CLAYTON PATTERSON ASKS BILL LANDIS AND MICHELLE CLIFFORD
WHAT IT'S LIKE BEING US
July 26th, Chicago 2005
■ Clayton: Where were you born?
Bill: I was born in France in a town called Landes de Busac, outside of Bordeaux. My toddlerhood was spent in England during the Christine Keeler era in a hotel in London. Lots of fun for a kid, let me tell you! - London was magical then. I lived in a house in Bournemouth by the seashore. It was very Archie Rice, ”The Entertainer” - the English Catskills, bad vaudevillian central. The Rolling Stones were thrown out of town before a concert for being too rowdy, it was that long ago. The seashore had a pebble beach - a bunch of stones with cold water on them, that’s the bloke idea of a beach.
Michelle: Born in Dorchester, Mass(little Ireland) til age 7, grew up in Ft Lauderdale, Florida, moved at 19 to Fear City (NYC). Florida is a surreal place.
Bill: I have always identified with surrealists like Alejandro Jodorwosky and Fernando Arrabal of the Panic Theater - you’re born in one nation, spend your childhood in another country, then move to yet another one, with your ethnicity having nothing to do with any of it. So no place is home; you get a sense of permanent displacement. A feeling that contributes a quality of unreality. I had been hanging around 42nd Street since I was 16, using a fake ID card in the early 1970s, then shortly after going to the LES to concerts at CBGS and a lot of the fly by night after hours clubs. My cousin Patty Palladin was already on the scene in a punk band named Snatch, she was singing with Johnny Thunders, so she encouraged me a bit. By the time I was 20 I just packed a suitcase, left home and moved into the George Washington Hotel on 23rd and Lexington. I typed the Sleazoid on a portable in the hotel room. I used my portable typewriter til only 3 years ago.
Michelle: He typed up my first Metasex on it for me. He was a better typer at the time and made less mistakes. I always like seeing smart cute boys doing manual labour.
■ Club 57 your name comes up a lot, Bill. How often did you go there?
Bill: Several times a week between 1979 and 1981. It was tremendous fun, The club was in the basement of a church on St. Marks Place between 1st and 2nd Avenues. Rented out by some old Polish queen named Stanley who lived with his mother, complete with a bar with no liquor license, always filled to capacity.
■ Were you a part of the scene?
Bill: I had a film series and did performance art plays there. One was titled Jim Jones. He was my favorite cult leader, and it was a recent incident at the time. - I played Jim passing out Kool Aid to members of the audience, while reciting Jim Jones’ famous suicide speech. Henry Jones, Keith Harring, Kenny Scharf and assorted funlovers writhed on the floor and died for me. “mothers mothers …don’t do this. It’s a friend… The time has come for us to die with dignity” I also wrote a play that starred Ondine (from Warhol Factory) as Raymond Burr complete with wheelchair, albeit an office chair with big cardboard fake wheels glues on. He was hysterical. Ondine was great. We’d eat Indian food on east 6th street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.
■ How often did you show movies at the Club?
Bill: I had a weekly film series starting in summer 1980. That was a very memorable time - I started Sleazoid Express as a biweekly one sheet offset printed bulletin on colored paper. I’d see a movie on the Deuce and run home and write it up and print it the next day and pass it out for free in the club. I interviewed Ken Anger for the Soho News and Sleazoid was written up in the same issue; I ended up having a column for the Soho News about Times Square and exploitation movies; and I started the film series as a tie in to Sleazoid at Club 57.
The film series was on 16mm so I had to rent films wherever I could find them, or buy them. Very unlike the ease of finding a film today. This is pre video. You had the be a detective and hunt a film down. That gave me the opportunity to revive some old favorites like Mondo Cane, and have some themes - like a Sex, Sin & Sadism festival that concentrated on women’s prison movies like The Big Doll House and the like. I also revived certain underground movies like The Chelsea Girls, courtesy Ondine and his prints. Ondine was a very funny guy, not at all self-conscious, and he enjoyed the attention from a young audience.
■ Was Henry Jones a help to you?
Bill: Yes. Fixing my projector in one memorable instance. I also sublet his apartment on 9th St. and Avenue A for a time in 1980 after I moved out of the George Washington Hotel while I was looking for a regular apartment.
■ Did you believe that Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf and the rest would become such major stars, or did it just feel like a good time at the Club?
Bill: Both. You had various people there - people on their way up, who were going places, some who were merely scene hanger-ons, drug addicts and assorted sociopaths.
■ Was Jonas Mekas helpful when you were doing the Kenneth Anger book.
Bill: When we did the Ken Anger book, he was of no assistance at all.
Michelle: He wanted to be paid for an interview. we don’t pay to speak to people. We’re not his trick. We don’t work that way. If he charges, he’ll certainly self edit, so no loss.
■ What was your relationship like with the Millennium?
Bill: I didn’t do showings there, but it’s a good space and occasionally they had a good revival. It was a nice space for a 16mm screening room. Very pleasant, nice folks, nice old 60s style space. The same for The Collective for Living Cinema, which was near the Mudd Club - a much missed spot.
■ How many books have you and your wife and writing partner Michelle Clifford put together.
Bill: Two books, but we have been in compilations as well. We collaborated 50-50 on the recent Sleazoid Express book. And we are partners fully in all writing and the Sleazoid Express and Metasex magazines. We do film lectures and screenings. The last was at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Michelle wrote half of the Ken Anger bio “ANGER” though she wouldn’t put her name on it. Michelle used to never sign her writing. She was a mystery wrapped in an enigma. She likes to be read and not seen. She has been better about it recently in the last couple years since she started putting out her mag METASEX. We are partners fully in all writing.
Michelle: We did several articles for publications everything from august ones like Village Voice, Film Comment, to some men’s mags like Screw. SCREW always had that great underground press vibe, I mean diversity like John Lennon and P.J O’Rourke wrote for it back in the day…Lenny Bruce’s mother! - Al Goldstein was really the first amendment pioneer. I wanted to put out my mag Metasex after I once read the story of Goldstein peddling the issues around to the newsstands himself back when he started SCREW with Jim Buckley. We’ve written for Hustler, Carbon 14, We recently wrote a piece about Vanessa Del Rio and Times Square to be in a Taschen art book edited by Dian Hanson. I like that quote from Aleister Crowley “I want be in everything at least once”
■ Is Michelle the one that got you to the book stage?
Bill: When we met, she said I needed a mass market flexi-book that was affordable and would be under every college kid’s bong by their VCR, which Sleazoid Express as a book is. She started her Metasex magazine and got me to re-start Sleazoid as a multi page format magazine, I’d given up the mag for a couple years to have a real life.
■ You obviously always had the publishing bug.
Bill: I’ve always written. I wrote for my school paper when I was a kid.
Michelle: I wouldn’t let Times Square die without a proper funeral. I wanted permanent Books. So everyone could learn what hath occurred. I’d made my own magazines since I was little using colored pencils. Stapling them together and mailing them to people I knew. For a laugh. I never kept any. I had no access to a Xerox till I was about 19, when I got to NYC. It was a revelation. The Holy Mountain. Copies!! This is all pre Kinko’s. I mean, in Ft Lauderdale there weren’t any Xerox machines not inside of some office. They just weren’t available. I went to the LES to make my first copy. A card I made for a Bill using a WARD cartoon. The man behind the counter was so friendly. I couldn’t believe the freedom of the copy machine. I’d thought the man behind the counter would toss me from the shop for the salty book page I was copying. In Florida it is really buttoned down.
■ When did you and Michelle meet.
Michelle: I sent Bill a letter in 1984, He wrote back, then it took me a year later to write again. I was just a teenager. I loved his writing. I heard him. I only hear a couple of writers. He wrote his way into my heart. We got together in spring 1986 when I moved in with him. He was living on 14th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. He picked me up from the airport and we’ve been inseparable ever since. My first step in NYC was on 42 St after taking the shuttle bus from the airport in Jersey. It’s about 18 years now. I moved in with Bill on 14th Street, the same block Travis Bickle resided on in Taxi Driver. We’d have breakfast every morning at Disco Donut the same place Travis watches Iris eat toast in Taxi Driver. Bill’s apartment was like a living breathing life art installation. Huge exploitation posters on the walls. Everything red black and white. Posters for Mondo movies. I loved it and was in culture shock. I’d just moved from sunny Florida and would read the outrageous NY POST inside Disco Donut. It was the summer of Preppy Killer and Jennifer Levin’s body found strangled in Central Park. I loathed yuppies. The jogger wilding rape had just happened. I’d read this while peeping at all the Donut shop people… This was the height of the crack epidemic then. Yuppies to drug casualties, methadone addicts would be in Disco Donut in a pose of a nod mid movement like a living sculpture. They’d dose the methadone at 6 am on the Bowery and walk a couple blocks up. By about 8 they’d be like watching a slow mo movie. They’d try to pay the waitress for their drooled in coffee and while pasing her the change they’d just nod out. Still life with 40 cent. Or Winos off the Bowery getting a donut to go. Wearing dry piss encrusted pants who’d just picked themselves off the sidewalk….. There were 3 porno theaters around our block and a massage parlor that had been there since the 60s. It was extremely seedy, like 42nd Street south
Bill: I wrote “Get Down on 14th Street” for the voice about this block.
Michelle: The Metropolitan porn theater was across the street from us. It was a crack den with straight porn playing. It’d be 20 below zero and there would be a shirtless shoeless Haitian guy sucking a crack pipe at 4 am when you’d look out the window. I was so annoyed at its aids casualty crackfriendly status I took to calling in chicken and rib orders for the cashier there. A fat black sissy named Lee who Bill hated from when he worked at the Venus theater in Times Square was in the front cashbox. I’d smoke a joint and watch the minstrel show pantomime unfold looking out of my front window “I didn’t call for no ribs, man!” Lee would shout at the Paki delivery guy sent from the Mama’s fried chicken joint around the corner. I thought it was as funny as an episode of Amos n’ Andy. Eventually Lee got stabbed one night closing up by one of the crackhead theatergoers. He was slashed up the thigh. Nobody liked Lee. The two Paki grocery owners who were next door to the theater would tell me all the gossip. There would always be Lee in there too, buying cheap malt liquor or a queenie friends of his lingering in the grocery. That’s how I heard of the stabbing.
■ When did you first publish your mimeographed Sleazoid Express?
Bill: June 1980
■ How many did you do?
Bill: At first it was a one sheet every other week, then it was 4 pages every month, growing to about 16-20 by the last issues of that incarnation of Sleazoid by the end of 1985. In 1999 we resurrected it and it became a long 70 page magazine/monograph. I’m working on issue #6 as we speak.
■ Explain the issues and the necessity of doing this publication.
Bill: When I began SLEAZOID in 1980, no one was covering Times Square exploitation movies, most people were too afraid to go into the theaters. The films were going unrecorded and I started it as a permanent journal of them. There was the risk of the one day film showing, blink and it’ll be gone, mostly stuff too extreme to be recognized by other journalists. Then it expanded to include studies of various exploitation filmmakers, genres and had longer reviews. The next stage involved recording various life experiences and subcultures of Times Square and also parts of the Lower East Side subcultures. As I worked in Times Square 1982-1986 it gave me a whole firsthand look at what was happening there, from the grindhouse cinemas to live sex shows at shoebox adult theaters I managed or was projectionist at. It was an unforgettable part of red light history. And my personallife.
■ Do you have the whole collection?
■ Michelle, when did you start METASEX?
Michelle: I wrote it and then put it in a closet for a couple years. It officially was printed 1997. The same year I gave birth. So, laughs, I came out of the closet in 1997. The METASEX magazine covers xxx grindhouse fare and those theaters. I see all film as art and pre aids porn is art to me. It documents American people and theories and sexual politics mixed with wish fulfillment for a generation post hippie, post free love. Starting with Freak era. My mother’ circle of crime led me to write about a bunch of people who would never be documented, otherwise. I love to take photos as well. I took pix of the whole fall of Times Square.
■ When you met other LES personalities, who was important to you?
Bill: Henry Jones, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, John Sex and Scott Covert very much from the Club 57 days.
Michelle: Well, I just liked the idea of the place. That at one time you could come from anywhere and there was a tight little artists colony. And they’d fight in the streets for their rights. Loudmouths of every stripe. Where else can you find that freedom. People had literally gone insane on the LES to fight for American rights. You could be yourself there. Little if any judgements. Except for your art. Which was the point.
■ What was your impression of Harry Smith.
Bill: That he knew a great, great deal and had been exposed to certain aesthetic and occult movements that have few if any surviving members. He was a great archivist, of the occult and of American folk music, and an animation pioneer. He was a neighbor of mine when we both lived at the Chelsea Hotel in the early 90’s where he died.
■ How did you meet him?
Bill: Henry Jones took me to meet him in the summer of 1980. He was in the Breslin Hotel on 28th Street and Broadway. And this is funny, because the place has these long elliptical hallways that seem endless. And I had no recollection of how I got in his room or out again. Hypnosis? I wonder, because it wasn’t the hash we smoked that night! He was extremely cordial and friendly. Not the hothead I had heard about in other instances!
Later, when we lived at the Chelsea Hotel before his death Harry was this sweet old man. Michelle didn’t know who he was and used to hold the elevator for him and help him to his floor. Then I introduced them.
■ Did you learn anything from Harry?
Bill: I liked him a lot but he did seem to be Henry Jones’ friend and Henry knew him better.
■ Have you seen his films?
Bill: Some of the early animations, yes.
■ Where any an inspiration to you?
Bill: In the sense that he was visualizing some things Crowley taught, yes. Heaven and Earth Magic was very impressive. He also was encouraging about doing the Kenneth Anger bio, which we were working on at the time. - Most of people on the LES weren’t helpful about the Ken Anger book. Michelle and I ran onto Allen Ginsberg on the street the day we got married and he said congrats, then went into a harangue of how mean it was to do this unauthorized book about Ken. That with Ken creating the genre of Hollywood Babylon, which are probably the most insensitive books about peoples’ foibles ever! Amazing. - Amos Vogel spoke to me and he was a help, and was afraid of Ken. Later, he sent a letter to HarperCollins’ lawyers because Ken had threatened him after the book came out.
■ Why the interest in sex and horror films?
Bill: For me, it’s the primal reflection of what people want to see. A reflection of the audiences’ inner consciousness. Exploitation is almost an unselfconscious surrealism.
Michelle: It was that I had seen a lot of bitter violence as a child, including a bloody murder. My mother, whom I didn’t live with, was a madame and violent criminal along the lines of Reservoir Dogs. A double crosser. She was tough and ran in vice and stick up circles. The tape around the mouth type who did violent Irish mayhem. She’d laugh about her violence. It entertained her. She was shot in the head by the police. But that didn’t kill her. She and her friends pimps, psycho thief drag queens, drug dealers, extortionists, streetwalkers, callgirls, she would all tell me the inner workings of the vice world from a early age..they all did. My bedtime stories were of who got beaten up or robbed that night, and made hilarious. The descriptions of the humility in the trick who was robbed of even his pants, how a girl in stilettos heels ran down a street from a cop, how a girl stabbed another one for talking to her man…so much drama…so much vivid color. Life and death drama daily. They beat the drama out of any doo wop song. I loved those people. They treated me like a princess and always had goodies for me and babied me. But when I was 13 my mother was shot and it demonstrated how what goes around comes home.
Bill: Michelle is a surrealist who turns pain into art. She reproduces what she sees very well.
■ Where you ever a part of the LES drug scene.
Bill: My first encounter with it were these little “candy stores,” notably the Sweet Tooth on 9th Street, that sold very good grass and even hash. They were very Amsterdam-like except for occasional police interference and very benign. What wasn’t benign is the dope and coke dealt from abandoned buildings sold by Latino families, including their teenage kids who worked in shifts. A very primal capitalistic nightmare…a lot of it came from Iranian refugees who were bringing in very potent brown dope after the Shah fell. This was around the time hip hop started, like The Message. I did an article covering those bizarre “nickels of coke” in Sleazoid that I’m sure is the first ever printed on them… it’s not so much the coke in them it was some mystery ingredient that gave a big bang for IV users. It was addictive, destructive and would have people wandering at 4 in the morning for more.
Eventually I wrote two articles for the Voice dealing with the LES drug scene. One was Hooked - the Madness in Methadone Maintenance - how Methadone is part of the NYC beauracracy, it isn’t run right, they use people as guinea pigs, it doesn’t necessarily stop IV drug use. I never have been on Methadone and would never be a dog on a leash for the government. Anything usually the government offers is nothing good, especially to “help” drug addicts. Another story I did was about ACT-UP’s needle exchange program called Point of Return. That piece was in the Vilage Voice and was reprinted in two books, One, a compilation called “Beyond Crisis” about the Aids crisis in the end of the 20th century and a legal Book the ACLU published about the AIDS crises. I was espousing clean needles as a way of not spreading disease.
That LES drug scene I didn’t care for. It was cheap, insane and insect-like and malevolent. People with delusions of being artists, bad musicians living off hookers and strippers, mixed in with hardened criminals and professional thieves. Midtown (Hell’s Kitchen) is more of a personal handshake situation where people know each other either by name or face, there were knock knock places and more in-houses there aren’t these lines or buildings being obvious and none of the police scrutiny. Surprisingly, you find that many people who go to midtown actually have regular jobs and go there before or after work, and they mix in with the local vice workers. The LES was not my cup of poison when it came to drugs.
And it’s my belief with drugs that anything taken past sacramental usage becomes detrimental. Used in artistic or spiritual creation they can be useful. But you should always have the ability to walk away from them.
■ The Anger book must have been easier to get a publisher for, than the Sleazoid Express, or maybe not- tell us.
Bill: Ken Anger had hawked but never completed his own autobio for years in publishing circles. Michelle really instigated it. When we met, she asked why there wasn’t a book about him. She really liked his films tremendously. They were the first art films she ever saw. At the Millenium. She had me get an agent and then she wrote half of it, although her name wasn’t on it. She did the interviews with Manson associate Bobby Beausoliel for it, amongst other parts. Sleazoid Express was harder to sell because of the poor economic climate now in publishing (the internet takes away $$ once spent buying books) and the cookie cutter aspect of Big Business. The way films are these days a lot of sequels and exploitation remakes on big budgets. Or fake indies.
■ What is the difference between doing a mimeographed broad sheet, a Magazine and a book?
Bill: Offset sheets were the legacy of the early underground. Even Henry Miller did his own printing. What was happening at that moment within those two weeks. Urgent. Fast. Do it now before the movie disappears. A magazine - I hesitate to call it that, because each Sleazoid or Metasex now has a concept behind it and they’re more monographs than magazines. The Sleazoid book actually took 9 months to put together, while the Anger book with all his hiding of life (his real name, his family) those facts took 4 years to uncover.
But remember there was like 20 years plus of research that went into the Sleazoid book ahead of time. So I was able to do it quicker.
■ Where there any filmmakers on the LES that you would write about? Have there ever been any LES filmmakers, of the Sleazoid content that lived on the LES that are familiar to you & have you written about anyone from the LES.
Bill: In the late 70s, early 80s, the early Beth and Scott B movies like Black Box were very interesting and were also tied into the no-wave music movement. I was an actor in their film VORTEX. Jack Smith was a LES icon, but I found him burnt out, someone who you’d eventually have some fight with, and Flaming Creatures is just not up to the cinematic skill of Scorpio Rising or the cinema verite of a Chelsea Girls or Flesh - though it has its merits for the time.
■ How many books have you done?
Bill: Two full length books, contributions to the others I mentioned, and we just did a thing about director Joe Davian for a Taschen Vanessa Del Rio history… Joe Davian was a great Avon hardcore director, the Sam Fuller of porn. He was in Dacchau and liked brandishing his Dacchau tattoo at people. Great visionary director who worked in the hardcore realm, films like Domination Blue were masterful.
■ How about Michelle? How do you see each person’s roll? Does she research and you write, or both, or what?
Bill: It changes all the time, shifting roles is part of it, the last one was really 50/50 with her interviewing some people, me others, and us changing the text together like a sculpture. We’re a two headed beast.
■ You called me Frater Clayton Patterson in the credits in the Kenneth Anger book. What does that mean to you?
Bill: “Frater” literally means brother. It is a term of respect and affection used in various occult and secret societies, notably the Golden Dawn, the Rosicrucians and the OTO.
Michelle: You had been very supportive when we were living at the Chelsea Hotel writing that book. We’d watch your TV show at night on cable “CLAYTON PATTERSON PRESENTS”. I sent you a postcard. I was curious about you. One episode had a crazy pre jackass boy cutting himself on a rooftop with a razor. Then he’d writhe in agony. You’d interspersed that with you chopping up a hotdog and smiling malevolently. I was impressed at how dedicated you were to documenting as Crowley said, “All that hath occurred”.
■ I am truly amazed at your child's intelligence. Wow. And no school yet. Forget about school. Fuck those rules. This would throw her off for her whole life. Out childhood stays with us forever. She will have to play dumb to have friends, and that is just one problem....forget about that.
Bill: This is true and she was appalled at the idea of starting at such a low level when she knows so much. She plays chess and is creative and interested in learning. So we home school. She gets to travel to film festivals with us, like Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in SF and the Warhol Institute this March.
Michelle: She has her own website. I won’t have the individuality banged out of her. I want her personality to stay her own. No following of a pack mentality. No sit down and shut up stuff and no time wasting with cliques or bullys. We had her as a Moonchild. Based upon an old legend from the middle ages, Thought up by a man named PARACELSUS. He’d been the scientist who invented paregoric (opium tinctiture). Crowley later expanded on Paracelsus’ theories in practical applications in his book Moonchild.
■ ABOUT: Publishers of Sleazoid Express and METASEX Magazines | Authors of Sleazoid Express, A mind Twisting Tour Through The Grindhouses of Times Square.
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