Taylor Mead, Superstar 

The Life and Times of a Downtown Legend

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Critics nowadays would call this film, and others like it, amateurish, although the media then was struggling to stay hip, using turns like “intellectual hellzapoppin’” and “cubistic comedy of the new world cinema,” to describe them. They were trying too hard. It was plain to see, beyond the occasional and obvious symbolism, that these people were playing. Taylor says, “We just ran around in a cab going to interesting places in the city. The movie was two hours long and it took us two hours and 15 minutes to film it.”

This was a new thing for young people, this ethos — have fun! Do what you want and call it art! Art on a whim! The poetry, the films, the paintings — art was a precipitate of living artistically, with the experience being the attraction more than the final product. Some had the cleverness, namely Andy Warhol, to extract disposable income from this kind of life. It was Andy who sought out Taylor, also known around town for standing on bars to yell out his poetry when everyone was too loud and drunk to pay attention. He was one of the Factory’s longer-wearing parts, but Warhol, to whom people were as disposable as his income, told him, “Taylor, I don’t need to give you money, I gave you fame.” Which is all he has now, barely, but for a little survival income from his father’s estate.

So when Mead was almost evicted from his rent-controlled apartment on Ludlow Street, ostensibly because of a vermin problem, it was to mean the end of life in the neighborhood that was his life. I asked him about a scene in the documentary, where he rifles through mountains of roach-covered trash to get to the fridge, and says, “My only addictions... chocolate milk and regret.” He was incredulous. “What? Did I say that? It’s impossible to have regrets. I only regret all the stray cats I took in, and the guys I should’ve talked to but didn’t because I was so shy. And I’m worried about the building going up outside my window, that’s gonna wake me up every morning.”

The eviction was averted, and his vigor is undiminished. I’m asking something about his time in Paris, when Taylor looks out the door at a tan, curly-haired twenty-something and mutters luridly, “Oh my god, cute guys.” I look outside, and then he says, “Oh but he smokes. So awful. Plus if you blow somebody you can taste the fucking tobacco. Tobacco is dangerous, it goes right into your semen.” The NY Post’s Page Six, in mentioning the documentary, couldn’t seem to mention anything other than Taylor’s filthy, roach-infested apartment. He says they should’ve heard more of his poetry if they wanted filth. What would the headline have been after seeing him squirm in pain for effect at his weekly show, describing rough sex in Dirty Poem: “…it gradually finds my buttocks, into them plunges slippery slipping gradually, artistically, lubricatingly, ecstatically slowly plunges into my hot hole lips… Ugh, augh!”

Taylor says he’s an open book, but Bill Kirkley told me that over the course of making the film it was very hard to observe his star’s true feelings, except on one occasion. Bill got a call late one night, with news from Taylor that his favorite cat had died, and did he want to come to the funeral. Solemnly they walked to the river under the Brooklyn Bridge, and while nonchalantly talking about the breed and how long he’d had him, Taylor pulls the dead, stiff cat from a paper bag, and chucks it unceremoniously into the East River. There, floating among the other detritus in the murky water was one of the most beloved members of his family. That was the one time he really saw Taylor’s quiet heartache.

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