"Yeah, whatever, I'm just watching Oprah," Taylor Mead lolls over the phone line when I ask if he has time to talk. "Anyway, what do you want to know, because I'm so bored with being interviewed."
Actually, around a half-minute separates Mead's initial "whatever" from his profession of boredom 30 seconds that he laconically fills with more wit than other interview subjects might manage in 30 hours. "One day Oprah will be at a petting zoo, loving little animals, and the next she'll have a banquet, serving 100 people veal," he says. "As a vegetarian, I object. I object to this new vice president, too. She hunts wolves from an airplane. Give me a break."
Such objections are a taste of what's in store for anyone wise enough to see the 83-year-old Mead crack wise during a brief visit to San Francisco. "Do I dare call it Frisco?" asks the star of Ron Rice's 1960 North Beachset cinematic Beat classic The Flower Thief. Though Mead hasn't been to SF in years, he knows the city today well enough now to liken it to "the richest suburb in the world," so he's querying himself as much as me. "They called it Frisco when there were tough dockworkers there, when it was a tougher town. Now it's just Frisky."
The Flower Thief kicks off "Taylor Mead: A Clown Underground," a three- evening Joel Shepardcurated affair at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that moves on to the 1967-68 Andy Warhol mock western Lonesome Cowboys and concludes with William A. Kirkley's 2005 documentary portrait Excavating Taylor Mead. The first and last films are bookend sort of visions of a self-described "National Treasure / If there were such a thing." Mead is a great American movie star and poet whose stardom is a byproduct of his poetry and vice versa. Just as 2000's Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story reveals that Mead's rich-rebel-gone-Warhol-superstar peer Brigid Berlin is a master of monologue, Kirkley's documentary and more directly, Mead's books present a wilder-than-Wilde master of the aphorism.
Mead can also make a lengthy poem sing, as illustrated by a YouTube clip of a serenade to Jake Gyllenhaal, gleaned from one of his regular Monday night appearances at Bowery Poetry Club. If Gyllenhaal's 2005 Brokeback Mountain character is the gay son of Montgomery Clift in 1948's Red River and 1961's The Misfits, then both Mead's song to Gyllenhaal and Mead's older poem "Autobiography" prove lonesome cowboys can be lassoed by a rodeo clown.
"For everything that is original, spontaneous, alive, and creative and beautiful, there is some old lady who will complain about it," writes Mead in 1986's Son of Andy Warhol (Hanuman Books). In the 2005 collection A Simple Country Girl (YBK Publishers, $14.95) his wit and wisdom is even shorter and sharper. "Everything / Has a right to life / except mosquitoes / and religious people."
Airplane willing and anti-anxiety medication in hand, Taylor Mead is returning to the town where Jack Spicer once seethed as he sat on Jack Kerouac's lap. Shower him with Dewar's.