A tribute to 'the last beat poet', the man whose buttocks were immortalised in a notorious Warhol movie
The day I met Taylor Mead, the Andy Warhol star, underground poet and actor who has died aged 88, it was a blazing bright New York afternoon. I am fairly sure it was a Sunday, and our appointment was at a bar in downtown Manhattan. I was there with Mark Webber, guitarist in Pulp and underground cinema enthusiast, to research a feature – it was he who set up our meetings with some of Warhol's most legendary associates. We sat in a cafe chatting with Gerard Malanga, and I kept hearing Venus in Furs (the Velvet Underground song to which Malanga once danced with a whip at the Exploding Plastic Inevitable).
But Taylor Mead ... he turned out a wonderfully romantic figure, a true bohemian. At that time, he was in his late 70s and, on a day before any murderous planes had ever poisoned that blue Manhattan sky, he embodied all I find fascinating about the city and its avant garde. Nicely drunk when we got there, he exuded an innocent belief in life, love and the city's generosity to its wild children.
I wanted more than anything else to have him tell me in his own words about a celebrated road trip he took with Warhol in the early 1960s, from New York to California. It was Warhol's first visit to the West Coast and they decided to go in style, in a homage to Jack Kerouac's On the Road. In small-town diners – as Warhol tells it in his memoir Popism– the New York bohemians felt exposed and in danger, but they made it to Hollywood alive.
Someone should make a film about the episode. I can't remember how far Mead corroborated or denied Warhol's telling of the tale, but I remember his rumpled face and sweet voice. In 1964, Warhol made Taylor Mead's Ass, in which the camera dwells on … well, I don't need to elaborate. Here's a picture. That film did not give Mead much scope to express his personality, but his characterful face and exuberant screen presence can be appreciated in Ron Rice's The Flower Thief, as well as films from Warhol's Factory, including Lonesome Cowboys.
Mead told me, in that bar, that to get away from Warhol, he fled to Rome and hung out with Fellini. In truth, he was a poet both before and after he was an actor. Last year he was billed as "the last beat poet" in a special appearance at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York. It was as a beat poet in the 1950s that he got involved in underground cinema. Taylor Mead was a saint of the avant garde, a real superstar – with and without Warhol.