A lovely curator had referred me. She told me he would be happy to talk. The only thing is, it can be hard to get him to stop.
In the end, he was quick enough to part ways, to get on with his day, but that was 9 in the morning, and we had started 4pm the previous day.
He told me to meet him in the library across from Victoria coach station. He would be wearing a tie with the map of the world. I had wanted to talk to him about the Festival of Misfits — he wasn't in the exhibition, but he was there, an eye witness. Of course, in the end, he had better things to discuss.
And of course, the very best things were all said when I turned the tape recorder off. I didn't mind. I didn't put the machine back on. It felt different. Riding the bus to Liverpool Street, he regaled me with tales of his life in an aristocratic family in the Philippines, of translating Shakespeare as a child, attending Columbia University at age 12, of sitting next to Anthony Perkins in class and dancing for Martha Graham. We passed Trafalgar Square, with its current installation of the giant blue cock on the fourth plinth. So boring, we agreed. At least do something avant-garde, he said. Make it lay an egg, and the egg lands on people or something… We passed a woman being photographed on the grass, her white skirts splayed about her. An homage to Yoko, he sighed. I didn't have the heart to point out it was actually a traditional wedding portrait being taken. He'd told me about Bridget Riley and the Woolmark logo. Now he was letting me in on how he took care of some of my favourite Brasilians: Mira Schendel. And when Caetano Veloso famously emigrated to London, guess whose couch where he did sleep. He told me about friends and more friends who died of AIDS in the '80s, but his sister, a doctor, had posted him boxes of rubbers, and he played safe. He calls himself a transcendental hedonist.
I carried his heavy bag full of books across town. He alternated between feeling guilty about this and deciding, it's ok, you're from LA.
That's a Richard Serra, he pointed out at Liverpool Street Station. Do you like it I asked? Yes, he said. It should be taller. You know a Richard Serra killed a man? We agreed that Richard Serra sculptures are rather terrifying.
We arrived at the gallery opening and sat near the entrance. The director of a very large museum approached us warmly. Eventually I was cornered by women of a certain age, the widows of artists of a certain regard, and they told me breathless stories and talked about each other and suddenly everyone seemed to know the Misfits.
The one thing missing was the couple that was meant to host him for the night. He had arranged to sleep at theirs. They just didn't show. It's so mean, it was decided. Enquiries were made: was there a flat in the gallery available? No, all the beds are taken. It had to come down to me and Jamie: he would sleep on our couch, everyone agreed.
The party adjourned to the upper floor at The Bell, where women were talking to me like extras from Blow-Up, everyone seemed close but faraway, frantic, art mad and mod. I am so happy, said one, exhilarated and posh, blowing air on my neck. I had my piano lesson today, she cooed. I am getting a master class!
Surely I was getting a kind of master class, too.
A moustachioed lad from Brooklyn had grabbed the artist's attention and was showing him snapshots of his own sculptures — zooming in on his iphone. The master obliged, putting on his glasses to better see.
I began to think about getting him out of there. I was getting a little overwhelmed by the scenario, but when he launched into a lecture about Freudian sublimation, I was strangely calmed. Eventually, a taxi was booked. At our place, over yet more beer — his request — and the Turkish pancakes I get for £2 each across the street, he told me and Jamie about "everyone": Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, the rivalry between Yayoi and Yoko. Francis Bacon liked fish and chips. We laid on the rug and listened and listened.
I listen, he had said at one point. People think I just talk, but I listen. He never forgot my name. Not just names, he insisted. I listen.
As we tired ourselves out, he asked for a cup of coffee, with lots of milk and sugar, to send him to sleep. I asked, really, coffee makes you tired. Somehow that makes sense, said Jamie.
Before I went to bed, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. In that moment, I perceived myself as pure and glowing. It's not an impression, I assure you, that happens regularly. In fact, the only instances I can recall experiencing this particular feeling are once or twice, years ago, after smoking strong California weed. I wonder if I wasn't somehow under the influence of this psychedelic artist, the transcendental hedonist, his presence liberating something beautiful in me.
I left him in the lounge with three tea lights burning in their plain glass holders. I said, is it ok if we just let these burn and he said yes. He fell asleep to the soft light of the street lamp through the window and the three flickering flames.
The next morning, I was maybe the most hungover of all of us. (I had taken a whisky when he switched to coffee.) He looked at me in my vest and proposed we make a film of my tattoos. Sea creatures, he said. He knew the right poem to read.
In the meantime, we took some quick photos. I'm sleeveless and in long johns and he's grabbing my arm and gesturing; talking, talking.
He is so full of positivity.
A man had scoffed at me as we left the pub the night before, myopic and drunk: New York is a shithole, he spit out. LA is a shithole, too. Some people, said the artist in the stairwell, are so full of hate.
I was forced to demonstrate how I restart my dying laptop by standing on it. It's a good way to start a computer, he said.
He told Jamie to keep making art, and to put it out there, and to be willing to face the criticism that may come its way.
And, keep on with the Misfits, he told me over and over, calling this person and that a misfit as they came up in conversation. Now misfit was the word of the moment. Make a book, he insisted, a book about the Misfits. I finally admitted as I was washing up mugs that after this paper I was probably ready to move on from the Misfits. I told him I wanted to write next about plaid. That's good, he said. You know, like tartan, I clarified. I'm an honorary member of the clan of MacBeth, he smiled. Or madras in India, I continued. That comes from Buddhism, he explained. He told me I must read Symmetry by Hermann Weyl.
There are a lot of must's. You must, you simply must.
He told us so many stories. I'm not a fantasist, he insisted. Of proofreading Andy Warhol's A to B and Back Again, and why it's called that. Of how he is somehow responsible for the inception of Frieze. But maybe my favourite story was one of mistaken identity: He arrived some years back in San Francisco, and saw a man holding a card, and on it his first name. That's me, he said. You have a stretch limo waiting outside, the driver explained. A stretch limo! He was surprised. And, sorry, we could only get you a room at the St. Francis. The St. Francis! That's a five star hotel! That evening, he was picked up for dinner. All of the city's wealthiest were there, Charles Schwab and the founder of the Gap. They were fundraising for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He hadn't realised such a thing even existed. I'd been in Hawaii, I didn't know what was going on in San Francisco… It came to pass that a Hong Kong investor by the same name was meant to arrive, to be wined and dined, but he never did. This is crazy!, he laughed, delighted. I'm just an artist, he told them. Are you in the museum? No, not this museum. I didn't even know it existed.
He was delighted — truly concerned, but delighted — when Jamie locked himself in the bathroom. This is crazy, this is a play by Harold Pinter!, he called out. Jamie, are you in there? Are you ok? You see, you see how stories are made. People don't believe me, they think I'm a fantasist. They wouldn't believe me if I said, here I woke up and this guy Jamie was locked in the bathroom.
People wouldn't believe me. But I've got those crazy photos. I'll show you sometime.
Jamie got out safely. I said, sometimes you just need to start your morning differently. It's so great, or something like that, is what the artist said.