Chaps. 1 & 2: Edie Sedgwick: Maid Of Constant Sorrow
October 21, 2010
Edie Sedgwick: Maid Of Constant Sorrow
Edie Sedgwick, Bob Dylan And Andy Warhol
Some Enchanted Evening
A movie: Factory Girl
Sedgwick, John: In My Blood: Six Generations Of Madness And Desire In An American Family, Harper Perennial, 2007
Stein, Jean: Edie: An American Biography, Pimlico, First Published 1992, 2006 Paperback edition
www.warholstars.com A comprehensive Andy Warhol site.
The sixties was a period of broken lives. It was the heyday of the users and the used. It was as Donovan aptly put it: The Season Of The Witch. It was a period when all the hounds of hell were loosed. It may be a cliche but it was both the best and worst of times. It was during this period that Edie Sedgwick came of age. Edie’s tragedy was that she was used rather than a user. She was the cat’s paw of two of the greatest users of the period, Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan. It cost her her everything including her life.
Edie was one of the Sedgwicks of Massachusetts and they were old line Americans. If the Sedgwicks missed the Mayflower they were trolling in its wake. Therein lay part of Edie’s charm for the two immigrant lads, Bob and Andy. While from Massachusetts the Sedgwicks had a notable presence in New York City and Long Island. One might say they were venerable. J.P. Marquand who married into the family wrote his novel ‘The Late George Apley’ about them.
In Massachusetts the Sedgwick family was famous for their burial plot known as the Sedgwick Pie. As their legend is intimately connected with the Pie it might be proper to dwell on the Pie for its flavor. The founder of the family back then just after the first Thanksgiving was a gentleman named Theodore Sedgwick. He was a dynast by nature. Hence, he bought a section of the Stockbridge cemetery and had himself buried in the very middle. Subsequent Sedgwick burials were laid feet first toward the Patriarch in round rows emanating outward like the wedges of a pie, thus the name Sedgwick Pie. It was said that on judgment day when reveille was blown the Sedgwicks would all arise facing the founder, Theodore. Pretty story.
Over the centuries following Theodore’s death the Sedgwicks continued to prosper there always being enough money to maintain their position. There also arose the fantastic legend of the Sedgwick Curse, as indicated by John Sedgwick’s subtitle. The idea was that the Sedgwicks were a weak stock and that there was an abnormal amount of madness and suicide in the family. Considering the extent of the family I think this was a romanticized vision of themselves. Not that there wasn’t a sort of madness and a few suicides but hardly more than in any several hundred member family over a few centuries. Nevertheless in Edie’s generation this fatalistic notion took firm hold. It’s almost as if the generation rose to embrace the notion. Her biographers speak of it in awe as though the Curse of the Pharaohs had morphed into the Curse of the Sedgwicks. Jean Stein, the author of Edie, seems entranced with it and even John Sedgwick, Edie’s younger cousin, in his memoir seems possessed by it. Feels he’s got it. Slim chance for being true in my estimation.
For an inconsequential girl Edie’s life has been well examined. There are actually several books written about or featuring her while the legacy of movies she appeared in and movies about her is fairly extensive. Most of the early information on her life here is abstracted from Jean Stein’s biography. Stein, herself, is accused of writing the biography in a fit of sour grapes because Warhol wouldn’t make her one of his superstars. No matter, it is an exceptional book of its kind.
‘Edie’ is presented as an oral biography in the voice of many participants. However as all the voices are pretty uniform it would seem as though the editor, George Plimption, is pervasively evident. George Plimpton, otherwise a nobody, began his career as a celebrity in the sixties and the seventies by becoming a professional old line American, nearly the last of a vanishing breed.
He clowned around by trying out for various professional sports teams then writing books about the experience. Thus he became the American Man Of Letters touted on his website and a well known celebrity who could actually measure his press releases in inches. He and Stein put together an excellent more than readable book in their biography of Edie Sedgwick.
Edie was the daughter of Francis Sedgwick of Long Island, NY, he otherwise being known as Fuzzy. The family left New York for Santa Barbara, California just before Edie was born so she knew nothing of New York or the East Coast. In California she led what would seem to thave been an idyllic life. The family lived on a 3000 acre ranch which was exhanged after oil was found on it for a much larger ranch and finally an 18,000 acre ranch where she spent her teens. This was a functioning cattle ranch with ranch hands and the whole works.
The Sedgwicks did not attend either public or private schools being rather schooled by private teachers along with a few neighbor children. Thus unfamiliar with the world she may have had a very diffiuclt time adjusting to real life people. She probably did not have time to do so before she was thrown into the boiling cauldron of New York City. Francis, or Fuzzy, was a difficult father; his children blamed him for their shortcomings while Edie said he had sexual relations with her. She then was, or believed herself, mentally unbalanced by the time she arrived at Radcliffe to begin college.
She may very well have been unbalanced but where I grew up I didn’t know anyone who didn’t have mental problems, parents or children, and by the time of high school graduation I was literally a basket case, nearly immobile. Yet, so far as I know, everyone got on with their lives including myself. Seems to me everyone has to work themselves out of that hole as best they can.
Of course, drugs were becoming a definite problem by the time Edie showed up in Cambridge in the early sixties. It one reads Raymond Chandler novels, for instance, drugs were a problem in the thirties and forties and further reading will show that they had been a problem for decades. Most narcotics became regulated in 1910 in the US, still, new pharmaceuticals were being developed constantly and some of them including the psychedelics were not covered by narcotics laws at the time.
The first wonder drug I heard of was Miltown about 1950. I was too young to understand but Miltown was the Valium of its time, a panacea for all forms of stress, the stressed and housewives began to line up for prescriptions. By 1960 the list of users must have been stupendous.
Along with the barbituate downers came the uppers. First Bennies and then amphetamines. My first knowledge of the pervasiveness of drugs was 1956 when I wrote a high school essay on LSD. Of course glue sniffing was endemic in high school. Then in 1958 in the Navy was the first time I saw people ingesting bennies and heard of peyote, mescaline and the actual use of LSD. By the early sixties I knew a lot of people who were smoking pot and popping pills but I was never a user myself. I watched drugs put a lot of people over the edge. In most cases they weren’t aware that they were freefalling.
So, an unsettled socially naive Edie moved into a fast, loose society in Cambridge. While I can’t see much in her from the pictures apparently she was a sensation live, possibly influenced by her seemingly casual attitude toward sex. I don’t know about on the East Coast but on the West Coast girls were either more circumspect or I was out of it.
Edie was picked up by a homosexual crowd and attended many fetes in that milieu. At the same time the other folk scene, that of Boston was burgeoning with Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band, Eric Von Schmidt and Mel Lyman being the standouts. Dylan came up to Boston at this time to meet them where, I believe, he first became acquainted with Bobby Neuwirth who was hanging out around the art and folk scene. Certainly Edie would have come to Neuwirth’s attention at this time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he and Dylan discussed the ‘hot chick’ from a distance at that time.
At some time Edie became erratic enough in her parents’ eyes that they decided to commit her to an insane asylum called Silverhill near Boston. This to me seems very extreme. Apart from Edie’s not doing things as they saw fit I can’t find anything in her behavior to have her committed. I mean, I’ve seen some pretty zany behavior and after drugs really got rolling in about ’67 half the population could have been put away with the other half waiting in line.
At some point you have to let your kid go while parents always have to take responsibility for their behavior at least for the first few years after they’ve left the nest until they work through those parental childhood traumas. The Sedgwicks had the money so as long as the offspring weren’t financially out of control they at least deserved their allowance. Edie was what would have been described as an airhead.
But then I’m sure that with the asylum experience the cure is worse than the disease. Edie was repeatedly given electro-shock ‘therapy.’ Electro-shock ranks right up there with the pre-frontal lobotomy as the most bizarre psychiatric treatments. Talk about Hitler and the Nazi doctors! If the Nazis had practiced frontal lobotomies and electro-shock you can imagine the Liberal howling from the West. It would have made the flap over Eugenics a mere whimper.
I can’t imagine what electro-shock does to the mind and nervous system. When I was four I was playing with an open socket. When I connected the jolt was such I lost consciousness. Fortunately I was repelled being thrown completely across the kitchen floor where I became alert again after a few seconds but still buzzing. Plus, I remember it as though yesterday. Imagine being strapped down and having those volts sent coursing through your existence. My god! For what purpose? That’s going to change your psychology? It doesn’t, so why they kept at it is beyond me.
Since Edie wasn’t insane when she checked in the good doctors of Silverhill checked her out as sane. Somewhere along the way she met some guy named Chuck Wein who believed himself to be an impresario of some sort who was going to take Edie to New York and make a star of some sort of her. Toward the end of 1964 then Edie and Chuck showed up in Manhattan.
Edie moved in with her grandmother on the Upper East Side. Good address. Enviable. She had come into an inheritance of 80,000 dollars which she proceeded to squander in six months. In 2010 dollars that might be the equivalent of from 300,000 to 500,000 dollars. One had to have a careless disregard for money.
In 1964 the sixties had started moving, approaching maximum velocity. The Beatles had splashed down in January of ’64 followed by the Rolling Stones, Animals, Dave Clark Five and a host of others including Freddie And The Dreamers which was the beginning of the hip explosion as rock and roll morphed into folk rock. It doesn’t matter who was the first with folk rock it was inevitable. The electric bass and guitars along with better and more powerful amplifiers ever evolving there was no other way to go. I mean, Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran were proto-heavy metal. And they were exciting bands. The music had been loosening up for several years. Tequila by The Champs was fairly revolutionary in its day. But then the recording companies and artists put a lot of effort into trying to astonish us with new styles and forms and frequently did, every week. Mule Skinner Blues by the Fendermen, a folk song was done in a folk rock style long before Bob Dylan went electric and set us all on our ear. That song has probably never been surpassed. Besides by 1964 the whole folk thing was passe and worn out, boring, apparently the word probably hadn’t reached Peter Seeger and that bunch in New york yet.
Each day was a new adventure where you had no idea what you would see or hear. Andy Warhol’s soup can is a case in point. The arrival of the Lovin’ Spoonful in Edie’s big year of ’65 was a revelation. As far as I’m concerned, the most influential band of the era. If Yanovsky hadn’t given up his dealer there’s no telling how far they could have gone. From there everything accelerated to super sonic speed. There was even a group called the Super Sonics. Songs like Telestar. Men even walked on the moon. So, while the external world was racing with the moon the internal, personal world ran along at the same slow pace unable to keep up with developments. No one knew what was going on except in their small mental space. Thus, even while Dylan and Warhol were succeeding spectacularly in their own spheres life was racing past them making them passe while there was no way they could keep up.
In that atmosphere Edie arrived in New York City and spent her money. And then the money was gone. As ’65 progresseed her parents became disenchanted with her life style so they cut her allowance way back, and then, off. But that’s getting ahead of our story. What Chuck Wein’s plan was for turning Edie into some sort of star or celebrity isn’t clear. She did get some modeling jobs for magazines, probably because of her name, but they were put off by her drug intake and her corresponding erratic behavior.
Then Bobby Neuwirth, the legend goes, noticed she was in town. by this time Neuwirth was playing Robin to Dylan’s Batman, his sidekick in other words, and he notified Dylan that ‘there was a hot new girl in town.’ In the movie Factory Girl, sometime in ’65 Neuwirth showed up at the Factory and said: Come with me. Someone wants to meet you.’ Edie leaves with this total stranger, who cons her into paying the fare, escorts her back stage at a Dylan performance to be introduced to the Star with whom she is dazzled.
That’s one version. According to Jean Stein in Edie in December of ’64 Neuwirth invited her down from the Upper East Side to the Mafia club, Kettle of Fish, to meet the folk singer himself. Edie had arrived in NYC driving a big grey Mercedes. Her flipped out driver crashed the car so she was using a limousine service to get about. Accordingly her limousine pulled up in front of the Kettle of Fish, Edie got out of the car, entered the bar and contact was made. The history of her life over the next eighteen months, the Dance of Death, began.
Dylan, then, laid claim to the dazzling girl before Andy Warhol. Edie met Andy at the film producer Lester Persky’s a few weeks later at a party in January of ’65. Dylan and his entourage were heterosexual while Warhol, Persky and that crowd were homosexuals. Thus Edie began to fulfill her destiny as a pawn in Dylan’s and Warhol’s games.
Never Felt More Like Singin’ The Blues
Who were these guys Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol and what interest could they take in this uninteresting and rather dull girl. Interestingly both men considered themselves revolutionists. Dylan forwarded the Jewish and Underman revolutions while Warhol spearheaded the homosexual and doubled up on the Underman. Both men came from immigrant backgrounds. Dylan from Jewish immigrants and Warhol from Ruthenians. Dylan was originally Robert Zimmerman and Andy Andrew Warhola. Dylan grew up in small town Hibbing, Minnesota, Warhol in the ‘melting pot’ of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both developed monster grudges against American society.
At the end of ’64 both men were on the way to being of the most influential people of the second half of the twentieth century.
Dylan at twenty had come to New york with the ambition of becoming a folk singer. Even though a not easily appreciated singer he was as close to an instantaneous success as it is possible to be. Arriving at the beginning of 1961, at the close of ’64 when he met Edie he was an international sensation, a prolific and successful song writer.
Strangely his success was built on resentment and hatred. The dominant characteristic of his songwriting was a rancorous bitter putting down of his society and associates. He fairly spews hatred in such songs as Hattie Carroll, Like A Rolling Stone and Positively Fourth Street to name only a few of his diatribes. His most prolific period would revolve around his desire for Edie Sedgwick and his detestation for his rival for her affections, Andy Warhol.
Dylan had a fixation on destroying the happiness of women. At the time he began his pursuit of Edie he had sequestered his future wife, Sara Lownds, who he would marry in November of ’65 and who he had purloined from another man. At the same time he was carrying on long time affairs with his first New York girl friend, Suze Rotolo and his fellow folk singer, Joan Baez. Why this need to injure the happiness of women?
Of course I’ve read most of the important works on Dylan if not all and many of secondary importance. Using that background, I’m going to concentrate on the movie Dylan wrote and starred in, Masked And Anonymous. This is a very autobiographical movie showing a Dylan who had progressed little from his heyday of the mid-sixties. Dylan believes that the journey is more important than the result so that in the various episodes he gives little symbolical vignettes of his life journey leading up to a contrived ending. Many of the most important eipisodes and people are represented. The promoter in the film, for instance, can be recognized as his manager Albert Grossman; the sidekick is Bobby Neuwirth etc. I’m not going to review the movie here but Dylan gives us some insight into when and how his world went wrong.
In the movie when Jack Fate’s, Dylan’s movie alter-ego, father, who is the dictator of ‘this god-forsaken country’, lies dieing, Fate revisits him on his death bed. In fact that is where the ‘path’ of the movie actually leads. Fate reminisces about his relation with father and mother. To put it succinctly let me quote the lyrics of an old song, Freight Train Blues. Dylan would rewrite the lyrics to this song and claim it as his own:
I was born in Dixie
In a boomer’s shack,
Just a half a mile
From the railroad tracks.
My daddy was a fireman
And my mama dear,
She was the only daughter
Of an engineer.
She could spend the money
And that ain’t no joke,
It’s a shame the way
She kept a good man broke.
Well, Jack Fate’s daddy wasn’t much better and the movie couple had an unhappy marriage which probably reflects Dylan’s view of his own parents. As to his mother she just found Jack in the way and wished she never had him because it interfered with her happiness. I suspect that more or less sums up Dylan’s relationship with his mother. One can’t say for sure but I suspect that when his mother conveyed this attitude to the young Dylan it just shattered his mind and from that day forth he was one lost soul on the lost highway with the freight train blues. Now, it is impossible to avenge oneself on one’s mother directly as mother’s are sacred as the vessel of your life. Dylan never tried, even escorting his mother as a date to major events. You can take it out on yourself by becoming a derelict yourself which Dylan did thereby punishing your mother or you can take it out on surrogate women. Dylan did both. He himself was and has been a heavy drug user and a heavy drinker. He ruined the lives of several women including Rotolo, Baez and Edie; then, after making Sara a wife and mother, most importantly a mother, he completely shattered her life as his mother had his. That may have satisfied him, then again, maybe not. Since then he has been wandering aimlessly as a ‘modern troubadour.’ Ramblin’ Jack Fate.
The period of the sixties was Dylan’s time of most intense reaction. After that he waxed and waned but Andy Warhol was focused on an unwavering need for vengeance. He knew how to use people to obtain his goals without actually exposing himself. He arrived in New York in 1950 as a graphic artist where he too was an instantaneous success. He made his mark in shoe ads where his drawing, usually described as ‘fey’, but displaying real genius at the same time, brought the customers to Miller Shoes for whom he drew.
During the fifties he was a very highly paid commercial artist designing everything from his shoe ads to stationery to book and record covers. Usually very nice but not infrequently letting his sexual proclivities shine through. He was alwa;ys pushing the homosexual agenda preferring to associate his work with writers or musicians from either the Undermen or those writing on those themes.
About 1960 he decided to tackle the fine arts with the purpose of detroying them. He entered the world of painters at the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. He had always been a sort of pop artist with his shoe ads so he was an incrdible success as a pop artist when he painted Campbell’s soup cans. With the soup cans he effected one of the most instantaneous and successful revolutions or transitions from one style to another, ever. I don’t think it would be out of line to say the sixties were born in that moment. If there is one single symbol that characterizes the sixties, for me at least, it is Andy’s soup cans. Tomato soup can. It enraged and energized so many people. It has been an inspiration for me.
I can’t remember when I first saw it but I was simply stunned. Perhaps in the pages of Time Magazine. I don’t know whether the copying of a soup can is art but as I mused about it I came to the conclusion that the can was a sort of urban landscape. It was something one gazed at frequently while grocery shopping, so I said, what difference did it make whether one copied a mountain or curling wave or a soup can. I suppose the difference is that a soup can can only be done once before the joke is stale.
My favorite image of the soup can was a poster in which a soup can had a gaping hole from being blasted with a .45 automatic. That sort of settled the arguement for me but that was as late as 1968. Andy went on attempting to outrage us by painting duplicates of Brillo boxes and such like, Heinz Bean cans, but that fell flat. The joke had been made, there was only one Campbell soup image.
Painting all those soup cans, he did all the varieties, must have been a tedious way to while away the time. Then he discovered silk screening. What a good idea. Warhol, the child of industrial processes. I can only imagine that he thought Henry Ford and his assembly line turning out identical copies of cars was the ideal expression of art. After all you can make a million cars, same model and make, but in painting a picture, prior to Warhol, they all had been one offs and then you needed another idea. In that period of rapid change an idea became obsolete immediately. Coming up with new ideas was a tough business. Warhol could turn out an idea like the Presleys like Henry Ford turned out cars. Wow! Man! The future of art had arrived.
Perhaps he thought up silk screening or perhaps the idea was suggested to him by his assistant, Gerard Malanga. Malanga thinks that’s the way it was. At the time he was hired Malanga was already an accomplished silk screener. Malanga was the beginning of Warhol’s actual use, consumption and discarding of people. One might say Malanga was exploited.
Malanga took a job with Andy at the minimum wage above which Andy never raised him. Malanga insists that he was essentially a collaborator of Warhol’s. I am inclined to agree with him. In the first place Andy never drew his own pictures. He essentially had no ideas. He had his screens made up from photos of others he found attractive. His famous flower screen was from a purloined photo. HIs Elvis paintings, posters actually, were traced from a promotional still. To me that strengthens Malanga’s claim. The screens were mechanically produced and screening is a mechanical act. Both Malanga and Warhol manipulated the screens together. There are films showing them doing it.
Between the two of them they produced fifty Presley images in an afternoon. For a show at LA’s Ferus Gallery Andy shipped them a two
hundred foot roll of Presleys and told them to cut up the roll as they saw fit. Collaboration was just Andy’s way. Hence one has single, double, triple, quadruple and octuple Presleys. I saw one display where there were twenty or more strung out for a couple hundred feet in one immense string. Enough Elvis Presleys to go around the world three or four times were produced. (That’s a joke, son.)
It is a good image although Andy never asked Presley or his studio for permission to use it and as far as I know never gave them a dime. He just appropriated the image. I can’t imagine how Andy kept the Colonel cool. He didn’t keep the flower lady cool, once she recognized her image she sued him. Of course, she took her image from God but God didn’t sue her.
Now, all this silk screening takes up a bit of space, these Presleys kept getting bigger and bigger, life size and then some. Some were twenty-five feet by twenty-five. So Andy outgrew his home facility leaving it to seek much bigger spaces. If one thinks about it all this is very daring. There was no artist in New York even approaching the concept. Finally he rented an entire floor of a building on 47th Street that became known as the Factory. Dylan would characterize it as Desolation Row. When Edie made her appearance there in March of ’65 it was at that Factory. There were subsequent and even larger ones.
This is where Dylan and Warhol stood at the beginning of 1965 when Edie became a pawn in their game. Why did they want her? As noted, the two were immigrants or the sons of immigrants so they knew the discomforts of being strangers in a strange land. They knew the sense of inferiority among the ‘natives.’ They knew what being outsiders was especially as Dylan was a Jew and Warhol a homosexual.
Edie Sedgwick was a symbol of that envy and desire. In a way she was the acme of the old line American and she was accessible. She probably could have been half ugly and it wouldn’t have made much difference.
From, say, 1870 to 1940 there was native America and there was immigrant America and they were separate but equal size. While intelligent immigrants never had it rough there was still resentment and outright hatred for Anglo-America. All this anti-America stuff comes from the immigrants or at least was fostered by them. With those of the Undermen, those of low IQ, the hatret was worse. WWII gave the immigrants a feeling of equality. They fought too. By 1950 they were superior in numbers assaulting every Anglo tradition and trashing it while doing their best to lower Anglos. Of course, the Anglos were too stupid to see it or unwilling to acknowledge it. After all, this was the magic ‘melting pot’ in which all resentments disappeared. Americans had discovered the solution to world problems. Both Dylan and Warhol shared in this resentment.
Thus when this female symhol of the old Anglo aristocracy appeared who they held responsible for their humilaition, whether they acknowledged it or not, they wanted to possess her, humiliate and destroy her. Dylan today would deny it while Warhol’s excuse at the time was ‘How do you stop someone from doing what they want to do?’ Well, Andy, at least you don’t hand them the revolver cocked and loaded. That Edie was humiliated and destroyed by her association with the two is proof enough of their intent.
The problem is to piece together the events of that year and a half over ’65 and ’66 from less than adequate documentation. I think I can produce a reasonable facsimle.
Chaps. 3, 4 and 5 are posted
Chaps. 6, 7 and 8 are posted
Chaps. 9, 10, 11 and 12 are posted