"Yeah, whatever, I’m just watching Oprah," Taylor Mead lolls over the phone line when I ask if he has time to talk. "Anyway, what do you want to know, because I’m so bored with being interviewed."
Actually, around a half-minute separates Mead’s initial "whatever" from his profession of boredom 30 seconds that he laconically fills with more wit than other interview subjects might manage in 30 hours. "One day Oprah will be at a petting zoo, loving little animals, and the next she’ll have a banquet, serving 100 people veal," he says. "As a vegetarian, I object. I object to this new vice president, too. She hunts wolves from an airplane. Give me a break."
Such objections are a taste of what’s in store for anyone wise enough to see the 83-year-old Mead crack wise during a brief visit to San Francisco. "Do I dare call it Frisco?" asks the star of Ron Rice’s 1960 North Beachset cinematic Beat classic The Flower Thief. Though Mead hasn’t been to SF in years, he knows the city today well enough now to liken it to "the richest suburb in the world," so he’s querying himself as much as me. "They called it Frisco when there were tough dockworkers there, when it was a tougher town. Now it’s just Frisky."
The Flower Thief kicks off "Taylor Mead: A Clown Underground," a three- evening Joel Shepardcurated affair at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that moves on to the 1967-68 Andy Warhol mock western Lonesome Cowboys and concludes with William A. Kirkley’s 2005 documentary portrait Excavating Taylor Mead. The first and last films are bookend sort of visions of a self-described "National Treasure / If there were such a thing." Mead is a great American movie star and poet whose stardom is a byproduct of his poetry and vice versa. Just as 2000’s Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story reveals that Mead’s rich-rebel-gone-Warhol-superstar peer Brigid Berlin is a master of monologue, Kirkley’s documentary and more directly, Mead’s books present a wilder-than-Wilde master of the aphorism.
Mead can also make a lengthy poem sing, as illustrated by a YouTube clip of a serenade to Jake Gyllenhaal, gleaned from one of his regular Monday night appearances at Bowery Poetry Club. If Gyllenhaal’s 2005 Brokeback Mountain character is the gay son of Montgomery Clift in 1948’s Red River and 1961’s The Misfits, then both Mead’s song to Gyllenhaal and Mead’s older poem "Autobiography" prove lonesome cowboys can be lassoed by a rodeo clown.
"For everything that is original, spontaneous, alive, and creative and beautiful, there is some old lady who will complain about it," writes Mead in 1986’s Son of Andy Warhol (Hanuman Books). In the 2005 collection A Simple Country Girl (YBK Publishers, $14.95) his wit and wisdom is even shorter and sharper. "Everything / Has a right to life / except mosquitoes / and religious people."
Airplane willing and anti-anxiety medication in hand, Taylor Mead is returning to the town where Jack Spicer once seethed as he sat on Jack Kerouac’s lap. Shower him with Dewar’s. He’ll be bringing a couple hundred pages of quips in his carry-on bag, but they might not be necessary.
As the man himself says, "I don’t need a script."
TAYLOR MEAD: A CLOWN UNDERGROUND
Thurs/18Fri/19 and Sun/21, 7:30 p.m., $8
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
(after a poem by Ferlinghetti)
By Taylor Mead
I have blown
And been blown
I have never had a woman
I have been in great jails and terrible jails
The great jails were the tanks and the terrible jails were the model prisons.
I have seen my mother a few hours before she died.
I have seen my father pinching pennies and felt it.
I have heard and felt my father in his worship of
money worshipping money and the U.S.A. of money
madness, fuck it!
I have been beaten nearly to death before an
"enlightened" Greenwich Village crowd.
I have been beaten in my hospital bed by sadistic
I have been arrested by a jealous policewoman and
I should have hit her and killed her.
I have played all the pianos that all the famous
pianists have played in Carnegie Hall in the basement
of Steinway Hall and I still play them
after making it with the elevator boys on a quiet
religious Sunday afternoon.
I have made goo goo eyes at Marlon Brando with no
but not too much discouragement either.
I have made it with Montgomery Clift in Central Park
against a little pagoda
or at least he said it was Montgomery Clift and
it was Montgomery Clift too.
Elizabeth Taylor has really looked at me from under
a veil on Fifth Avenue and Susan Strasberg and
Judith Anderson all on Fifth Avenue and can’t
remember her name on Sixth Avenue now the
Avenue of the Americas and then too
And that year’s winner of the Antoinette Perry
award followed me from the St. Regis where he lived
and I’ve never been in for four blocks until
I regretfully lost him because I’m shy.
And my first day alone in New York almost this famous
cowboy star made goo goo eyes at me on the steps
of the New York Public Library, main branch
And I went into the Times Square Duffy Square
subterranean toilet with one of the movies’ Tarzans
and he showed me his big peter
and I showed him my small one
because it was cold and
I didn’t want to get it excited unless I was sure
something great was about to take place
And it didn’t.
Originally printed in Excerpts from the Anonymous Diary of a New York Youth (self-published, 1961) and Angels of the Lyre: A Gay Poetry Anthology (Gay Sunshine Press, 1975)