Warhol Superstar Cherry Vanilla Talks her Past, her new Autobio Lick Me and her Reading Tonight at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle
Groupies come and go, but legends last forever, especially Cherry Vanilla, who transformed from savvy publicist to mistress of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most flamboyant icons. Author Cherry Vanilla finally reveals her scandalous sexcapades while taking over ‘70s downtown New York in her saucy memoir, Lick Me: How I Became Cherry Vanilla (by way of the Copacabana, Madison Avenue, The Fillmore East, Andy Warhol, David Bowie, and the Police). Not only does Vanilla give plenty of scoops about starring in the pop art prince’s controversial show, Pork, but she also exposes the many famous men that entered her life, as well as rocking out at the notorious Max’s Kansas City. Now, the former fiery-haired stage starlet resides in Hollywood and she’s set to shake the city up once again at her highly anticipated reading at Barnes and Noble in Manhattan. We chatted with Vanilla about writing Lick Me, who would play her in a film adaptation, and what it was really like sleeping with the Thin White Duke.
Why was it important for you to write and release Lick Me now more than ever?
Dare I say that the end of the world is near? But seriously, I am 67 and if not now, then when? No one in my family made it beyond age 72. Plus, I think that young women are in need of a very honest and strong female voice at this time. I wanted to give them the guts to follow their own paths, not be deterred by what anybody else may think. Sure, I took big chances and did some stupid things, but I survived and, thank God, I am fine. The guys also need to know how we girls think too.
When did the writing process begin?
Two to three years ago, Pamela Des Barres referred me to her agent because she thought it was time for me to tell my story. I went through the whole ‘How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal’ thing step by step for him. It taught me patience. I learned that if I could just put aside a little bit of time each day, I could get the proposal completed, even though it seemed like a mountain of work. I actually skipped a few of the steps and went right to writing the first three chapters of the book. I figured if they didn’t like my actual writing, then there’s no sense in doing all of the other steps involved. The first publisher offered a deal, so I went with them and got going on the rest of the chapters right away. It took about two full years to complete. If I didn’t have a full-time job, it might have taken a bit less, but putting a roof over my head comes first. Advances, unless you are Keith Richards or George Bush, are not huge these days.
What are some of the surprising things you discovered about the many stars of New York City?
Stars are the biggest star fuckers! Once they become stars, they want to hang with even bigger stars than they themselves are. Bowie and Sting are like that. After you help them go from almost obscurity to mega-stardom, they tend to want to move on and forget there was anybody ever involved in the process, except for their divine selves. Maybe they just want ‘yes’ people around them only and if you were there from the beginning, you tend to not be a total ‘yes’ person; you level with them. Maybe they just don’t want to hear that. After all, once they are stars, they figure they know best, so they tend to leave the brutally honest friends behind. Also, they feel their status demands they hang with stars at their level, not the worker-bees. There are exceptions, thank God, like Vangelis, Tim Burton, Rufus Wainwright, and Dito Montiel. They are loyal friends forever. And they treat me like I am a bigger star than they are.
I even read that Patti Smith wasn’t as nice to you as some may assume?
Don’t get me wrong, Patti was never nasty to me at all. It’s just that she was either very shy or felt more artistic and avant-garde than the rest of us who were in the Theater of the Ridiculous with her. I always had a great sense of humor about my own art. I never took myself too seriously. I am not putting her down for that in any way. No judgment here, just saying. Maybe if I had taken myself more seriously, I would be a bigger star myself, maybe not. But it’s just not in my nature, like it seems to be in hers. I actually think Patti is pretty cool. She just doesn’t seem to look at the world and art with the same sense of absurdity and humor that I do, that’s all. But she was always nice to me, never nasty.
I read that, despite being a sexually liberated groupie, you were actually hesitant in sleeping with David Bowie. Why?
That whole story is in the book and I don’t want to spoil the humor of it for anyone who might read it. But it had to do with the fact that I had a medical problem at the time and I thought it would take away from the beauty and perfection of the moment. My Venus is in Virgo. I tend to want everything to be perfect and pretty or I don’t want to do it. It all turned out OK, of course, and even made the whole encounter more sweet and endearing. But at the time, I was worried. I wanted the first time I slept with David to be perfect. In the end, I guess it was.
Who would you say was your greatest lover?
Vangelis for sure because it was way beyond sex. Vangelis has proven his love for me in so many ways for years. I now realize that’s the best kind of lover. But if you are talking sex, there was a surfer in Hawaii who was the best of all. He devoured me completely and at a time in my life when I wasn’t even interested in having sex. Maybe that’s why it was so good. I didn’t care about pleasing him. I just let him do whatever he wanted. But that’s for the next book.
As one of the first women to front a rock band, what are your thoughts on today’s female artists, such as Lady Gaga, who has been influenced by both David Bowie and Andy Warhol?
She’s OK. It all just seems a bit retro to me, though. The woman has talent, but I have not yet fallen in love with any of her songs. She’s a lot like Madonna to me. She’s pretty and I like looking at the visuals. Do they move me like the voices of Emmylou Harris or Beth Ditto? No. The human voice is such an individual, subjective thing. Some turn you on instantly and some don’t. I respect a lot about women, like Madonna and Lady Gaga, but their voices don’t really touch my heart. I am really all about that, despite the fact that I never really considered my voice to be great. Maybe I have just lived through too many generations to be shocked, entertained, or whatever by women, like Madge and Gaga. I can understand why younger people who haven’t experienced Bowie, Bolan, Warhol, and the whole glitter-glam movement might be into those artists. I myself am not.
What’s your relationship like now with the many rock stars from your past?
I really don’t have a relationship with any of them, except maybe for Ian Hunter from Mott the Hoople, Billy Idol, James Taylor, Leon Russell, Kris Kristofferson … and even those guys, I hardly ever see or have communication with. At least I know they are still my friends. And on the rare occasions when I do run into them, they are always friendly and sweet. My main relationships with musicians these days are with Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Dito Montiel, and a little bit maybe with Antony Hegarty, Alison Sudol, and the like.
What’s the wildest thing Cherry Vanilla has done?
Written a book in which I told my most intimate secrets, turned myself inside out for the truth, risked ridicule, criticism, poverty, and failure. But, thank God, Lick Me seems to be very well received and favorably reviewed. I know there are people out there who may think I am a tawdry tart, but nobody has thrown any rotten tomatoes at me yet. People at the readings and signings have all been so supportive. I’m very grateful for that.
Why did you choose to leave behind New York City for Hollywood?
I think when you’re young and in showbiz, New York City is the most fantastic and exciting place to be. When I was there I felt like it was the center of the universe. However, the energy of cities changes over time, as does one’s own energies. I had the New York experience in my youth and I loved it. Now, I want to be around a lot of flowers, trees, mountains, sunshine, and warmth all year round. You can’t beat southern California for that. Also, I feel one can have more privacy here, more alone time. I need a lot of that at this stage of my life, especially if I am going to continue being a writer. Maybe it sounds egotistical, but now that I live here, I feel that L.A. is actually the center of the universe. There’s more artistic experimentation here than in New York City now. That may be due to space and rent. There are garages to practice music in, lots of small theaters to learn the craft of acting, and clubs to play. Maybe I just want to have a Hollywood ending. Who knows?
How does it feel to return to New York City for your reading?
It always feels fabulous to return to New York. I don’t love the weather in November, but I love the energy of the city. I love my old friends and the fact that all of the media seems more important there. I also adore Essa-Bagels and Ray’s Pizza.
Now that Lick Me is out, what’s next for you?
I’m just trying to promote it as best as I can. I still have my job with Vangelis and I guess I will write about the second half of my life at some point. For the moment, it’s all about doing readings, interviews, selling foreign rights, and trying to option it for a movie. It would be nice to get some royalties from it someday. The music biz is so bad right now and one always has to think about paying the rent.
Any word on a possible film?
There’s been some talk, but nothing firm yet. That kind of thing takes years to complete. I’m at the very beginning of it right now. I hope the right screenwriter and director will want to do it.
Who would you want to play you?
I would like to see a complete unknown get the chance. I also think Lindsay Lohan would be amazing as Cherry Vanilla. I would love to see Lindsay show the world that she could be so naughty and not only survive, but triumph in a great role. Can’t you just see her with maraschino cherry red hair, wearing underpants, and a LICK ME t-shirt while rocking out to ‘Foxy Bitch’ and ‘Hard as a Rock?’ I want to see Lindsay get her career back on track and succeed. I love her.
What does it take to be a groupie?
Passion mostly. You have to love the music first, then the musician. You need to be ready to be so close to the source that you will risk making a fool of yourself by walking right up to a complete stranger, someone you are actually a bit in awe of, and tell them how much you love what they do. Being attractive is essential because you have to make an impression fast. You don’t necessarily have to be beautiful looking, but you have to have a beautiful spirit. You have to be pure of heart, or else they will be afraid of you and your intentions. You have to be clever and figure out how to get close to your idols. You have to have a brain and be able to engage them in conversation right off the bat. In the old days, it helped to have a dynamite joint to offer them. But these days, it’s best not to come on like a druggie. And, as always, it takes having some good friends who can make some connections for you. And hey, being a groupie doesn’t mean you have to go to bed with them, unless you want to. I can totally relate to that.
Which of today’s rock stars would you go after?
None of them, probably. At my age, I don’t go after anyone. But if I were young today, I would most likely be into techies than musicians. They are the rock stars of today. And man, could I use help with all of this computer stuff!
New York City during the ‘70s seemed like the best place to be for an artist. Do you think the city will ever return to its rock ‘n’ roll roots?
Everything is so fractured now. There is no movement in the arts…no pop art, glam, glitter, punk, new-wave, or new age phase. There’s something for everyone now. That’s a good thing for many, but it also means there will never be energy behind any movement at one time. No city, state, or country will ever return to the roots. If the world is ending in 2012, then maybe it will be the beginning of an even more fabulous and beautiful one to come. The most important thing, as always, is to just be here now. That’s all I’m trying to do…that and sell a few books.
Cherry Vanilla will be reading and signing Lick Me on Monday, November 22nd at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle (7:30PM).