Lunch Drawing 23: Lady Eyebrows

Lunch Drawing 23: Lady Eyebrows

One night in Manhattan, my friend, Bob Chase, and I met up with Lou Reed to attend a benefit for Prospect 1, the first-ever New Orleans Biennial. It was at the Core Club, a kind of fancy-schmancy, arts-positive club that had graciously agreed to host the event. While standing outside, Lou told us of how “Walk on the Wild Side” came into being. It was initially written for a musical based on Nelson Algren’s novel of the same name. When the financing failed to materialize, Lou switched out Algren’s New Orleans demimonde for Warhol’s Factory denizens and achieved the only top 40 hit of his career.

Never before had Top 40 radio had a song that spoke so clearly to the “other”–junkies, gay people, and other square pegs who existed in the margins of American life.

The first time I heard it I was in seventh grade, wearing black pants, a white shirt and a red tie (the Catholic school uniform of St Pius X)and I remember thinking that I didn’t know completely what this song was about, but I knew it had something to do with me.

It was one of those moments that set me free and let me know that there was another side.

It probably isn’t Lou’s best song, or even his best-known song, but it is the one that reached into the white-bread heart of America and announced that the freaks and misfits and others who chose a life outside of the lines weren’t going anywhere to hide any more, and this was not a small thing. Lou broke down the door, and the rest of us got to walk through it.

Published in: on November 14, 2013 at 7:50 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

Lunch Drawing #22: ‘Looking for Soul Food (Drawing for Lou Reed)


There is a very expensive steakhouse in Brooklyn called Peter Luger’s that, for over a hundred years, has served what’s thought to be the best steak in New York, , ,or the country for that matter.  And when you eat their beef, it is hard to argue with this appraisal. It melts in your mouth. It is perfectly seasoned and cooked at a very high temperature in butter. The Luger’s steak is delicious. No argument. The service leaves a lotto be desired, though; snotty old Kraut waiters, a long wait even when you have a reservation, and the light so bright, you’d think you were in an operating room.

For many of the years that I knew Lou Reed, this was his favorite steak. . .and we ate a lot of it. We’d often go with a big group; five or six people at least. Luger’s was less likely to fuck you around if it was a big table. Over the years, Lou brought Salman Rushdie, Hal Wilner,the musical genius, Laurie Anderson and a host of dudes from his Tai-Chi classes, including the instructor.

I brought my friends Nick Bubash, Mickey Cartin,  Joe Amrhein, and various other miscreants. Our crowds mixed well and during the dinner we’d talk about art, music, politics, and exchange the latest dirty jokes. Salman Rushdie has a deep cache of very funny dirty jokes. I was always amazed that he was so funny. For all that he had been through, (it isn’t everyone who has the leader of a country put a price on his head) he was and is funnier than hell. It was also interesting to hear him discuss books and authors.  At one dinner, he explained a petty pissing match between V.S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux who’d
written a scathing book about their friendship and its undoing. Salman explained that the notoriously thin-skinned Theroux was pissed that Naipaul no longer wanted to be friends and wrote a book about it. It was nice to hear that great writers were just as petty and vindictive and juvenile as the rest of us.

Often, toward the end of the meal, there would be a pile of steak bones that still had a lot of meat on them. Lou and I would chew the meat off of the bones. we’d just flat-ass pick up the bones and start gnawing on them like a couple of terriers. The great thing was Lou made noise while he gnawed, not unlike a growl, and it was funnier than hell. What was great was that after the notoriously aloof service by starch-shirted elderly Huns, there were a couple of guys loudly chewing on bones, and didn’t give a fuck who heard it–and one of them was Lou Reed. What were they going to say?

“Hey, Lou Reed! Stop chewing on that bone of the steak you just paid for.”

I can tell you how THAT would have gone.

Later on, Lou became a fan of Wolfgang’s, which was opened by a bunch that used to work at Luger’s, the late, great West 63rd Street Steakhouse across from Lincoln Center or, in a pinch, the grand old war horse of Manhattan steakhouses, The Homestead.

There is something about steak to kids who were raised working-class. They enjoy it more. It is always a treat, even if you can eat it every night.

If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m drawing the song, “Walk on the Wild Side.” It is the first song of Lou’s I ever heard and, at the time,it spoke to me in a way I didn’t quite understand; like a dog whistle for people who knew they were going to be other.

It is the only way I can think of to honor my friend.

Published in: on November 11, 2013 at 12:32 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Lunch Drawing 21: Kid Hustle…..(Wal​k on the Wild Side, ​for Lou Reed)​


In 1972, a single was released that was unlike anything in the history of AM Radio. Lou Reed’s, Walk on the Wild Side spoke of transgression, otherness and addiction. It also casually mentioned “giving head,” which, for some reason, went over the heads of the notorious radio censors of the day. It was a howl from the other side,a bulletin to the square America that there were whole other cultures walking among them and damn-near invisible.

The New York of this song was grimy and dangerous, the same New York that, two years later, Martin Scorsese would mine for the shattering Taxi Driver. New York City was dangerous, subversive, and the last thing we had resembling Bohemia. It was the New York of Warhol’s Factory where, of course, The Velvet Underground was nurtured and unleashed on the world. And right at the forefront of all of it was Lou Reed.

He’d studied philosophy at Syracuse and was a student of the great American poet, Delmore Schwartz. In the whole time I knew Lou, he was never not reading poetry. He loved haiku, Rilke, Artaud, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Valery. You name it, Lou read it. He was also fascinated by the city of New York, kind of the same way I am by Chicago, and I loved when he told me stories of the city in the early ’70s and late ’60s and the tidal, cultural changes that he, himself, helped foster into being. . .the places like Max’s Kansas City, CBGB–the emergence of punk and the roiling and whirling energies that brought it all to bear. He was witness to all of it.

New York was a dangerous place. Forty-Second Street before the invasion of the Disney crowd, was lurid and grim and shiny whore candy for blocks at a time. One of those place that was scary even in broad daylight. And Lou sang of its people in terse and unsparing lyrics. “Walk on the Wild Side” was the beginning of an enormous cultural shift in a bankrupt city of hunger.

Published in: on November 6, 2013 at 9:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Winter Night Moth

Winter Night Moth etching

It is the time of year when the moths die; when, on window sills all over the world, the first chill has laid them, on their powdery sides.  A perfect mirror of each other.

This fall I’m performing  my play, Stations Lost in Brooklyn, New York.  We’re performing it in The Boiler, a performance and exhibition space in the Williamsburg section of North Brooklyn.  It is kind of a perfect room for this show.  A one-time actual boiler where citizens of this borough worked for 100 years.  It is a grimy and hard-scrabble reminder of the hard labor done in this great city back when our country actually MADE things.

There is also an odd juxtaposition in that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are occurring just across the East River.  I walked through the demonstration  on my first days in New York before we started our technical rehearsals.  My play is very much about the country we find ourselves in now, with its blighted economy and missed opportunity, greed, and unfocused bigotries.  As I walked through Occupy Wall Street, I was amazed that this was no ‘youth’ protest.  I saw all kinds of people; firemen, construction workers, teachers, mothers, veterans, and many, many more of the educated and unemployed new underclass created by the greed and mismanagement of our financial institutions. I feel, for maybe the first time, that I have a bit of skin in this argument.  I employ eight other artists.   I have a gallery and a printmaking shop in Chicago. My partner, Adam Seidel, and I have invested over six figures each to start a fine art company focused on  small edition etchings, as well as books and job creation.   My other partner, Stan Klein, and I have a theatrical production company and a publishing house.  After depositing 100,000 dollars in a business account we found out that even with this capitalization, we’d not be allowed to  borrow more money to expand our business and create more jobs.  In fact, this deposit did not even avail us to a line of credit.

I seem to recall the President telling the banks that in exchange for their TARP money–their bail-out–they were to lend money and stimulate the economy and, more importantly, create jobs.  These little etchings support eight people. And, truth be told?  They could support a whole hell of a lot more were we allowed to grow.

Performing this  show in Brooklyn has been a lot of fun.  Though our houses have been smaller we’ve had great audiences.  Last Saturday night while performing the first act, I noticed an elegantly dressed gentleman with white hair in the third row.  I took me a few moments to realize it was David Byrne, the true renaissance man of  New York–musician, visual artist, activist for biking and all around cultural catalyst.  It was cool to see him in the audience.

Our opening night we had the great Lou Reed, and the director of MoMA, Glenn Lowry, as well as a whole host of my fellow Brooklyn artists who’ve been amazingly supportive.

The Boiler is the performance and arts space fostered into existence by Pierogi Gallery, also of  Williamsburg.  They went through no small amount of bullshit getting this space up to code, so that we could perform this show and I appreciate it.  New York audiences are a little different than Chicago; a bit more reserved. . . quieter.  They really listen.

I’ve been staying with the painter, Greg Stone, the mordantly funny and exceptionally gifted visual artist who is the best roommate one could imagine.  He  is in possession of the dryest of wits and has a wise-ass, hard-boiled and no bullshit view of the world.  We’ve laughed our asses off.

One of the most lovely things is being in New York for autumn.  It is a season that loves this city.   Everything that seems timeless and classic about this city only seems more so, preserved in the amber of autumn light.  I went to a farmers market in McCarren Park in Brooklyn and the nip in the air, the changing colors of trees and the general goodwill were the ingredients of one of those perfect New York days that keeps people wanting to live here.

There is something to working as an actor in New York , that makes one feel more for real.  And that there is more at stake.  No matter what theater one works in, you are surrounded by the ghosts of giants.  This is one  of the places where people come to be measured against the best.

Published in: on October 26, 2011 at 10:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Star For The Naked City

Every night at 2 in the morning, the old man cable station, WE, plays an old Naked City rerun.  I barely remember this show because the reruns were old before I was born.  It is a crime drama full of old New Work actors, mostly old stage pros and young upstarts from Stella Adler’s or Lee Strasberg’s classes.  It is kind of a treat to see the young Redford, Duvall, Ed Asner (with hair), as well as Lee Marvin, Burt Reynolds, Ed Nelson, Richard Anderson, and the  recently deceased Leslie Neilsen,  all chewing up the scenery and method acting their asses off.  Some of this work is truly cringe-worthy and some of it is great, like everything.

The real star of this show is New York City and the 1950, an era of cheap optimism that this show tries valiantly to tamp down.  They addressed real issues on Naked City; addiction and its root causes, the parallel realities of racism, poverty, criminality and hopelessness, and what these things all have to do with each other.  It was pretty raw realism considering when it was made.  I’m always amazed at the ambition of these scripts and the generous helpings of violence.  And the violence is always ugly and cowardly no matter who is dispensing it.  It was an interesting show where the people looked like real people. . . meaning, ugly motherfuckers like me could get work on this show.  The cops looked like cops and the crooks and harlots looked like crooks and harlots.  There was one episode with the young and very beautiful Cloris Leachman, who was really a dish around 1955, playing a real slut, and Bunky, she could sell the boom-boom.  She was dastardly and way fuckable.

I have a great deal of curiosity about the 1950’s; no nostalgia or sentiment.  I was born in 1958.  I have no love for “the good old days: when institutional racism was law and conformity ruled the day.  People have often told me the think my pieces are nostalgic. I cringe when I hear that.  I am in no way sentimental.  I am interested in history , and these scraps, matchbooks, wrappers and other paper arcana are evidence of how our culture communicated visually.  Do I love Chicago?  Yes.  And I hate it as well; particularly the cheap boosterism that masquerades as civic pride.  About a year ago, this city was willing to go buns-up to get the Olympics.  A bullshit caper that would have made a few developers a lot of money and possibly bankrupted the city itself.  If you don’t believe this, go ask Atlanta and Los Angeles, two cities that are still paying off their Olympic debts.  This proposition was also being bandied about as something that would bring jobs.  Horseshit.  Iit would create a bunch of lousy-paying service industry jobs that would be temporary.  A few thousand Chicagoans would get to pimp Slurpees to the tourists and then three weeks later, they’d be out of that job.  I mention this because of the way cities tend to think of themselves.  We never hear them trumpet the quality of their citizens’ educations or quality of life.  It is about the big events–the Olympics, Millenium Park (which I actually like), Taste of Chicago, where dip-shits from Des Moines come into town, get shit-faced and leave a river of puke from the lake to the Metra station.  This shit is big business here.  If you want to get the power crowd’s attention here, tell them you’re thinking about bringing a convention here and watch how fast they pull their cheeks apart.

I think about shows like the Naked City because there was a kind of realism about them, The city, in this case New York, was realized on a human scale.  They, like us, were boastful to be sure, but their  optimism was tempered with a realization  of the American dream’s trap-doors and fun-house mirrors.  A similar show was filmed here, M-Squad, with Lee Marvin (Lee Marvin!).  At the time, it was thought too grim. . .too realistic. . .a downer.  It too, dealt with social issues like deliquency, racism and criminality.  It didn’t last long, but it wasn’t bad.  I watch it to remember what Chicago looked like a half century ago; to see the lived-in faces and buildings and signs.

It was a portrait of us we’ve tried to forget; one perhaps, too close to the truth.

Published in: on December 6, 2010 at 4:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Tony Fitzpatrick at Dieu Donne, New York City

Published in: on April 28, 2009 at 4:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Tiger Weeds

Tiger Weeds

In almost all of the hobo lore I’ve read, plants are a prominent theme.  Plants that are edible.  Plants that are poisonous.  Plants that get you high.  Hobos were well-acquainted with ‘shrooms and peyote, as well as many other plants that acted as home-cures for everything from rashes to tooth-aches; aloe and oil of clove.  For stomach disorders hobos often ate dandelion greens, among other herbs.  Plants were the hobo’s best friend. Sadly, many hobos would commit suicide with Jim Pye weed and other poisonous plants.  In many of the texts I’ve read, hobos spent long hours laying in the tall weeds waiting for trains slow enough to hop.  Often times, trains would “cannonball,” meaning they would run at top speed in order to discourage unwanted passengers and train robbers.  Hobos had to be canny and live by their wits in order to read the minds of train engineers coming out of the yards.   Seasoned hobos knew to stay away from the railyards and the “bulls” who guarded them, in order to avoid beatings and jail.  Mostly they would wait in an area outside of the yard with some cover to hide in and hope for a slow-coming train.

Last week my New York show, Big Rock Candy Mountain, opened; the first of three shows about the hobos and the hobo alphabet.  The second show, The Devil’s Handshake, will open in New Orleans at Ammo Gallery in October.  The third and final hobo show, The Ticket to Canaan, will open in January at my home gallery, the mighty Pierogi in Brooklyn, in January.

I had a great time in New York at my show. Dieu Donné could not be better hosts or friends.  The women who work there cooked pies for my opening.  Catherine Cox and Rachel Gladfelter labored a whole weekend making Shoo-fly pies, lemon meringue, blueberry and other pies.  It was lovely of them and I was deeply moved by their generosity.  Nick Floyd and Barnaby Struve drove the especially hand-brewed “Hobo” beer from Chicago to New York.  They are the best.  Though I can no longer drink beer, everyone was happy with their amazing brew.  It was kind of them and I am fortunate to have such great friends.  Jenny Scobel and Ted Utley hosted me and Mike at their beautiful home in Harlem and spoiled us rotten with homemade lasagna and bread and pastries.  They also hosted a gathering for me the night before my opening and my friends were kind enough to come out for it.  It was really lovely.

My opening could not have been more fun.  It was full of so many artists whom I greatly admire; Jane Hammond, Leslie Dill, Rico Gatson, the incomparable Deborah Kass (Mommy, I would love to dance), Fred Tomaselli, Martin Wilner, Eric Doyle, Joe Amrhein, Polly Apfelbaum, Jenny Scobel, Walter Robinson and the great Lou Reed.  It was edifying to be celebrated by people this talented; I am touched and grateful.  Thank you to all of you.


Hudson King

Hudson King

There was no shortage of hobos in New York City during The Depression.  Along the Hudson River, there were were hobo jungles almost the full length of Manhattan.  These were some of the nation’s most dangerous camps, though not just because of hobos.  The waterfront harbored any number of criminal enterprises, of which hobos were the least menacing.  In Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, the template for the Scorsese film, but far better and more historically accurate, he describes gangs, hobos and off-the-boat Irish, being conscripted to the Union Army before their legs had even adjusted to dry land.  The resentment of the Irish at being sent to war to “ostensibly” free the slaves, iginited a racial hatred so virulent it gave way to the “Draft Riots,” where drunken Irish idiots lynched Blacks all over New York City.  It is a shameful chapter in the Irish-American story.

The first hobos were  byproduct of The Civil War.  At the war’s bloody end, an estimated 300,000 men were without work and took to the rails and boats to find jobs to feed themselves.  We often think of “migrant workers” as Mexican or Latin Americans when, in fact, most of our ancestors were migrant workers, coming by boat or train, and even on foot, to find more opportunity.

A movie I saw recently (and was in) kind of summed this up.  In Steven Conrad’s wonderful, The Promotion, an eager-beaver assistant store manager, played by Sean William Scott, and a Canadian goofball, played by John C. Reilly, are competeing for the same job as manager of a new grocery store.  They undercut and connive in order to best one another for the postion.  At one point, they are sitting together, somewhat contrite over the lengths they went to in order to get this job, and Reilly looks at his co-worker and says, “We’re all just out here, trying to get some food.”   It’s that simple. . .and it’s that complicated.  What we will do in order to keep eating isn not always our better selves. It is a lesson so old, it feels new.  In this economy, we hear the echoes of hungry people from The Civil War, The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl.  Of course, we are not enduring anything like these events, but we are seeing hungry people in our cities and towns.  And in America, this is shameful.

%d bloggers like this: