The Art Star
I must have taken the same acid he did at a Grateful Dead concert when we were fifteen, because his drawings look just like what I saw: the writhing, intertwined dancers, the fat black line between good and evil, the undulating burstingness of everything. His whole adorable symbology—the crawling baby, the barking dog, the blowjobs and dolphins, TV sets and serpents, flying saucers, dollar signs and ticking clocks—made perfect sense to me the moment I saw it. Out the dirty window of an A train stopped at West Fourth Street in 1981. It was like when I read “Howl” for the first time: I felt I’d been waiting to see it, or that I had seen it already, that I just wanted to keep seeing it again. Well, I was in luck about that. Soon he was everywhere.
Fifteen years later, my mother and I saw a retrospective of his work at a museum in Toronto. There were glass cases of his diaries and comic strips and drawings from when he was a kid. I was already in tears when I saw his birthdate, May 4, 1958, three days before mine. Also that year came Prince and Madonna and Grandmaster Flash, as well as poor crazy Darby Crash, poor crazy Michael Jackson and poor crazy Nancy Spungen. Also my second husband, the anarchist philosopher-king. It was a Chinese Year of the Dog, and the best minds of our generation were the dog-minds, marking, always marking, always wagging our tails, thinking about sex, doing it, no sense of public or private, always wolfing the treats, never ashamed to slice the air with our proud egomaniac bark. Where would pop culture be without us? The simplest things he wrote, like The only time I am happy is when I am working, gave me chills. So angry about AIDS but calmly accepting of his death at 31.
Marion Winik is the author of First Comes Love (Random House, 1996) and The Glen Rock Book of the Dead (Counterpoint, 2008.) Her other books are Telling (Random House, 1994); The Lunch-Box Chronicles (Random House, 1998); Rules for the Unruly (Simon and Schuster, 2001); Above Us Only Sky (Seal Press, 2005) and Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled Through the Joys of Single Living (Globe Pequot Press, 2013). She has also published two books of poetry, Nonstop (Cedar Rock Press, 1981) and Boycrazy (Slough Press, 1986).
Marion’s Bohemian Rhapsody column appears monthly at BaltimoreFishbowl.com, and her essays and articles have been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Sun, The Utne Reader, O, Salon, and Real Simple, among others. Her commentaries for All Things Considered are collected on the npr.org website, and she regularly reviews books for Newsday and Kirkus Review. A professor in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore, Marion was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Non-Fiction and has been inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters. She has appeared on the Today Show, Politically Incorrectand Oprah.
To learn more, visit marionwinik.com.
This piece appears in The Glen Rock Book of the Dead.