Brigid Berlin – Andy Warhol Superstar
In checking references for Leonard Cohen, Gerard Malanga’s Poem, And The Andy Warhol Scene, I came across the story of Brigid Berlin (aka Brigid Polk), daughter of socialite Muriel “Honey” Berlin and Richard E. Berlin, chairman of the Hearst media organization more than a half-century, who was, more pertinently, one of Andy Warhol’s superstars.
Andy Warhol and Brigid Berlin
After meeting Brigid in 1964, Warhol soon nicknamed her “Brigid Polk” because of her predilection for giving others “pokes,” i.e., injections of Vitamin B and amphetamines.
Vincent Fremont summarized her role at the Factory:
Brigid’s life by the mid-1970s was at the front desk at the Factory. If a tank had rolled by and you’d ask her, ‘Did a tank come by?’ she’d look up completely unaware. She and Andy were like a married couple. Brigid was the one one who could fight with him that way. He would offer her a painting as a present, and she would say no, and ask for a washing machine instead. Andy and Brigid had a great relationship; they spoke on the telephone every morning. Brigid was Andy’s ‘B’ in the ‘Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)’… In the 60s and the beginning of the 70s Brigid routinely took her clothes off at Andy’s Factory. Andy took a lot of pictures of her nude, especially polaroids.
Brigid Berlin’s close relationship with and loyalty to Andy Warhol was striking. A short, moving story about and interview with Brigid that captures a sense of their connection, including some tenderness, is available on the Carnegie Museums site.
Brigid is also, however, credited by many critics as a legitimate artist independent of her association with Andy Warhol.
She was known for obsessively recording the sights and sounds of everyday life. Her tapes of phone conversations between her and her socialite mother were, in fact, the raw material of Warhol’s play, “Pork.”
She also created several art projects, such as “Boobes” (seen above). Brigid made this book by
inking her boobs, as well as the boobs of friends of hers that were hanging around the factory.
The photo below (from ArtNet) demonstrates the methodology.
Andy Warhol photographs Brigid Berlin making a breast print
The best known of her compositions, however, was a somewhat parallel project called “The Cock Book.”
The Cock Book – Brigid Asks Leonard Cohen To Contribute
A biographer describes the project:
When she came across a large book full of blank pages with the title, Topical Bible, at a shop on Broadway, she decided to use it as a trip book and wanted to choose a theme for it. “Topical” ryhmed with “cockical” so she made it into a cock book. In addition to drawing in it herself, she would take it with her to Max’s or the Factory and get whoever was around at the time to make a cock drawing in the book. Among the people who contributed to the book were Taylor Mead, Billy Sullivan, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Jane Fonda, Roger Vadim, Peter Beard, Dennis Hopper, Ondine, Richard Avedon and Leonard Cohen.
Wikipedia enlarges on the methodology Brigid used to compile her book and notes Leonard Cohen’s contribution:
Brigid schlepped her Cock Book around with her when she went out at night to places like Max’s Kansas City or the Factory and got others to fill each page with their rendition of a penis. Brigid was not particularly selective about who drew in it, because she was consumed with the idea of having it filled and completed. Contributors range from artists like Basquiat to Jane Fonda, whose cock adorns a matchstick pearl necklace, to Leonard Cohen, who opted out of drawing a cock, instead writing “let me be the shy one in your book”. Berlin herself drew in the Cock Book, as did Andy Warhol, who refused to sign his proper name or draw a proper cock. The Cock Book was an artwork and entertainment for Brigid who “had more fun doing that than anything I’ve ever done in my life. I would come home, stoned from being up at Max’s [Kansas City, a now-defunct New York club] and I would sit on the floor and work on the book. [emphasis mine]
Brigid’s “Cock Book,” recently sold for $175,000 to artist Richard Prince
Inconsequential Incident Or Prototypical Paradigm?
While I’m not ready to claim paradigmatic status for this brief contact between Leonard Cohen and the Andy Warhol scene via Brigid Berlin’s “Cock Book,” I would suggest it might be an early demonstration of a technique used by Cohen to position himself as a peripheral member (“honorary member” might be a more accurate term) of a community without the encumbrances of ongoing fealty or the necessity to defend the principles or goals espoused or actions taken by that group.
In Leonard Cohen Meets Jack Kerouac At Allen Ginsberg’s Home, I commented on Cohen’s self-professed role on the periphery of Kerouac’s and Ginsberg’s group:
Leonard Cohen’s account of his meeting with Jack Kerouac has always impressed me not only because the scene described is pretty darn funny but also because Cohen’s self-assessment of his position on the periphery of the bohemian literary group rather than an integral participant is a paradigm played out in many and perhaps most of his professional and social relationships.
A parallel sense of being tolerated but not, as was Cohen’s longing, being accepted as an equal is, for example, embedded in these lines from the version of “A Thousand Kisses Deep” he has recited during the World Tour:
I ran with Diz, I sang with Ray
I never had their sweep
but once or twice they let me play
a thousand kisses deep.
And Nadel quotes Cohen himself on the subject:
In New York, Cohen found confirmation of his anti-establishment stance, although he was never accepted by the Beats. “I was always on the fringe. I liked the places they gathered, but I was never accepted by the bohemians because it was felt that I came from the wrong side of the tracks. I was too middle class. … I didn’t have the right credentials to be at the center table in those bohemian cafes.”
Notwithstanding Cohen’s pronouncement that he “didn’t have the right credentials,” I see little indication that he was motivated to make any significant efforts to be accepted by that circle.
In the cases of both the “Cock Book” and the bohemians, Leonard Cohen effectively distanced himself from individuals and their causes without cutting off the ties altogether, let alone antagonizing anyone, by using a maneuver which most of us past puberty will recognize from our own experience and which can be evocatively encapsulated by the phrase, “It’s not you – it’s me.”
I will pursue this notion in the future (if I’m not distracted by another idea or any bright, shiny object in my peripheral vision), but for now let me suggest one other incident I believe fits into this pattern.
An earlier post, Leonard Cohen Declines Bob Dylan’s Invitation To Play In Rolling Thunder Revue, provides the account of Dylan and others asking Cohen to play in the Rolling Thunder concert in his hometown:
“Leonard, how you doing?” Bob [Dylan] warmly greets the Canadian. He points over at Ratso. “Hey, do you know this character?”
Leonard [Cohen] rolls his eyes. “This man has plagued me for the last three years.” They all laugh.
“Hey, Leonard, you gonna sing,” Ratso pleads.
“Let it be known that I alone disdained the obvious support,” Cohen chuckles. “I’m going to sit out there and watch.”
“Why not sing?” Joni [Mitchell] begs.
“No, no, it’s too obvious,” Leonard brushes off the request and looks to Ratso for guidance. He leads them out to the sound board where some folding chairs have been set up, just in time to see Dylan do his first set.
It’s not you, Bob & Joni, It’s me.