Part one: The interviews - with Walter Medeiros, David Singer and Mark Twain Beherens
Part one: Notes from The interviews
When you want to know about someone's life you either ask the person yourself or you ask friends ...
Note: All interviews are from 1991 after Satty's death by Claudio Moure and are based on his notes
On September 18th. I spent my last dollar crossing the bay bridge getting to Berkeley where I was greeted by Walter. hewas watering the garden in front of his residence. My eyes were starving for pictures of Satty, but to my surprise only one small poster was behind the front door. I have to mention that I saw some other interesting posters from other artists hanging from Walter's walls. But anyway as usual I explained to him, how I've got to know about Satty and his work.
I didn't go through the regular questionnaire because I was getting bored with asking the same thing over and over again, but I've learned some new things about Satty, such as: The most money He ever got was $25.000 for the printing of the "Illustrated Edgar Allan Poe". Satty went to the bathroom and then when he was climbing the stairs back to his attic he leaned back and felt backwards having a concussion resulting in his physical death.
He was extremely paranoid of a bunch of different things at the time of his walk "into the other side". Walter was showing me the originals from a work that Satty was compiling for years, It was about the Gold Rush time in San Francisco, and one of his last requests to Walter was to get that book published; unfortunately for different reasons ranging from funding to lack of general interest from the publishers side the book never saw the light.
I rely felt in front of Walter that 50 percent of me was alone, that 50 percent that believes in the magic of Satty, was kindly destroyed by the reality that Walter was putting in front of me.
Finally the 50 percent that agrees with his reality told him: "But in fact Satty's death is a tragic event".
When I fist met Satty he has already being living for about six months in the house of 2141 Powell St. I went to his studio that was located on the street level on the left side of the building when facing the front. On the right side of the building was a garage that was used as a motorcyclist club. The rest of the building was occupied by students from the San Francisco Art Institute, the building therefore was a total chaos.
The year was 1970 and everyone was in some kind of "high" . I started talking to him, and after 15 or 20 minutes water started falling from the ceiling, so Satty all of the sudden got frantic, went outside next door, went upstairs and into the apartment were the water was coming from, and what happen is that a junkie that used to lived there, left the water running in the bathtub , he was so high that he just forgot about it, and flooded the whole house. So Satty started running up and down , screaming and struggling with this guy in an attempt for him to clean up the mess. That was the first time I met Satty physically , but in a way we already knew one each other through our own artwork that we have been seeing around town.
Also at that time in the same building, on the back apartment behind Satty's studio, there lived a German camera repair man, who would fix any kind of professional photo cameras. Stores around town will send him any impossible repair, that he, of course would fix up. His name was Willie.
Short time after I moved in, Satty went to talk to the owner of the building a woman named Ellen Buchannan , she could not care less for the structure, she wanted to get the rent and enough money to cover the taxes, so the house was just an investment for her.
Satty proposed her to kick out all the unwanted tenants, but in exchange he would be the manager of the building. The lady agreed, so, the motorcycle club and the junkie and everybody else that can not be trusted or didn't pay the rent went out the door in a one way trip.
Collage and Illustrator and ... Satty style.
To Satty the style was the collage and he made a collage with the people that surrounded him. Life is an entire collage, he illustrated a lot and you can see that in his two published books "the Cosmic bicycle" and "Time Zone", He would have this kind of satiric humor on his illustrations.
Satty had a sense of humor for everybody and he would laugh of situations and people, but he would not laugh and criticized himself, and that was a problem in his personality, he used to make this sarcastic illustrations like the one about myself "Returning to quakertown from Haight street" . The image was this guy laying naked on the floor with a bunch of Quakers sitting and looking at this guy in a judgment attitude, Satty, then will point at the guy, and in a kind of circumspect-secret tune will whisper to you: See . . . this guy here . . . is David Singer . And he will trip people's mind in this way with different stories and tales like that.
Yes, he was a person that liked to meet hundred, thousands of people, he used to fabricate parties with any excuse, if someone was living back to Europe or anywhere, he would create a party in celebration of the departure of such or such person, so he was always surrounded for people, he was a showman, he needed the people.
Back in 1970 Satty met a man called Doctor Caligary, he was an antique collector , he and his wife used to be involved in esoteric worship, ranging from the way he used to dress to Satanism. It was obviously a sign of the times they were living , well Satty started getting involved and after Caligary's death in 1972, (he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge), Satty kept evolving this part of his personality, I have to admit that much of this was part of a show that they mounted with Caligary, for instance, Caligary would know that two reporters from New York will come to the city in the next week and he will run up to Satty and they both will prepare a misce-in-scene to show and give this people what they were looking for, because they figure out, that if they become famous, and be in all magazines nationwide, then they will do wherever wanted to do.
So this people would visit Caligary at his antique shop and he would lure the reporters telling them that he will take them to an unbelievable place, that they must see. . . That place was Satty's basement, loaded with wherever they expected to see, from skulls to alchemy books, from candlelight's to psychedelic lights.
Satty was born in 1939 and when he was about five years old witnessed the total destruction of his native city, Bremen , he would run with his mother and brother into the mountains and waited there for the bombs to stop. He grew up inside ruins, and He was his family, I have never met his brother, but I knew that his mother was living in Germany and that his father died during the second war.
Satty did not have an specific "best friend", he used to hang around with different people through different times, Caligary's friendship is one sample of that.
He had different faces towards different people ,for instance, he would be very close to Caligary, getting crazy and having as much sex with many girls in town, or having weird stories in between them. But also he was a very good friend of mine, and I will not attempt to push or get in between of what was going on in between them, so, we used to respect each other's limit ... sometimes. Satty was the kind of person that will wake you up at am and just tell you "here, swallow this", and give a hit of acid and take you along with him in a two day trip, without asking you if you had any plans at all, just "kidnapping" you into his world.
Sometimes he will wake you up telling that he "just came from the moon", and he would give me a shoe box telling me that a piece of lunar soil was in the box and just close the door and live , I , then would open the package to find dirt from the same backyard, mixed with pieces of broken soda bottles and debris, I would even see the hole he digged himself, that was Satty, a never ending surprise box.
If he hallucinated??? are you kidding me?, he was high all the time, with uppers and downers, he had a huge pharmacy in the basement and due that many doctors that he used to know owed him many favors, like lending a room to spare sometime with the secretary, he therefore had anything he wanted...
The rest of the evening David Singer showed me his art work. David is a single man, very polite and he enjoys conversation a lot. He still does the poster design art work as a way of living.
I got to the Vesubio Cafe right across the "City Lights" bookstore, in the boundaries of what it used to be the extensive Italian neighborhood, now shrinking every day.
Mark was right on time, we went upstairs and immediately he told me that he have chosen this place because Satty use to frequent the place back in the early 70's . It was a picture in the wall with about 100 local artist from 1971, in which you could see Satty among many others.
I rely feel comfortable having this conversation with Mark, every minute that I get deeper into Satty's world I'm founding him and his universe more and more familiar to me .
His personal obsessions, the way he started changing in the mid-70's, his fears and his necessity of communication it reminds me a little about myself, but I do not want to mistake identities.
Mark added more information to the previous map of the house started by David Singer. The house or "The north beach U-boat" as it was called by singer, was in fact a collage of Satty's family that he never had or left back in Germany in the remains of a post war Germany and the "new one".
Mark was the younger one, like the younger brother, David Singer was like the "middle" brother , and Hubert Von Friesen (an old extravagant aristocratic man that lost everything in the second war, and by that time he was waiting tables at the St.Francis hotel) like his grandfather or perhaps father, among other people that Satty brought to the house, was in way his family collage.
But he was self-centered, he was the captain of the ship. A ship that used to welcome aboard all kind of people , from ambassadors to street people. He had managed himself to interconnect the house through a series of tunnels or passages that allowed him to move around the house without having to walk in between the people.
Satty alienated a lot of people he was very obsessive All of us living in the house would have a different reaction towards his attitudes, for example David Singer was very passive, John Goodman, the Englishman, would laugh at his face, and myself, used to stop him all the time, leading this to different confrontations with him. I was the first person in realizing back on 1975, that something was starting to be wrong with Satty's attitude. He started to become paranoid, maybe because of his continuos high, he would start talking that it was plot against him, or just doing or saying nonsense things. "As above so below" , he used to say, giving the meaning of our location in the universe. But he got caught in his own net in between "real drug" and the "real real", without being able to tell the difference. The last time I saw Satty, I was sitting at Enrico's cafe , back then an amazing place that will gather people from all kind of social levels. He was behind the wheel of his Volkswagen van, this was two weeks before he died, then being at the same bar two weeks later I came to know that he was dead. Lourdes Livingston told me the bad news, and in spite that somehow I was already expecting an end like this, It rely schocked me. I excused myself from the table and I went to the phone to call David Singer, he was with Walter Madeiros, that he just have arrived to his house to tell him about the Satty's death, so I told him, and he just said "I'm with somebody and I have to hang up, then he told Walter "Satty's dead", and Walter answered "that's the reason why I'm here today", to tell you that.
His anxiety to have everything under his control did not extended to control his life. Mark showed me pictures of some people at the basement on Satty's place, people like Antoine Levey, Michael Douglass, a picture of him cooking in a little home made stove. Mark also mentioned that Martha, Satty's wife, was very faithful to him, but that at one point, the same way that happened with Mark and David, happened with her. She was slowly being drag into this whirlpool that Satty got trapped in the last two years of his life , were he used to drink like sponge.
Sometimes I wonder how many more people should I interview, and why, what kind of answer I'm looking for , when I don't even have the question. Satty was a positive energy, he loved people, as much as love could be for the country and people that bombarded and flattened his hometown back in 1945, when he was six years old. When I asked Mark about Satty's brother, he mentioned that he met him at the funeral.
He is the opposite that Satty was . Back in 1982 his brother used to work for Lufthansa and be the typical German-office uptight kind of person, in few words was the kind of people that if you never meet them in your life, you are not missing anything. That was the first and last time that I saw him. But I remember his mother, a very old sweet lady. When I asked him about Walter Madeiros he told me that he was trying to publish a book that Satty was working on for years about the pre-1906 earthquake, in San Francisco.
That Walter felt like a necessity to publish this book, like that was his last wish. And perhaps because Satty did this, also felt that he could be the person to take care of his belongings after he was gone, so all his will was written in a single sheet of paper, living Walter Madeiros as his only inheritor.
So, after drinking a couple of glasses of wine we finished the interview, more than an interview it was like seeing someone you use to get aquatinted with, we left the place at almost 2am, in a cold summer night of San Francisco.
We stopped a couple of minutes in our way back in front of the 2141 Powell St. building, and nobody was around in the already desert streets, just me and Mark, like in a way, walking alone through the past stories of an amazing past Labyrinth.