Just got word that the great Taylor Mead has passed on. He was kind of what “downtown” used to be all about, the star all of those seminal early off-off Broadway plays by the likes of Frank O’Hara, and underground films by Warhol and Ron Rice. Somehow a legend grows up around such things – -I wonder how legendary it felt in the moment? At any rate, there’s something so pure and trusting about what he did. Nowadays everyone has their eye on the clock, the bank balance, and the headlines. Mead (apparently aided by a tiny inheritance or trust, but still) never did anything but pure, imaginative work, unsullied by the garbage-think of business. How I envy(d) him.
I only knew him a little. He came to the original New York production of my play Universal Rundle in ’88 or ’89. At the time (and for a time thereafter) he was doing a bit of collaborating with the play’s star T. Weir “Tom” Wright. Most of the times I saw him perform were around then, through the early 90s. He was one of the best ad-libbers I’ve ever heard.
Later the two of them were booked to perform at this series of after-hour psychedelic cabarets I produced in the basement of the Williamsburg Art & Historical (WAH) Center. I have to say these were probably the most amazing shows I ever put on, although the folks who took part in them and attended were mostly my friends from the music world; few, if any of my theatre friends showed up. I recall Tom, Taylor and me driving to the WAH center (an atmospheric old Victorian bank building at the base of the Williamsburg bridge) in Tom’s old shitbox of a 30 year old car, with soft drink cups all over the floor, and a couple of large dogs tumbling around the back seat. On this occasion, the one time (properly speaking) I socialized with him, Taylor was as droll, dry, and acid as he was onstage (there was no line between on and offstage for him). This was around ’98 or ’99. He was well into his 70s then. When he passed away yesterday he was well on the way to 90. Who was the last bohemian to grow that old? Whoever he was, I bet he didn’t have a day job!
Anyway, here’s an excellent interview, wherein he reminisces about his fellow Superstars. (It’s not all skittles and beer):