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Ojai Orange

The column
of lasting insignificance:
September 27, 2014

—by John Wilcock

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don't have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”
—Virginia Woolf

“During the 1960s, I think, people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don't think they've ever remembered.”
—Andy Warhol

Read my blog at Crowdsourcing survival.

* * *

Manhattan Memories

Chapter 11. Andy Warhol
(part 1)

First encounter....People talk about him.... His movies....We go to Rutgers, Ann Arbor ...What people say about Andy


The first day I went up to the 47th Street Factory, as Andy Warhol tagged all his studios, the floor was covered with rows of silk screened paintings which his assistant Gerard Malanga was signing "A. Warhol" with a black-tipped brush. Our earlier encounter was when his then-cameraman Buddy Wirtschafter invited me to accompany him as they filmed one day at Willard Maas' place in Brooklyn Heights. Buddy, who had enthused that Andy was "one of the greatest exponents of the art of the idea" suggested nonchalantly, “You can always hold the microphone or something”. As it happened, all I did on that occasion was watch with amused amazement. Andy himself was an impelling presence--I thought it was like being near a dangerous black hole--and I kept as low a profile as possible and spoke only when spoken to.

  Gerard Malanga, c. 1966

For some weeks I had been intrigued by this enigmatic artist, ever since at Jonas Mekas’ urging I had attended—against my better judgment--a screening of one of his early movies at Cinemateque. The uproar at that performance had made me realize that even incomprehensible films with bad sound could be impelling.

I had actually seen Andy before--at one of those flashy art scene openings featuring all kinds of pop artifacts such as silvery 'chocolates' made of lead. These were being handed out in a Warhol-themed bag by a pretty girl (Sarah Dalton) in a Brillo-patterned dress. There was a tremendous air of excitement around him, which intrigued me and prompted my continuing interest.  "What Andy is selling, unlike traditional painters", somebody remarked, "is not art so much as a milieu".  

Anyway, following this introduction by Buddy to the inner circle, I spent the next few months hanging out at the 47th Street Factory and accompanying them on their various outings.

I soon learned that Andy had gotten a taste for filming on that famous trip West, more talkative undoubtedly than he was on public occasions, “as we drove through the West Virginia night in my old Ford Station Wagon”, recalls Wynn Chamberlain, “ with Gerard and Taylor Mead sleeping in the back with all of Andy's Elvis and Liz paintings, (we were) heading for LA and his show at the Ferus Gallery (Which was a terrible flop).  There was a concurrent rumor that after Elizabeth Taylor had declined to sit for her portrait that Andy had dragooned Ruth Kligman into service as his model for the work. Elizabeth herself, who, being very smart and very kind, would certainly not (be likely to) interfere with people making millions on her visage...’the new Mona Lisa I suppose’” was the comment of one observer who claimed to know the truth of the matter.

Taylor Mead had been hanging around the Village for ages, feeding cats late at night on Lower East Side parking lots, before Andy came into his orbit, subsequently starring him in Tarzan and Jane Regained, Sort of.  He was a veteran of a couple of avant garde films by Ron Rice, The Flower Thief and before that, Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man. In this 1963 epic he had spread butter on a football and then played the piano while wearing a bear suit. A stage role in a Frank O’Hara movie had earned him an Obie. (By the time of his 80th birthday in 2005, he’d appeared in scores of movies including Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes. A widely-published poet, Taylor describes himself as a renaissance person. and performs weekly at a poetry club on the Bowery but is reticent about his acting career). “I don’t do anything”, he claims. “I just spontaneously happen into strange situations.”

What I hadn’t expected at the beginning was that filming at the factory would turn into an almost daily event, and that it would become so absorbing to watch somebody who obviously knew what he was doing even if it wasn’t the familiar way to do it. I found myself heading up to 47th Street every day and when, on occasion, the door was locked, rather than call up to be allowed in (I was never confident that this would happen) I went in via the fire escape. This was easier than it sounds because it was one of those typical New York fire escapes with a hinged lower part. All that was needed was the crook of an umbrella to reach above my head and pull it down.

At first, the camera would remain static during the filming, recording whatever action took place in the narrow spectrum before it. "(Andy) actually said to me once that his contribution was the unmoving camera because no one had done that", confided Ronnie Tavel a poet hired as an assistant after Warhol attended one of his readings. "At that time I'm sure he didn't think he would ever move the camera or edit, or he wouldn't have made such a blunt statement. It was really like turning movies into paintings".

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it's here... Marijuana--The Weed That Changed the World
A Guide to Occult Britain

Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook on

John Wilcock
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October 22, 2011

The New York Years
An authorized comic book biography of John Wilcock, 
art by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

An authorized comic book biography of John Wilcock,
art by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

This IS a book length comic series on John Wilcock. People who enjoy focusing on underground and alternative media are occasionally familiar with John's work, but most often the response is "who's that?" Outside of small press historians and collectors, John remains very unknown. Which makes no sense, the more you learn about him. We're very excited about the opportunity to tell his story. Art for THE STORY OF JOHN WILCOCK is by me and co-conspirator Scott Marshall. Story comes from an extended and ongoing year-long interview with Wilcock, himself. The focus is John's years in New York, roughly 1954-1971.

(read more)

January 2, 2011

John WIlcock at home in Ojai
Photo Credit: Carmen Smyth/News Press

A way with Andy Warhol : John Wilcock recalls life in iconic pop artist's inner circle
Marilyn McMahon, Staff Writer
Santa Barbara News Press

During a journalism career that began when he was 16, John Wilcock has interviewed celebrities — Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Bob Dylan, to name a few — was part of enigmatic pop artist Andy Warhol's intimate circle in the 1960s, traveled to exotic locations all over the globe, has written dozens of books ranging from frugal travel to magic, was one of five founders (Norman Mailer was one of them) of the Village Voice and co-founded Interview magazine (still in circulation) with Mr. Warhol.

Today, the 83-year-old writer, who has been described by others in his field as "a libertarian-anarchist" and "a talented Bohemian counter-culture journalist," lives a tranquil life in a rustic cottage he rents on the outskirts of Ojai.

(click here to access the Santa Barbara News Press online where the full text of the article is available by subscription)

January, 2011

The Return of the World's Worst Businessman

Sneak Peak “The Return of the World's Worst Businessman”
Tyler Malone
PMc Magazine

John Wilcock is not what you would call a household name, and yet, he has had a measurable impact on art, journalism and culture-at-large over the last century. He co-founded Interview with Andy Warhol. He also was one of the co-founders of The Village Voice. He has written for countless print and online publications: Frommer’s, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The East Village Other, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Ojai Orange, etc. So why, one feels inclined to ask, is he relatively unknown? The answer seems simple: Wilcock has called himself “the world’s worst businessman.” This self-description makes sense because listening to him one hears the voice of a writer and a traveler and an enthusiast, not at all the voice of a businessman. In an age when it seems like everyone is all about business—art as a business, fashion as a business, everything as a business—it is refreshing to hear someone self-identify as “the world’s worst businessman.” It seems less like he has failed as a businessman and more like he has refused to become one. In addition to all his other accomplishments,...

(read more)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jewcy Top 10 Art Books of 2010
Margarita Korol

This brilliant remake of a pop primary document is brought to you by John Wilcock, probably the Most Interesting Man in the World in the realm of writers. The Village Voice cofounder had also edited Warhol’s seminal mag Interview in the 70s. The fruit of the book is in the genius of its redesign. After 40 years out-of-print, the newly edited edition is “beautifully redesigned in a bright, Warholian palette” that surrounds a trail of Harry Shunk’s internationally Pop-art-informed camera as well as transcribed interviews with those closest to Warhol that ultimately make up an oral history of the artist’s Factory period. By looking at him through the scope of his peers, this book is the equivalent of Pittsburgh’s Warhol Museum in illuminating qualities of Warhol’s warped mirror on which our American culture was briefly reflected.

Said John Wilcock in explaining the book, “A lot of people really misunderstood him then and indeed still do, although there’s hardly a day when Andy’s name is not mentioned in the paper.” Especially interesting is the timing of Warhol’s booming popularity as it comes half a century after pop rushed the 60s, a period similar to our own with fluxes in economic, political, and civil rights climates.

(read more)

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Reader Comment from the recent New York Times Frugal Traveler post
RN—Sydney, Australia

Not only did John Wilcock shake up staid publishing in the USA, from the Village Voice to the East Village Other, his influence extended to several continents, including Australia & the UK, where - in his mild mannered way - he pushed the boundaries of image and speech. The counter culture was nothing but a dull puddle, until John kicked out the jams and ignited the Underground Press, which attracted absurd prosecutions, that of course boosted circulations. An unsung hero of the sixties,

indifferent to self promotion and the hoarding of gold, it is great to see John get a dash of recognition.

(read more)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Budget Travel Pioneer on a Time When $5 a Day Was Real (Frugal) Money Frugal Traveler

by Seth Kugel
John Wilcock at the New York Times

It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my Săo Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.

By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.

(read more)

available in print...

Manhattan MemoriesManhattan Memories
An Autobiography
by John Wilcock

"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."

-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner
order from
also available at (in paperback or for your Kindle)
and other online booksellers

The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol

The Autobiography and Sex Life of AndyWarhol
by John Wilcock
Edited by Christopher Trela
Photographs by Shunk-Kender

Village Voice and Interview cofounder John Wilcock was first drawn into the milieu of Andy Warhol through film-maker Jonas Mekas, assisting on some of Warhol’s early films, hanging out at his parties and quickly becoming a regular at the Factory. “About six months after I started hanging out at the old, silvery Factory onWest 47th Street,” he recalls, “[Gerard] Malanga came up to me and asked, ‘When are you going to write something about us?’” Already fascinated by Warhol’s persona, Wilcock went to work, interviewing the artist’s closest associates, supporters and superstars. Among these were Malanga, Naomi Levine, Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet, all of whom had been in the earliest films; scriptwriter Ronnie Tavel, and photographer Gretchen Berg; art dealers Sam Green, Ivan Karp, Eleanor Ward and Leo Castelli, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Henry Geldzahler; the poets Charles Henri Ford and Taylor Mead, and the artist Marisol; and the musicians Lou Reed and Nico. Paul Morrisey supplied the title: The Autobiography and Sex Life of AndyWarhol was the first oral biography of the artist. First published in 1971, and pitched against the colorful backdrop of the 1960s, it assembles a prismatic portrait of one of modern art’s least knowable artists during the early years of his fame. The Autobiography and Sex Life is likely the most revealing portrait of Warhol, being composite instead of singular; each of its interviewees offers a piece of the puzzle that was Andy Warhol. This new edition corrects the many errors of the first, and is beautifully designed in a bright, Warholian palette with numerous illustrations. The British-born writer John Wilcock co-founded The Village Voice in 1955, and went on to edit seminal publications such as The East Village Other, Los Angeles Free Press, Other Scenes and (in 1970) Interview, with Andy Warhol.