|M E M O
N O ! a r t
LURIE'S LAST WILL
EPITAPH FOR A CANADIAN KIKE
or a Part of the Sam Goodman Story (b. 1919—d. 1967)
By Seymour Krim (1971)
|Published in: Lurie, B; Krim, S.: NO!art, Cologne 1988|
How much of what I'm going to say about Sam Goodman—yes, Sam, I'm trying to come to terms with you at last, you prick, you enduring pain in this world's ass!—is "true," actual, the way it really was and how much is my own anxiety-specked creation? I don't know, ultimately; but if God existed and he wanted a view of Sam on earth (or Sam on concrete since I only knew him in N.Y.)/ as heaving and personal as anyone else's protests today, I would tell him what I am about to tell you and, in working it out, myself. Was it the tough old Arab-boy fucker Gide who said we write things down to define them for ourselves? -he did, but so did half a dozen others whose names do not come to mind in this gloomy instant and they were all correct. I've buried Sam far down in my safety-seeking head until now, refused to acknowledge that accusing corpse, been afraid of what I'd find in myself as much as in Sam. But that's all over. I've shed my shame. Let come out what will, what must—that's my motto for tonight, alone here in an empty Madrid apartment, far from my roots, home, N.Y., America, alone with the sneering ghost of Goodman. Some ghost, believe me, I can feel him mocking me as I write but feverishly wanting the publicity also: "You know fucking-A I deserve it, Krim, now where is it going to be published—when?—and do you have pictures? There's a very good one of me ..."
Good one of you? Don't make me laugh or I might actually, legitimately, throw up. Let me do this my way, momser, user, prick Mr. Disgusting, or I won't tell it at all ... yet I have to, eventually, so you win again you—you—cheap hustler! No. You were both more than that and less effective.
To get on with it: all I can do is sketch what I saw and felt, take my chances, and I certainly had a lot of shooting, unexpected feelings in the dozen or so times I was around Sam. Different body-pulls travelling all over the place and causing me pain, mostly. Boris had introduced me to S. in his studio one night in late 1963 or early '64 and the three of us went out and had a bite of supper, as I recall, or perhaps just a drink or two (scotch) at Boris's whitewashed, police-locked miniature fortress over on E. 6th Street. I wasn't too impressed with Sam as a person, that's putting it mildly, like Ovomaltine, although I had more than liked those ingenious, sure fingered, excellently crafted little horrors of his in the "Vulgar" and "Doom" shows at the March Gallery on E. 10th Street in the early '60's. They seemed beautifully apt to me, these neo-sculptured distortions and garish monstrosities that ridiculed "plastic" America, before the kids discovered that all-purpose epithet, and the galloping technological environment that was already treating us as numbers in its stainless steel brain.
That was the work, or part of it, and I was always to be fascinated by those dextrous, deadly hands and eyes of Sam's as they showed their vicious skill in the artefacts he turned out. But the man, oh dearie me, the man! That was something else, wasn't it ? First, foremost, most obvious I guess and therefore unworthy—but then I am as unworthy as you, my hypocrite readers, and as nine-tenths of humanity, so we all make a team don't we?—there was this eerie likeness to the Hitler caricature of the slimy Jew about Sam. (Did he know he was a caricature, was that why he had earned his living that way in second-class night-clubs in Buffalo and Miami before hitting the Village?) And before I go into this, which I must, keep in mind what I said at the top about questioning how much one reveals of oneself when writing or speaking about another, how much one imposes the terrors of his own existence onto others, staining them with your own black sweat. For example: No matter what I might be now, perhaps even unafraid to go down and down into my own unsavory past like a diver, learned by the efforts of living which are superhuman, even for the most trivial of us, my style then was ... fleet-footed Jewish middle-class American—get away fast! My first wife was waspy, I never got barmitzvahed (confirmed), had plastic surgery done to my eaglebeak, wanted to integrate like a beaver and leave that Old World Rotten Jew Stigma disintegrating into never-to-be-missed little pieces behind me. I'm oversimplifying, obviously, and abbreviating the complexity of the whole thing, but that was the essence of it-I could accept being "Jewish" very nicely if I didn't look like one, "act" like one, fit any of Adolph's brilliant visualizations (another kind of artist!) which had wrung the heart out of me as a mirror-hypnotized lad in the '30's and which I vowed then to escape from for the rest of my life.
And here was Sammie Goodman who brought me back to my own self-persecution dreads, rubbed my nose in it, just by being himself. Why did he have to be born or at least why appear in my carefully ordered life of all goddamn places?
Sam looked and talked like the all-time mockie, there's no other word. Short, belly sticking out, hooked schnozzola, the inevitable myopic glasses (maybe slightly cross-eyed too), going bald, he repelled my eyes, I'm sorry; and my ears and sensibilities too—he was crude, whining, wheedling, criticizing, going hard on crazy at the sight of any ass gyrating down the street, licking his cheery joolips when he talked about it like some cornball silent movie creep. I was ashamed to be seen with him. I wanted to be elsewhere. I wanted to shrink up and disappear, and I was then—when Boris introduced us—a man (?) over 40. No doubt, not a doubt in the world, this says more about me than it does about Sam, perhaps you're already putting me down as another yellow U.S. yiddlediddle who hasn't the stomach to accept himself ("your heart has turned to cunt," an ex-buddy of mine once attacked me with—maybe all these charges are true?), but for me to write candidly about Sam I must take the lid off all the packed shit in myself as well and this is surely the way it was, the way I'm telling it. Sam and Boris at this time, after our muttered meeting, were preparing the famous Shit Show at Gertrude Stein's Gallery in the East 80's, formally called the "No-sculpture show" I believe, and I would taxi up to the deserted gallery three or four days a week after my stint at Nug-get magazine as a kind of literary standby to Sam's and Boris's efforts. (And after supper and talk, or defending myself from Goodman's conscious and unconscious violations, I'd charge back to Nugget and sweat out my frustrations on a pile of 30 or so manuscripts until far into the deserted night.)
By this, the "literary standby" business, I mean that Boris Lurie, who was the organiser and downtown Trotsky for the thrust of this movement (himself, Goodman, Stanley Fisher at the core), needed psychological support right now. He was going out on a frail scaffolding 17 floors above the street, above the fashion to which he was more sensitively calibrated than supposedly knowing trend-types realized, and this Goodman-Lurie show was the end-product of their scorn, and Boris as usual was calculating and fretting and working his peter off.
I was badgered by these two about press releases, the phrasing of common sentences to publications and critics, getting people like Tom Wolfe and Brian O'Doherty if I could to make the opening and write immediate blazing articles (sickening in Infory how Goodman slavered at the imminence of publicity, like now, Sam, eh), things of that sort. As one afternoon close to zero hour, opening night, I saw the canvas coverings taken off that red-veined sculpture which looked like the ultimate bowel movement for the human stable, I was—well, practically knocked across the room, this was the height (or the depths, depending on where you stood) of Sam's style and I told him so with defenceless enthusiasm.
He greeted my praise with hooded eyes and a slight trace of crooked grin. He was shy and condescending both. His expression said to me as clearly as any words: "Thanks, Krim, but I deserve it you know, all those bastards with so-called names, critics artists (ha!), parasites, they aren't in my class and I've always known it. So thanks old man for spelling it out but don't expect me to pat your behind for your compliment, it's merely correct." His arrogant cool turned me to ice, then rage. Insulted what I thought was my sincerity, generosity, good will, even selflessness. Didn't I have a stronger rep in the hip world (Manhattan highbrow) than this small time bitching Canadian mockie who was always downgrading the U.S. in the most cowardly fashion, yes, shamelessly lusting for its goodies and then biting, no, shitting all over the hands that fed him?
Oh baby, fuck you Sam Goodman, fuck you good, was my reaction, and not the last time I was to think it either. He grated on me, this fishbellied whiner—"This lousy country of yours deserves to be bombed, incinerated for its sins"—and I bitterly regretted my compliment, wanted to grab it back out of the air for my own self-respect's sake. He took and he didn't give, the prick, the sawed-off lout, and I wanted to haul off and smack him, literally, drive his yellowed teeth down his throat. But even though I was bigger, taller anyway (the animal was heavy-set), I was afraid. Not only that he'd give me a fight—there was something oblique, ominous, about that air of private power—but that he'd be laughing at me. I swallowed my pride, my outrage at his stinky little superiority game, and would go out and catch a bite with both of them (Boris had averted his eyes) at a Child's or Schrafft's, I believe, on Madison not too far from Gertrude's place.
Goodman was funny and sharp over food—a nibble maybe, I did the substantial eating, this was my legitimate supper hour while it was just shmoozing time for them (they ate at insane hours)—and after a drink I'd even permit a smile, especially when he'd satirize the pitch for power among the Abstract Expressionists masquerading as cowboy innocence. He was smart, goddamn him. But while I could appreciate the quick crap-player's brain that was forever scheming away in Goodman's head and even the "sweetness" that came out of him when he wanted to be liked—and he wanted me to like him, some desperate crock opened in his warped machinery and a flower tentatively stuck its head out—I never took to him for more than a minute. Which was rare for me, because I have more than my share of male friends, perhaps a sublimation of that unconscious homosexuality which a novelist (American) I know here in Spain tells me gets obvious when I become drunk; or perhaps, as I choose to think—because I was without family as a boy and feel an ache for brothers my age and not those ancient ones that life gave me, something like that. Anyway, Goodman even made overtures to me, snotty behavior notwithstanding, calling me up at home late one afternoon and inviting me down to the Champagne Gallery in the Village where he was having an opening of some less monumental work, "American Death Show" (what else?), before the Big Shit was set to slither out uptown. I never went, obviously, "Get down here and write something about it, you're a writer aren't you?" is what my inner ear heard, rightly or wrongly, defensively at this point, but I hate to be ordered around and used, gentlemen, hate it. Yet this opportunist, user, this pushcart Yid—that's what I thought, let the League of Jewish Women Voters sue me—wants to get cozy with me without having the least concern for what my human needs are. Stay a-way from me, don't call me, you self-consumed little shyster, I thought, you Iooser-get yourself a derby and a pawnshop, that's where you belong!
I said loser to myself and say it now because Sam wore all the tags of that bad name, overbearing pride without visible foundation, handicaps piled one on the other, jealousy streaking the air around him, etc. etc., and when he died in pain and bodily waste in May, 1967 (guilt gnawed at me for not having the soldierliness to visit him in the hospital where he lay helpless, then guilt got covered over with the usual mental muck of tonight's and tomorrow's survival and disappeared) he didn't, I don't think, even rate a one-paragraph obit in the Times. Everything about him smelled like a loser, take my word for it, all those freaky little Village emporiums—he even half-owned one called the "Caricature" (natch) on McDougal Street with a mysterious "wife" whom we never saw and to whom, I later found out, he was never married—where he held forth like a side-show prophet. He reminded me in that sense of Harvey Matusow, the clown of all avant-garde dodges who is now truly swinging in London, making it in a healthy sense for the first time since he got out of the federal slammer after his McCarthy Period bust, but who then in the mid-'60s used to finagle amateurish 10-minute stand-up comedian gigs in places like the Champagne Gallery for no money, only yokes, prayerfully, from the straggler audience, and who always invited me to watch him strut his dubious stuff down there and where I never went. It was a form of J.D. Salinger Manhattan snobbery, I guess, but it was also a reaction against crumminess, pathetic little tinhorn forms of egotism, blat-splat-bleep look at me! and I felt there was something basically wrong about Goodman in that he should produce smooth daggers of artwork, pieces that cut and brought blood, and yet have to hustle them in the most phony part of the Square Trap, McDougal Street, without dignity or even significant indignity. Just fourth-rate carnival exhibitionism like geeks biting off chicken heads for a quarter.
When Boris later told me that Goodman was the son of a Polish Jewish junk dealer who had come over from the other side in his stained vest and settled in Toronto, that Sam came out of crap and garbage and fuck-your-brother-in-law shadowy little deals, haggling price over a lousy piece of tin with dried mud and phlegm on it, it all made sense to me, did it ever. But when I later learned that Goodman, before I know him, in the early '60s, "could not pass up a street garbage can," "was obsessed with junk as an artist," "even started dressing like garbage" (all this told me by an informant), that didn't fit my picture at all. That was something else, wasn't it?, the demon in Goodman that dredged for materials out of his own contemptible past, the contemptuous imagination in the man that made him reach into the toilet bowl of his life and come up with steaming turds in his knobbed hands from his own gross experience. He threw me a curve, you see? Even dead, but not quite to me or anyone else who suffered him, the momser keeps throwing curves, doesn't he?
When we'd have these drinks and sandwiches (for them) and my evening meal at' Schrafft's, while he and Boris were mounting the SS, the walk to the restaurant—and do I remember accurately Goodman's paranoia about the German-accented waiter hovering over us at that hour, what did the scum want from us?—would take us past one of the fancy Chiselhurst young-cunt finishing schools in the upper 70's. I remember the slightly pukey feeling that swept up my stomach and chest, for real, when Sam started fucking them all with his mouth, looking at the windows and then gobbling away out on the street. Then the stories, how he had picked one up from the same school three months before (she had wandered into Gertrude's Gallery) and how she had practically grabbed his cock out of his pants and started blowing him in the back room, after that wanting to fuck him on his lap right on Park Avenue in the taxi-ride downtown, how she was crazy about him, offering money (she had monthly trust-fund checks), everything, this silverblonde Connecticut moaner of 16 or 17. She couldn't get enough of it and he was thinking he'd have to throw her back in the teenybopper fishbowl to save his energy, sanity, when her divorced mother took her out of school, suddenly, to go and live in Beverly Hills.
Again, hearing this, the contempt button went wild in my mind-who the fuck did this comic-strip type think he was kidding, did he really take me for a mark, me, Seymour Krim, buying this homely bastard's fantasies, an attractive well-set-up swinger like myself who had been plowing N.Y. pussy for almost a quarter of a century? It would have been pathetic except that Goodman spoke with such assurance, confidence, that the pathos you have for a cripple's feeble lies turned (with me, anyway) into scorn, anger. I put him on: "Want to go in the lobby, man, and we'll pick a couple up?" "Terrific! Come on."
Boris turned away modestly, a slight smile on that neatly-mustached mouth, this wasn't for him, but he knew Goodman, I didn't. He knew what a steel, walking cock the man thought he was. Insane. Goodman took me firmly by the arm and we started moving to the entrance of the school. At the last minute, I got out of it, scared. It had been years since I'd tried to pick up somebody that young on a dead-cold gamble like this. I wasn't about to be put down, laughed at, shaken. But Goodman didn't give a damn, he wanted a stand-up mate he could hunt pussy with, even use as a foil to get at it, I saw it all in a flash—Boris wasn't tuned to it (between the appetite and the act falls Boris's shadow)—and I was afraid.
"When I have more time, Sam."
The slight glint of the killer was flickering in those eyeglasses he wore and I looked at him secretly as we redirected ourselves to the restaurant and wondered with a shiver about the shixa golden girl of 16 who knelt before his schlang as if it were a sceptre: could all of this be real then? Had Goodman transcended his really cartoon Yid turnoff style, somehow transmitted his inner charge and apparently luminous vision to snatch by some great courage of the balls that was light-years ahead of me, still worrying about the flawed scalpel dip at the right side of the bridge of my nose, the reflection of harsh light on my carefully doctored thick glasses, wearing my hopeful appeal to women (each previous lay was an accident, cried my stuttering soul!) as a brittle portrait painting out front while Goodman was giving them zap zap expressionism right from the fly of his pants? Again he'd outplayed me, outpunched me, outgutted me; he was the better man with crotch-honey because he was unashamed, unse If conscious, it seemed, and I resented this too, I burned again, not just because I sensed that redeyed dick of his driving for every bush on the street but because he made you swallow his bullshit airs because they were backed up by a certain reality. I of course never told him this, never complimented him again, I'd be damned if I'd confide an inch of pure feeling to a monster like this one after the first time he'd closed me out, but it took root in spite of. The pig had harpooned me where it hurts. There were stories, lots of them, about Goodman after the Shit Show finally came off in May of '64 (funny, he died in a May too and that's the month of my birth); and although none of us knew it, least of all Goodman, the cancer of throat and mouth that was to waste and kill him—and I shed no tears at the gruesome one's death, I shed nothing except a feeling of relief that he was out of the way, frankly—was already poisoning him just when he'd pulled off his biggest or at least most spectacular feat (fart?) of artistic nastiness. Or was it more of just that same craving for attention at any price? One of the stories was that he told the Art Voices critic who covered the opening, referring to those gorgeous mounds of liquid plaster-stone shit, with that haemorrhoidal red tracing on the top and sides which I'll never forget: "This is what I think of the art-world after spending 30 years in it." Also: "I'm thinking of naming each sculpture after a well-known New York artist."
That's our boy Goodman, yes sir, I have no doubt as to the authenticity of the story (I was at the opening but getting high in the John to insulate myself)/ duplicated by yet another one in which in front of witnesses he told a notorious pop-collector-investor, who was bargaining with his adjutant over doing some buying-and Sam madly wanted to be bought-"I shit on you, too!" Nice. And also as compulsively self-defeating as everything else about this human mess except where you knew the topped you, but we won't go into that, a few embarrassments per night is enough, agreed? Then there are a few funny anti-Goodman stories which are less dramatic, less punchy, concerning this show, the best of them told to me by Tom Wolfe, who covered the Last Shit for the late Herald Tribune but couldn't manage to get it into the paper in all of its splendid beige (the shit was subtle as well as all-pervasive, I've got to admit) and so nothing was printed. According to the usually accurate Wolfe, who grew up wanting to be a fastball pitcher for the Yankees and is a fiend for control underneath the glitter, Sam was annoyed because Brian O'Doherty, then doing his brisk art reporting for the Times, was cooly undisturbed by the exhibition; refused to be shocked in any sense because Brian had been a certified medical man, a doctor, before getting into the arts and saw the whole diarrhetic explosion laid out on Gertrude's floor with medical objectivity. Goodman sulked all over the place, according to Wolfe, even though O'Doherty's report was cleanly and clearly favorable. I like that.
I never saw Goodman in the flesh again after the SS, although it was no surprise to me when I heard that all the faecal matter boomeranged in his suitable kisser, no sales, no money, more enemies, everything you'd expect from this piece of bad news incorporated. Because he had self-righteously and big-mouthedly screwed himself out of all the attention and big bread he so thirstily craved, he apparently wound up back in the cheapest part of the Village cursing the de Koonings and Warhols and grubbing around in phoneyvill until the end, when the cancer set in. Boris tells me he was actually, factually, rocking and rolling with more of his obsessive pussy than probably ever before right at the end, also, although he was getting too feeble to handle it—consistent, oh yes, you miserable schmuck?! Boris also says—and I've learned to trust his skullhard objectivity, his (at his best) truly without-fear-or-favor eye—that even though Goodman had these modest michaelangelesque ideas of being a great master and bragged about his invention of the "long strike" (he actually used a honeystick to spread the paint on the canvas during his AbEx days), some of his boasting was disquietingly true, "I can mention names who learned the 'long stroke' from him ..." Ah Boris, Boris, I know it, you don't have to tell me, anyone as odious as Goodman had to have a gun in his blood somewhere to make me back up the way I did. When you tell me "the Jews in the N.Y. art-world disliked him because he reminded them too much of what they were trying to get away from, the Jewish haberdasher without 'esthetic beauty'", well baby, I find that the understatement of the year! I know what you're saying right down in the privacy of my carefully controlled little-girl feelings. What a throw-back Goodman was, a bIot on the pop-glamour picture of Manhattan, what an animal. Oy. And yet wasn't it true, Boris, that all of you who fuelled this "movement"—you, Goodman, Stan Fisher, with your "Doom" (and "Gloom") and "Vulgar" and "No" and "Shit" exhibitions-can't be separated, as people, artists, from this whole miserable, real, unending 20th century Jewish business.
In other words, Boris Lurie came from the borders of Russia and served time as another Bad Jew in a concentration camp during the war, Goodman was a Hebrew outsider in the tough Canadian Army and got a cushy berth with the Film Board during the fighting but used to kick himself, afterwards, for not having gone overseas and wrenched open the incinerators where but for the grace of geography he might have been cooking; Fisher was the only American-born member of the three, but he was just as alienated as the other two from the goyishe jamboree of American life. In fact, I remember a story he once told me of a German infantry lad giving him, the bright Brooklyn J-boy, a pair of warm boots in Germany right before the surrender or just after it. A loving gift from persecutor to victim, or, in the new munch of events, from victim to persecutor, and the look of tenderness that touched Fisher's eyes when he told me this in a soft voice ... Am I imagining this? No, Fisher told me all right, and he the least Jew-conscious of the three men, the most screwball American. And yet all of them, in this sour, drastic, accusatory, almost hysterically moral work of theirs, tossed their stinkbombs at U.S. life from the experience of the war in Europe, with charred Jews down at the bottom of the entire pyramid that ended with Uncle Sam boogiewoogying before the whole globe on the triumphant top. They were inflamed Jewish War artists, it suddenly occurs to me, who carried on their jehovahianism against America the Moloch, those collages of mass graves with pinup tits by Betty Grable jiggling above the skeletons - no wonder Goodman couldn't separate his prick from his skullcap, his sense of holy mission (ha!) from pussy!
Certainly he was fighting a perpetual, losing war, against the collectors, the galleries, the hated 'big names', himself. And think how your correspondent felt watching him crap on this country which in spite of its terrible sicknesses has made me what I am (terribly sick? is that what you say?) and is indivisible from my being and protection, wanting its money and its cunt, shitting on it—yes, I'm tired of that word too,—while he wiped his unattractive ass with all of its small favors. Yes, think if you will what emotions I felt towards mine brudder-Jew, brother-artist (if I may), brother-in-arms for the same impossible vision of truth and justice, amen. I despised him and I admired him, that's the ticket, double ticket for our time, admired this human louse, know that his bright savage work isn't done (wait for the great retrospective Goodman "Kike Show", he would have loved that wouldn't he?), that he'll emerge from this slick period of artistic mannequins and male models and, yes, cynical urbanites like myself, with his just vinegar due running down his greed little Infory. They never grew, these grotesque who stick when the smoothies wilt into the void, never grow but crooked, misshapen, distorted ("Don't you dig distortion?" sincerely asked the bop musician showing off his humpback chick to an embarassed buady), Evil, baby. Sam to me was as evil a mother as any paranoid Jewish phantom that ever gave Adolph his nightmares but remember I only saw him from the outside, with my insides, yet within that tension he certainly matches up, oh does he! "Shy, slightly stuttering in public, humble with his friends"—I've heard that too in my grudging researches to "round out the picture", to show the Whole man as magazine editors smugly say, to surmount the nasty subjectivity which I warned you about at the start, but for me this so-called "shyness" was a cover for superiority, arrogance, snot, as a certain kind of shyness so often is. I used to want to take a metaphysical shower when I left Goodman, good and hot with strong black tar soap, but I could never expunge that sarcastic mockie from my veins, no, never, in fact I never want to get him out of my system now because he was a sharper and more spicy and authentic being than I was although I'll never let my secret envy show like Goodman did, one has one's pride doesn't one? Fuck genuine people when they're alive if they're a hideous embarrassment to us, right? I say Sam deserved his constant failures and is better off dead so we can "appreciate" him in Infory, not hold our noses, avert our eyes, be put uptight and shattered, so we can go about our proud unembarrassed business without being murdered in a dozen different ways, correct? Come on, be honest, admit it, who wants a grinning, unbreakable, unendurable, gross, homely, egomaniacal, insane, self-exalted, cutting ... Who needs it???
Yes, except time catches up and passes us all and the dead, a few, overtake the living and eat their vitals away by the strength of an appetite that roars from the other side. Losers can even become winners with the years and it's winner take all, dead or alive, better believe it! and know thyself to be a pretty apologetic little windbreaker compared to the Real Shits of this world—fuck off Goodman, stop eavesdropping and preening wherever you ore, you undeserving anti-hero, true stinker for an age!