"You're a female Jack Kerouac, a real sweet talker too." He didn't look at me when he said it. He sipped his Dewars and placed it down on the worn wooden bar. I looked at him both befuddled and amused. I didn't know whether he was talking about me or my writing. I was even unsure if it was a compliment or an insult. He focused his attention on his portable cassette player pressing fast forward and rewind. "I don't understand those electric things." He said rifling through his bag pulling out crumpled pieces of paper scrawled with poems and drawings. The tape recorder came to a halt with a slight hum.
Taylor Mead was the only man I ever committed to. Every Monday night I'd venture off to Bowery Poetry Club to see him do his spoken word. Taylor was one of the last of the Andy Warhol Art Stars and Beat Generation. Like a lot of people I was looking for a New York that no longer existed. I was a romantic, Taylor however was a realist. He knew cities changed, the idealized times were over. He told me the difference between now and then. Higher rents and no established center for artists to meet. "You're not going to find another Max's Kansas City. No one wants to feed the creators. NYC went from 5 artists to 5,000." The city was rapidly paving over it's history with new buildings, all tamed, condensed, and regulated. Here we were two artists in a bar talking, not knowing how long this would last. He was 87 and being threatened with eviction. I was 33 and still struggling to make something of myself. Sometimes you walk into the right place at the right time and you realized you've just stumbled upon a jewel of some sort. New York City is still filled with them. Cafes established in the 1890's with the perfect cappuccino and Italian bakeries that have withstood the mass developments within the city. These were the places I found comfort in.
I believed that Taylor was a master of time. Things like dates or years didn't have much importance to him. As he talked the stories flowed into each other making it sound like Kerouac's original scroll. He handed me his unpublished book, Son of Andy Warhol. Taylor said it was some of his best work and it was. Every week we'd play out the same scene with slight differences. "Jack once told me in a past life we were married. I was the girl of course." He pretended to flip his hair as he made his way to the stage. Like every other time, he read the same poems. Sometimes if there was a screening or an event he'd talk about that. There were always slight variations. For Taylor routine was also an art form. Sometimes he'd lose parts of his work, other times he'd distract himself trying to find the right point in the Mingus tape to read the story to. There was humor in all of it. One of his staples was a fairytale featuring Andy Warhol as a handsome prince. It started, “Once upon a time there was a man fucking a bicycle. Meanwhile in a village nearby a handsome prince terrorizes the village.”It ended with a monster riding a camel-horse to slay the handsome prince. "They fought like hell. They both LOST!" The prince's castle was put up for rent after.
After reading his dirty poem, the only one he could recite from memory, he made his way back to the bar. I ordered him a drink and bought his book. One copy for me and one for my friend Andy, an artist that mingled with the Beats back in the day. "You're making me into a celebrity." He joked then held up his hands "No paparazzi! No pictures!" and we cracked up laughing. He signed Andy's book "To Andy, Not Warhol. Thank God." and transitioned into stories about Max's Kansas City and broken promises. There was love and anger in his voice. "Andy was Andy and that's all he could be."
I loved Taylor. I loved everything about him from his blue velvet coat to his black, red, and green striped shirt. He loved that shirt. It was what he wore when I first met him and what was gifted to me after his death. I loved his stories and the way he'd look off wistfully when speaking about any of his friends. He was a glittering diamond in a grey city. I told him this as we sat there that night at 308 Bowery. "Did you mean what you said to me earlier?" I asked. "I’m 87 years old don't even remember what I had for lunch." He replied. Then he looked at me. "Yes." It turned out he thought I was like Kerouac in humor and writing.
I was born in 1979, the year Sid Vicious overdosed on heroin and disco officially “died”. I grew up with typewriters, rotary phones, letter correspondence, and tape recorders. I felt fortunate to have seen how times had changed and experienced life before the internet. For Taylor time both changed and stayed the same. He was timeless. He was as he called it "a drifter in the arts." I think about him daily and cherish the time I had with him; Six years later and I still can’t find it in me to delete his number from my phone.