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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: July 17, 2010

John Wilcock

“Everybody knows that you lose one IQ point for every year you spend in southern California..”

“Not so, it’s more like ten points”

— two of my anonymous bicoastal friends

 It was a delight to see many old friends while in New York last week but so many were turned away from the library event at which my book (The Autobiography & Sex Life of Andy Warhol ) was launched because the 300-seat room was packed with eager Warhol fans long before it began. (You can read reports about the event on my website under ‘press’). Some superstars who feature in the book met with me to discuss the enigmatic artist about whom we all told our favorite tales, such as the time when we went to a midnight movie screening and the manager mistook Gerard Malanga for Andy who failed to correct the misidentification. He sat all night with a whimsical smile on his face as Gerard signed autographs.
     The city was humid and tiring enough that I lost a couple of pounds (which I was well rid of) as a consequence of climbing up and down innumerable subway stairs and walking from my various hosts’ apartments to the nearest bus stop. Alyssa volunteered to guide me to the High Line park that now operates atop the long-abandoned rail line and, stoned out of our minds, and after a couple of beers at the Pick Me Up Café on St. Marks Place the topnotch collagist Valery accompanied me to a Chelsea area art opening which displayed some tremendous young talent. Coming soon to your city (maybe) is the plan to leave pianos all over the streets for anyone to tinkle on. It’s been a hugely popular notion in The Big Apple where British Artist Luke Jerram installed Play Me, I’m Yours pianos which have been played by an estimated 85,000 passers-by.

photo credit: West Side Spirit

One of my former assistants, when I was publishing a tabloid newspaper called Other Scenes was Nancy, who spent so much of her time playing backgammon with Bob Dylan, that he bestowed on her a new name, Lola, and under that name, she studied acting under Lee Strassberg and ended up writing a recently-published book about the maestro’s methods. I went down to see her class at which a score of aspiring thespians were practicing very basic exercises like pretending to hold a coffee cup and presumably entering into the essence of its being.  I asked Lola if it was possible early on to detect who would be a successful actor and she replied, not at all. “I’m not able to make those kinds of assessments because I’ve been wrong. Talent can be nurtured, revealed and uncovered… yet often after practicing the exercises, amazing things can happen, people come alive.”
Three days with my author friend Caroline (The Man Who Was Conde Nast ) cooling off in her NJ riverside home, a few yards from where Washington crossed the Delaware, was a welcome relief from the big city heat, and then back for more running around.
With a group assembled by my old friend Jerelle, I attended a screening of the new Oliver Stone movie which contains fascinating footage of what U.S. propagandists try to depict as evil leftwing dictators (Chavez, Morales, Castro, Correa,  the Kirchners, Lula) but who turned out to be socialist-minded tribunes of the people who were mostly trying to end the poverty gap in their respective lands while building a shared resistance to US dominance.
Jerelle saw a lot of politics during her 20+-year reign as art director of the New York Times Op-Ed page, documenting her struggles about getting controversial artwork into the paper (including a David Levine caricature of Kissinger which, amazingly, was rejected). She was incensed that the book she produced about all this last spring was not even mentioned in the Times, a reaction with which I sympathized because I worked at the newspaper of record for three years myself and they won’t mention my book either.
Having been friendly with the superlative Christo for many years, we always have dinner when I’m in New York, but this was for the first time since the death of Jeanne-Claude, one-half of what was surely the most successful and celebrated artist partnership since the era of Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar. Relieved to see Christo somewhat recovered from this tragic parting, I put him on camera to ask about the project in which he plans to cover sections of the Colorado River but as usual he proved to be hard to pin down on the project which, anyway, isn’t due until next year.
 Steve Hager, a top dog at High Times and author of the seminal book about graffiti and hip hop, interviewed me about the mag’s early days (my column from Tokyo was in the first issue) and then I put him on camera and observed that I was happy that High Times eventually got over its coke infatuation and returned to being the wonderfully dope-obsessed lifestyle magazine which is how it began. “You are looking,” he said pridefully, “at the man who ejected cocaine from this magazine.” The current issue is ad-thick with pages devoted to huge, $2000 machines that cut and trim bushels of buds to saleable, useable size. There’s big money in today’s Marihuana Industry (as if you didn’t know).

Although I read with growing amazement the multitude of free daily tabloids scattered on every corner, the most fun came as usual from Rupert Murdoch’s rambunctious New York Post with its colorful tales of a man who riled a bar full of World Cup supporters watching the German-Argentina game, by wearing Hitler make-up while dispensing Nazi salutes; glamorous portraits of the red-headed Russian spy in Greenwich Village; gripes about the new city tobacco tax (bringing a pack to as much as $14.50); the growing demand for lobster rolls ($14-29, according to location); and a scary outbreak of bedbugs at Abercrombie & Fitch.
Reporting to my host Janet that I’d had a mid-morning brunch with my publisher Chris and the dynamic, young lady editor of a cyber magazine that recently ran a kind piece about me, I said that, compared with the intellectual wasteland of southern California, it was such a joy in New York to meet intelligent conversationalists. Not to mention that the lady in question was quite beautiful. Janet said: “Haven’t you told me of this love-at-first-sight syndrome before?  Surely you remember the words of that song?”

I fall in love too easily/ I fall in love too fast
I fall in love too terribly hard/ For love to ever last
My heart should be well schooled, ‘cos I’ve been fooled in the past…
But still I fall in love too easily/ I fall in love too fast
               (Doubtless this is copyrighted by someone)

    Well, I said, it’s not so much falling in love, as that since ancient times men have been perpetually seeking a goddess. They desire somebody to worship, be counseled by, lust after, and devote themselves to. And such elevated entities come among all too rarely.
“Yeah, right,” scoffed Big J, a longtime practicing psychologist. “That’s all very well until, of course, the goddess tries to exercise some of her dominion.”
And obviously, she has a point; that is where it starts to get most interesting.
Good to be back home. New York’s still a wonderful place to visit but I no longer need to live there.