Photo of Ed Paschke by John Reilly. Photo of Paul Carroll by Sheldon Goldstein.
"The Cavalcade of Hats"
Talking with Ed Paschke about Paul Carroll
By KC Clarke
I called Ed Paschke during the summer of 2001 to ask if he'd get together with me to share some of his memories about Paul Carroll: poet, publisher of Big Table magazine (the archive of which is at the University of Chicago Library), Big Table Books, founder of The Program for Writers at the University of Illinois Chicago, and The Poetry Center, Inc. at the Museum of Contemporary Art . Ed invited me to his Howard Street Studio, and for most of the time we talked, he worked on a painting.
KC CLARKE: I've been going around trying to get in touch with people who worked with Paul Carroll. He was friends with artists like Claus Oldenburg, Aaron Siskind, Andy Warhol, Leon Golub , Harry Callahan, you. So anyway, I've been trying to connect things from the past to honor Paul's work. From what I've heard, Paul died in the gutter of the arts.
I've heard a lot of things about Paul. The best story, one Paul Hoover told me, is that even though Paul was a tenured professor at UIC, where he founded their program for writers, he was also driving a cab. The story goes something like: he was driving these people around, and they didn't care about his subject, Pablo Neruda, so he stops the car and said, ”Get the fuck out.” That seemed to be the kind of guy he was.
ED PASCHKE: Oh yeah. He was in your face in every way. He had a way of standing a little too close to you when he talked to you. Everybody has a sense of personal space right? Like, this is okay right here, right? This is getting a little too close, right?
[Ed moves in]
And this is real close…
[Ed gets in my face]
He'd come in, right here into this zone, and your first feeling is like, you think there’s going to be some kind of confrontational thing, but that was just his way of connecting with you. He connected at close range. So do you want to just start free associating about him?
ED: I was certainly aware of Big Table and of Paul Carroll for a number of years before I actually met him, and so to me he was already a mythical figure, associated with some of the Beat writers.
KC: For the record, we are... Where are we?
ED: We are on Howard Street at Ed Paschke's studio.
KC: And you're Ed Paschke.
ED: I'm Ed Paschke. Okay, so I'm trying to remember clearly… I might have met him somewhere at an opening, but I really got to know him through the making of a film that many of us were involved in here in Chicago. The artist Red Grooms was here in the late 60s, and he was creating kind of a big labyrinth Chicago installation, for which he is known. He would also use these big environmental constructions simulating the city, and some of the landmarks of the city, the ‘L’ and so on and so forth. He would also use these things as props in the making of a film. So there was this film Red was making here and I got involved with it. Paul was involved in it.
KC: What was the name of it?
ED: It's called Tappy Toes, and in a sense, it was a take-off or parody of a lot of the Busby-Berkeley musicals, where you had high production numbers, a lot of people, synchronized movements, overhead shots and things moving in circular fashions. So there were specific roles created for this film—there was a plot and everything—it was a real cliché, where the understudy steps in and becomes the star of the show. In the movie, Paul was the supposed producer of this musical, and I was the stage-door johnny, with my spectator shoes, reading newspapers, chewing gum, and could care less about show business.
Anyway, in the script, on opening night, Paul, the producer, shows up drunk, and then the leading lady has the gout, so she can't dance, and everything’s in chaos. So they said, "What are we going to do?" And I was sitting there, reading the paper and tapping my toes and chewing gum, and they said, "The boy's got rhythm." They saw my toes tapping. So I became the understudy who went on stage and somebody else from the chorus line was put on stage to take the place of the lead female performer. So anyway, in the making of that, we all had a kind of hoot, and I got to know Paul better.
We would see each other at different openings, because he was always around at the fringes of the art world. The worlds of writing and art overlap frequently. He was married to Inara, who has a flower store on Wells Street called “Green, Inc.” She remains somewhat of a friend –I stop by there occasionally. And then they got divorced, and he married Maryrose.
Maryrose called me one day about a position opening at Northwestern University, where she was teaching part-time, and one thing led to another, and I've been there twenty-two years. It was due to Maryrose calling me on the phone, saying, "Hey, got this job opening," and it came along at a critical time for me in my life. It literally saved my life to get the security of that job. So through being on the same faculty with Maryrose, I would see Paul here and there.
It was somewhere in the late 70s… Interview magazine, Andy Warhol's brainchild, was going to do a piece on me and they wanted me to pick a writer that I knew here that I trusted and had confidence in to do the writing for the piece, so I picked Paul. So, he wrote the piece for Interview magazine and that kind of further cemented our relationship.
Paul was a guy who had a bit of a cantankerous edge to him. There were a few legendary encounters that he had with different people in different social settings, and some argument would erupt, and he would get even closer in his yelling. I was never witness to any of those, but there were times where I could see he was a little bit into his cups, and you'd want to try and stay clear of him at those times. Even though we had a very warm friendship, there is just something about when somebody's not quite themselves, you kind of cut him some slack and stay away. I'm trying to think of when they left the city. You probably know better than I.
KC: I think in 1993.
ED: 1993, right, so she left her position. As I said, it was a part-time position, kind of a year-to-year appointment, so it really didn't provide the kind of security that they needed.* Did he continue to teach at Circle Campus up ‘til that point?
KC: I think he was teaching undergrad.
ED: Okay. But throughout all of this, I had this sense—and this is just my own speculation, I had this sense throughout all the time I knew him— his stature and his importance as a contributor to the literary world was not being accorded the kind of respect...
KC: Why did you think that?
ED: He always seemed to be angry about... There are things here and there we would discuss where he would grouse about this person who didn't treat him right. It just seemed to be a kind of pattern there where he was always in a state of feeling like he wasn't being, I don't know, accorded the respect he should have received. A lot of the younger people that came along were then assuming the positions of running the department that he was a part of, and they were a little unsure of how to handle him because he had a reputation. And he was like, “Who are these young snot-nosed kids trying to tell him what to do?” So that's the overall impression I had of the last several years he was here.
KC: Well, you are not wrong. From what I can tell he felt that he he was betrayed or disposed of by many people to whom he provided opportunity, lent a hand, helped get a job, promoted, defended, etc.
ED: I guess this is after Paul died… I happened to be out in Lawrence, Kansas. My daughter was going to KU. I was making a print out there at a print shop, and William Burroughs’ name came up, and I was going to try to get him to collaborate on this print. He had a history of putting a few scribbles on a stone or something. A meeting was set up to go visit Burroughs, which was not easy to do, because there was a group of young writers and poets that kind of surrounded Burroughs. They would buy groceries for him, cook meals for him, and make sure everything was okay. They protected him. So I guess I was screened. My daughter and I went over there to meet Burroughs. I don't know if I brought it up or if he brought it up, but I think I said something about Big Table, and he said something about Paul Carroll right away. Burroughs, at that point, would kind of float in and out of being connected with what was being said. It was obvious that Paul Carroll was a very important person in Burroughs’ life. Big Table is the first place that published Naked Lunch **, and it happened at a time when it was critical for Burroughs to get this kind of validation. So the memory was etched in a very strong way in Burroughs’ mind about Paul Carroll.
KC: That's an amazing story. Is there anything else you'd like to say about Paul?
ED: One thing you always knew you were gonna get with Paul was a no-nonsense viewpoint of whatever it is that was being talked about, whether it was yourself or somebody else. He was not big on… well, he was capable of it… it's like he didn't have time for a lot of fancy diplomacy. There was kind of an urgency of words where he would kind of distill and zero in on issues in a way that maybe made some people uncomfortable. Oh, and I remembered another thing about Paul. I used to wear, well, I still do, I guess, hats all the time. I tend to be susceptible to cold drafts and things like that. So inevitably, whenever he would see me, I would have a different hat on. He'd come up to me real close like that and say, "The hats, the hats." He was intrigued with the cavalcade of hats on my head.
As I was leaving, Ed gave me a copy of an April 1980 issue of Andy Warhol's Interview magazine. Among the ads for Polaroid's SX-70 Sonar, "The world's finest instant camera," Leonard Cohen's 1979 album "Recent Songs." and a letter from Truman Capote, is Ed’s interview by Paul Carroll. Ed said that our conversation reminded him of that interview. A small portion of that interview is provided below. ***
Cover of April, 1980 issue of Interview. Paschke interview by Carroll on pg. 52 & 53.
"There's life and there's TV"
Interview with Ed Paschke By Paul Carroll
Published in the April 1980 issue of Interview magazine.
In Ed Paschke's new studio on Howard Street in Chicago, the walls look like a gallery of pin-ups. There's Teddy Kennedy with rosey cheeks. There are strippers and muscle men, advertisements for body building schools, and a great deal of display of lingerie - both from porn magazines and from advertisements. The pin-ups themselves look like a gallery that will be transformed and has been transformed into Ed Paschke's art.
PAUL CARROLL: What I'd be interested in hearing about the Paschke gallery is why there is a preoccupation with hermaphrodites, transvestites, hookers, tramps, fetishists, studs, pimps and dominant nurses - the whole underworld of sexual aversions.
ED PASCHKE: The interest in those things comes partially from the fact that I've always been attracted to urban situations, nocturnal situations, the things that happen in the streets. The subjects that you mentioned are part and parcel of the whole panorama that happens in that situation. Part of the process by which I work is intuitive, some of it is conscious. As far as making statements about what I paint, I leave that partially to the observer. It's lie collage where a juxtaposition of elements can be reacted to in a variety of ways, based on where the person is coming from. I always line the walls of the studio with lots of visuals, things that in some way or another interest me. The things that you mentioned are things that have found their way onto the walls of my studio. The way I work is by a process of addition. When I'm forced into a situation, when I'm looking for an answer, I frequently scan the walls and find something there that will fit a work in a particular situation.
PAUL: What do you think first attracted you to subject matter from the streets and from the nightlife of the city?
ED: Really, it goes back to an interest I had in the circus and the sense of theatrical exaggeration that occurs there, a kind of garishness, a kind of bizarreness.
PAUL: Did you have this interest as a kid?
ED: As a kid and just out of art school I felt a release. I knew that I could pursue exactly what I wanted rather than the academic thing that was forced on some students. It was okay to pursue things that you saw in everyday lilfe. I think Pop Art triggered a kind of green light in me. It opened up an acceptance of that kind of thing and gave me a psychological boost that made me tap my own personal resources. Things that were charged with a confrontational attitude always excited me.
PAUL: A lot of the early critics praised the contrast between the garish and the bizarre subject and the painting quality itself. Yet, the attention paid to the art is largely due to the subject matter.
ED: It has bothered me that critics or those who react to the work in some way never seem to get past the superficial aspect that drew their attention to it.
PAUL: Often, in your earlier work especially, critics said that you were creating satire or mocking American ways. I was thinking particularly about your series of shoes where the shoes have hair. In terms of what you've just mentioned about the basic incongruity, I wonder if you felt affinity for someone like Magritte who would paint a pair of shoes with actual toes on the shoes.
ED: I think it's basically the thought process of juxtaposition and ironic combination. I think that growing up in a place like Chicago where surrealism was always endorsed on the part of the collectors probably played a part. I'm always interested in how the mind works and how, during the creative process, this kind of thing takes place. A lot of it has to do with avoiding the predictable, avoiding what one might expect in a given situation. In the case of early paintings the subject matter had a lot to do with it. But in my subsequent work and in what I'm doing now the subject matter has grown more oblique.
PAUL: Has your enthusiasm for the incongruous always been with you?
ED: I've always felt like an outsider. I'm sure most people in the arts have felt that way. You grow up and realize that it's okay and perhaps even better because you avoid the mainstream. I think innovation is a big part of what we're talking about. When you're dealing with predictable thought processes, it's probably not very innovative. The idea of a controlled accident, of embracing the random occurrence is very important. Accidents frequently occur when I'm working. I love it when that happens. I really don't believe in mistakes. I think that when a mistake happens you go with it and the thing begins to tell you what it wants to do. If a brush falls out of my hand and hits the painting on the way down, I try to work with that mark rather than remove it.
PAUL: I am fascinated that you say that the painting often reveals itself to you as your doing it. It recalls Michelangelo's statement that there was a figure hidden in the stone that he released by creating.
ED: I never make sketches before I paint. I like to take risks on the canvas. At any given time, of course, an artist works with a fixed visual vocabulary, the things that interest them at the particular time. But aside from that I really don't know where it's going to go. It's like DR. Frankenstein. I try to start with as few starting points as possible so that my field is as wide open as possible. As you progress through the painting, your options are limited.
PAUL: What do you think you'd be doing if you weren't painting?
ED: I don't know, I'd probably be out in the street, in a gutter somewhere.
EXERPT COPYRIGHT 1980 BY INTERVIEW ENTERPRISES, INC.
* A note from Maryrose Carroll: “Ed got it mostly right... Teaching one class, 6 hours a week suited me fine! It left time for the public art I was doing. Then a nerd took over the Chairmanship at Northwestern. He started to clean house. The first to go was our friend, great friend of Chicago artists, Dennis Adrian. As Emily Dickenson once said of another, Dennis was a bomb inside a large bun. It was a MESS. Then all of us with 15 years service were on the chopping block. The secretary, the photographer and I were given a year's notice.”
**To this day, Big Table, Paul Carroll and co-editor Irving Rosenthal are still not widely credited for publishing the first chapters of Naked Lunch, nor is Carroll’s 1959 First Amendment fight acknowledged as one of three pivotal court battles that provided the Beat Movement its foundation, the first being Ferlinghetti’s fight over Howl, and the Naked Lunch Massachusetts court battle which followed Big Table's in the early 60’s.
*** Interview magazine declined SHARKFORUM’s request to reproduce the complete 1980 Paul Carroll interview of Ed Paschke.