THE SHOOTING OF ANDY WARHOL from LA NEGRESSE March 1984
Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Bells” is based on a church in Greenwich Village, the traditional crazy artist’s quarter of Lower Manhattan. My family comes to America from the duffel bag of my grandfather. He was a cabin boy on a schooner out of Larvik, Norway. About the time Poe wrote “The Bells,” my fifteen year old grandfather jumped ship in Port Newark/New Jersey by climbing down a rope to the dock eines guten dunkel Nacht. Nick Hansen.
Also in the 1880’s there was a family in Lower Manhattan who owned a lot of hotels. Each hotel was named after a son. Albert Pinkham Ryder, a famous painter, had the good fortune to be born to them and not many of the crazy artists in the HOTEL ALBERT realize it is named after him.
Artists, writers, filmers and rock groups on the way up stay at the CHELSEA HOTEL on West 23rd Street. The damaged and the losers on the way down stay at the ALBERT HOTEL on University Place in the Village. Chelsea is uppers; the Albert is downers. Coke in the penthouse; smack in the ghetto. I live a yo-yo life.
After a few economic disasters I had to move to the Albert with my main woman Valerie Herouvis. Fluxus Jerry Benjamin, Bruce the Jeweler, Mad Marie, Rene Ricard, Diane DiPrima, Louise the Lesbian, Maggie Morphine, Suzy Sniff and Yoko Ono…. We all knew each other from the streets and Max’s Kansas City restaurant. Some people got so fucked up the “Albert” is on the way UP for them. Einstein wasn’t kidding when he thought up the theory of relativity. We never could have had the Twentieth Century without it.
We were just in the Albert Hotel a few days. It was late at night and I was on the tail end of a beautiful blow job. As I exploded, the world exploded. Barrrruuuum! Sounds of big pieces of glass falling. The whole hotel shook. Faggots were screaming. Outside, up the street, Puerto Rican Nationalist terrorists had blown up the Village Voice newspaper offices.
Everyone poured out of the hotel half-dressed to have a look. Glass like crystal covered the streets. I suddenly noticed Valerie still had pieces of sperm in her hair like strand schaum. The poet crazy Angus Maclise once made a calendar assigning mad free titles to different days. I particularly like “The Night of the Breaking of Great Sheets of Glass.” And now here it was.
We re-entered the hotel and drifted up to our rooms. There was a funny tense mood in the hotel. People were crouched attentively over radios and TVs like people in old news-photos listening to speeches by Churchill or Hitler in 1942 (depending on what side the people who run the world decided you would get your news from). We regularly shoot and kill important people in America so we have a particular way we stand in those moments. “Let’s go back to bed,” Valerie murmured. “Something heavy has gone down,” I said.
It is another proof of American schizophrenia that we are quite happy to communicate totally with symbols, non-verbally, without exchanging any information of any kind at all. read the Paris Tribune. Listen to the fat cheerful plastic disc jockey and newsfolk on Armed Forces Radio.
We went to our room. “Let’s go to bed,” Valerie said. Outside, in the hall, Rene Ricard, a great poet, was yelling: “Eeeeuuugh! Bobby Kennedy is sooo Nouveau Dead!” On the radio we listened for a bit to how Sirhan Sirhan had shot Bobby Kennedy dead dead in the head head.
The next day Valerie Solanis would try to do the same thing to Andy Warhol. Manson was still collecting runaway girls at Spahn’s Ranch in California. Polanski and his wife thought witchcraft was fun. “Ho Ho Ho,” Saint Nick always says when he comes down the chimney with gifts.
Art energy systems are fluid, liquid, feminine, gazeuse, videoesque. I float in and out of them city to city internationally. I am it. It is me. I have been involved with Andy in different ways since he first began to cruise the art scene with Charles Henri at Claes Oldenberg’s Happening Store days on the Lower East Side. Andy always taped conversations live. He was the media and the media loved him in return. In a European way, Joseph Beuys had the same power.
Neuer Shamans. Andy was having his first book made, “A.” It was being laboriously typed from a mountain of sound cassettes by Maureen, the drummer of Sterling’s VELVET UNDERGROUND, a rock group that based itself in Andy’s Factory and like a trampoline it threw Lou Reed, Nico and John Cale into the air. Mo was sitting for hours in headphones with a stop-start foot pedal, typing these mad crazed faggot speed slang drug rappings and she had had enough.
“Can you get me someone who would be good at that?” Andy asked. “Sure,” I said. “It has to be as soon as possible,” Andy said. “I got one already,” I said, “Her name is Deirdre McGowan and she is crazy. She will also be very good at it.” “OK. Bring her up in a day or so.”
The next day Valerie went uptown to work in Annie’s Abracadabra boutique on East something 60th Street. The other Valerie was buying a box of bullets for the two pistols she had obtained.
While Andy was shooting Chelsea Girls in the hotel, she had asked him and his people several times to shoot her picture and sometimes they said yes and sometimes they said no and other times they said maybe and it made her very very very crazy. She looked very crazy before that. She would sit all night in the hamburger joint across 23rd Street from the Hotel Chelsea and write her S.C.U.M. Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men).
One night she and I and Vostell were the only people there. Vostell and I liked the new Rolling Stones hit “Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown. At first we just played it four or five times; then Wolf and I put a couple dollars of coins ion the song and it played over and over for hours. Suddenly the machine broke down. As I went to the counter for more coffee Valerie said, “I’m glad you guys stopped playing that over and over; I was getting ready to kill you.” Very funny then. Not so funny in a couple of rain soaked hours.
Deirdre McGowan called from the lobby of the Albert Hotel. “Should I come up?” “I just rolled a couple of joints,” I said. “I’ll come up,” she said. She came up. We smoked, did the joints, then we did each other and a few more things. Then we went down to the French Bakery on University Place and had cafe avec croissants and I explained about the Warhol typing job.
“I don’t care what it pays,” she said, “I’ll even do it for free. I’m dying in the job I’m in. It’s killing me.” HaHaHaHa “Es geht los,” I said and we paid and started up the street to Andy’s big place on Union Square West. As we were waiting for the light to change at 12th Street I realized I was looking into the bearded hippy angel face of Angus Maclise. With him was his wife Hetty and Gerard Malanga, Andy’s long term right hand man and a poet in his own right.
I told him about the night of the crashing of great panes of glass. “That’s the one George Brecht likes most,” Angus said. “We are going to the Factory,” Gerard said. “So are we,” I said. “This is Deirdre MacGowan, she’s going to take over the typing from Mo (reen) the drummer.” “Terrific, we’ve got to get that done as soon as possible,” said Gerard.
BaBaBoooom! The heavens opened up and we ran to one of those awning like canopies that go from storefront to the curb in rich neighborhoods so the rich can stay cozy. “I will send you a copy of the calendar,” said Angus, “And if I don’t, Ira Cohen has some.” The rain kept coming down. We were on our way to be shot and killed with Andy, but it was raining too hard.
“Shit, let’s just go in and get coffee ’cause it’s not going to stop soon,” I said. We went in and had coffee and cakes and Angus and Hetty told about their drug entrapment bust in the Southwest. Dr. Timothy Libra Leary had the same number pulled on him. “Why go back and fight it? Fuck them!” I offered. “We have a house and stuff there,” Hetty said, “And besides a lot of people are helping.” “I’d split,” I said. “Hey!” Malanga said, “It’s stopped raining. Let’s go up to Andy’s.”
At this time Valerie Solanis was having a good time up there shooting everyone. She was shooting Andy the most. At the factory bullets were flying around like Gunfight at the OK Corral, but in the street the air was fresh and clean the way it is in cities for ten minutes after a heavy rain. As we crossed 14th Street, Valerie Solanis with smoking pistolas walked over to the elevator and pushed the down button.
It’s a typical artist’s industrial space with large floor-to-ceiling columns everywhere. Everyone at the Factory had been running around them ducking the feminist fusillade of hot lead. She saw Fred Hughs and he froze. Fred is kind of the economic manager of Andy’s enterprises. Mr. Pursestrings.
“I’m going to shoot you now, Fred,” she murmured. (Why didn’t the elevator come?) She smiled like a crazy cobra and pointed the pistol at him. He sank to his knees and raised his clasped hands in an attitude of prayer. “Please don’t shoot me Valerie,” he said. “You’re next, Fred,” she said. God had sent the elevator.
The doors opened. “Pleeeeaase, don’t shoot me, Valerie!” he begged again. She stepped into the elevator and pushed “Erde.” The doors closed. It took her down. Someone jumped to the phone and called for an ambulance, police, everything. You have to tell them your name and how it’s spelled, the address and everything before you will be allowed to tell them WHY you are calling. Paperwork.
We were crossing 15th Street. The elevator hit the ground floor and Valerie Solanis, girl assassin, slipped out into the streets teeming with people, not to be seen again until the police dragnet pulled her in later in the evening. We walked in, got in the elevator, pushed “8,” the doors closed and up we went.
It stopped on Andy’s floor and the door swooshed open on madness! People were screaming, people were babbling, some were crying — hysteria uber alles! Must be some good dope going down! I turned to my right and Fred Hughes was there still on his knees, hands clasped in an attitude of supplication: “Have they got her? Did they catch her?” Fred asked. “Andy’s dying! Andy’s dying! another yelled and, “Did you see her? Did she shoot at you?”
Gerard and I looked at each other and smiled. (What the fuck are they talking about?)
Then Gerard and I simultaneously did the same thing: we started to look around for the camera person. It was obviously a candid camera improvisation. Mario Amaya, editor of London’s “Art & Artist” magazine kept yelling at me over his shoulder: “Are there two holes in my shirt?”
Fred on his knees; everyone crying and babbling at once. Mario: “Are there two holes in my shirt? She shot me and if there are two holes in my shirt the bullets went through!” There was a funny smell in the air. Cordite.
Unlike a lot of people up at Andy’s I’m not good in bed with a man. I tried it a couple of times and just got the giggles. Felt silly. But I know a lot about handguns and bullets and stuff. I suddenly realized the place smelt like my favorite pistol shooting club down in Little Italy. Hetty, Angus and Deirdre were on the same trip.
Mario is the guy Andy got the silver tin foil kick from. “There are two bullet holes in your back, Mario,” I said. Two juicy blood red holes in his neat white shirt.
Deirdre McGowan is that kind of curly red haired white skinned Gaelic beauty that is also French. ; like the tumbly red haired au pair girl in the French Impressionist paintings. She is from New Jersey and she is tough. She touched my arm. She looked like the Angel of Death.
“Andy is really shot,” she said. There were tears in her eyes. “She really shot him!” she said, “He’s dying! come!” She took my hand and I took Gerard’s. We walked to the corner where Andy laid on the floor shot six or seven times. Blood was all over the floor. It was a dream walk to the corner holding hands the way Greek men dance.
Andy was full of bullet holes. The blood leaking from his body looked like “Campbell’s Tomato Soup.” Billy Linich was standing over Andy like an Angel of Life. Andy said my name. “Al? It hurts. Oooh it hurts!” he murmured in a little voice. Gerard was on the phone to Andy’s mother. He would come and get her as soon as he knew where Andy would be.
We had been there four minutes, but it seemed like an hour or more. Average arrival time for police in a big city is twenty minutes to a half hour. If someone wants to shoot you, try to get them to do it in front of a police station or hospital. Bessie Smith had a problem with that. I bent to take Andy in my arms and carry him down to the street; maybe we would luck into a doctor. They all began to scream and claw at me: “Don’t touch him!” they shrieked, “Don’t touch him!”
“Don’t touch him! is car accidents,” I yelled back. “This is gun shots. Don’t you watch the war on TV? You pick up the wounded and run for the medics!” “Don’t touch him!” they screamed. “Shit! Oooh, it hurts!” Andy said.
The floor was a carpet of beautiful Campbell’s Tomato Soup red now. I wanted to cradle him in my arms and comfort him and hold him close. But I had just got my suit out of the dry cleaners. I thought: “I’ll go try to find a doctor in the building, down in the street; someone who knows what to do.”
I went to the elevator. I placed my finger over Valerie Solanis’ fingerprint and pushed for “down.” The doors opened. I got in. The doors closed. The elevator began to rise UP slowly and majestically through the building. High up it stopped. Door opens. A giant man starts pushing boxes in.
“Man’s shot! Six bullet holes! Murder attempt!”
“Yeah?” he grunts. He puts more boxes on. “Emergency! Man shot! Andy Warhol! ARE YOU INTO POP ART AT ALL?” I yell.
He puts some more boxes on. “My friend is losing his life!” I yell. He puts more boxes on. “If I don’t get this shit down to the street and on a truck in ten minutes, I will lose my job,” he says. I climb over the boxes.
I plunged down the stairs. Down to the streets teeming with doctors, lawyers, nurses, dentists, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, old women who took a First Aid Course at the YMCA, ex-servicemen…I didn’t know shit!
In the street I yelled: “DOCTOR! DOCTOR! IS ANYONE A DOCTOR!? MAN DYING! SHOOTING! HELP!! MURDER!!! POLICE!
No one paid any attention. Streams of people went by like bicycles in China. A Doctor friend’s name popped up into my mind. I ran to a phone booth. I pounded on it. “EMERGENCY!” I yelled, “Shooting!” He held up a middle finger; that means “fuck you” everywhere.
I ran to the corner luncheonette. A man let me have the phone. I had no small change. People yelled at me for not getting on the line. Got change. Called the doctor. Nowhere. Called the police. They knew about it.
Then I heard the sirens! Police! Ambulances! Beautiful! “He has been shot five or six times in the body with a small handgun,” I said. They were unloading their stuff. “Where’s the elevator?” an old cop said. “It’s too slow. It’s for the whole building. The stairs!” I said. They charged up the stairs.
We thundered up the eight flights. Shit. They put Andy in a little canvas folding chair thing like a little girl would use for a tea party. It was a power object soaked with a million psycho ergs of will and bravery from gunshot victims; mute witness to unheard of amounts of terror and insanity events. The dull strong goodness look of electric chairs, mortuary tables and prosthetic arms and legs.
Simultaneously others fastened plasma bottles, blood bottles, tubes and needles, and–off back down the stairway, all together like some part human, part crab animal. I rode down the elevator so I was there as they thundered out and into the ambulance truck and away. There were drops of campbell’s soup blood on the sidewalk; Andy was the blood of the city….
Columbus Hospital, behind Max’s Kansas City, was alive with cops.
“You’re a friend of his?” one cop asked me. “Yeah,” I said.
“Know what she looks like?”
“Okay. Watch this entrance!”
“Listen,” I said, “She works as a chemistry lab worker. She often wears a white lab coat!
“Holy shit!” the cop said, “She could walk in here like it was home!”
They couldn’t get a photo of Solanis. They were interviewing the whole Chelsea Hotel. Bridget Polk threw a whole shoe box of assorted pills out her window. For weeks dogs and cats and mice were acting weird in the neighborhood. If you haven’t seen a dog or a rat tripping on mescaline, don’t laugh!
The core population of the New York City art world began to walk into Columbus Hospital dazed. The way Jews walked into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral when JFK was shot.
When you are shot in the body with a small gun it’s like a bullet entering a steel barrel; the bullet goes round and round. They have to cut open the whole path of the bullet and clean it against infection. An expert at this was just leaving the hospital when Andy arrived. An alert nurse paged him on the intercom and he heard it as he was getting into a cab. Unlike many, he came in and saved Andy’s life!
I kept a look-out for Valerie Solanis. Amongst the groups of hospital workers coming and going Valerie Solanis, in her white laboratory coat, could easily be cruising with her pistolas loaded.
Then a fascinating operatic spectacle occurred: With a loud bang a giant elevator crash landed into the concrete basement. Huge doors opened like undersea tunnel airlock gates. Under the harsh, bright, basement lights seven or eight nurses in white with birdlike caps; some pushing, some pulling; some holding bottles with tubes curling and looping into Andy. Other bottles hung on sticks, riding high, swaying; the tubes like snakes coming down into Andy.
The wheels of the bed roared and clattered on the metal and concrete. Like Robert Wilson’s swans they swooped in unison across the floor and into another elevator. The nurses froze, looking at Andy intensely. The white light bounced and screamed from their white costumes, the sheets, their shoes, Andy’s electrocuted white spaghetti hair. The doors clanged shut and the needle moved as it rose up to “Intensive Care.”
The Detective came. “That’s it! Thanks!” he said.
I went inside to a Fellini film spectacle. The rear lobby was filled with the NYC art world: Leo Castelli, Ivan and Marylin Karp, dancers, painters, poets.
There is a row of cubicles and an audience of chairs; for the clinic operation, you get a number and when they call it you get on line to see an intern or a doctor at one of the desk nests and tell him where it hurts. If you are rich, this sounds crazy. If you are poor, having a number and waiting till they call it is your life.
All the Warhol Superstars were each at a desk and a line of reporters was waiting to interview each of them. Viva Hoffman, Bridget Polk, Ultra Violet… Astonishing.
There was a good chance he would live, the Detective told me.
I went over through quiet night streets to get a steak burger from Deborah Harry a Max’s Kansas City waitress. A feminist in a Messie-Bessie costume was handing out leaflets claiming the assassination of Plastic Man (Andy) as a victory for women.
Andy lived. Valerie was caught.
When they arrested her she said an interesting thing: “Ya got me!” She was put in Matteawan; that’s a hospital for the criminally insane out on Long Island.
Months later some social workers, incredibly more dumb and foolish than usual (which is already pretty bad), released Valerie Solanis on her own recognizance. To give her a fair chance to show she was ready to go back into society and be on welfare and vote Democratic, if not Liberal, they thought it would be good to show faith in her by not calling the police or Andy Warhol to tell them they were turning her loose.
Valerie got a gun and went up to Andy’s studio to shoot him again. Where would the criminally insane be without the faith of do-gooders? She was so fogged out and tranked (on tranquilizers) she couldn’t remember which pocket she had the gun in. So the staff sat on her until the people with the big butterfly net came and took her back out to Matteawan where they shot her so full of Thorazine and electro-shocked her until, today, it takes her hours to remember how to piss. She has been released and is happy (although a bit foggy) as a shopping bag lady sitting in doorways in the far East village.
Andy has scars circling his body that look as if he fell into an industrial sewing machine.
Angus Maclise died in Nepal and his body was burned on a funeral pyre covered with fat orange flowers. Ira Cohen says he had a big joint in each hand before they lit his Viking boat.
I’m having a wonderful time jumping around Germany in general and Berlin in particular and the last time anybody tried to kill me was when the students at Hamburg Kunstschule proposed me as guest artist professor. Anybody want to study experimenting in art?