Taylor Mead, RIP

I met Taylor Mead in 1989 when we both acted together in a science fiction movie shot in the Hall of Science at the World’s Fair Grounds in Queens. I’d seen his acting in the seventies when I moved to NYC and saw Nude Restaurant, Lonesome Cowboys, Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man and The Flower Thief.

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Taylor was a free spirit on film, exuding a peculiar elastic quality that was all his own…He had a languid goofiness that cut through pretension, an ability to hold your attention by virtue of an unexpected quality.

I used to run into him in bars on the Lower East Side where he always got free drinks. He would never want to talk to any female companion I might be with, but would converse about the Warhol years and other subjects. I was surprised at how politically conservative he was, defending the insane lunacy of the Cheney-Bush junta’s wars of aggression which drained our economy and jump-started a new era of repression and naked imperialism that will no doubt result in the fall of the US empire and untold misery for millions of innocent people. Taylor’s political opinions seemed to have been inflicted upon him by the Fox News Terror Network, a source of malignant propaganda directed at misinformed old people too lazy to turn off their TVs. It was unfortunate that this barrage of poison had infected Taylor’s thinking, but politics had little to do with our shared lifestyles as underground outsiders and Taylor’s memories were feeble so there were no hard feelings when we’d meet.

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Marcel Duchamp, Ultra Violet and Taylor Mead

Once we walked downtown from an event in Times Square, stopping on 6th Ave so he could leer at bodybuilders in a gym on 17th street. Later we headed to Bowery Bar, where his presence produced a Parting of the Red Sea and afforded us entry into a snooty, vile watering-hole for young urban professionals immersed in a particularly repellant form of toxic narcissism that inexplicably enthralled Taylor. As muscle bound Ken Dolls reached around Taylor to grab their brewskies while engaging in besotted mating rituals with assembly-line Barbie Dolls exuding a noxious inbred plasticity, I asked Taylor if this was his idea of “fun.”

“These are MY people!” he exclaimed. “You need to get out of the Lower East Side, Nick.”
“But THIS IS THE LOWER EAST SIDE, TAYLOR!” I replied.

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Andy Warhol, Gregory Markopoulos, Jack Smith, Gerard Malanga and Taylor Mead at the Factory. Photograph by Dennis Hopper.

In 1999, I directed Taylor in Ecstasy in Entropy, wherein he gave a brilliant performance as a leering pervert in a lap dancing joint, shot in a place called Art Space (rumored to have once been a whorehouse) briefly the hottest experimental autonomous zone in NYC. After a year and a half of community board and police harassment, the groundbreaking performance space was padlocked forever, another victim of unrestrained government fascism, killed by a vicious vendetta of busybodies with too much power on their hands. Half a block away, heroin dealers continued to peddle their wares on the sidewalk, ignored by the cops and community board nitwits who were terrified of the existence of real art in the LES.

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Andy Warhol and members of the Factory, October 9, 1969

Taylor would yearly appear at the Poetry Marathon at St. Mark’s Church, delivering rambling oratorios accompanied by a shabby cassette player; self-indulgent exercises in embarrassing egomania which seemed to enthrall the less discriminating sentimentalists in attendance.

Taylor hosted an equally self-indulgent stint at the now defunct Bowery Poetry Club, where on Friday evenings at 6 or 7 he’d fumble with his tape deck onstage and listen to himself talk while two bartenders rolled their eyes and waited for customers to show up. A few hours later, the place would be filled with pitiful amateur rappers boasting of their sexual prowess and animal machismo to an ugly crowd of clueless cretins who failed to tip the bartenders (who hated them.) By then Taylor was probably onto his fourth beer, filling up with free drinks before climbing the 4 flights of stairs to his incredibly dirty apartment.

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Taylor Mead in his Ludlow Street apartment

In 2005 I directed Taylor in the origin episode of Electra Elf where he played Jennifer Swallows’ grandfather, shot in Taylor’s filthy one-room apartment on Ludlow Street where he’d lived since 1979. Crawling with roaches and filled with trash and old paintings, this hovel was his final home in NYC until his greedy and disgusting landlord decided to embark upon a campaign of harassment designed to drive Taylor crazy or kill him. Taylor stubbornly refused to be moved while the construction crews demolished the interior of his building until he ended up in the hospital and decided to accept a large sum of money to leave. A few weeks later he was dead, having escaped to live with a niece somewhere in the Midwest.

Such is the way authentic artists are now treated by the city of New York, forced to flee in terror by troglodyte landlords and hordes of yuppie scum, poisoning every inch of “prime real estate” in an orgy of predatory capitalism; a degrading devolution of life based on “profits,” “the bottom line” and creating a playground for rich, spoiled brats with nothing to offer.

Taylor Mead was a living embodiment of freedom and slack…and therefore had to be wiped out…but his legacy lives on in our memories and in the movies, writing and art he left behind, if anybody still cares.

— Nick Zedd


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5 thoughts on “Taylor Mead, RIP

  1. He could be penible, yes — and i was never exposed, never experienced the political conservatism you describe (i am surprised) — but he was alive before he was dead, with something of the Dead Sea in those peculiarly gravity-less eyes that made even his utter snobbery a point of view, a buoyant (stress buoy) vantage, from which to float … A point de regard. Its inverse, freely rendered and consumed like his drinks, oddly forbid him to discriminate. Interior climate varies as much in New York from place to place as (Taylor once said) the weather every 20 blocks. He loved the differences as subtly as he ignored the grand difference you mention. One of Taylor’s greatest moments on celluloid must remain that captured in “Excavating Taylor Mead” (wonderful title) where he heaves a dead cat into the river (I want to say East). He’s Baudelaire. what a pleasure to know! thank you for your words, your judicious remembrance; it wasn’t always sweet (like its subject), but i admired it — especially fine ay the end.

  2. I didn’t know him well but I know he was a treasure. Nick, what a brilliant eulogy! Everything you say about this “playground of the rich” is so disgustingly true ! I can’t even imagine it changing back to a place where artists can thrive and not be destroyed. Fucking heartbreaking .keep talking about it, please; you are the perfect spokesman for this issue.

  3. Good gritty observations on Taylor and our common culture. Taylor did appreciate intelligent women though. For one my fiance Lissa Moira and Rose Hall (Jerry Hall’s sister now deceased; who I withdated decades ago. We all hung out with Larry Rivers and Abby Hoffman or at the Canal BAR with other women of intrest. Taylor was essentially a wit of whimsy in whatever medium be it poetry,acting or performance art. In the end his body was shot so he did the same with morphine to ease the pain.

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