Dirty Doughty & Hasty Alfred

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:22

    Hangdogs, Furious George and Girls Against Boys. George Tabb did what he does best: insulted the audience, Doughty and Girls Against Boys fans until projectiles flew at his head. Punk rock. Turns out he's not joking about his new bass player being his Mini-Me: the resemblance is bizarre. If he could get his drummer to start dressing like him too they'd be the oddest looking band alive. But maybe they already are.

    Danny Hellman in his clown outfit did brief thank-yous from the stage. Unfortunately?this is my fault?he forgot to mention New York Press' Alex Schweitzer, who was crucial behind the scenes.

    I stood back by the bar (what a cool concert space the Ballroom is?and props to them too, by the way, for hosting the event) and chatted a bit with Hellman's lawyer Andy Krents and a guy from Brill's Content who's writing about the Rall v. Hellman case. I wondered if anyone from the Voice was there. In the piece they ran in the Nov. 24-30 issue, Jeff Howe described Rall as "clever and charming" and a "well-known editorial cartoonist" for various outlets he then proceeded to list (including Link, where, Howe discloses, he commissioned work from Rall); then he wrote off Hellman as "another New York City graphic artist," mentioning not a single one of the places where his work appears. (Here, Jeff, let me: Time, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, Brill's Content and New York Press, among others.) That's lazy journalism, or dishonest, or both, as well as coyly playing into the loathsome Me Big Famous Deal, You Unimportant Insect spin Rall's been putting on this depressing affair from the start.

    Then again, even a sympathetic writer can't stop Rall from sounding like a malignant cocksucker to me ("I don't have to negotiate with this asshole. I can go to court and destroy him if I want to") who, even Howe concedes, "collects enemies the way a record collector assembles vinyl: with enthusiasm." In my eyes any possible damage Hellman might have done Rall's reputation has been far outweighed by the savage abuse he's inflicting on it himself.

    Rall's lawyers skipped last week's scheduled settlement hearing, but one gets the impression that hope was wan anyway. The only positive side to this, at least for the rest of us, will be if future Dirty Danny fundraisers are as much fun as Saturday night was. Hellman, meanwhile, has started to auction off some of his artworks on eBay; see www.dannyhellman.com for information.

    Hasty Alfred In 1966, Alfred Leslie was a successful, well-known New York painter and sometime filmmaker (most famously, he and Robert Frank had made the Beat short Pull My Daisy, narrated by Kerouac and "starring" Ginsberg, Corso and Larry Rivers, in 1959). Then in an instant in October of '66 a murderous fire destroyed much of his life's work up till then. For the three decades since, he says, he's felt like he's been living two lives. One life's lived in the present, going about his business; the other's been spent trying document and reclaim that life's work that vanished in that fire. Some part of every day for 30-odd years, he says, has been spent collecting or organizing evidence of that pre-fire life. Among many other artworks and artifacts, the fire destroyed the bulk of copies of a unique document he'd published in 1960, a self-declared "one-shot review" called The Hasty Papers. It was an extraordinarily eclectic, collagist portrait of a moment in intellectual and artistic history, at the very cusp of the 50s becoming the 60s. Contributors ranged from Frank O'Hara, Ginsberg and Terry Southern to Leiber & Stoller to Jean-Paul Sartre. It was poetry, essays, small plays, transcripts from speeches by Castro and J. Robert Oppenheimer; it included the first play published in the U.S. by the then-unknown Derek Walcott and, maybe even more "exotic," the entire text of Fitzhugh Ludlow's legendary memoir of Victorian decadence, The Hashheesh Eater. (Timothy Leary would teach The Hasty Papers to his Harvard students.) Some of the work that appeared in The Hasty Papers was never published again anywhere.

    It was not a fancy artist's publication. Printed on newspaper stock with a stapled binding, it looked like a fat tabloid.

    Of the 5000 copies Leslie had printed back in 1960, maybe 4000 were lost in that fire in 1966. Now 73, still painting and making movies in the East Village, Leslie has just published a second, expanded edition of The Hasty Papers, this time as a coffee-table-size hardbound (Host Publications, 256 pages, $35). Forty years on, it strikes me as an even more wonderful snapshot of a specific place and time in New York history.

    Born and raised in the Bronx, Leslie emerged as one of the youngest of New York's abstract expressionists in the postwar years. He would later move away from the abstract work, developing a more personal, realistic style like the large, unglamorous nudes of his "grisaille" series and his marvelously American landscapes, where nature always seems to incorporate a highway, gas station or drive-in (some collected in the 1988 100 Views Along the Road, Timken Publishers).

    And he'd always made films. Pull My Daisy, with its voiceover narrative improvised by Kerouac, was intended to be the first of a trilogy that would form a feature-length omnibus. In 1964 he made The Last Clean Shirt and in the following year Alfred Leslie's Birth of a Nation, both written by Frank O'Hara. Looking back, he remembers wanting to make films of Robbe-Grillet's The Voyeur and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, years before Hollywood made its version of the latter.

    It was in the Pull My Daisy era that he also started collecting writings for what would become The Hasty Papers. "Young idiot that I was," he says now (he would've been 33 at the time), he simply wrote to everyone he could think of he wanted to contribute, from friends like Ginsberg and O'Hara and Kerouac to exalted strangers like William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Cocteau, Hemingway and Bertrand Russell. (None contributed.)

    In fact, one of my favorite sections added to this new edition is copies of the correspondence. Here's Leslie dunning Fidel Castro for some piece of writing, even as the U.S. government was plotting to assassinate the man ("Dear Premiere Castro; This will be the last letter I will trouble you with. At this point I almost feel more foolish than disappointed at expecting an answer..."). Long, funny letters from English writer Simon Watson Taylor, on "College de 'Pataphysique" letterhead ("You wouldn't like an anti-beatnik essay from me, would you?"). Correspondence with Chester Himes, Truman Capote, Mailer, Kerouac, Kerouac's agent Sterling Lord, Seymour Krim, Robert Creeley, Barbara Guest.

    Leslie today chalks up his boldness to the "innocence" of the period. "I don't think I'm sentimentalizing. It was much simpler for a young artist then than now," he says, and not so outrageous for a relatively unknown one to approach all these names. The politeness of many of the responses, even the no's, bears this out. Like the card from Samuel Beckett that states, "I have no unpublished material whatever hot luke or cold worth offering you." Or the heartbreaking card from William Carlos Williams (who did contribute in the end after all): "Good for you. I approve. Just home from the hospital, this is all I can produce?glad to be alive."

    In the end, Leslie did get a remarkable cast of contributors. Grove's Barney Rosset and others talked him out of publishing a piece by Genet that could well get him busted for obscenity in those days, but of the two essays that ran off the front page, one was "Sanctity as a Social Fact," an excerpt from Jean-Paul Sartre's Saint Genet. (The other was Pontus Hulten's eye-opening "Three Great Painters: Churchill, Hitler & Eisenhower.") In 1999, he felt it's safe to add Genet's long poem "Condemned to Death" to the second edition. ("The column of sky, twisting in the distance;/An angel tangled in a tree, who moans;/A heart the wind rolls on the cobblestones.../These open in my night gates of assistance.")

    Several of the best New York school poets contributed?James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch (the epic tour de force "When the Sun Tries to Go On"), a few pieces from O'Hara, including his well-liked poem "To the Film Industry in Crisis" and a bizarre verse playlet, Awake in Spain, with stage directions like "A sky filthy with bangles but soft, somehow, and pensive," and dialogue like:

    Magistrate: Why are you so pensive?

    Flamenco dancer: Oh lordy, it so wet!

    American: Had you realy been wholy mine at night

    the fort wouldn't be sneaking its alarms

    across the border like a saffron bite

    or the tea lady keep nagging "Love harms"

    every minute of the day and damn night.

    Then there was the text of a Castro speech to the UN; an excerpt from a new translation of Aristophanes' The Birds; the complete text of Malcochon, that first-in-the-U.S. play by Walcott; an essay on the history of stilt-walking; and a fragment of a score written for three simultaneous orchestral groups that was a collaboration between composer Morton Feldman and, surprisingly, the great rock 'n' roll writing team of Leiber & Stoller. It was intended to be used in the score of a movie called Something Wild, starring Carroll Baker, but Leslie jokes that it "made the producers throw up" and they went instead with a simpler score?by Aaron Copland. (Later, Leiber & Stoller and Charlie Otis would do a rocking song for The Last Clean Shirt, and Feldman worked with them on the complexly jazzy music for Birth of a Nation.)

    Leslie says he had no direct model for the journal's odd eclecticism, though he may have been inspired by Ezra Pound's vision, which he characterizes as cinematic and collagist. Less seriously, he also notes that he's hearing impaired and only got a proper hearing aid within the last decade, "So I've always heard what I wanted to hear," producing a rather random and haphazard impression of the world and its voices. Anyway, he hopes that the unruliness might appeal today "to a generation of young people masturbating at home with the remote control," piecing together their own eccentric worlds from a barrage of random input.

    Leslie self-published the original Hasty Papers. Martha Jackson, a wealthy art dealer, had just opened a gallery and asked him to be one of her painters; he said he'd do it if she gave him $5000 up front he needed to print 5000 copies. Over the next year, it was carried primarily in two Village shops, 8th Street Books and The Phoenix on MacDougal, and in a few galleries, including Leo Castelli's. Leslie figures he sold maybe 1000 copies (at $3 each). He gave another 2000 to Diane DiPrima, with the idea that she could sell them to help raise money for The Floating Bear, the literary magazine she was doing with LeRoi Jones. She sold them to Marlborough, the remaindered book outfit, for maybe a penny apiece. Sometime later, Leslie saw that Marlborough was selling them for five cents a piece. "I said fuck it and bought them all back," he recalls.

    He ended up storing all the unsold copies in a big loft studio he shared with another painter, Sam Francis, in a building at Broadway and 22nd St., facing the Flatiron (there's a condominium there now). That was the studio that burned down in a terrible conflagration in October 1966, "a grotesque event," Leslie says, in which a dozen firemen died. Almost Leslie's entire lifework was destroyed as well: a huge group of paintings he was getting ready to show at the Whitney; all those copies of The Hasty Papers; thousands of photographs, documents, correspondence; the original print of The Last Clean Shirt, a film that wasn't seen again until 1990, after a foundation gave him a grant to restore it; the only text of a play he'd written, The Cedar Bar; and much more. Just before the fire, a film team doing a documentary on Frank O'Hara followed him on a visit to the studio; some of the paintings that would soon be destroyed could be seen in the background of that film. O'Hara died two months later.

    For more than 30 years, Leslie's been tracking down copies of those lost works, and rephotographing paintings that were sold before the fire, and reconstructing the long-lost films (in the 90s, along with Shirt, he's been able to piece together a fragment of Birth of a Nation based on a 14-minute segment, from the original 120, that survived the fire) and rewriting The Cedar Bar (he's now editing a filmed version of a staged reading done at the New School in 1997).

    In 1990 he met a couple of graduate students from the University of Texas who hooked him up with an Austin-based foundation that funded the research and now the publishing of the new edition of The Hasty Papers. Along with the added correspondence (the actual letters, cards and telegrams burned, but they'd been photocopied and the copies archived elsewhere), the new edition reproduces the only two photos that survived the 1966 conflagration: two distressed Polaroids Leslie pulled out of the rubble. One is of a man's face, in closeup, a dead ringer for a young Al Pacino: he stares at you through the cooked emulsion, across the decades, from that era to this, a potent reminder of how far he (his image, at least) has come, and how fragile each moment is.

    The Hasty Papers is available at St. Marks Books, the Whitney and New Museum shops and Printed Matter.