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Rest in Peace, Taylor Mead (1924-2013)
The New York Times’ City Room shares the sad news that poet, performer, painter, Warhol star, and New York downtown legend Taylor Mead passed away yesterday at the age of 88. Mead, above, at The Poetry Project in 1993. Photo by Jacob Burckhardt.
A force within the Beat movements in both San Francisco and New York, he began writing and performing his particular brand of raunchy, irreverent, and often hilarious poetry in the early 1950s. He made his first film, The Flower Thief, in 1960 with San Francisco underground filmmaker Ron Rice. Inspired by Robert Frank’s 1959 Beat classic Pull My Daisy, which was narrated by Jack Kerouac and featured poets Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky, The Flower Thief follows the sprightly Mead as he wanders through the oceanfront arcades and smoke-filled poetry cafes of bohemian San Francisco. Breaking down the boundary between art and life with its impressionistic, improvised style, the film has been hailed by film theorist P. Adams Sitney as “the purest expression of the Beat sensibility in cinema.”
By 1963 Mead had made his way to New York City where, as a downtown celebrity in his own right and a fixture on the East Village poetry circuit, he was introduced to Andy Warhol and became known as one of his most accomplished actors. Between 1963 and 1969, Mead starred in numerous Warhol films, including Tarzan and Jane Regained … Sort Of (1963), The Nude Restaurant (1967), Imitation of Christ (1967), and Lonesome Cowboys (1969). As a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to a letter published in the Village Voice complaining about its coverage of tedious avant-garde films (such as “films focusing on Taylor Mead’s ass for two hours”), Warhol and Mead made Taylor Mead’s Ass (1964), an hour-long silent film of Mead performing with just his rear end. He has appeared more recently in Rebecca Horn’s Buster’s Bedroom (1991), Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), and as the subject of William A. Kirkley’s documentary Excavating Taylor Mead (2005), which captures the octogenarian superstar’s antics in the Lower East Side as he fights eviction from an apartment filled with ephemera from his extraordinary life.
Watch Taylor Mead pay homage to Jim Carroll with “They’re All Dead” at The Poetry Project’s 2010 Marathon Reading, below. That’s Penny Arcade to the right. Rest in peace, Taylor, you’ll be dearly missed.