Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing, part two

Guardian
Photograph: Stephen Wright, theguardian.com

The second part of the text component of a performance portrait of dancer and choreographer Fred Herko. Part one — complete with footnotes and more information about the project — is available here.

 

Part two: TO COME AND LEAVE NOTHING BEHIND(1)

By that time it is all over but the plangent memory of a rainy evening in lower Manhattan. The people file into their smoke-filled slickers and Doris Hering says Doris Hering was here. We go to Edwin Denby’s and quietly talk all night.(2)

Dear Floating Bear, Fred Herko’s review of Paul Taylor says: “Love is ultimately beautiful. Love is interesting. Love is exciting… Mr. Taylor is not exciting. Mr. Taylor is not interesting. Mr. Taylor is not ultimately beautiful.” Herko is judging Taylor by an idea. This idea – the idea of love and art and The Unsoiled Life – is shit. If Taylor fails by that, he’s doing fine. Herko had better watch his language.(3)

Lad if I love you better than I should, think how thru wasted tides I watched you grow.(4)

The San Remo Coffee Shop on the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker streets in the Village was where I met Billy Name and Freddy Herko, a very intense, handsome guy in his twenties who conceived of everything in terms of dance.(5)

Freddy looked good at what he was doing … Recitals around town, Broadway, off Broadway and TV, were all there for taking. Freddy took the high wide road with a vengeance … He sent home press releases to the little paper in Ossining. Network TV. That was something parents could understand. He went all the way from Siberia to Prime Time.(6)

I first met Freddie in 1954, sitting on a bench in the rain, Washington Square Park, not far from the chess players. And crying because autumn always made him sad. Or so he said. I invited him for coffee. We walked to Rienzi’s and sat talking, looking out on the rainy street.(7)

Where even fools don’t tread you walked, and no scars told the tale.(8)

He was a pianist, he looked a little bit spoiled. Still lived at home with his family, was studying at Juilliard on a scholarship.(9)

In my own chill I knew your restless beds, and nightlong told you tales to kill bad dreams.(10)

When I was seventeen and my friend Judy was eighteen, one evening I left my parents’ Morningside Gardens apartment to visit a coffee shop around on Amsterdam Avenue and settle into the phone booth, so Judy and I could have an uninterrupted hour-and-a-half conversation. Judy had been a child actor and was now a dancer. She knew lots of gay men, some of whom — Freddy Herko, Vincent Warren, James Waring — she’d introduced me to.(11)

Conventionally reared between Sing Sing and the Catholic mission, he cut a swath among his contemporaries. A scholarship for music, a prize for painting, best dancer in the graduation yearbook, part of the school combo, Freddy was action. Unable to suffer fools gladly because of his exceptional quickness and concentration, he studied little but well, and had lots of free time. A local girl’s father thought he would be good at banking. In the small pond he was an observable big fish.(12)

One night he showed up at Diane di Prima’s to borrow a record and invited everyone there to a performance; he said he was going to leap off the top of his building downtown.(13)

Helpless I bring your saddest happy birthday these empty-handed spells for sandstorm days.(14)

(1) Gerard Malanga, ‘To Come and Leave Nothing Behind’, poem quoted in full in Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(2) 
Frank O’Hara, ‘Dances Before the Wall’, 1959
(3) 
Edwin Denby, letter published in The Floating Bear, issue 19, 1962
(4) Diane di Prima, ‘Invocation, a Birthday Poem for Freddi-O, February 23, 1957’, Freddie Poems, 1974
(5) Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism, 1980
(6) 
Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(7) Diane di Prima, Memoirs of my Life as a Woman, 2001
(8) Diane di Prima, ‘Invocation, a Birthday Poem for Freddi-O, February 23, 1957’, Freddie Poems, 1974
(9) 
Diane di Prima, Memoirs of my Life as a Woman, 2001
(10) 
Diane di Prima, ‘Invocation, a Birthday Poem for Freddi-O, February 23, 1957’, Freddie Poems, 1974
(11) 
Samuel R. Delany, ‘Coming/Out’, Shorter Views, 2000
(12) 
Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(13) Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism, 1980
(14) 
Diane di Prima, ‘Invocation, a Birthday Poem for Freddi-O, February 23, 1957’, Freddie Poems, 1974

 

Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing, part one

photo by Al Giese, courtesy of Fales Library, NYU
photo Al Giese, courtesy Fales Library, NYU

Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing was a performance commissioned by  Siobhan Davies Dance and Independent Dance. It attempted to construct a portrait of dancer and choreographer Fred Herko (1936-64) who appeared in many early 1960s New York narratives. As well as being an integral part of the Judson Dance Theater, he starred in several Warhol films, including the now-lost Roller Skate (1963). Working outwards from this artefact, I gathered together traces to be retold while myself attempting to roller skate. These were two problematic tasks: as with many queer archives, Herko’s relies on ephemera and anecdote, while the physical act was hindered by inability.

The following is the first part of five of the annotated version of the performance script, assembled from a wide array of material. For more about the project, see jamieatherton.com/possibilities-for-a-pleasant-outing.

 

Part one: BECAUSE ANYTHING IN LIFE CAN GO WITH ANYTHING ELSE IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING(1)

Following the first Concert of Dance a bunch of us piled into a car and drove out to a Staten Island beach. As the sun came up, the awesome specter of the unfinished Verranzano-Narrows Bridge was revealed. Its towers connected by suspension cables, the roadway missing, leaving the vertical cables dangling and unmoored. A functionless ghostly structure, etched surreally in the dawn.(2)

In the centre of the stage is a column, standing upright, eight feet high, two feet on a side, plywood, painted grey. Nothing else is on the stage. For three and a half minutes nothing happens; no one enters or leaves. Suddenly the column falls. Three and a half more minutes elapse.(3)

My sister Jill has already described quite well in Art News the Morris work. I will describe what happened. It was David Bourdon’s birthday and Ann Wilson who also was there had had her birthday the day before and I was to have mine the day following. Mark was Waring a terrific mustard colored wool shirt he said he got at Fulton Market. There was a gray paint smell. A psychiatrist was smoking Edgewood tobacco.(4)

John and Dorothy and Dale and Malka and Billy and Le Roi and Alan and Nick and Diana and Jack and Fred Herko were not there but Michael Malce of the Reuben Gallery showed up. And then there was John Cage and Morton Feldman and Earle Brown and Lois Long and Jasper Johns was wearing a brilliant necktie. It was difficult to see the Morris works there were so many celebs in the way. I didn’t know where to park my gum. Jack and Jill were there and Fred Herko.(5)

It was a great summer. The folk-singer look was in—the young girls with the bangs were wearing shifts and sandals and burlapy things. And this was the summer, too, before the first bombing in Vietnam, the summer of civil rights marches down south, the summer right before the sixties went all crazy for me, before I moved my work space to the 47th Street Factory and the media started writing me up in the new setting with all the superstars. But in this summer of ’63 there were no superstars yet; in fact, I’d only just gotten my first 16-mm camera…(6)

Summer ends where the magic coat begins, and the rumour of death is established. In one leap through the air we breathe.(7)

Such was the oracle that Pelias heard, that a hateful doom awaited him — to be slain at the prompting of the man whom he should see coming forth from the people with but one sandal. And no long time after, in accordance with that true report, Jason crossed the stream of wintry Anaurus on foot, and saved one sandal from the mire, but the other he left in the depths held back by the flood. (8) My love is like a strong white foot.(9)

Tak’s chuckle became a full laugh. “Hey, how’d you lose one sandal?”

“Huh?” He looked down. “Oh … I was being chased. By dogs.”(10)

Freddy on a single skate, rolling into the fixed camera eye time after time.(11)

Uncommitted, uncertain, uneasy, I move through the lower East Side; the body, flawless and easy, extends in my mind through the lights on the street.(12)

Suddenly everyone gets excited and starts running around the Henry Street Playhouse, which is odd, I don’t care whose foot it is, and Midi Garth goes tearing down the aisle towards Fred Herko while Sybil Shearer swoons in the balcony, which is like a box when she’s in it, and Paul Taylor tells Bob Rauschenberg it’s on fire and Bob Rauschenberg says what’s on fire and…(13) Time goes by, reputation increases, ability declines.(14)

I filmed Freddy three times. The first time was just a short dance thing on a roof. The second was a segment for The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys where Freddy sat nervously in a chair for three minutes, smoking a cigarette. And the third was called Rollerskate, and Freddy was the star of it. He put a skate on one foot and we filmed him rolling on it all over town and over in Brooklyn Heights, day and night, gliding in dance attitudes and looking as perfect as the ornament on the hood of a car.(15)

(1) Jill Johnston, quoted in Sally Banes, Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater, 1962-1964, 1983
(2) Yvonne Rainer, Feelings Are Facts, 2006
(3) Rosalind E. Krauss, ‘Mechanical Ballets: Light, Motion Theatre’, 1977, from Dance (Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art), 2012
(4) Ray Johnston, ‘Review by Ray Johnston (In the Style of Floating Bear)’, The Floating Bear, issue 27, November, 1963
(5) ibid

(6) Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism, 1980
(7) Gerard Malanga, ‘To Come and Leave Nothing Behind’, poem quoted in full in Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(8) Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 3rd century BC
(9) Frank O’Hara, ‘Dances Before the Wall’, 1959

(10) Samuel R Delany, Dhalgren, 1975
(11) Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(12) Gerard Malanga, ‘To Come and Leave Nothing Behind’, poem quoted in full in Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(13) Frank O’Hara, ‘Dances Before the Wall’, 1959

(14) Gerard Malanga, ‘To Come and Leave Nothing Behind’, poem quoted in full in Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(15) Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism, 1980