Tony Price
In Memorium

by Morty Breier

It 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 abroad.
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 the moment.
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 be.

April 17, 2000