NYU may be gobbling up the entire Village, but at least they’re paying respect to a late video artist to make up for it.
Last night, I was a speaker at a Fales Library tribute to Nelson Sullivan, who documented ’80s bohemia with his penetrating lens, captivated by anyone with a ratty wig and a dream.
Before cell phones, social networking, and the mainstreaming of the underground, Nelson was there to train his lens on the wonderful weirdos of the night, creating cinema verite art out of their mayhem and minutiae.
Speakers last night included Lady Miss Kier, Flloyd, Joe E. Jeffreys, and curator Robert Coddington, all knowledgeable and articulate about Nelson’s obsessions and talents.
I talked about having spent the entire ’80s with Nelson’s camera in my face, and coming to feel it was actually an extension of my soul. I related how we’d carry on for Nelson, knowing no one would ever see these videos, since he’d hand us a tape afterwards and it was basically just for we few to view. But jump ahead a bunch of years and something called YouTube came along, enabling millions of people around the world to gape at our shadowy antics. Whoopsie! Except that people correctly took them to be genius documents of a lost, magical era and as a result they approach these clips with utter reverence. Sharon Needles recently said to me, “You made me! You created me! You were in all those Nelson Sullivan videos in the clubs!” And she’s not the only drag star to have said that.
Perhaps tackily, I ended my speech by asking about the rumor that Nelson had died while getting it from a guy with coke on his privates. I was informed that drugs may have been a factor (Nelson had wondered if other people who’d smoked the same batch of pot he’d toked from were feeling weird like he was), but basically he died while playing with himself in front of a very hot guy.