think it’s been a good life. I’ve written things that I wanted to write.
I didn’t really become politicized until the 1980s. The director Joe Chaikin really politicized me. He made me look at the world in a different way. I’m sort of sorry that I’ve become so political because it makes living in the world so difficult. I’ve been on this earth 67 years and there is a lot in America that I am unhappy with, but I could always live here. I now find it impossible to live here.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Barton Benes’ infatuation with relics started in 1961 when he went to the Catacombs in Rome and stole a monk’s bone out of a crypt. His controversial career has included relics incorporating a straw used by Monica Lewinsky and making AIDS ribbons out of human ashes. His exhibit “Lethal Weapons,” made from various items like a water pistol or a perfume atomizer filled with his own blood, was almost banned in Sweden. Finally, Swedish authorities allowed the exhibit, but only after the artworks were heated to destroy any germs or viruses in the blood. Benes’ brilliant relics have been collected in his book “Curiosa: Celebrity Relics, Historical Fossils and Other Metamorphic Rubbish.”
When I die, I am willing my entire apartment to a museum in North Dakota. They are going to rebuild it exactly as it is. They have photographed it and will catalogue it. My ashes are going to stay in the apartment, in a pillow on the bed.
Diane Arbus lived down the hall from me. I remember when they took her body out. She died in the bathtub. She slit her wrists.
In 1969, my boyfriend lived near Gay and Waverly. On the night of the Stonewall riots, I heard this great racket. I thought “What is that?” I didn’t participate. Instead I went to the local Howard Johnson’s. They had a wild tea room (public toilet). When all the action was going on, I was in the tearoom.
I once had an original Picasso lithograph. I say “once” because one night when I was a little high, I thought I was being very clever and scribbled on the lithograph. When I came to, I freaked and realized I had destroyed my Picasso. Then, either inspiration or desperation made me put it into a blender and grind it up. I got some cocaine bottles and filled them with the Picasso, telling people I was selling Picasso by the gram.
Editor’s note: “1 gram of Picasso” first sold at $300 a piece. The price is now more than $3000 per piece.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Edward Field was raised on Long Island and came to New York City after serving as a navigator in the Army Air Corps in World War II. He has published eight books of poetry, including “Frieze for a Temple of Love” and “Counting Myself Lucky.”
“Bohemian” was an adjective, not a noun in the 1950s. It was people working on creative things, who wanted to fulfill themselves and fuck bourgeoisie ambition, and not to follow the standard course laid out for you by conventional society. Success was not your goal. If it happened, you tried to keep your integrity. One of the main principles of bohemian culture was sexual liberation.
I had poems published from the 1940s, but I didn’t get a book published until 1963. I never had money success, unless money success was having enough money to live on, which I did. That is remarkable in itself.
The main thing was that you had to earn money for your analyst. Whatever it was, it was more than I could afford. If it was $25 a session, it was a week’s salary.
Bohemian life in the West Village ended in the mid-1970s with gentrification. The Village became unlivable. The whole tradition grounded in one area became unavailable to young artists. In a sense, when the mother country died, it was a diaspora. Sexual freedom had already spread around the country, even gay liberation. The one thing that didn’t spread was the leftist political radicalism.
I came to Westbeth in 1971. Neil moved in in 1976. At the beginning, Westbeth was open to the world. Now it is an island in the West Village. There are still all the old lefties here. The young people and the old people have very little to do with each other. The young people in Westbeth just see it as housing. They are not from the old Village. They are trying to make it.
Raised in Manhattan, Ira Cohen lived in Tangier, hanging out with Jane and Paul Bowles, and sojourned in Katmandu. Cohen still holds court from his Upper West Side apartment.
I’ve had a series of small strokes, so I haven’t been writing very much. It is good to get something down in my notebook, no matter what. Before being interviewed by Dylan Foley on bohemians, I write, where has it gone? What was it? Having fun without money, red wine, free lust, sparkling conversation, unpretentiousness, spaghetti dinners without selling out, not being part of the herd morality of the mainstream, a touch of the gypsy in the Village or the Lower East Side? Perhaps it was a trip to Paris, are you getting what I am saying, right? Perhaps going to Tangier or Katmandu, to discover what life is about without the gray flannel fakery of the time. It wasn’t political, racist, dogmatic or anti-romantic. It was a serious struggle to maintain a meaningful life without deceit, perpetual discovery, having gay friends and going for the real thing. If you have a beret and throw it up in the air and it doesn’t land on your head, what should you expect? Maybe the bohemian has been replaced by the serial killer. Neither is in the mainstream. Both are interested in fun, each in his own way.
When I went to Morocco, I was still quite young. I was 26, married with two kids. I went to Tangier because there was a Yugoslavian freighter going there. Jack Kerouac took the same freighter I took maybe a year before. 1961? The Hravatska. I sold books I had for $90. For $90, the freighter dropped me off in Tangier. We had a lot of stuffed cabbage for 12 days. We wound up in Casablanca. The boat continued up to Tangier.
I was in Tangier ‘til ‘66. , then I came back here and published the “Hashish Cookbook,” based on the idea of hash candy. You can also make grass into tea.
How am I getting by now? Don’t ask me. In my pocket, I have a check for $1600 out of the $3600 spent by someone who bought three of my beautiful mylar prints of Jimi Hendrix. I did some of the greatest photography of the period. The Whitney came by and picked out two prints they wanted. They really wanted the work I’ve done in the past two years. I don’t have any prints from now. I have my film developed into 4” by 6” prints by two men from Odessa. Do you want to do a show of 4” by 6” prints and include me? Great. For me, it’s only 40 years too late.
I am trying to get my new book, “A Dissolute Life Spent in the Service of Allah” published. If I had to rest on my laurels on what John Ashberry has written as a poet, I’d jump out a window. My poems are great. Nobody speaks with my voice. I don’t think there is a better poet on the planet than me. That may be an exaggeration. There may be some weird guy in Africa or China who’d blow my mind. I’m probably the best-kept secret of the American avant garde culture. You won’t find a book of mine on the bookshelves.