Sometimes I have to rub my eyes in the unexpected realisation that my life may not be as dreary as I normally perceive it. For me, meeting Billy Name is equivalent to meeting Andy Warhol himself. Billy Name-Linich, in his own right, has shaped popular culture with the same magnitude as Andy. The way we look at the world today is a result of their historic efforts to document the time they lived in and change it into something entirely new. Without Billy there would not be a fraction of the first hand documentation of Nico or the Velvet Underground, of Edie, Andy and the rest of the factory. He was Andy’s lover and best friend and one of his three main collaborators of the 1960’s. Without going into the well-documented history of Billy’s influence on the factory and Warhol’s work: (Billy’s first job at the factory included covering the walls in silver foil; he rest is history) his own work is just as unique as Andy’s. As a photographer he did something with light I’ve not seen before or since: His light seems to illuminate the subjects faces to expose their uniqueness and beauty, while at the same time placing shadows and contrasts that create and convey great meaning and context. To combine both these seemingly opposing directions in one photograph seems to me a special gift and a rare occurrence in photography. The sitter is displayed revealing their outer beauty yet somehow their inner soul is exposed at the same time. I do not believe that our perceptions or intuitive images of what we believe the sixties were like would look the same without Billy Name.
I realised that some of my questions to Billy would be somewhat different. I wanted to look further behind the surface of the man who has influenced me for centuries and who has such a unique approach to visual art. Well aware, from watching the documentaries, that he also has a great sense of humour and shares my love for Warhol the man and the artist, where others try to tear him down, I went on a sleepy but joyful two hour train ride to meet Billy at his house in Poughkeepsie, a modest but spacious and pretty space in which he made me feel instantly at home. Since I had been communicating with Billy by e-mail for some years, he was aware of my work and welcomed me as a familiar friend. One of the first things he told me was: ‘You’re one of us’. (More eye-rubbing), and so we enjoyed hours talking and laughing and went on to spend the rest of the day at a local Italian bistro, where other locals joined us for food and talk, like we had known them for years. A magical day found it’s magical ending.
Billy Name on Photography, Film, Andy and the Factory.
There’s something you do with light that nobody else does. How do you do it and how did you do it then.
BN: I was a lighting designer before I worked with Andy. I worked with dance companies and for off-off-Broadway plays and so when I started working with Andy I was totally trained in various arts of the theatre so I knew how to do lighting.
But they didn’t have so much equipment there at the factory…
BN: No, but I knew about angles and about coming from the side or above or behind and how to do lighting with angles. I knew all that.
And did you also use a lot of natural daylight. Was there any daylight available there?
BN: No, not at the factory. There were front windows but there were covered with foil. (Laughter)
Did you vary your light set-up each time, according to the subject?
BN: No, basically we used the same lighting set-up. Because we were setting it up initially individually for each person as they came, for the screen tests, on different days. We would set it up then, but still in the usual way.
And then you would vary it according to the changes you wanted?
BN: Yes, when we started doing groups and people within sets and what have you, I did basic lighting design.
Did you work at the off Broadway theatres like La Mama etc. before?
BN: Yes, and the Cafe Cino, the Church, The Living Theatre….
But Andy gave you his camera and that started you off.
BN: Yes, that started my career as a photographer
And he gave it to you, not to anybody else, but to you.
BN: Yes, he gave it to me, because we were sharing it for a while. This was 1963, the year before the factory opened. And at one point he just gave the camera to me and said: “Here Billy, you take this camera and do the still photography, and I’m going to start making movies.”
And that was it.
BN: Yes, so I had the camera from then on.
And was there any intention prior to this event where you might have been hoping for this…
BN: No, I wasn’t hoping for it, we just did it. (Laughs)
Were you aware of the historic importance of documenting all that was happening?
BN: No, not at this time. The sense of importance came later. At this time I was only aware that Andy gave the camera to me and I would be doing the still photography. But then I got the handbook for the camera and I got the Kodak darkroom guidebook. I read them and built the darkroom and so knew how to do photography because I mastered all the camera techniques from reading through the program guide. I built the darkroom and was then no longer buying cassettes of film but 50 feet or 100 feet rolls of triax and then put them into cassettes by hand. So I made my own cassettes and then when I shot the film I developed the film by myself in the darkroom, and dried it and cut it and I made contact sheets and selected for the prints. I printed and developed my own prints, so I did everything that you could do with it.
I guess you probably didn’t have the sense where you would have thought: “Oh my god, here’s the velvet underground, here’s this and that, it’s all happening, and one day everything is going to freak about about it.”
BN: We just did it.
Because when you’re young you don’t think about it. You just do it.
BN: Yes. Andy was twelve years older than me, but he was still young too. And he just did it too. We were just experimenting, finding out what the cameras did. His technique seems so much like a put-on, like ‘he’s just doing this’ but he was actually experimenting and learning what the camera did, with the film, with the light, what have you. And these things became films, but they were really just basic studies in photography and filmmaking.
Yes, because Andy was very serious about his filmmaking and all of his work.
BN: Oh sure!
…Which is something that Paul Morrissey always lies about. But Andy had such seriousness and purose about his work.
BN: He had such seriousness that he disliked the initial film work he did because it looked too much like underground film. It was handheld, it was ‘bouncing around’ camerawork, and it looked like underground filmmaking. It didn’t look like a Warhol film. And he said: “I’m going to stop this. I’m going to get a tripod, put the camera on a tripod and see what it does.” So he did that for the screen tests for instance and he didn’t move the camera. He didn’t do anything with the camera. He didn’t touch it because he wanted to see what it would do, and then he started doing things like the ‘Kiss’ series, where two people kiss, and it built from there.
There’s a funny anecdote about when they shot ‘My Hustler’, that everybody else involved in the making of the film at that point were trying to figure out how to get Andy to pan the camera. There were saying: “he’s refusing to pan. We’ve got the house over here and the beach over there and he won’t pan.” So a conflict ensued and an argument, because Andy said no. I think Paul Morrissey then too over at that point. It’s funny. Andy either didn’t see the sense of it or he didn’t know how to do it.
BN: Well, Andy wasn’t ready to do that. It basically demonstrates Andy’s technique. He didn’t wanna pan because he wasn’t ready to do that. He was still working on the basic camera. The story sounds funny to other people because it shows Andy’s ineptness but it’s not that at all. Andy didn’t wanna do panning and he didn’t wanna do the interweaving of the scene with the people and the beach scene because that’s not the scenario that he wanted.
So you’re saying that he knew what he was doing.
BN: Oh, sure! I’m saying yes! But Paul was there and Chuck was there and they were going on: ‘Yak yak yak’ – and after a while you’re just going to stop doing what you’re doing if people are gonna keep going at you.
Part 2: Billy Name about the Velvet Underground, Andy and Music, the Factory, blashemous rumours and more.
Part 3: Billy Name on spirituality, staying in the Darkroom for two years, the shooting and leaving the factory (and I’m having an argument with Billy about Andy’s final departure).
Part 4: Billy Name about Valerie Solanas, Superstars, Factory Girls, Drugs and Gossip.
Billy Name – Legend
Billy Name about the Velvet Underground, Andy and Music, the Factory, blashemous rumours and more.
We already covered that with the Velvet Underground for instance, you didn’t sit there thinking: “This is all going to be very important one day.” But how did you experience the music. Was it music that was exciting you at the time?
BN: Yes, it was very exciting and very thrilling. And besides the pop aspect of it, John Cale had done music with John Cage and La Monte Young, with the wired up cello and all this.
Did you love all that?
BN: Oh yes! I was knocked out by it. I said: “Wow, this is great.” Before, when we were deciding whether or not to go with the Velvets I said to Andy: “John Cale is in this, so it’s pretty much a fact that it’s going to be fabulous.” Because he was working with La Monte and he came over here on a John Cage scholarship and I said: “Let’s go with this, because they have John Cale.” And they turned out to be absolutely fabulous – a great mix of pop and classical. It was just astounding how great they were. This is a time now, where Edie was there, and the Velvet Underground were there, so this was a time where we started to feel our greatness…
…Because people were starting to take an interest and wanting to be part of it….?
BN: Yes, but more than that. We felt the greatness. The Velvets and Edie Sedgwick! We felt the impact and the impact they had on the audiences. It was stunning. We were a big New York attraction in the art world and in the popular world. And so we felt the power, we felt the prestige; we felt all of the things that the Warhol factory had become. But we didn’t think of it in terms of history. We felt it now. And when you’re feeling it now that’s what you’re feeling. It didn’t say anything about the future and that it was going to be lasting.
…. And that the college kids today would freak about the velvets.
BN: Yes, and that people would pay millions of dollars for the paintings. So we felt the power of it.
Andy didn’t very often comment about details of the music. He didn’t seem like the type of guy that would comment very much about elements of the music being fabulous or liking one song better than another etc. How would Andy have experienced all of this? He does not mention music all that much in his diaries, in detail, but more in connection with the fame element of it. He will mention that a concert or a record is great in connection with the famous artist he got to meet and hang out with.
BN: He would not intellectualise it. He was an intuitive person so his appreciation would have been intuitive.
But did he appreciate it? Did he get excited about it?
BN: Oh yes, sure. But he would be commanding too. You see, this is the type of director he was. He would be aware of what was going on totally but he would be moving within that awareness of being the director, of going on to the next piece and the next thing and preparing it or setting it up. So he was like going through it as if going through a dream, to the next thing.
But how would he comment about it?
BN: He would not comment about it at all. He would just move on.
I guess that’s why you don’t read much about his comments.
BN: Yes, he would just let it go on. He wasn’t going to usurp it by commenting on it. (Laughs)
Later, in his diaries he comments on music only in the context of fame. He would say stuff like: “I’ve met this fabulous singer called Esther Phillips and she has to be fabulous because she looks fabulous.” Or he would be smitten with Diana Ross because he first of all was smitten by her fame. He would go on to say that her concert was fabulous but first he was taken by the idea of her fame and personality.
BN: Yes. And the diaries are a specific type of iconic reading and he would comment on the fabulosity of people.
Yes, and this is why I sometimes wondered if music was really his thing, because he doesn’t comment on it that much.
BN: Yes, he sort of took it in as the event…
Part of a whole..?
BN: Yes, but the music would be what it was. Like, when we went to the psychiatrist convention….
(I’m referring here to the Velvet Underground’s show at a Psychiatrist’s Convention in 1966)
They hated you….
BN: Not all of them!
It sounded like mayhem, like they all fled in horror.
BN: Not necessarily. I think the press or whoever made it seem like that but some people got it. But the people who hated it got it too. It was a presentation of popular culture that was exhibited.
But I read that even John Cale and people like that said that people were horrified.
BN: Yeah, that’s because it’s a better story to tell, but the mass of the people that were there weren’t. Even rock stars like John Cale would chose the easy context. They’re not going to explain it like I’m explaining it.
No they tell it for the media…
BN: Yes, and I’m telling it for authenticity.
I don’t even know if you like to go into the whole Andy thing. You, as well as other factory people get asked the same old questions.
BN: Yes but I usually don’t have the same answers.
You don’t mind?
BN: No I don’t mind.
Hopefully my questions won’t be all that dreary. But I noticed the stereotypical questions that every one gets asked. For instance a recent Holly (Woodlawn) interview for a Canadian publication was so beneath what he essence and role were, and yet she was polite enough to answer the same stuff again, instead of beating the shit out of them. “How did you meet Andy and what was he like” etc. It’s almost degrading for her to have to repeat the same stuff over and over.
BN: I say, most of the people ask the same questions over and over again but the way I see it is that when people come to me, they have a viewpoint, they have a focus and they’re working from this point of view and each point of view is different. This is very interesting to me and very novel. And so I can talk about it.
You don’t mind…
BN: I don’t mind because I’m a prime participator. I was there. People can get an authentic version from me. I do this as a joy because I’m one of the people who can recite an authentic version. Whether people accept it or not or whether they’re just find it too analytical; at least you’re getting it from a first person, singular, who was there, and they’re getting a valuable thing.
Are there any things of the past, to do with Andy, that you don’t like to talk about?
Well this is my personal thought: He should have supported you financially after you left and after you’d moved back to Poughkeepsie etc.
BN: I don’t think about people supporting me. I think I’m gonna have to support myself.
Of course, and I’m sure Andy felt the same way. Andy did not feel that he owed anyone a living. But I just felt like you people were so instrumental in setting him up. The first group of people to be around him…
BN: Yeah, but you can’t do that because when you think like that then were are you gonna cut off. Are you gonna cut off these people and not these people….it’s just not possible to do.
How about a couple of paintings a year to set people up?
BN: No, it’s not the American way….
That’s interesting…. (Laughs).
BN: And he got upset when people started clamouring at him for money.
But sometimes, for instance reading the diaries, you do wish that he had picked up the phone and called certain people and just been around a bit more. This doesn’t bother you at all?
BN: No I’ve never been concerned about it.
Ok, then what about the spiritual aspect of it, the mental support.
BN: Well, I can figure out how to do that myself. And I want to be able to do that myself. I don’t want somebody else figuring it out for me or doing something for me.
So you don’t mind him not calling you…
BN: I don’t think about it. I think about what I’m going and how I’m living. It’s supposedly the American way. And there are a lot people who didn’t view Warhol as a money thing. It’s just a few people complaining about the money thing but it’s always comes to the fore but it’s not to the fore. But there’s so much going on spiritually and artistically and it gets lost in this type of conversation.
I know, but I’m not only talking in terms of money, but I’m talking about him at least thinking about the people that were so instrumental for him, and feeling a loyalty and If that means money….
BN: But it can’t be seen that way because he was a power. He had an aura, he had a mystique. He had a synthesizing, melting, cultivating thing that went on and if you’re someone who came upon him….
When I came upon him he wasn’t famous. We bonded really well. We were synchronised, and we just worked together so greatly…
We started out as being lovers but it quickly became just two guys working so well with each other. And it was so fascinating and so synchronous that we became so overjoyed with that, that we forgot about the lover thing. You know, it was totally irrelevant and we were just great synchronised workers together, for the first two years. You see, it had nothing to do with money; it had nothing to do with fame. It only had to do with Andy and I working together on the things that we were working on. Purely and simply.
So you don’t feel that later, in the 70’s and 80’s he should have supported anyone from the group…
BN: I don’t think he should have supported anyone. Period. (Laughs). Maybe Paul Morrissey got supported in that he got a salary, because he goes out and grabs that stuff. That’s why he’s got the house and that forty-five million dollars, because he’s a grabber. He’ll go in and latch in on the parts and manage those parts and benefit from those parts. I just take the whole thing.
Well it’s applaudable that you don’t sit around pondering those things then.
BN: Yes, but I’m an unusual guy.
I get angry when I read Andy’s diaries in those places where support of his old co-workers is concerned. And let me get this out: for me Andy is a saint! But I’m thinking: why didn’t he just pick up the phone and call Billy or Holly….
BN: He would just call someone late at night like Brigid or Henry Geldzahler. He had a regular routine of calling people.
But he never called the ‘old’ people.
BN: No, he never called me on the telephone.
It doesn’t bother you….
BN: No! I had the real Andy.
Well that’s nice then, that you don’t look back in anger.
Part 3: Billy Name on spirituality, staying in the Darkroom for two years, the shooting and leaving the factory (and I’m having an argument with Billy about Andy’s final departure).
Part 4: Billy Name about Valerie Solanas, Superstars, Factory Girls, Drugs and Gossip.
Billy Name – Legend
BN: Well I’m just that type of guy. I’ve been a Buddhist since I’m twenty years old and I’m totally self-contained spiritually. Finally last year I looked into numerology. I already do tarot and astrology so I wanted to see what’s going on with numerology. So I got a book and I realised it was just based on your date of birth and reducing the numbers to the final number and your name. So it’s William George Linich, and that reduced down, you take the letters by the alphabet and you give them each numbers from one to nine, and from one to nine and then repeating that four times which is three nines…whatever it is. And then you add those numbers all together and my date of birth comes out to the number eleven. My name also comes out to the number eleven. Now that is a spiritual master number. When you come to eleven you stop there; don’t reduce it down to two and twenty-two, if you come to that, you stop there, and you don’t reduce it down to four. And so my birth date is the twenty-second. And the master numbers are eleven and twenty-two. And so I had a double eleven.
And what does this mean?
BN: It means that I’m a spiritual master. (Laughter)
You’re the man….
BN: I was born on a certain day and I was given a certain name and these are both the number eleven and it’s very rare that someone comes up with two elevens. And you add those two together and then you come to twenty-two and that adds another master number. And my birthday is the twenty-second and so I’m a spiritual master and numerology says so. I never considered myself that…
But still Billy, we’re human and we have feelings, so hence my opinions on the loyalty thing.
BN: Yes but sometimes we have feelings and sometimes we don’t and sometimes we have feelings and we improve upon them. I’m much different now from when I was very young. I improved upon a lot of things and I’m getting old and tired now because I’m a nice old man, but I’m a spiritual master and I can say that now, because numerology validates it. Now I’m in my seventy-second year and in numerology that is the paradigmatic year. From then you go to recession, to death. And that was in my seventy-second year that I read that it told me that ‘now you’re going to discover what you are’. All my life I was constantly overwhelmed by the spiritual.
The spiritual…I picked that up the minute I watched you on documentaries. It’s easy to see.
BN: It’s fascinating that I had to wait all that time to realise I am a spiritual master. That’s why I say that I never thought about money. I never think about it and I never thought about it. I’m too involved with my own spirit.
Andy was like a phase in my life. It was something that I passed through and then I went on to other phases and although people usually come to me and they wanna talk about Andy, now they’re starting to want to find out about me.
That’s why I’m here too and that’s why I wanted to talk to you because I feel that it’s important.
BN: I can say that I am interested in the factory and I am interested in Warhol but only because it was a part of my life. Each decade is another part of my life. I was born on the decade, in 1940. The sixties were the Warhol phenomenon but then I left. I left in 1970, and then there was that period, and then the eighties and the nineties and the two thousands and each decade is a new life for me. And I don’t mind reminiscing on the Warhol thing because it was a sensation on the whole culture.
The darkroom! I want to talk about the darkroom because it is another element where the media always ask you the same question and they do the whole story in one minute: “So, you went into the darkroom, you stayed there for a year, you left – thank you very much”. That’s not enough. I want to know what you did in there.
BN: It happened because of the trauma of Andy being shot. When Andy was shot it was an immense trauma for the whole factory. All the people in there were immensely traumatised by it. For a couple of years we were traumatised, I was traumatised by it too. So I stayed in the darkroom.
What did you do – meditate?
BN: Yes, I did meditate, but I also did a lot of reading and a lot of darkroom work. I had a large darkroom in the second factory. It was a big place, and that’s where I did my work. But other than that I did meditating and reading.
Did you read spiritual books as well?
BN: I read most of the books by the Tibetan Alice Bailey.
What was the process you went through? It reminds me of the Indian rishis…
….who sit in a cave for a number of years to see the nature of being. To me that’s what it is. Right?
BN: It is.
And nobody asks you about that.
BN: Depending on who it is – whether it’s a newspaper reporter or if it’s a book writer or a documentary maker, I’ll mould it to them.
It was a cleansing process maybe?
BN: Yes, also. It was a very synthetic process, a karmic cleansing.
And you needed that time in there…..
Did they get it? Did anyone get it? Did anyone bother to get it?
BN: Well, Lou Reed got it. Ondine and Lou were the two people who I actually let in the darkroom. I didn’t let anybody else in there. But they got it. But they were familiar with that type of life too.
And what would Andy have made of it? I guess he didn’t judge it one way or another.
And it was almost a year is that correct?
BN: It was a couple of years. Sixty-eight, sixty–nine and seventy.
That’s a serious amount of time.
BN: Yeah. But I also did work.
And you came out at night.
Did people knock on the door and ask you how the hell long are you going to keep this up?
BN: Yeah. But I still met with Andy at Max’s Kansas City at night.
Oh you did?
BN: Yeah, it’s sketchy, but the laying down of a story that I locked myself in the closet…that is a piece of it. I didn’t lock myself in. But it sounds better if you say:” he locked himself in.” It wasn’t a closet but it was a big darkroom. So we let these things go on because people get fascinated with some guy who locked himself in the closet for two years.
I just feel that people didn’t get the spiritual connection. They don’t ask about it.
BN: They don’t get the whole connection when they focus just on one aspect, because it’s just a fragment of it. I also did my work and I also went to Max’s Kansas City.
After you left, you travelled. Where?
BN: I went south and I ended up in New Orleans. I was there for a large part of a year. Mostly the summer. Then I went up to Boulder, Colorado. Then I went to San Francisco and I stayed there for several years. But this is the type of stuff that I usually don’t talk to people about. It’s my life. The Warhol factory years I will talk about because it’s a public episode and it’s a public phenomenon but I usually I don’t talk about what happened afterwards, in new Orleans and San Francisco and then, when I came back here, what happened here also. But things happened. (Laughter) But I think it’s better to keep it on the Warhol phenomenon because that’s an important historical factor. It’s worthy of discussing and I focus on myself then that may be interesting for a while but then the interest will decrease. But the Warhol factory is of the importance.
Asking about the darkroom thing was important to me, also because of the aspect of leaving Andy behind….
BN: Well, I was doing reading in the Tibetan spiritual literature but I never left Andy behind until I left in 1970.
So the decision was made and by that time you were ok with that decision.
BN: I realised that I was saturated with the factory. I realised that it was no longer an artist arena. When I started working with Andy it was an artist arena, it was an artist place for making art, and that’s all we were doing. And this was changed, and when he got shot, we got traumatised, and it was changed again….and I realised I was saturated with it and that I didn’t belong here really. Paul was here, Fred was here and everybody was here to take care of Andy and he didn’t need me anymore. I was superfluous so I decided I would go out into the world and see what the world is doing and see what the world is. I had been engaged in the factory for ten years.
Was it a painful process, the process of leaving? All these guys coming in and changing the factory and renting premises that were not arranged in the way you would have wished etc.? Was this tough on you?
BN: Things are always tough on me but they never bother me. I can go through wrenching heartache or backache or neck-ache but they’re just things. When Andy was shot and I went out and found him in a pool of blood on the floor and I picked him up in my arms, and I was just crying. It was such a trauma. It was such a tremendous trauma. Your best friend was dying in your arms. And he did die but then Mario Amaya was there in the hospital with him in the emergency on a different cot. But he had also been shot, in the back, but he was conscious. And he could see these doctors standing over him.
This is when he shouted: “the guy is rich, he has insurance….”
BN: The doctors were saying: ‘there’s nothing we can do for him’, so they just let him die and Mario popped up when they said: “he’s dead”, and he said: ‘no, you can’t let him die, he’s a famous artist, and he’s rich’. (Laughter)…so they got this Italian specialist in who revived him and got him back. Andy was always saying that he wasn’t sure if he was alive or dead because he’d been allowed to die and he didn’t know if he had come back or if it was a dream or something. He then turned into the cardboard Andy. (Billy calls the post-shooting Andy cardboard Andy, because of the loss of authenticity and adventure in favour of creating a worldwide business-phenomenon).
I’m sad about Andy not being around anymore. Valerie Solanas is not one of my favourite people.
BN: Well, she’s not my favourite person either but you know, a lot of women make a big thing about her. About her being a seminal figure in the women’s movement. But I don’t like her either. It’s like with Taylor mead who came on to me with his cane. But I don’t want to make a story out of it. With Valerie, I tolerate her. I respect the women’s’ movement viewpoint about her and I will accept that in history. But as for her personally, I don’t care for her. I thought she was dull, dreary thing.
(Before the interview commenced, Billy told me a story of Taylor Mead, who had beat on Billy with his cane recently, accusing him of collaborating with some documentary film-maker and financially benefitting, which was not true).
Andy could possibly be around today if his health hadn’t deteriorated so much as a result of the shooting.
BN: But he couldn’t have been. His line of fame…
I know people go when they’ve gotta go. …
BN: It’s like a comet that comes into the sky and then….
But don’t forget that Andy created what I consider to be his best work in the last year of his life. The Last Supper series. It’s my favourite work of his. So he was not someone who was washed up. There had been times in the seventies and maybe some times in the eighties where he had not produced his best work but then he got so inspired to paint again. He drew the inspiration partly from his collaboration with Basquiat ….
BN: But look at the title of this thing: The Last Supper. It was his last magnificent piece.
I know. But I think as far as his work goes, he could have done more.
BN: But he didn’t need to.
BN: No, he didn’t need to. He had done quite enough. Tha Last Supper was a very significant thing. I mean, he went to church every Sunday. The reasons he did the portraits as icons was because of the icons in the church.
In the church in Pittsburgh. All these icons. So he did iconic work. And he was very much in that mode. The wizard child from Slovakia who grew up to be a master artist and do all that iconic work. That’s what he was, and when he went into the hospital….he refused to go into the hospital because he had a fear of it and he had been traumatised and now they wanted him to go there. He went to all kinds of doctors and Chinese herbalists and what have you and had them treat it. Finally the pain from the gallstones got so great that he conceded to go to the hospital.
Well call me sentimental but I think it would be amazing he was around today, wandering around the neighbourhood. ….
BN: …he went to the hospital and they left him in the care of a specially hired nurse, because they reckoned they needed to get a hired nurse in and she neglected him. She didn’t check his signs and he died in the morning of a heart attack. It was the same type of trauma that he usually got. When he was shot the fist time, three days later, Bobby Kennedy was shot. Andy was supposed to be on the cover of Life Magazine that week, and because bobby Kennedy being shot in the same week, they pulled Andy and put bobby Kennedy on the cover. It was a typical Warhol thing where he gets stepped on (Laughter). He got that second grade treatment as a tragedy. He wasn’t even the first choice to be assassinated. He wasn’t the first choice! Valerie Solanas’ publisher was her first choice.
BN: Yes, and he wasn’t there, so she said: “he’s not there. Let’s assassinate Warhol.”
So he wasn’t even first choice to get assassinated! who gets that! Whoever gets stuff like that! (Laughs) And the nurse doesn’t check his symptoms so he died. He died! It’s incredible! The way things happen to Warhol. Things like that happened all his life.
But anyway at the end he did all this great work.
BN: Well you have to say: “his life ended, and he did great work.” Not that he should have lived more.
But it’s annoying to die for stupid reasons like you’re neglected by some nurse.
BN: It happened. It’s a fact. You see, the Buddha has an opinion. So if you’re gonna make opinions about things….
Yeah but I’m human….
BN: I am the spiritual master; I’m not human (Laughs)
I know, but I am….know what I mean….
BN: I fully accept that. You’re human and you have this feelings, which is legitimate. But I don’t see it like that. You have these feelings but you don’t leave it there…
Well it’s Andy…(Laughter).
Part 4: Billy Name about Valerie Solanas, Superstars, Factory Girls, Drugs and Gossip.
BN: Valerie Solanas, she died of a liver infection or something. Ultra violet followed up on her and found out how she died and where she died and all that stuff. Oh, you haven’t met Ultra yet have you?
I’m wasn’t planning to contact her.
BN: But she’s very interesting. But if you not so keen on her you shouldn’t see her.
My impression is that she was not a great creative force?
BN: Oh, she was. She was very important. She’s not one of the underground people but she came to America because her parents got rid of her and sent her to America. They sent the naughty girls to America to get married but she was also Salvador Dali’s’ muse. She was with these other fabulous artists too. She then met Warhol and she set out to conquer Warhol. But there was no conquering Warhol. He was not interested in women. He wasn’t overtly interested in men. He was a generic artist and she couldn’t conquer him but she was a strong presence throughout Warhol’s life. She was at the factory, we did films at her apartment and she was with us at all times.
But did she get creatively involved? Did she make suggestions etc.?
BN: Oh yes! About what colours for the paintings. She had a big flower painting that Andy gave to her because she had suggested certain colours. Yes she was very significant. And Viva was impossibly significant too. She’s like the Lucille Ball of the Warhol stable. She was someone who was not totally beautiful but could turn into something to beautiful.
She was magical.
BN: Yeah. She could always look beautiful and she is a riot.
Well Billy, I’ve taken so much of your time. I could go on and on!
BN: Well, maybe we can do it again!! You know, this was a fabulous interview. You got me really going there. You landed on interesting topics. And talking about the Warhol girls is fabulous. Talking about Susan Bottomly….she was another colourful parrot. And Mary Woronov was an exiting person. And Ingrid superstar.
BN: She was the magic goof.
Actually there is something else I want to ask you. The hundreds of tapes that Andy and Brigid recorded of their phone conversations they taped for years. When will they, meaning either Brigid or the foundation, start to exploit those? I know I would sell my soul to get my hands on them. And they would be of immense historical interest.
BN: I don’t know if it’s on the agenda to do. You have to have someone assigned to do that. Either by a museum or by the foundation.
But there’s money in there…
BN: There’s not enough money in there and there’s so much money in the paintings, so the paintings are the prime assets. Even the films are considered a secondary product.
Who has the tapes?
BN: The museum has them.
All the phone conversations?
I thought Brigid might have them.
BN: Maybe she does, but generally speaking the museum has all the tapes.
(I’ve since read Brigid mentioning that someone is helping her digitising all the tapes, so I live in hope).
In the wonderful documentary about Brigid, Pie In The Sky, there are a few excerpts of phone conversations and they’re more insightful than reading an entire book about Andy. There were things that Andy was advising her about, like how she should handle her career and pursue her work. In one conversation she’s asking him how she should present her work to some people who want to see it and Andy’s response is so instant and so switched on and in a couple of sentences he’s telling her exactly what to now and in future.
BN: Andy always had ideas what people should do and he would tell them. But most of the people didn’t pay any attention to this. He would tell them, as a great manager, exactly which steps they should take. He told Edie exactly what steps she should take to become a bigger star, and not just a Warhol star. These people who Warhol engaged with were all underground people and they wouldn’t emerge. They would stay in the underground. They would not emerge into bourgeois America. But Andy did. And he knew.
Why did Edie not listen? Was she too out on drugs?
BN: Yes, she was mostly out on amphetamines but she was basically an ethereal fairy. She was in fairy world. Having engaged with these underground people, he became a star himself. He became greater than his own works. He became the star Andy Warhol and he did that by doing it. By connecting with people. He had an accountant, he had a lawyer. From the beginning he had them. And he always made sure that connections were made, and that’s how he progressed. He wouldn’t have progressed if he hadn’t made connections and going to all these editors of magazines in person, presenting his portfolio. He did all of that work.
And he never complained and he never upset anyone.
BN: Yes, right! And he was always there. And he could be relied on to do the work. You approached him with work and he would do it. Now that is a consistency, which is remarkable and unique. Andy Warhol worked hard and made connections to secure his absoluteness as a figure of power. He advised the people who worked with him to go the same way but they didn’t pick up on it. Their head wasn’t in that gear. But regardless he succeeded. It all looks like it was a magic occurrence but it was because of his connections. But it was simultaneously magic. It was magic too. Regarding the tapes: there are so many things that are so interesting. There isn’t the money to do it unless you get a patron or a foundation to fund it. There’s so much going on about Warhol now, still. Why would they wanna focus on some tapes when they could focus on paintings.
They’d have t go through all these people to get all the tapes together. It’s just not interesting yet. ‘A, a Novel’ is interesting. People come to me, because they’re doing papers on it, and what have you. It’s interesting, a great artistic work
I guess I don’t understand the mechanisms of the money thing. I just want to buy a quadruple DVD pack with hundreds of taped conversations on them. Give them to me! Andy was absolutely magical in his way of communicating with people and Brigid was the lucky co-communicator. They had something going on in their friendship that made him want to talk to her. She was his equal in this.
BN: And she was a talker too. I wasn’t a talker in those days. I was always very silent. I stayed in the background. I was occasionally in a film, but I usually was in the background. We were all competing with each other, but mine was a silent kind.
But in this role, I understand that you had a lot of power at the factory. You had the power to decide who stayed and who had to go.
BN: Yes, I had a lot of power at the factory and I could kick people out and I could keep people in. But it was silent power and I didn’t talk a lot. For instance when Edie Sedgwick came on the scene, Naomi Levine had been the first ‘girl of the year’, before we thought of that title, but then it went to Jane Holzer. And then Edie Sedgwick became the girl of the year, and we were doing shoots for Vogue magazine at the factory and so forth. Naomi Levine came early one morning, around ten or eleven o’clock and she said: “what is going on here, what is all this stuff for Edie Sedgwick. I’m the girl of the year, not her. I will always be Andy’s girl of the year.” And she started ripping down the sets. Nobody knew what to do so I grabbed her, pulled her over to the doorway; the hallway, and I slapped her in the face. I explained to her that she was no longer the girl of the year and she had to go.
BN: So she left (Laughter). I don’t know where it came from that I slapped her in the face but it was the only thing that would have woken her up and come to realised the reality of the situation.
Was it you who kicked Ivy (Nicholson) out, when she went mental?
BN: No I didn’t kick her out. I banned Gerard from the factory for a while. He was starting to take advantage of Andy, doing all these projects and wanting Andy to co-sign them and all of that. I wasn’t gonna take any of that chewing on Andy like that. I was powerful and then at the second factory my power got transferred to Paul and Fred. Especially when Andy was shot. So I was finding that it wasn’t an art scene any more and I was happy to leave now.
Who kicked Ivy out?
BN: I don’t know about ivy getting kicked out.
Mary Woronov talks about Ivy getting kicked out and pooping behind the sofa or in the lift.
BN: Well, Mary always has good stories and her book ‘Swimming Underground’ is a very good book.
It’s an amazing book. However she writes the book like Andy was hardly there.
BN: Andy was a silent figure in these people’s lives. He didn’t talk a lot or gabbled about fabulous stuff. (Laughter) but in Mary’s life he was probably a silent figure, and so he wasn’t demonstrated in the book. In a lot of people’s lives he was a silent presence. But she wrote about me because I was on her level. In Ultra’s book ‘Famous For Fifteen Minutes’, which is a fabulous book …it’s totally a French novel…when she starts talking about her uncle molesting her in the backseat of a car….it’s such a French novel, it’s so fabulous. I just think it’s great.
I think Holly’s book is fabulous.
BN: I haven’t read that, what is it called?
It ‘s called ‘A Lowlife In High Heels’. It’s so honest, from the heart, like she is. She tells it how it is. She doesn’t say a bad word about Andy. And this is also what she told me when I met her a few months ago. She said: “I don’t have a bad word to say about the guy. I would not be sitting here if it wasn’t for him.”
BN: I also do not have a bad word to say about him. I actually defend him a lot when people do tear him down. I point out the right way to see it and I point out that they’re seeing things the wrong way. I defended him to so many people so many times, in so many documentaries and books, because I loved him. We started out being lovers and we became great friends and co-workers and I will never forget that experience. It’s something I cherish and treasure, and what bad thing could I say about him.
Look at how Andy’s life was as a child. He lived in misery. I can see him in his older years, being mad at somebody, resenting something, because he is that child being resentful at having nothing. His mother would cut the tops of tin cans and make flowers out of them to sell. It was such a ridiculous life that he had to live. So I don’t blame him for getting mad. I remember one interview of him saying: “All these people at the magazine deciding stuff, but who’s magazine is it anyway?”
That’s actually in his diaries too.
BN: Yes, and they would just make decision and overlooking him. So he has a lot of resentment that he could have poured out on people but he didn’t really. He kept it to himself. He may have said to Fred: “Let’s not do her”, or something. Or when Jean Stein did that book on Edie Sedgwick he was so angry. He told me: “Don’t work with her, she’s really lied about me”.
Thank you so much. Shall we go to the Italian place to eat?
BN: Yeah, let’s.
I thank Billy from the heart for this wonderful interview, for his time and love and kindness. Long may he reign.
Waverly Press sell the most wonderfully put together books of Billy’s Photography http://thewaverlypress.com/category/billy-name