was 1963. I was 29 and living in the East Village, on probation
from a bust crossing the border in MacAllen Texas two years before.
My probation officer, a City College boy like myself, said there
would be no problem with me leaving the States for an extended period
I flew to Europe with a few books in my suitcase and a dream of
finding adventure, finding myself, finding God. I took Icelandic
Air. You remember the cheapest flight to Europe in the sixties,
a prop Constellation when every one else was flying jets. I landed
in Paris. I knew a girl there. I slept over. She gave me a joint
for the road. I hitchhiked to Barcelona reading Modern Man in Search
of His Soul under street lights in the French night. I kept a journal
in which I wrote poetry.
Alone in Barcelona, I checked into a cheap pensione. Days I took
my book, now Civilization and Its Discontents, to the Ramblas and
rented a chair in the sun from a disabled vet. The ominous Guardia
Civil in their black patent leather hats and dark glasses passed
in pairs. But Barcelona was beautiful and very European. I kept
my eyes open for someone I could connect with. The second day a
group of hippies passed. Tony Price (who I didn't know at the time)
was one of them. I folded my book, got up from my chair and followed
them. I had connected.
We were going to the Plaza where it was happening... I forget the
name now. My real adventures started then.
Wow... Tony, what a trip. He was passing through... making a movie...
some rich chick. Top of his form. Angular hipster in a leather jacket.
Musician extra-ordinaire. Guitar slung over his shoulder. Goateed
and long haired. Out-hipped the world. Talking story to charmed
listeners. Hand rock steady on the Rapidograph pen. Everyone he
met wanted to take him in. We didn't get to spend much time in Barcelona
together... he was heading for Paris, I was heading somewhere else,
to Ibiza, I was to find out.
About two months later I arrived in Rome driving an old Citroen
limo, you know, the gangster looking car, and sleeping in it nights.
I had it parked in the Piazza de Popolo, not far from the Spanish
Steps where I would sun and read, now Lao-Tsu's Tao. I ran into
Tony again. He was living in a pensione on the Via Margutta, the
bohemian quarter below the Spanish Steps. He was with Jeri, a beautiful
LA chick, artist and musician in her own right. His movie had fallen
through. He was in another life, a different movie. I entered that
new movie and have never really left.
I spent a month with Tony then, took showers in his and Jeri's pensione
while we were in Rome. Met Steve Sanfield who had originally come
with Jeri to Europe from California. Went to Naples with Tony after
Jeri left, him sleeping in my car while I slept in a Hostel. Later
I crossed the Atlantic in a Yugoslavian freighter with Jeri and
a few years later still, married her in the small town of San Miguel
in Mexico, but that is a story for a different time.
Tony was a picaresque saint. I remember reading an essay about the
heroes of the new fiction writers, an irreverence combined with
heroic virtues. The dictionary defines picaresque as "pertaining
to rogues; describing the fortunes of adventurers". And there
is no doubting Tony's saint-hood, at least as far as we hippies,
ageing or otherwise, are concerned. We met again in New York and
spent time together. We went to Nieland's Gurgieff lectures together.
He stayed a few nights at my East Village pad. Then he took off
for Santa Fe. After that I wandered a bit more ending up in Connecticut.
I visited him on several occasions in New Mexico. Saw his work out
in the field. I went to his show by Rose' at the Liquid Wedge Gallery
in New York. I appeared in the Atomic Artist documentary. I spent
time up at his trailer in Pecos. He visited with me in Hawaii. I
saw his work at Bio-Sphere 2. I helped financially when he needed
help. I can honestly say he was my guru, teacher, friend and hero,
the most unusual, creative and impressive human being I have ever
met. Those first encounters in Rome still loom large in my life.
He taught me the meaning of letting go, the true meaning of the
Tao. He was unconcerned for himself, never anxious in what I would
have taken as the most desperate circumstance: no money, no home,
no tickets, in a foreign place, nothing to back him up, no safety
net, out there. I had never seen anyone who was so willing to let
go and let God. Of course he would not call it letting God. He was
too hip for such a reference, but taking care of the day and letting
the morrow take care of itself was definitely his modus operandi.
And it all came together. Spectacularly. With great humor. He was
with the best looking chick. He was being cared for. Waiters at
Italian restaurants cut up his food for him. He always had a stash.
The quintessential hipster, he let every scene play out with charm
and grace. He was out there. Much as I've tried since, I could never
do it like Tony. I never found anyone who could.
He taught me to draw. I had drawn when I was a teenager, mostly
pornographic drawings that I would get off on. But he showed me
the meditation of laying down a fine black line on a white field.
It was definitely Zen. If you weren't mind-less, if a thought grabbed
your attention, your hand would wander. It was real-time feedback
of the most essential kind. And he did it perfectly. For hours on
end. In every circumstance of public and private surround. Fully
focused. Sinuously curved figures, archetypal rounds, flame tips
licking, organic forms structuring space. Magister Ludi's precious
conceptual beads strung on strands of cosmic connections. That fine
tipped Rapidograph pen moving along that white linen card-stock,
the fine black line trailing, one line after another, hairlines
apart, undulating along the clean surface. Tony living on that stainless
steel hypodermic tip. Just to watch was enlightening.
His music was another wonder. He was draped over his guitar, legs
crossed, looking downward. He tuned it so an open strum would produce
a chord. He would strum that open tuned guitar for hours and buried
symphonies would emerge in echoing impressions that were never quite
heard. Sometimes he would fret the top strings. Again, his concentration
was awesome, pulling me into modes that I never thought myself capable
of: intensely listening to a repeatedly strummed chord from which
I gleaned a cosmos of sound variations. Beyond how. Beyond why.
Beyond the familiar. Beyond the recognizable. Beyond words. Beyond
meaning. Just sound. Glorious, celestial sound. Strumming life into
Even his body spoke volumes in body syntax. Angular, movements slightly
jerky, a cigarette always lit, long graceful fingers, the bone at
the base of his strong thumbs jutting, shrugged boney shoulders
under a loose fitting blowsy shirt, boots at the end of crossed
legs. He once told me "I carry this body of mine along the
surface of this spinning sphere". And he did. He carried his
body along. Like a puppet and a puppet master. You learned what
that meant when you were with Tony. You started carrying your own
body around on the surface of this sphere, an affectionate witness
to its own actions and the scene it was in.
And his explanation of things or retelling of events always surprised
me. I had to stretch to glom them. Often the stretch was too much.
But I never was sure whether he was too far out there or if I was
too much in here to follow him. He had seen things. He had been
places real and trans-real. The Marine artist doing the colonels.
The Mexican room with a chair trip. Brazilian nights on the road.
Busted in Tangier. Strange voices in the night. Pyramids and dodecahedrons
trapping interplanetary energy streams. The inside seem runs out.
Caution was not a Tony quality. Believe, not believe, it was all
the same. Fascinating, mind blowing, hipness personified.
I had read about higher states of consciousness. I heard the word
Satori. Familiar with the concept of enlightenment. Well read in
Zen. Had taken most psycho-active drugs. Certainly had experienced
altered states. But I never lost the Bronx boy having a fling. Tony
was the first one I had ever met who awed me. He was past his past.
Not yet his unpredictable future. Pure present. Awesome concentration.
Unshakable sureness. Fully here and now. A living example. I fell
in love with him completely. He was the gold standard for hip, its
essential form, body and soul.
Everyone who knew you, Tony, knew they knew a prince among men.
You were what you said you were and you were as far out as your
stories. You left a body of work, beyond prettiness, beyond trend
and fashion, beyond commercial value, engaged in the most fundamental
struggle between good and evil. You were a modern day alchemist,
using all your considerable powers to transform the lead of atomic
weapons experimentation into the gold of unifying and celebrating
created form. You threw your power, your vitality, your strength
into your transfomative visions. It killed you in the end.
Goodbye, oh great warrior, friend, hipster, artist, story-teller,
musician, sculptor, saint and sinner. Goodbye Tony. See you on the
other side which I know you'll be more at home in than I'll ever
April 17, 2000