Holman at Armory Show, selling "Sound Rally For The Future" ©2009 Linda Covello
As a writer/journalist, Holman wrote the first ever Hip Hop articles for the press (in New York's East Village Eye newspaper) and was the first journalist to use the term "Hip Hop" in print. Holman has also written art criticism for publications such as Art Monthly, artforum and for books, such as The Hedonist's Guide to Art.
BOOK(S) AUTHORED & PUBLISHED
"Breaking” by Michael Holman (Fruendlich Books, ©1984)
“Love For A Brutal God” by Michael Holman (unpublished, ©1982)
FEATURE LENGTH SCREENPLAYS
“The Suicide Machine” ©2007
“Searching For Old Tin” ©2005
“The Power Of Love” ©2003
“Money Dog” ©2003“
"If Not For Dreams” ©2002
“Basquiat” ©1995 (produced by Miramax)
“A Film About Nobody” ©1994
“Love for A Brutal God” ©1982
SHORT SUBJECT SCREENPLAYS/SCRIPTS
”Mommy Baby?” ©2004
“Tchule, The Hero Frog” ©1994
“New Lexicon” ©1993
”Dog Sees Beast” ©1993
”Dream Crush” ©1993
“Things To Do Where You’re From” ©1993
“Film School Dream” ©1993
“Amazing Grace” ©1993
“The Imagination Machines” ©1991 (Discovery)
”Too Many Fish” ©1990 (Nickelodeon)
”The Labyrinth” ©1990 (Nickelodeon)
”Baby Come Home” ©1990 (Nickelodeon)
”Haircut” ©1990 (Nickelodeon)
“Princess And The Pea” ©1990 (Nickelodeon)
“2000 PSI” ©1987
SHORT STORIES (LITERATURE)
“Sound Rally For The Future” ©2007
“Todd Rundgren, The Musical” ©2005
“Mattie Food” ©2003
”Billy Bob’s Weddingland” ©2000
”B-Boys From Space!” ©2000
“No I’m Not!” ©2000
“Alien Vampire Horse” ©1993
“David Gaylord Montgomery” ©1992
“Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” ©1992
“A Battle Royale” ©1990
“Mary Lou Green” ©1988
ARTICLES & CHAPTERS IN OTHER BOOKS OR MAGAZINES
“The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984” by Michael Holman (Art Monthly Magazine #295, April 2006)
“That’s The Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader”
(edited by Murray Forman & Mark Anthony Neal, published by Routledge, 2004):
(”Breaking:The History” text by Michael Holman)
“Downtown 81” by Michael Holman (Art Monthly Magazine #252, December January 2002)
“Pecker” by Michael Holman (Art Monthly Magazine #221, November 2002)
“In A Word, A Harper’s Magazine Dictionary Of Words That Don’t Exist But Ought To” (edited by Jack Hitt, published by Dell Publishing, 1992)
“We Love You” (by Martin Sexton & Paul Hitchman, published by Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1998)
(Holman interviewed, Gray interviewed & Gray Music on CD)
“Basquiat:”Like Boom for Real” (Art Monthly Magazine #210, October 1997)
“Breakin’ at...” by Michael Holman (East Village Eye, January 1992)
“Up Rocking Locking Oldstyle 1990 Moves” by Michael Holman (ARTFORUM January 1984)
“SKI!” by Michael Holman (East Village Eye, January 1982)
“The Crew Look” by Michael Holman (East Village Eye, Fall, 1981)
“Breakdown” by Michael Holman (East Village Eye, Summer 1981)
"An Interview with DJ Africa Bambaataa...” by Michael Holman (East Village Eye, January 1981)
** Holman interview, first time term “hip hop” is used in the press.
Art Monthly: Downtown 81
New Yorkers are on edge, pre-occupied with the disturbing reality of completely random violence and unspeakable horrors, and that was in 1981. It seems rather inappropriate to review a film one has had quite a bit to do with (both the film and it's subject matter). It's not so much an issue of bias, favoritism and objectivity (you show me an objective critic and I'll show you somebody who has nothing to write about), but rather, can one truly see the forest from the trees?
Downtown 81 originally titled New York Beat, has an interesting history. Back in 1979, my friend Maripol, a Parisian designer, (credited with creating Madonna's first "new wavy" look) and her then boyfriend, Swiss aristocrat-ish Edo Bergoglio were fixtures on "the downtown scene." Which meant that they, like the rest of us, went out to the Mudd Club every night. And I mean every night! Maripol was the art director for the midtown Fiorucci store at the time that she and Edo figured it would be cool to make a film that captured the downtown scene in all it's glory. Not an easy chore.
We lived in our own world. We were an aristocracy who's only role in life was to be cool. We never really took becoming famous seriously. When I think of the people who impressed me the most for style and dedication to cool, I think of Tina LaHotsky, Gennaro Palermo, the Brooklyn Teddy Boys, John Lurie and his brother Evan, Rene Richard, Deigo Cortez, Glenn O'Brien, Viki Galves, Chi Chi Valente and Johnny Dynell and a whole host of people you've probably never heard about. But the person whom we all considered the prince of the scene, the ultimate arbiter of all things cool had to be Jean Michel Basquiat. And it's not like he tried to be cool, he just was cool. To try to get a sense of who Jean was by seeing Julian Schnabel's Basquiat would be a mistake. Jean was no one's victim. Jean ruled the scene and he was no one's fool.
Whatever pain he felt was all self-inflicted. Downtown 81 captures Jean far better because that's Jean up there on the screen. It may be just a "day in the life,' but that's all you'll really need (that's pretty much all you'd ever get from him anyway). But to place the label "film" on "Downtown 81" is another mistake. "Downtown 81" was an earnest attempt by people, not always in their right minds, to capture a scene that was slipping away the whole time.
Maripol wrote a rough treatment that Glenn O'Brien turned into a "sort of" script. Whether it has a three act story structure or not isn't important now. What's important is the Herculean effort it took for Maripol, Glenn and Edo (but especially Maripol) to reconstruct this lost gem.
What amazes me now is how The South Bronx, many parts of the East Village and Lower East Side looked back then. Blocks and blocks of charred, abandoned buildings that have all, of course, been rehabilitated, what considering the value of real estate in Manhattan. I can remember, back in the late seventies and early eighties, you could buy a building in the L.E.S. (Lower East Side) for a dollar, but only if you promised to fix it up. One dollar. The bloody things are worth millions now. There are these amazing shots of Jean, walking around the L.E.S., among these same derelict husks. He, like the buildings, appreciated with time.
Another amazing moment that makes Downtown 81 worth seeing is Jean's "hand." To be able to watch Jean sketch - to really see him doing it, not someone else and not the after effect, but Jean, in real time, drawing his "brutal" lines - is heart stopping. It is for me anyway, and I watched him sketch and paint in real life plenty of times. To see how he would awkwardly hold a pencil, in his right hand as if he were left-handed, is truly thrilling. And since his work is all about "the line," these far too few shots mean a lot. If only Edo, et al, knew the magnitude of what they were capturing, they would have gotten more of Jean drawing. But who knew? Well, Glenn O'Brien knew, in a way.
Edo had wanted Danny Rosen for the lead part of Downtown 81. Danny was on the scene, no doubt, had "mad cool" credentials, and would have probably done a great job. But Danny was no Jean Michel Basquiat. But O'Brien insisted on Jean as the star, because he felt that Jean was more interesting. This was a good year before Jean blew up (Danny Rosen is today, a fisherman in Ireland(!)
More than once, O'Brien had booked Gray, the band Jean and I founded, for gigs at the Mudd Club, The Rock Lounge, C.B.G.B.'s and had Jean on his infamous cable TV show, TV Party. In New York at the time the scene had a much more important underground connection to cable television and Glenn O'Brien's TV Party was the show to be on. You could only see it in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, but that was good enough for us. Nowhere outside of downtown Manhattan mattered to us, anyway.
Glenn would have his friends, like Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Jean, (me) and all kinds of people, weirdoes, beats, artists, etc. on the show, and allow squares to call in and make fun of us as he would sit there on camera, playing cool, with a mix of Warholian dumbfoundedness. I remember some "Goomba" calling in and calling Jean "Buckwheat." Jean laughed it off, claiming that few people were as cool as Buckwheat (the black kid star of the 1930's "Little Rascals" series). Unsatisfied, the mean-spirited caller asked Jean, "Hey, aren't you the guy who stole my gold chain in the subway the other night?" Jean was hurt. You can see it in his face. My heart broke for him at that moment. I think he knew he'd have to find fame with a much narrower, more selective audience. Music was out, art was in.
You can see Danny Rosen in Downtown 81, he's the guy hanging out with Jean as they smoke a joint in the back of a limo, outside of a Kid Creole and the Coconuts concert at the Rock Lounge. Kid Creole and the Coconuts by the way, were a spin off of the far more interesting disco band, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, who's mid-seventies album by the same name is arguably one of the greatest disco albums of all time. The mid-seventies Savannah Band, featuring August Darnell and his hipper, but more tragic brother, Stoney (who just died recently), as well as Corie Days on vocals and Andy Hernandez (aka Coati Mundi) on vibes, not only captured a big band disco sound (I begrudgingly admit was pioneered by Bette Midler in the late sixties, with her "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy From Company B," an ode to 1940's swing music). In America at the time, (pretty much only in New York, San Francisco and L.A.) we were sporting 1930's, 40's and 50's thrift shop gear, and though Bette Midler kicked it off, it was Savannah Band, and their original New York fans that made the look cool. This retro fashion aesthetic carried over into the early eighties as we wore thrift shop suits from either the 30's (baggy, bummy) or the sixties (sharp, sharkskin, new wave, edgy). (I actually pioneered the new wave sixties sharkskin suit look, and even brought it to London in the late seventies, shipping authentic - but never been worn - American sharkskin suits, sold at shops on King's Road, but that's a whole other story.)
So anyway, Maripol, Edo and Glenn O'Brien decide to make a film, capturing the day in the life of a typical downtown New York artist. He would be a painter, with a band, struggling on all fronts - except with the ladies. It's rather simple. The film starts with Jean being examined by doctors in a hospital. Had he o.d.ed? He's released and goes wandering the concrete canyons of New York with his ax (a clarinet). He tries to go home but can't, he's locked out of his dilapidated apartment, due to no rent money. (We, Gray, wrote a sad, dergey song, Jean named "The Rent." Nothing to do with the film, of course, just a small point of interest).
He tries to convince his landlord, played by Giorgio Giomelsky, the one time manager of The Rolling Stones, that one of his paintings will easily cover the rent. Giorgio doesn't believe him of course and throws him back out on the street, but not before Jean grabs the painting, which he ends up selling to an Italian aristo (played by Daniela Morera, in real life, Italian Vogue editor and a Mudd Club regular, too). Of course he buys pot, then drops by Gray's funky rehearsal studio to see what's up with our up coming Mudd Club gig. Of course he finds me, tied up in a chair. We had just been robbed of our band equipment, and Jean spends the rest of the film looking for the equipment and for Anna Shroeder, a stunning German model who had given him a ride earlier in the film (he actually forgets to untie me and leaves me there, helpless - that was so Jean).
Anna was also a fixture on the scene, and had her own band, etc. She moved into my 10th street apartment when I vacated it in '81 (my next door junkie neighbors kept breaking in and stealing everything, even my spaghetti). I heard she had some problems coping with reality for a while. Join the club. I hope she's ok, now.
So Jean spends the film going here and there, looking for this and that, and in the end gets his wish. It's almost too strange how prescient Downtown 81 was in predicting Jean's stardom, without ever intending to. Downtown New York, and specifically the East Village and the Lower East Side have been, for at least the last eighty years, maybe longer, a place for bohemians, looking for a community of like-minded people. A place where they would be tolerated, maybe even appreciated. I believe that we (the "early eighties posse") were the last of this noble tribe. And we were defeated by our own success. We made life on the edge (partying all night at the Mudd Club, wearing cool thrift shop gear, creating theme worlds with Hollywood production values, having wanton sex, doing far too many drugs and basically having too much fun with too many celebrities) appear so attractive, we were inundated by kids who, rightly or wrongly, believed they were entitled to the same fun.
They showed up in droves during the 1990's and basically made it economically impossible for us to carrying on as usual. And no one had explained to this new generation that the fun we were having was the results of a lot of hard work. We worked hard for our fun, at the expense of everything else, like career building. And we did such a good job at making it all look so easy, that all the new comers thought it was just a natural part of life in New York. They had absolutely no idea they'd be called upon to create their own scene, and so when they couldn't find one, they waited around for one to happen. Unfortunately, people, far less interesting then we, filled that subcultural void and the new comers were too stupid, or too uninteresting themselves to know the difference, and now, New York is kinda lame. They killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Sad, really.
Every night that I can, I still go out, looking for that party that reminds me of "back in the day," and every night I'm disappointed. It's futile, but, for some reason, I keep doing it. It's like riding on a 14th Street cross town bus and when you get to 5th Avenue, you can't help but look south to see what we all know is no longer there. "Downtown 81" conjures all those memories, and it does something more. It forces the "absolute hip" generation - my generation - to take a critical, objective, un-biased look at ourselves. Were we really "all that?" Were we as hip as we thought we were? Can you tell by the clothes? Our conversation? The way we danced? There's this small, but interesting scene where Jean runs into Fab Five Freddy and Lee Quinones (both Mudd Club Regulars) having a hip hop party, with just the three of them, a hip-hopish girl and a DJ. Almost as stirring as watching Jean draw is watching Jean dance, which he does for just a moment in this scene. Jean danced like a T-Rex, keeping his hands small, close to and in front of his chest, while making larger, jerky moves with his waist and legs. A Tyrannosaurus Rex is the best way to describe it. The film should get an Academy Award for that moment alone.
Then there's these crazy scenes, like Steve Mass, the owner of the Mudd Club, playing a strip joint patron, who has a drink thrown in his face by a stripper, played by the equally infamous scenester, Cookie Mueller, star of many early John Waters films. DNA, featuring Arto Lindsay, Tim Wright, and Ikue Mori performs in a recording studio, and is a great, "art rock' scene, where you get a pretty good idea what it would be like to sit through a DNA concert.
I wish Gray had had a scene where we performed live. We always made it a wild production, like playing in an "ignorant" geodesic dome, made from haphazardly joined construction scaffolding and where we'd all be strapped in at 45 degree angles. I really believe Jean nixed the idea of Gray performing, because it would have given us a little too much attention, taking it from him. That was so Jean.
What also impresses me about Downtown 81 is how well Jean performs as an actor. There was a lot of talk at one time about how Jean didn't like the film, or at least the idea of the film (he never had a chance to see it, and he never wanted to see it released). If this is true, and I think it is, it's because Jean was concerned that the film might, in some ironic fashion, upstage, and thereby upset and possibly derail the artist/painter career he was building. That was the most wonderful thing about Jean, he knew, with absolute certainty, that he would become a famous painter, and he wanted nothing, no potential screw ups, no fateful errors, nothing, standing in his way.
The film is as much about the 1981 Downtown, Mudd Club Scene, as it is about the mercurial ascension of Jean. The film is almost more a footnote to Jean's career than it is a film. Without a strong story line, and many vaguely set up and unresolved subplots, Downtown 81 is less a film and more a cinematic document about a special time in New York history. Judged as the latter, it fairs very well, indeed.
The sound track. Here's where my involvement in the film truly compromises my objectivity as a film reviewer. Nick Taylor, Justin Thyme and myself, all former "Old School" Gray members with Jean, created three tracks for the film. "Drum Mode" is a haunting, minimalist John Cage/Stockhausen inspired piece, that's heard over the opening scene, where Jean is inside and then leaving the hospital. Our track, "So Far, So Real" opens the film, and we did a track called "I Know," used during a fashion show scene. Kid Creole and the Coconuts do a track, "Me No Popeye" featuring Coati Mundi, that's as fresh now as it was then. James White and The Blacks perform a heavy jazz/funk inspired number on stage in the film at the Peppermint Lounge. There might be more musical performances, but those are the highlights.
I last saw the film in the summer, pre-9/11, so I can't remember if there's a beauty shot of the Twin Towers or not, I think there is. It doesn't matter because when you look at the film, you sense their presence, you know they're there. And like the "scene," back in the day, you know they're gone.
Was "the scene" as cool as I remember it? I think so. It must have been. But memory can play tricks on you. Memories are like dreams, ever shifting, ever changing. It's asking a lot for Downtown 81 or any film to fully capture a "scene." Just look at Julian Temple's Absolute Beginners. Last summer there was a city-wide "art" campaign, in which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of life-size, fiberglass cows, painted and decorated in a variety of supposedly different and clever ways, representing this ridiculous idea or that and were placed in highly visible locations around the city. I was - and still am - appalled. The campaign began in the Midwest, Kansas City I think, where beef is king. Then the fiberglass cows cropped up in various cities in the west, before finally ending up in New York. Say what you want about New York's former Mayor Ed Koch, but he would never have allowed such an affront to New York sensibilities. Just the idea that New York would embrace an art campaign that originated in Kansas is embarrassing enough, but cows? Sorry Dorothy, you ARE still in Kansas.
New York and London have been engaged in a "friendly" competition over which is the world capital of new cultural. The crown has been tossed, usually begrudgingly, back and forth over the Atlantic for some time now.
In the early eighties, in the days of "Downtown 81," New York was "hands down" heavyweight champion. We sported a crown, drawn by Basquiat, as we entered the ring, with a cocky stride, to a throbbing hip-hop beat. Today - 9/11 aside - New York is on the ropes, maybe even down on it's knees. In the attempt to clean up the city, Mayor Giuliani, the rube who had a hissy fit over the Saatchi & Saatchi "Sensation Show" (yet another abject embarrassment) has made New York so antiseptic - fun and cool have been nearly wiped clean.
Giuliani enforced a certain cabaret law (which had been ignored for nearly a hundred years) that only allowed dancing in bars and clubs that had a license. It totally put a damper on Downtown nightlife. Just the idea of it was offensive. How could this be happening in the greatest party city in the world? Not only did this ridiculous law kill a huge portion of underground nightlife, over almost ten years it effectively culled the spirit of a generation. Eventually, the kids coming up had no idea there had been anything different.
Of course there were still plenty of dance clubs around, but the idea that the "theys" could get away with such absurd social engineering, and especially since it was aimed at us counter-culturists helped to take the wind out of our sails. It's the nightlife that's always been the lynchpin of New York subculture. Without it we are disoriented, crippled, nearly blind.
What to do? Well, Giuliani has finally left, serving two debilitating four year terms. Maybe the next Mayor will recognized New York's cultural importance and responsibilities. But like the way Viet Nam galvanized a generation, maybe 9/11 will end up, ironically, transforming the city. I heard this club kid say last weekend, with impressive confidence, that New York was coming back, with gusto, Spring, 2002. Watch out. Could happen. It would be so New York.
Art Monthly: Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene
In the last ten years more than a dozen exhibitions on the Downtown New York art scene of the 70s and 80s have been mounted, all making their point with varying degrees of success. The latest addition to this cottage industry is 'The Downtown Show, The New York Art Scene, 1974-1984', a collection of more than 450 works of art and other artefacts, presented by New York University's Grey Gallery and Fales Library.
The show does not claim to be the definitive record of the Downtown scene. But it doesn't explain its glaring omissions, and neither does it justify its problematical proposition, that the period (1974-84) was one in which art was politically defined. The exhibition lacks the truthfulness of critic Rene Ricard who, in his famous 1981 article 'Not About Julian Schnabel', declared 'What do you say in a radically apolitical time when nobody knows what politics are after the hyper-politique of the 60s? ... I don't have a clue as to this period, if this is a period at all, so it would be futile to project anything. I don't consider this a personal shortcoming.'
The show is organised into eight groups, titled: 'Interventions', 'Broken Stories', 'The Portrait Gallery', 'Sublime Time', 'Salon de Refuse', 'The Mock Shop', 'De-Signs' and 'Body Politics,' characterised by phrases like, 'how artists took their art to the Street'; 'fresh look at the innovative and disjunctive narrative techniques'; 'a collective communal portrait', and 'artworks concerned with sexuality and identity'. Say what!? Are we talking about the same scene? This all sounds to me like they're forcing the Downtown scene into pseudo-intellectual constructs, much easier to package then the truth. Frankly, all we cared about was looking good, making great art, dancing all night, getting high as often as possible, getting laid as much as possible and becoming famous as fast as possible. Many of the important artists, writers, bands and filmmakers who made the scene – like Basquiat, Schnabel, Talking Heads, Karen Finley, Patti Smith and Eric Mitchell – are included, but the exhibition is busy, over-thought and under-represented; hard to dismiss but even harder to like.
Don't get me wrong, this scene was crucial to art history, and there are a few good pieces in this show, but the way it's been put together is downright weird. Already NYU boasts that its Fales Library has 'the world's largest archive focusing on the scene'. For what purpose? Is it strictly academic? Or might we be seeing future books, tours, merchandising and intellectual property schemes that exploit its so-called 'Downtown Collection'?
The curators have chosen the enactment of the 1974 Loft Laws (which made it legal for artists to live and work in the factory lofts), and the 1984 re-election of Ronald Reagan (signalling America's steadfast march towards absolute conservatism), as the defining parameters of the exhibition. But why? New York artists have been wrestling with real estate issues, and reacting to (or ignoring) greater American politics for decades. And in view of the curators' general choice of artists, 1974-84 seems way too arbitrary, adding to the clutter and confusion. Better parameters might have been 1978 – the year that Julian Schnabel blasted onto the scene with his broken plate paintings – and 1988, the year Basquiat died, not long after the deaths of Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. The one Schnabel in the show isn't a broken plate painting, but rather a 1974 painting, titled Draw-A-Family, which out of context, could almost have been made by anybody, and by no means captures Schnabel's historic impact four years later; a curatorial decision that is symptomatic of much that is wrong with the show.
Most, but not all, of the remaining paintings, photographs, sculptures, written material, videos and artifacts – as they are presented here – aren't particularly engaging either, and they aren't even particularly emblematic of either the scene or the chosen artists' better works. The two Basquiats in the show, the Harings, Kenny Scharfs (some pictures, some painted found objects) and a David Salle drawing are all average, and on it goes.
Hip Hop culture and graffiti art are unaccountably, almost entirely, excluded from the show. There is one half-decent undated token graffiti drawing on paper by Rammellzee, and that's it. Hip Hop culture had an enormously significant role in the Downtown scene, especially after 1981, and I see no valid excuse for its near exclusion. In 1981 Ricard, who was pretty much the scene's major voice (also unrepresented in this show), had written that 'The most accessible and immediately contagious productions in these shows (the 'Times Square Show', exhibitions at the Mudd Club, the 'Monumental Show', the 'New York/New Wave' show at PS1) were those of the graffiti stylists. The graffiti style, so much a part of this town, New York, is in our blood now.' Indeed, the absences of Hip Hop culture in the exhibition is made all the more striking and obvious by the over-representation in the exhibition of punk rock music, film, flyers and artifacts. Similarly the exhibition all but ignores crucial venues like the Mudd Club, The Roxy or Danceteria. Could it be that our scene, as it really was, was too hedonistic and apolitical to be packaged for academic discourse? Hey, they didn't call it Fun Gallery for nothing.
I feel a perverse need to protect and defend our libertine, sybaritic, 'ignorant' behaviour from the maws of political correctness and revisionist sanitizers. When Reagan was voted into office, then re-elected four years later, we just shovelled on more makeup, and shovelled in more drugs. And sure the ape-masked Guerilla Girls' protests, over the near exclusion of female artists in New York galleries, were valid. But they, individually, would never have risked being labelled 'party killers' by exposing their faces?! People were dying of AIDS – we were dying of AIDS – but do you think we took to the streets with the West Village Act Up crowd? It's not that we were dumb, we were just too hip to be overtly political. Our politics was the politics of aesthetics. Sure there were a few souls who were engaged in local politics and community issues, but they were in the minority.
We weren't proud of it, but we kept on fucking and sucking until we were exhausted, sans prophylactics. If someone stopped the music, we'd find someplace else to dance. Death was just another step, paved with good intentions, along the road to fame and immortality. When we were careful, it was to make sure they spelled our names right. That's the problem with the show for me. They're trying to force our round peg of throbbing abandon into their square hole of hyper-political consciousness, and it just won't fit (not that we were beyond giving it a go back in the day!). Politics, schmolitics, where's the party?
The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene, 1974-1984 tours to The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh from May 20 to September 3 and the Austin Museum of Art, Austin from November 11 to January 28 2007.
Michael Holman has been performing with his band Gray (founded with Jean Michel Basquiat) off and on since 1979. His club, Negril, was home to Hip Hop's DJ Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Wizard Theodore, DJ Kool Herc, and the RockSteady Crew. He currently works as a film scriptwriter.
Art Monthly: Like Boom for Real
waxpoetics: The Host with the Most; Interview
While getting all Marvel "What If?" about my fantasy "Christmas in Hollis" Holiday Special, I copped the latest issue of the always solid Wax Poetics. Surprisingly enough, the magazine features a piece on the video's Producer/Director Michael Holman but unfortunately no mention of the "Hollis" video was to be found. Luckily, I was able to connect w/ Mr. Holman & he was kind enough to put me up on the scoop...
Patrick: Off the bat, "Christmas in Hollis"! Certainly a Classic. How did you initially get involved and down w/ that as the director?
Michael: Well, wow...How did I get involved with that? I didn't just direct it, I produced it as well. I think this was during the time Def Jam was courting me as sort of an in house director. I think it came from me directing Doug E. Fresh's "All the Way to Heaven"...I think. That's a good question. Really, off the top of my head, I'm not remembering how I got "Christmas in Hollis". I know I was still in film school because the DP (Mark Richardson) was a classmate of mine. Ummm...How did I get the gig? The only way I could have gotten the gig was through Def Jam because that was, you know RUN DMC's management (RUSH). It had to have been something Lyor Cohen had hired me to do. I had developed a relationship with Lyor because...umm..it's complicated...I have to kind of have to go back a bit.
While I was in film school, my first year in film school I made a music film. Like it was one of the requirements and so I made this commercial. I thought, "Let me be smart. I'm gonna make a commercial". It was a commercial for Jaguar Cars and I used the theme song to the TV show I really loved as a kid called "Route 66". Nelson Riddle, one of my favorite like lounge music, easy listening composers did the theme song to "Route 66". Do you know what I'm talking about?
P: Yeah, that was Sinatra's guy.
M: Yeah, that was Sinatra's guy! You know the TV show Route 66? Like these 2 guys riding around the country in their Corvette. It was on like maybe 2 seasons and then somebody figured out that it seemed too gay so they shelved it. 2 guys riding around the country in their Corvette, haaaa. Of course they have girlfriends here and there but they were ramblin' guys, you know. Anyway, the theme song to "Route 66" was one of my favorite songs so I had that playing to this black & white 16mm commercial I did for Jaguar; and I was looking for somebody to be the female driver of the car. I initially had Rosie Hall, Jerry Hall's sister who's you know, married to Mick Jagger. She kind of punked out and I went to Jean-Michel Basquiat and I asked Jean, "Who would you suggest"? At this point Jean was like a big painting star, this was like '86 and he suggested EK. EK was like a girlfriend of his at a certain point and EK was model, so he gave me EK's number. I asked EK, who's a tall blonde beautiful chick to be the driver of the Jaguar and she did, and the thing turned out great. About maybe a year later or within that year she showed it to her new boyfriend Lyor Cohen who's the General Manager I guess of Def Jam. He liked it and basically we talked and talked and I guess the first thing that happened from that was he hired me to do the "Christmas in Hollis" video. I'm pretty sure that's how it happened.
P: And friends & associates of yours like Lil Lep (NYC Breakers) as the Elf and-
M: Well the interesting thing about that is of course that a lot of interesting people were involved in the making of the video. My friend Michael Cotten (The Tubes) now does production design for like "Hannah Montana", "High School Musical"; he does like major gigs. He had just come to New York. He had only been in New York a couple of years or a year at this point and I hired him to do the production design on that. He did a great job. We did it all inside and all this fake snow.
P: Looks amazing!
M: It looks like it's outside!
P: Where was it filmed?
M: In a studio in Manhattan...where the hell was that? It was like in Midtown, a Midtown studio. I forget where.
P: The Simon game that's branding the people "Naughty" or "Nice". It's like you guys are making the best of the budget. RUN DMC were at the height of their powers at this point so I'm sure there was some type of budget?
M: Oh yeah, there was a budget. I think it was like 60 grand, which is nothing today. Videos today are like hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions sometimes. The major ones like the budgets are a million dollars. A big commercial, which are what music videos are. The prosthetics, like all the makeup for Lil Lep; that was done by Debbie Mazar. She sort of blew up right after that. She was in "GoodFellas", she played the girlfriend with all the cocaine. She was in "L.A. Law"…
P: And "Graffiti Rock"
M: Yeah and she was in "Graffiti Rock" and now she's in "Entourage". She blew up after that. She was one of the "Naughty" or "Nice" faces on the thing.
P: Was there any extra footage or edits that were forced by like A&M who released that "A Very Special Christmas" project?...
M: If any extra footage? If I had it, I've probably thrown it away at this point. I don't have it any more. It's funny, it's really weird the Santa Claus, the Black Santa his beard is not really put on that well which is kind of funny, haaaa. But the weird thing is but like nobody has seen this & I don't know if you've seen this but when he gets up, his pack of cigarettes you can see it very clearly falling out of his Santa belt.
P: Haaaa, that's awesome.
M: But it goes by so quickly, I don't think any one has ever seen it. Have you seen that?
P: No, haaaaa...No I have to keep an eye on it
M: If you look, you'll see it.
P: I'll have to keep an eye on it. I love little shit like that. That's just perfect.
M: A pack of Marlboros comes sliding out of his belt. I guess because they're like red and white they look very Christmassy 'cause they're Marlboros, so you don't notice it. But, they're very clear to see. You can totally see his cigarettes falling out of his belt.
P: And who played Santa Claus?
M: I forget who it was. Some actor. His name should be on the credits. I have it. I have a version that has credits on it. I could probably get his name if you had to get it. Who else was on there that was kind of interesting? My girlfriend at the time, Mette Madsen she did the costumes. She's one of the "Naughty" or "Nice" people. So funny all these different faces. He's making them all "Naughty"...haaaaa...and that was really DMC's mother who played the mother on that. She made all that food, the Macaroni and Cheese.
P: Haaaa..."Rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese"
M: Haaaa...She made all that food and brought it as a prop. That was pretty funny.
P: Any thing you wanted to pull off but couldn't due to the budget?
M: Yeah, we had really badly done ADO's. The ADO burn ins, like when you burn in images to like a frame. That was really cheap. The studio where we did it really didn't do us any favors. In other words, on the screen where you see the different faces with "Naughty" or "Nice" that's burned in, it's not actually there. Around the edge of it's kind of noisy and kind of blurry. It's because it was really cheap. That should have been better. That wasn't even a cost issue, the editing house we did it at just wasn't good enough. There wasn't a lot that we didn't get the way I wanted. I had the dog with the antlers. It was all very Dr. Seuss.
P: Perfect. Whose dog ("Ill Reindeer") was that? The Pitbull?
M: The Pitbull was Chino's dog. That was Misty. You know Chino/Action from the New York City Breakers.
P: That's fantastic, and the Cadillac emblem on the sled?
M: Yeah, I don't know where we got that. We just made that. That was all made. Cotten probably made that. Michael Cotten.
P: I've been thinking recently how this could have totally been fleshed out into a Holiday Special. Adidas was already courting them, I mean sponsors would have been all over it.
M: That's a great idea. I never thought of that. You're right that could have been a big kind of like half hour special.
P: There was never any long form video talk?
M: No, but you're right that could have been a really good idea. It was right after that when I ending up directing their "My Adidas" commercial. I directed that, which didn't air many places.
P: That's one I don't remember even seeing. I don't remember the Adidas TV spots. M: They were really only used in connection to their tour. If they were in a certain city, you'd see it a couple of times and then not. It wasn't a national campaign. P: And also at the time, stuff was moving so quickly. By the time they'd gotten that deal, Adidas were kind of being eclipsed by Jordans and others. I think Jordans were already on their second edition by the time that line came out. I remember them being named after Cadillacs. It was like the "Brougham", etc for all the different sneaker models.
M: The Adidas were?
P: Yeah, haaaa…
M: Haaa...So pimp.
P: Haaaa, yeah I know. That's what bums me out, Snoop now gets his own "Snoop de Ville" but you wish RUN DMC would have had that opportunity to make their own Cadillac. It would have been lovely at the time.
M: Snoop has his own Cadillac?
P: Yeah, Snoop de Ville, haaaa.
M: Are you serious?
P: I'm totally serious.
M: Cadillac is putting out a Snoop de Ville?
P: Yeah, I think it was like a limited model. Like a package or something. I don't know all the particulars.
M: That is hilarious. That's them basically saying, "Yup, yeah we're a Pimpmobile".
P: Haaaa, yeah, "You can smoke herb in here and chill out".
M: "Cadillac, we admit it we're 'The Pimp's Choice'"
P: Totally. Look no further.
M: That's hilarious.
P: Any other stuff go down on the set?
M: It was Christmassy in spirit, kind of fun.
P: In the context of that project ("A Very Special Christmas") it was nice to have a Christmas song that wasn't like someone's rendition.
M: Right, that was definitely the flagship song of that album. That video, we made that in I think '87 and it played every year for like years and years and years. Maybe it still plays, I don't know. It could be one of the most played videos in history because it played every Christmas for at least 10 or 15 years. Have you seen it recently?
P: I don't have cable and MTV's on a whole different programming tip; but I'm sure VH1 or something...
M: It must play.
P. Oh yeah, it's got to. It's totally timeless.
M: The theme of the thing was Seuss. A Seussian Christmas was the idea and if we had more money we could have done Seuss but like 3-D. Really taking Dr. Seuss to that level of off the books and off the page and onto a stage kind of thing. That was kind of the big limitation and of course Dr. Seuss comes into the movies years later. We were looking to do what those Seuss "Cat in the Hat" movies were doing way before they were doing them. We didn't have the money to do that. It was a bit cardboardy on that level.
P: You got a lot of mileage out of what you had.
M: We did, we did.
Many thanks to Michael Holman for taking out the time to share his memories about the creation of "Christmas in Hollis".
A Hedonist's Guide to Art: How to Make an Art Epoch
New York City, April 29th, 1979: Fab 5 Freddy - a young Brooklyn-based graffiti artist and soon to be Hip Hop icon, Stan Peskett – a Royal College of Art ex-pat British painter, and myself - recent émigré from a theatrical, art-rock scene in California, all threw a multi-media event, The Canal Zone, in a loft on Canal Street in lower Manhattan. It's said to have changed art history.
It was the first social function that brought together New York's graffiti art world with the Downtown fine art movement, and it proved to be a game changer, a tipping point. We had no idea then that it would play a pivotal role in the formation of New York's early 1980s art scene - an epoch that would rival Paris in the 1920s, San Francisco's 'Summer of Love', 1970s Punk rock London and even the 14th century Italian Renaissance, in terms of global influence.
This international community of painters, musicians, writers, filmmakers, gallerists, critics, graffiti artists and sub-cultural impresarios, along with various underground nightclubs, publications and art institutions, took advantage of the Arab oil embargo and the ensuing global recession that nearly ruined New York City in the 1970s. That recession turned out to have lain the groundwork for a ripe, Petri-dish of an environment, perfect for the cultivation of a full-blown art epoch.
Clearly the right people in the right place at the right time is crucial to the genesis of an important art scene, but what other myriad variables are needed?
Recipe for an art epoch
1. Start a World War.
World wars and the recovery periods that follow can be instrumental in generating major art scenes. If a decent war isn't handy, an embarrassing little "conflict," like Vietnam will do.
Pro-war and anti-war passions run high. And then there's the aftermath. Destruction, chaos and humiliation, even for the so called victors, as their economy goes into freefall. This is a time when artists and art communities sprout up like fungi, exploiting the momentary lack of provincial norms and controls - the artists' once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sneak in some good art while the 'theys' are too distracted to notice.
2. Induce economic and social upheaval.
This sort of links in with point one. Big city recessions can sometimes work in favour of artists and art communities, but only when the cost of living is drastically reduced, diverting important resources away from basic survival and re-directing these same resources towards the making of art. Recessions also have a habit of freeing up space in less than desirable neighborhoods, where artists and art-oriented enterprises can flourish.
3. Feed the machine.
A. Sex: All artists seek the love and acceptance of their peers, and few artists engage in sex and companionship outside of the creative community (maybe a quickie with a banker for the rent, but that's a whole other thing). It is the intimacy and approval of fellow artists that is most important, no one else can truly understand us. Love and sex serve to strengthen the overall artist community, even as AIDS can threaten to decimate it, which just about happened in New York during the early 1980s.
B. Drugs: Where would the Impressionists be without absinthe? Early jazz pioneers without pot and cocaine? The 1960s without psychedelics? Major art movements will probably never exist, free of mind-altering substances. The art of understanding art is, in itself, a leap of faith, a suspension of certainty. Sometimes you need all doors opened, wide.
C. Rock & Roll: Obviously music has always played an inspirational, background role to the creation of fine art, from Be Bop for the Abstract Expressionists, to Warhol's Factory being a jam spot for the Velvet Underground. Music doesn't need fine art to exist, but can fine art survive without the warm embrace of music?
4. Add supportive venues, clubs and institutions. Shake well.
At the Mudd Club, I'd dance with my Gray band mates to Iggy Pop's Lust For Life as Johnny Lydon and David Bowie watched on. Our attitude was, "Yeah? What are you lookin' at?" We were that cool. Without these bastions of spiritual, creative and sybaritic solidarity and liberation, I am certain our scene would have never happened.
The Downtown nightlife of New York today can't begin to compare with 30 years ago where the scene was on a smaller scale, more amenable to intimacy, networking and fun. There are too many clubs today. Too many people. Too many choices. It's the age of the Internet. Back in the day, everyone was where you were…
5. Sprinkle on a dash of cross-disciplinary inspiration.
Fine art in 1980s New York City embraced the confidence and arrogance of graffiti art, as graffiti art incorporated 'proper' art world sensibilities. Cross-pollination of differing aesthetical styles and inspirations are inevitable in art communities, large enough to support practitioners of varying disciplines simultaneously.
6. Finally, acquire mega-institutional support via state, church, corporations or the monarchy…then turn up the heat…
An artist's place in the greater society is not unlike the role of a four year old in the nuclear family. The child thrives in an emotionally healthy and supportive environment, just as an artist survives and prospers in an open, supportive society. For example, the CIA has never denied supporting and promoting American Abstract Expressionism in the early 1950s, giving America - as it emerged from the wreckage of World War II - a bit of polish and shine befitting a brand-spanking-new Superpower.
The governmental support we received in NYC in the early 1980s was for the most part a bit like benign neglect. But for the kind of art we were making, that was all we needed. When Reagan was voted into office, then re-elected four years later, we just troweled on more makeup, and shoveled in more drugs.
Artists need to have the freedom to explore, make mistakes, even do serious damage, all in the name of advancing the creative process, while at the same time not suffering harsh censorship, punishment or worse - irrelevance. Of course some artists can be productive in repressive societies, but as a whole, they don't thrive, certainly not enough to help build an art epoch.
What major international cities are potential sites for the next great art epoch? As a future collector, gallerist or art historian, that kind of foresight would be invaluable.
Accuse me of Anglo-American bias here, but I can't imagine the next major movement happening anywhere else but New York (again) or London (again), anytime soon.
Both cities have proven track records for generating splendid, world changing art epochs. Both cities have powerful 'art worlds' that dictate global exhibition trends, consumption and criticism. Both cities are edgy yet reside in large, incredibly stable democracies. Both have super-strong music scenes and street cultures. Both are world financial capitals, multi-ethnic and open to everyone. It's difficult to create an epoch when your main capitals don't support and encourage people from completely diverse backgrounds to shine.
For all our shared and individual arrogances and cruelties towards other countries and cultures (and even our own), and for all our shared and individual shortcomings in national taste and aesthetics, U.S. and U.K. reputations for artistic output and creative genius is unmatched. For 'the city that produces the next art epoch, I'm putting my money on New York or London - or both. But I look forward to being proved wrong.