“I never say anything I don’t mean.”
– Nick Zedd
In November 2021, my friend Brent Bechtel recommended I add the American filmmaker, Cinema of Transgression founder, painter, writer, and eternal rebel Nick Zedd on Instagram, knowing that I was a fan of his. Nick instantly messaged me asking me if I was interested in buying some art. We struck up a conversation, and a lovely friendship began.
Though I only knew him briefly, we built confidence instantly. We talked every day for months.
He showed himself to be a true freethinker, a loving family man, and many more things – Most importantly, he was a great friend, a fabulous conversationalist who was never indifferent, was always there to listen, and had an answer for everything.
But the paramount reason he was so great to collaborate with was that he would defy you, as rebellion was his nature. This is a very rare trait, which, in its purest manifestation, is more often seen in confirmed criminals than artists. Nick had a reputation for being a hardass – While he always showed himself firm and very set in his ways, I never saw that side of him.
Born James Franklin Harding on January 25th 1956, Nick built a complex reputation in the art world for the colossal nature of his oeuvre, both as actor and director – Making films, killing himself on film, dying of hepatitis C in real life, being an actress as well as actor, beating women up, sucking dick, fucking his own dead body, featuring “classically beautiful” people along with “classically ugly” people in his films throughout his career, coining the term death rock, being held hostage by Carlos Slim, denying COVID-19, and generally breaking every barrier he could find throughout his life.
Nick rebelled against the avant garde from within the avant garde – He was sick of the hold Structuralism and French New Wave worship had on the underground; founding the Cinema of Transgression with Richard Kern to push back and start something new.
Nick was already in poor health by the time we met, but I never imagined he would pass on February 27th, 2022; leaving us just like Bruce Willis unfortunately predicted in Pulp Fiction, with many questions left unanswered.
He told me he knew he probably wouldn’t live to see this interview published, and we agreed on the urgency of doing it – But many things got in the way of wrapping it up during the remainder of his life.
I’ll never know if he got all he wanted off his chest, but here’s an edited account of what I could get out of him this year, from January to his death in February, when we chatted over email and messenger – A candid and ruthless confession drifting seamlessly from art to family to politics to everything else.
Read Nick Zedd’s final interview, below…
Salvattore Beteta: Hi Nick.
How are you doing right now, how’s Mexico treating you?
Nick Zedd: Mexico is treating me better than NYC would, now that Manhattan and the entire state of New York has been turned into a fascist nightmare by authoritarian scum in government, imposing unscientific mandates while presiding over the controlled demolition of the economy, in order to make unprecedented profits for unelected pharmaceutical giants with bad track records, marketing untested lethal fake vaccines designed to kill as many humans as possible.
In Mexico there is too much conformity and mindless compliance to absurd rules, but the people are more laid back, and the government, while doing nothing to help, minds its own business more than U.S fake liberal politicians on a power trip.
The pointless lockdowns in Mexico have ended artistic collaborations and community cultural activities, but it’s better than living in a wasteland. And more stores and supermarkets are giving up on the mask-Nazi harassment and ignoring me when I enter without a mask on since they want my money.
SB: What are your current projects?
NZ: I don’t do “projects.”
My current project is finding a way to stay alive with Hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver.
SB: I see your films as clearly having revolutionary goals.
Do you feel they have been successful? Are you happy with them?
NZ: Yes! They’re also evolutionary goals. And unstated motivations that shall remain secret.
Making people and myself laugh is an important component of my edutainment treasures.
SB: Unstated motivations – that’s a very good way to put it.
Would you say you make art more for yourself, to fulfill your need for expression, or does the audience factor in at all?
I always assumed your films were originally intended to be seen mostly by people you knew personally. They are extremely intimate.
NZ: Assumption is the root of all ignorance. My movies are intended to be seen by everyone. They always have been.
I don’t believe in “target audiences.” I never would pander to a peer group. The whole world is my intended audience.
SB: Do you re-watch your movies often?
NZ: Yes, I re-watch my movies often. I am forced to, in order to maintain quality control, when customers buy DVDs from me directly through mail order. Fortunately, I love my movies so it’s not much torture, just wasted time that could be spent making new art.
SB: I showed my mother your films. She loves your stuff, especially War Is Menstrual Envy (from 1992). She pointed out to me that the repeated statement at the end of The Bogus Man (from 1980) was a good summary of your whole oeuvre:
“When I first saw this footage, all I could say to myself was, ‘why did my eyes have to see this?'”
It makes you one with the subject of the film; you chose to watch this “disturbing” or “subversive” film, to put yourself through it: Why?
It emphasizes that the interpretation of art is ultimately all up to the viewer. It makes you self-reflect.
I can finally ask you, why did my eyes have to see this?
NZ: “Why” is the only question insoluble to man or machine.
SB: Why do you consider The Death Of Muffinhead (from 2017) to be your best film?
NZ: I had the biggest budget to realize my vision without having to compromise. And the best producers and crew to work with. Plus, I was collaborating with one of the best artists in the world, Muffinhead.
But if anyone prefers a different movie as my “best”, they are right too. It’s all a matter of opinion.
SB: That brings me to a related question.
Muffinhead stated he was baffled by you saying he was your favorite artist in the world. As someone who hasn’t experienced his work, what about it made you feel that way?
NZ: I’ve seen Muffinhead’s costumes in public. There’s a video of him on a NYC subway train wearing an outrageous ensemble so colorful and flamboyant, the entire car full of passengers must have been shocked. He just sits there, minding his own business. That’s truly transgressive.
I’ve seen Muffinhead’s studio in person and how he comes up with his original designs. The uniqueness and originality of Muffinhead inspires me. He respects me as well.
SB: You told me you’d found some of the best and most talented actors you hired in NY in the open mic scene, one that’s not talked about often.
Can you tell me more about the open mic scene?
NZ: The open mic scene for me in NYC was from 2000 to 2008, where Faceboy and Saint Rev Jen and Robert Prichard hosted three weekly showcases for amateur comedians, poets, performance artists, weirdos or anyone desiring a live communications forum to an audience for 4 or 5 minutes.
Rev Jen was the Patron Saint of the Uncool. She had elf ears and wore colorful outfits. Her audience were “losers” and outsiders. I saw the best live talent in NYC each week and sometimes went onstage myself in a counter culture theatrical forum.
What the open mic events represented to me, though, was something more significant.
They became open auditions that I used to cast the movies and TV series that I produced and directed. It was a fun and sometimes dangerous experiment which the three “authority figures” hosting could barely control – A perfect spawning ground for innovation.
Rev Jen was mentally unstable but a talented writer, actress and star with a devoted cult following of social rejects, many of who deserved to be famous but were totally ignored by NYC’s reactionary media.
Under the radar, like all things great in the history of insurrectionary culture, rejecting the dominant narrative used to control us into becoming docile sheep and uncreative automatons.
SB: With the non-profit organization Collective: Unconscious, right?
NZ: Yes. That is where we did the open mic shows on Ludlow Street until the landlord demolished the building. It’s been a giant hole between two buildings ever since. Collective: Unconscious no longer exists.
As soon as people start doing real art and counterculture in NYC their days are numbered. Buildings are arsoned, landlords throw out everyone and prefer empty shells to anything they perceive as subversive. They don’t care about drug dealers selling heroin on the same street. It’s the underground artists that make them afraid.
Community boards full of fascist busybodies make it their mission to get rid of people like me, Rev Jen, and all the art stars who comprised the most vibrant scene in the LES in the late 90’s/early 2000’s.
SB: How did you meet Harry Vox?
NZ: One night Harry Vox showed up at one of Rev Jen’s Open Mics in 2001 and was blown away that I was there. He announced onstage that I was a national treasure. After that he helped me edit some special effects shots in Electra Elf episodes.
When people would overhear him talking they would get angry and yell at him. Everyone seemed to hate him. Why? I don’t know. I guess they were jealous that he looked better than them, had a car and lived in a house and was smarter than anyone.
He commissioned me to do two paintings for him in 2008. That started me doing lots of paintings.
He’s a true friend. They are very rare.
SB: In the “No Plague Like Home” episode of Electra Elf (which ran from 2005 to 2010), in which Vox predicts the modern pandemic, among other things, back in 2007, why did you characterize Vox that way? What even was that?
The closest thing I can think to compare it to is an Ewok or a mutant teddy bear.
NZ: “No Plague Like Home” is one of the best things I ever did.
I have no idea what you are trying to say. You mean the flying creature in the episode?
SB: Yeah, that.
NZ: That was a character I came up with after Rev Jen took a trip back to Maryland and went to a discount store and saw the toy creature. She loved it so I bought it for her. I stuck a flying saucer under him and used him in a couple episodes to deliver speeches that were anti-government or anti-fascist…
He’s also asking questions of Christopher X. Brodeur when he ran for mayor and gave a speech to ten people announcing his candidacy in front of City Hall. That was in an episode called “Triumph of the Ill”. No candidate would debate him including Bloomberg who cursed NYC with his horrible reign of error for three terms. They all knew Brodeur would probably win just on humor and facts alone. He hounded Giuliani for years at press conferences and on his radio show. He was always being arrested and spent months in Rikers Island prison for exercising his free speech rights. He sued the City for violating his rights and won a big judgment of money. He was smart like Vox. The two of them would get into arguments that were hilarious.
Brodeur ended up homeless sleeping in the subway.
He alienated everybody.
Rev Jen and I grew up in the same region in Maryland but never knew each other until I discovered her in NYC.
SB: By the way, I’ve never read Tolkien and I noticed you reference him a lot – Most obviously in Elf Panties (from 2001) and Lord of The Cockrings (from 2002).
Do you like his work or is it more parodical?
NZ: Rev Jen was the one into him. He was popular enough for those movies.
I think he’s a bad writer. His shit is unreadable and juvenile. The 60’s counterculture revered him. I always hated that shit.
Rev Jen was obsessed with Tolkien to the point of wearing pointed elf ears all the time. I went along with it. We did Lord of the Cockrings, which actually came out before the first Peter Jackson adaptation. It was a parody. She wrote it.
Right before the first scenes were shot on sets that Rev Jen and I painted, a French ex-girlfriend, who was my roommate at the time, broke my ribs with a baseball bat. The next day we shot some scenes, then I had to leave to go to an emergency room. She was sorry and took me there. Somebody else directed the Big Baby scenes with that annoying asshole in the diapers who was Rev Jen’s best friend.
Then I made it back and directed the rest of the movie.
SB: How do you feel about your status of fame?
You were in Joe’s Apartment (from 1996), which was relatively a hit in Latin America, but a flop in the United States – Katsaridaphobia (fear of cockroaches) can go a much longer way than I imagined.
Were you ever in it for fame at all – I know it wasn’t for money?
Would you say you simply had the good fortune to accomplish things you set out to do?
NZ: I’m not famous. I’m notorious.
If I was famous, mothers around the world would know who I am.
Fame is not what I’m about. Integrity and honesty are.
I don’t know what katsaridaphobia means.
SB: Fear of roaches.
I feel your directed films speak for themselves, so approaching you about your work, it’s easier to start with asking about your acting.
NZ: Joe’s Apartment was a great comedy, MTV’s first feature film. Nobody wanted to see it. In Amerika it only played for one week, then disappeared.
People hate roaches so much they won’t even go see comedy movies about them.
It was hardly an acting gig. Just a five-second reaction shot. And I got paid. Even residual checks in the mail for a few years.
If I’d been given one line, I could have made thousands of dollars over the years.
The best part was sitting in a trailer on 1st Avenue, talking to childhood idol Robert Vaughn, who’d starred with David McCallum in The Man From Uncle TV series, about my collection of 16mm movies, among which was his first feature film, No Time to Be Young. Vaughn was surprisingly humble and self-effacing.
He was the uncredited computer voice in the movie Demon Seed also. He had a great voice.
SB: How about What About Me? (from 1993)
You had a great role there.
NZ: Acting in What About Me? was an ordeal since there was no script and the director wasn’t sure what she wanted. It was all improvised.
The camera people were professional and my co-actors were good.
I recommended Gregory Corso to the director Rachel Amodeo, emphasizing his significance as one of the original Beats. She’d never heard of him but put him in the movie.
The final product was good but it never got distribution. After working on it for three or four years, the producer/director team gave up after a couple screenings. We were disappointed because we all thought it could have been a hit, like Stranger Than Paradise.
SB: Right, it was probably a factor that Rockets Redglare was in both films.
What About Me? is one of the sweetest films I have seen – It’s a big surprise it was made without a script.
I did get the impression you were improvising a lot of the time in What About Me?, especially in your scenes with Richard Hell.
NZ: Yes. We’d been roommates in 1983.
That scene in the Pyramid Bar was fun to do, though I’m kind of sorry I was so rude to Richard when we improvised the scene.
That was the character I was playing, that was not me. I thought he’d trade insults, but he was trying too hard to be a nice guy character.
SB: What was the most fun about it?
SB: What was working with Rockets Redglare like, such as directing him in Police State (from 1987)?
How’d you first get a hold of him?
NZ: I used to run into him on Avenue A, trying to get money out of people. He’d always accost me for money and I liked his obnoxiousness so I asked him to play the detective in Police State.
Rockets had many good stories about his real encounters in police custody, which I integrated into the script. On the set he had memorized no lines so we made idiot cards and pasted them all over the walls for him. He did his best acting by far in any of his movies with Police State.
Flip Crowley, the other police lieutenant, was drunk the whole time. He still gave a great performance and knew his lines. In real life, he had been an inmate activist during the Attica Prison uprising. He knew from personal experience of police brutality in confinement, was beaten mercilessly after Rockefeller sent the order to kill the defenseless inmates and a few hostage guards (43 widowed wives) in a successful take back of the prison courtyard.
Nobody paid for this act of mass murder by Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his prison henchmen. Rockefeller later went on to become Gerald Ford’s Vice President. (Ford was part of the Warren Commission cover-up of the JFK assassination, but that’s another subject.)
SB: In War Is Menstrual Envy, you show the seduction of a full body burn victim, Ray.
Never ever had I thought of how a burn victim would feel at being caressed with real desire, feeling their sex appeal back due to attention from two beautiful women, much less in a movie. No one fucking thinks of that.
How’d that happen?
NZ: That’s who I am as a filmmaker.
I don’t think like other people.
SB: How did you meet Ray and Annie Sprinkle?
NZ: They were walking up Sixth Avenue by 8th Street.
She always loved my movie Whoregasm.
SB: Any woman who loves Whoregasm (from 1988) is surely worth knowing!
NZ: She introduced me to Ray.
After we filmed the sequence in her apartment, I spoke to Ray on the phone about how he got burned and what he wanted to do with his life. He was a drummer in a band. He said he wanted to be in horror movies doing the typical Freddy Kruger shit. That’s obvious and lame. I wanted to get as far away from that as possible. He didn’t have my vision. But he gave a good performance and so did she.
Except she talked him out of doing total nudity and a real blow job.
He would have done it.
At the time we shot it she was more conservative and thought I might ruin any chance for him to run for public office in the future which is absurd. She thought I might be “exploiting” him and was clueless as to what I was trying to achieve.
That scene makes people cry, myself included. Especially if they are perceptive enough to see that it’s not makeup. And Ray had agreed to do a full sex scene but she refused to allow it to happen, which surprised me after all the porn movies she’d starred in which is how she got accepted as a “renegade” in the art world years later.
SB: What medium have you had the most fun working with?
NZ: It’s ideas that count, not the medium used.
Super 8 movies have their own strengths and weaknesses. They are a different filmmaking language, just as valid as 35mm movies, digital cameras, or CGI. Same for 16mm.
Both 8mm and 16mm have been used to free poor filmmakers from the tyranny of expensive technology that’s used to shut up artists and outsiders. We should be autonomous and isolated to make our best work. No outside interference from busybodies and moralists, including clueless collaborators on ego trips.
Intellectual curiosity combined with what’s available are what matter.
Making movies is not fun. It’s work.
SB: What outside interference have you encountered from people funding your work?
NZ: I never had interference on anything that someone else funded until I moved to Mexico, except for one music video I did for an egomaniac gay singer. He just took the footage after I shot it and edited it with my personal editor. I had input on it during filming and even some editing decisions.
He didn’t pay me anyway.
When I ended up in Mexico City, a Spanish reggaeton singer hired me to shoot her music videos and was a total control freak insisting on having moving snapchats or TikTok shots of her imitating teenagers. Otherwise she looked good and had some nice outfits but nobody liked her music.
One shot I did of her with color filters wearing a cowboy hat in front of a field with Diego Rivera mini-towers was beautiful and she ruined it by sticking her name over the closeup of her face singing because she thought she saw lines on her neck. She was obsessed with looking young and after we shot 10 videos she moved back to Spain and got surgery.
Now she looks like she’s 13 even though she must be 39.
She got so annoying with correcting shots that she thought made her look old that my editor and I started charging her extra every time we had to re-edit something. She was super-cheap and resented feeding us when my cameraman wanted to break for lunch. We’d shoot her for 9 hours and she’d spend most of the time doing selfies and staring at herself on her iPhone.
She’d perform in a bar I DJ’d at and 3 people would be there, ignoring her.
When she got fed up with paying me and my editor she got some goofball to film her for free, then she ended up making her own music videos in Spain which sucked.
She was rich.
Another guy in a Mexican surf/punk band hired me to shoot a music video and it went OK until he insisted all the edits cut with the rhythm of the song. That was actually an improvement. I made storyboards for myself, then after we were done shooting, he insisted I redo the storyboards on high-quality paper with color illustrations (which made no sense) before he’d pay me.
The last guy who hired me to shoot music videos was the weirdest.
He was an American math professor who called himself The Greys and did experimental music. He paid me more than anyone and the first two videos we shot came out good. Then after a year he paid me to do another video in Mexico which was “The Reckoning”, which came out great. I told him how happy I was with the final product but he was afraid he’d get fired from his job at the university if any of the other teachers saw it. I told him that was absurd. Then, the big problem was when he saw the video, he hated it and wanted us to change all the shots with him because he didn’t like the way he looked.
Like the surf/punk band, he had no charisma and we’d cast him as a homeless guy. I’d even gone with him to pick out the clothes he wore before we filmed him. He chose the clothes. After we shot it and we were editing it, I picked out the best shots of him for the closeups but he didn’t like his image.
He’d also supplied my editor with pictures to use for a montage of U.S. imperialist atrocities and none of them were labelled, so I cut them together to the words he was speaking but he said they didn’t match. My editor and I didn’t know what he was talking about, but we agreed to re-edit it if he paid us for the extra work. He suddenly got cheap and decided he’d take all the footage, re-edit it and finish it himself.
His version sucked and nobody saw it for 3 years. He kept thinking it would go viral and get chosen by Rolling Stone to be on some music website, but it never happened. Finally, I got fed up that nobody had seen the video so I put it up on YouTube or Vimeo with the help of my Mexican cameraman/editor. Everybody loved it. I called it the director’s cut.
Since then the guy decided to just make all his videos himself. The last one he did was good but it’s no Nick Zedd movie so it will never be noticed.
The Death of Muffinhead had the biggest budget. Some guys in NYC commissioned me to make it and only interfered with the graphics on the end credits which I didn’t like. Otherwise it was the best experience I ever had making a movie.
I don’t consider the music videos I’ve been paid to do to be art. They’re too commercial even though they look underground and are incredibly low-budget.
Rock and Roll
NZ: The original Television was briefly the best band in the world.
I never liked the band after Richard Hell left, it’s like Pink Floyd without Syd Barrett – Unlistenable.
I like Roger Waters more as a political activist than a musician. When he played Mexico City in Zocolo for free it was like the Walking Dead here… a bunch of zombies clogging the streets. They loved him. It was like an anti-Trump rally. The music sucked.
This hippie I know in Mexico City saw me on the sidewalk and said “DID YOU SEE PINK FLOYD TONITE?!”
I said “No, I hate them.”
He didn’t know who Syd Barrett was.
Mick Jagger is still the world’s greatest living performer to me.
He was and is the best I’ve ever seen, as far as live performances go.
David Bowie was the greatest rock star, the only one who came close to the Beatles for great songs. The most influential and innovative, who broke so many rules while remaining entertaining and an icon.
I saw David Bowie twice in the 70’s. He was great. And I saw Iggy and the Stooges live in D.C. They pulled the plug on them after 3 songs. Everyone I knew hated that band back then.
Nobody that I knew cared about him back then. My friends would go, “Bowie’s a faggot, isn’t he?”
I think Bowie’s strategy with Mick‘s photos was brilliant. Since the radio wouldn’t give Bowie any airplay in 1972 to 1975 when he did his greatest music and potential hit singles (he should have gone to number one in the charts) and RCA didn’t spend the money on payola, Mick took extraordinary shots of Bowie which then ended up in magazines, mostly rock ones like Creem and Circus. Each photo was so great that even if it was a two-inch box, I’d be forced to buy an entire issue.
The photos were like hit singles. They were news. Bowie looked like nothing anyone had seen on earth and he was always changing. He started to sell magazines, even though his records were at the bottom of the charts. His singles like “John, I’m Only Dancing”, “Jean Genie” and “Rebel Rebel” should all have been number ones.
He had to finally do one of his worst songs (“Fame”) as a collaboration with John Lennon to finally reach number one on the charts in Amerika.
The radio DJs would never play Bowie before 1975, except for “Changes” briefly in 1971. They never would play Iggy and the Stooges or Roxy Music on the radio either. The radio programmers would say, “We don’t play that faggot shit”, and hang up if I called the local station to make a request.
A friend got to meet David Bowie in one club when he was Ziggy Stardust… she was just a kid, 15 years old. She said to him, “You’re Ziggy Stardust!” He said, “And you’re a spider from Mars.”
SB: You were an early adopter for a lot of things. You picked up the first Velvet Underground album at a public library when you were 12, in 1968. Robert Quine said, “The Velvet Underground had five or six fans in 1969, no matter what anyone says.” Among them were people like Quine, Lester Bangs, and a 12-year old Nick Zedd.
What first drew you to such an aesthetic?
NZ: Andy Warhol.
I read about his self-created scene in NYC and was fascinated just as anyone with intellectual curiosity and critical thinking skills would be.
We should always expose ourselves to things that are hidden, marginalized and censored since that’s where all new ideas come from.
And I wouldn’t take what Robert Quine said seriously. The Velvet Underground had a bigger following than 4 people. They were just blacklisted from all radio and TV because a bunch of cretins controlling everything felt threatened by Lou Reed’s honesty and the innovative way they played rock n’ roll.
I met Lester Bangs once at a Golden Turkey Awards Film Festival. We were both fans of the movie Robot Monster.
SB: Bangs is the only rock critic I’ve ever respected.
NZ: Me too.
SB: How was meeting Bangs?
NZ: Cool. He was down to earth.
I complimented Lester on his Lou Reed interview, Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves. It was hilarious and self effacing. Very honest. Like my autobiography, Totem of the Depraved.
Lester listened while I extolled the virtues of Robot Monster. It’s one of those movies that seem to have been made on another planet or in an alternate universe, like Begotten.
I spoke to Tiny Tim on the phone. I offered him the lead role as the mad scientist in Geek Maggot Bingo (from 1983). He sounded terrified to hear my voice and told me to talk to his manager which I already had many times. I was going to pay him $3000 which was most of the budget. He turned me down.
God Bless Tiny Tim is a great album. Tiny Tim had some brilliant arrangers on it.
He was married on national television. That’s after he appeared on Laugh In on NBC which then was one of three networks reaching millions. The only reason I watched it was because of him. He would show up unexpectedly. I couldn’t believe they allowed a real freak like him on TV. Everybody thought he was a joke. Years before that, he appeared in an underground movie by Jack Smith called Normal Love.
SB: What modern musicians do you listen to?
NZ: King Krule is a kid from England, he’s great.
Mac DeMarco, he’s from Brooklyn, Amanita turned me on to him.
Exploded View – I used their music for the Muffinhead movie.
I used to like Amy Winehouse, and Beck.
NZ: My parents always supported my early movies.
My first 3-minute movie was an animated G.I. Joe doll being attacked by a giant fly, which I bought thru mail order from Captain Company, who ran ads in the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, a magazine that was very influential to my generation, read by future directors like Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and others, inspiring us to make our first 8mm movies.
My father was the cameraman, using a cheap tripod while I moved the figures and we shot it frame by frame in the backyard.
I was 12 when I did the first one, 14 when I made the sequel (15 minutes), and 15 when I shot the last one (30 minutes).
My father also played a small part in the third one as a car driver when I did a shot of a toy car being lifted off the ground by a giant insect. He did a close-up reaction shot.
My parents appear in my first feature, They Eat Scum, in small roles. They even drove up 5 hours from Maryland to Brooklyn, NY with my brother’s pet poodle. I asked them to shave the dog with an absurd cut which they then dyed green for his scenes.
Most of the actors in that were unpaid amateurs; friends from the punk scene in 1979.
Fatherhood has not affected my work at all. It has nothing to do with what I create.
I waited all my life to have a son in 2010. I had no interest in families before that. Being isolated enabled me to be more productive making movies, acting and writing books and magazines in NYC. Thanks to the encouragement of Vox, I started painting in oils on canvas and have sold a few over the years.
Having a family only became a priority late in life. I wanted to do something radically different, so I moved to Mexico and had a son. Creation is essential.
SB: The ones before They Eat Scum (from 1979), are these lost films?
NZ: No, I have them.
All the actors were friends from my neighborhood or someone’s sister. I was the lead actor in the last one. My father was probably the cameraman whenever I was onscreen. Everything else, I shot. I wrote the scripts, filmed, directed, acted and edited everything. My two best friends also made their own 8mm or Super 8 movies and we all helped each other. We were all 14 years old.
I also made a series of comic books and a film magazine which my father would photocopy on a Xerox machine in his office in Washington, D.C.
SB: Do you see the spirit of Transgression anywhere in today’s art?
NZ: Art is whatever you want it to be. It can’t be defined, and it should never be explained.
It still can be found in trash abandoned on the streets and in what is available to you, especially when you are poor.
There are no limitations. Only one’s imagination.
Dominant culture and the moral arbiters of society have called things like comic books, low budget movies and rock n’ roll “trash” but posterity proved them wrong.
Julian Assange and Wikileaks are the most transgressive thing now. I’ve been saying this for years. Podcasters who report the truth and are censored are transgressive now. That includes Jimmy Dore, The Last American Vagabond, Glenn Greenwald, Joe Rogan, Harry Vox (Unsafe Space on Bitchute), Helen of Destroy and even Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., among others.
They were made transgressive by the fascist takeover of all corporate media and government by pharmaceutical cartels and banking dynasties.
Now, as in the 80’s, all of the transgressive stuff is hidden and suppressed.
SB: I know you don’t like poetry.
Who are your favorite prose writers?
NZ: My favorite writer is Charles Bukowski.
I like Henry Miller.
I visited Miller’s place in Sonora in 1992. It was an amazing environment. All the hotels and motels in the area were outrageously overpriced so we had to sleep in the car. When we woke up in the morning we were surrounded by clouds. It was a white fog or mist that covered everything.
NZ: I hate the word “interesting.” “Interesting” is the worst thing you can say to an artist.
It’s non-committal. It implies a refusal or inability to recognize something extraordinary. It’s a semantic evasion, and it’s mediocre. People who don’t know what to say about something use the word as a catch-all phrase to cover their ass.
It’s an insult.
I had an actress who starred in an episode of Electra Elf, who, when she saw the final product said to me, “I don’t know what to say.” It was a giant insult, even though she was too much of an airhead to realize it.
I had wanted to do a spin-off series with her but changed my mind after that and never worked with her again. She was clueless.
Many of the actors and actresses I’ve given an opportunity to be remembered for something by appearing in a music video or something have never had the manners to say anything positive afterwards.
I think they either were embarrassed or just didn’t comprehend what they had achieved by working with me. They will never be seen or heard from again.
They remain losers.
I hate it when people are too full of themselves to be sincere and say they like something, as if it’s a concession to show appreciation for the work we did together.
I generally tell someone when I like what they’ve done.
I don’t have a giant ego holding me back from being honest. It’s harder to say you don’t like something, but I can do it in diplomatic language that anyone with a brain can understand.
Most people are idiots though.
SB: What was teaching at NYU like?
I understand you sat in for Amos Poe.
NZ: Sometimes good, sometimes bad.
Getting the check afterward from NYU was the biggest pain.
SB: In a video interview + semi documentary about your I found you mention an exhibition titled “Crack, The Whore of Babylon”, a charming title. I see it listed online as an exhibition but it doesn’t list the contents.
Did the framed crack baggie have actual crack in it?
I love how you cracked up (pun unintended) when it was brought out, and I wonder, what was that about?
NZ: I never knew about that documentary about me…
Ha. No, it wasn’t art about crack. I barely remember it. Some guy named Jim C. ran a small gallery on the LES and asked me to contribute a piece.
All the art displayed was the usual shit.
I figured he gave the show a good name, so why not do the most transgressive thing and put a vial of real crack on display? He was OK with that. Crack was demonized in the media as the world’s biggest threat – it was a Media fear campaign. I didn’t care about drugs.
Back then, there were art openings every night in small makeshift galleries. It was some kind of social scene I was not a part of. All the “art” was worthless garbage by artists with no talent. But everyone thought I was famous.
People used to use my name to get into nightclubs without paying. The door people didn’t know any better. That started in 1979.
SB: I saw a Mexican interview with you where you said transgression was the same thing as Dada, Surrealism, etc.
That’s the way counterculture goes, but were you being honest?
Reading your Cinema of Transgression Manifesto, it’s evident “Transgression” actually means something more personal and important to you.
NZ: It means something more to me and I never said it was the same as Dadaism or Surrealism. Somebody translated that wrong.
I also wanted to attract media attention and create an idea that would become a meme and inspire people around the world. And it shared with the Dadaists and Surrealists a very small cult which with time has been seen as bigger than it was.
The participants in those movements later became rich so the importance of those movements is magnified. That’s how society works. Money validates everything under capitalism.
Kenneth Anger‘s films are always strong and surprising. Multilayered and multi-dimensional. Never boring.
To me, he is the world’s greatest living filmmaker. He so deserves financial support which he isn’t getting. It’s tragic.
To think of what he could accomplish with more money and what he’s already accomplished entirely on his own is a huge inspiration to me.
I feel my best work remains unrealized as well due to no money. My best work is the recent stuff that was funded by people with access to more money who let me create without interference.
Most people are clueless regarding this work. It’s rather infuriating.
I saw one of the last film screenings by Stan Brakhage in NYC before he died from exposure to the coal tar dyes he used to paint his movies. He was an amazing public speaker and the last movies he made were unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
He was great. I spoke to him afterwards, I wish he was still around.
Featuring artist Greer Lankton in her famous home made fat suit.
NZ: PC bullshit has killed comedy. Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski could never get published in 2021, forget about Lenny Bruce or even John Waters.
Most students probably don’t know about me since most administrators are clueless and reactionary.
Same thing for critics, and all institutions, they want to keep me hidden.
SB: I feel there’s always been an air of predicting our modern level of technological and political paranoia in a lot of your work, from Bogus Man to Police State, for the obvious examples.
Did you always feel this level of dictatorial control coming in? Did it surprise you at all, or do you just feel it hasn’t changed since that era?
NZ: I always recognized the truth of class war, a permanent assault on free speech, democratic values and everything that has made life worth living for everyday people, that’s not called paranoia. It is called free thinking, allowing ordinary people to be left alone without constant surveillance by the State.
Uneducated fools and narcissistic egomaniacs may resent these truths in my work or label them subversive, but that’s what happens with art not preoccupied with “entertaining” and looking back.
I always felt restricted by society and the clumsy methods used to control us.
It has always been this way, as history has proven. You just have to read the right books and watch the right movies to discover this. History consists of lies.
Mass murderers have always been venerated by the ruling class, based on lies, with statues erected in their honor.
How about a twenty-dollar bill with a picture of Harriet Tubman, John Brown or Frederick Douglas instead of slave owner/mass murderer Andrew Jackson? Or paper money honoring artists like Picasso, Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, Marcel Duchamp or Hieronymus Bosch? These artists and revolutionaries, like Zapata, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are always demonized by powerful hierarchies who have controlled the dominant narrative for centuries of worker exploitation and the oppression of millions.
And few question it.
Published in 1997 by Henry Rollins’ publishing house, 2.13.61
SB: I think it is safe to say you remain a Marxist?
NZ: No. An anarchist.
I have class consciousness though. And critical thinking skills along with skepticism.
SB: Do you think a stateless society is achievable in the modern world?
NZ: Anything is possible but the imposition of a prison planet by totalitarian thugs with too much power and a castrated majority opposition, motivated by fear and ignorance, makes it increasingly unlikely, except in temporary autonomous zones and freedom communities off the grid.
That is already happening surreptitiously in a hermetic insurgency of freedom-loving, organized rebels working under the radar.
SB: Do you agree “far-right” has replaced the boogeyman “far-left” used to represent in mainstream culture?
NZ: Yes. The people they call “right-wing” aren’t right-wing at all. They are ordinary working class families and people fed up with being lied to by the government while they lose everything.
Most would be called liberals.
The right/left paradigm is false. It’s really a top/down crisis created by the 1%.
99% of us are being put through hell, while the super-rich are getting richer.
SB: Right. Just like that false paradigm, you’ve treated the religious one quite a bit.
Would you say you mock both the ideas of God and the Devil just as indifferently?
NZ: No, I resent the pervasive influence of the god myth which I was indoctrinated into as an innocent child.
What the god myth really amounts to is the enslavement of the human race. It’s the most hideous, filthy lie that has held back progress, innovation and scientific breakthroughs for centuries. It’s been used by corrupt institutions to stifle dissent and burn people at the stake for telling the truth.
It’s also been used to create the enormously profitable and powerful Catholic Church which harbors pedophiles who destroy the lives of children. What could be more evil?
On the other hand, the Devil is a cartoon version of a villain for occultists with no power.
Satanism is something else. It has positive attributes that I follow daily. Everyone should read The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey. It’s a much better book than the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud or the Bhagavad Gita which are a collection of lunacy, ugly sexism, pointless illogic and orthodox bullshit.
All churches are run as a business. That’s what the collection plate is for. And all Christian churches own valuable buildings that can collect money from tenants and do begging routines on television reaching millions of idiots WHILE BEING TAX EXEMPT!
The Catholic Church built giant cathedrals with monuments, taking over several blocks of prime real estate with Vatican City (with the help of Mussolini).
NZ: The plandemic has been in the making for years.
My friend Vox (censored and marginalized almost everywhere despite the truths he conveys along with rants that the dominant culture will use to smear him) predicted what would eventually happen in 2020, back in 2010 when he was on Paul De Renzo’s show. He just read the Rockefeller Commission papers entitled Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development.
The 2010 report outlines a scenario where a pandemic has hit, and the governments of the world use it to expand their authority and increase their grip on power. You can find it on the internet.
In 2020, during the Democratic Party Presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders once again established an insurmountable lead as a populist candidate with a majority following of working class voters filling up stadiums, supporting his program of reducing wasteful spending on deeply unpopular military imperialism, instead providing Medicare for everyone (as in all civilized countries). His movement had to be neutralized, so the party establishment, like in 2016, rigged the primaries by negating everyone’s vote and elevating the most unpopular politician in the country (after Clinton and Trump), the right-wing fraud Creepy Joe Biden. (He’d been unelectable in three separate presidential campaigns due to his proclivity for plagiarism and lying, along with racist legislation and unwavering support for the Pentagon and the apartheid state of Israel.)
Thanks to a complicit controlled corporate media pushing anti-Trump propaganda for four years, the Amerikan people were assumed to have bought the big lie of Biden’s sudden popularity despite his senile dementia.
Simultaneously, the fake “COVID” pandemic was announced, distracting everyone with immediately imposed anti-science mandates, based on fear and augmented by bogus statistics exaggerating hospital deaths (despite only 0.7% of the population ever being hospitalized).
The pointless lockdowns were enacted, destroying the economy while causing mass unemployment and a worse economic depression.
Any responsible citizens who protested en masse were labeled “white supremacists” and “right-wing extremists” by the Media, even if they were real liberals.
Most hospital deaths were caused by the use of the discredited drug Remdesivir, (approved by Fauci) followed by keeping all patients isolated from their families and lawyers.
“COVID” patients were then tranquilized and hooked up to ventilators which killed 80% of them in the hospital.
This was presided over by Media invention Fauci, elevated to Sainthood by clueless actors, pundits and all corporate media as our savior, despite being wrong about everything while flip-flopping like every bad politician in Washington since day one.
The fact is that he’d financed the Wuhan lab gain of function research into spreading a bioweapon using “infected bats,” through the Eco Health Alliance budget, (which he approved) Fauci committed the crime, then later lied under oath to Congress and the Amerikan people. When exposed, he simply called people names while seeing his approval ratings plummet. He’s likely the next fall guy during the CIA psyop which has destroyed so many lives while causing the controlled demolition of the U.S. economy.
A convenient way to enable the strip mining of the assets of a majority of Amerikans, designated to go to powerful banking dynasties who are part of the takeover, seizing entire neighborhoods of homes with unpaid mortgages thanks to work stoppage directed by the government, with insultingly low social assistance begrudgingly approved by both fake political parties, composed of compromised reactionaries and gaslighting fake “progressives” like AOC and the Fraud Squad.
Anyone who points out these facts is labeled “right-wing” or a “Trumpster” in a fit of mass-psychosis based on fear and willful ignorance, pushed by the CIA controlled Media, owned by the Super Rich, whose profit and power agenda is of ultimate concern. The profits of corrupt pharmaceutical giants, controlling everything is what this is all about, too.
Bill Gates, billionaire tycoon with a sick eugenics program of mass sterilization thru poisonous “vaccines,” posing as a doctor on CNN and other fake news outlets, while being a high school dropout whose real mission was the hostile takeover of Microsoft (used to spread destructive computer viruses, then develop a profitable anti-virus software to secure monopoly control of the mega corporation) is buying up huge tracts of farmland for genetically-modified crop development, guaranteed to destroy healthy food availability while causing future cancers and mass unemployment for real farmers.
He subsequently financed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to cripple millions of Asian-Indian mothers and children in an orgy of unwanted criminal philanthropy that led to his expulsion from India, enacted by Parliament after his untested vaccines caused adverse side effects like sterility, paralysis, convulsions and deaths among impoverished test subjects.
The problem/reaction/solution formula is now being used to coerce Amerikans and citizens around the world to submit to untested, experimental fake vaccines with bad side effects like convulsions, blood clots, paralysis and deaths which are intentionally unreported by controlled mass media, pushing the government’s bio-medical authoritarian take over.
All Big Media is now controlled by giant unelected pharmaceutical conglomerates like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna – With profits raked in by fake vaxx opportunists/shareholders like Trump, making huge profits at the expense of ordinary people with no critical thinking skills, willingly jabbed in an orgy of un-fact based fear and collective ignorance thanks to their refusal to read.
After decades of brainwashing, these mask-Nazis and conformists have no skills in resisting illegitimate authority.
Ignorance and fear are now suicidal, but you will be labeled a “conspiracy theorist” for saying it. Everyone’s minds must remain closed or you’re a danger to society for not taking a proven failure “vaccine” denounced by respected, peer-reviewed medical professionals like Dr. Peter McCullough, PCR test inventor: the late Dr. Kerry Mullis, Dr. Robert Malone: inventor of the mRNA vaccine, Dr. Michael Yeadon (former head of Pfizer), America’s Frontline Doctors and the Children’s Health Defense (whose mission is to end childhood health epidemics by working aggressively to eliminate harmful exposures, hold those responsible accountable, and to establish safeguards so this never happens again).
Far from being “anti-vaxxers” or shills for Big Pharma, led by the now blacklisted lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr., these professionals and organizations are subject to a media blacklist for spreading “disinformation”, aka the truth.
Lies are essential for New Normal totalitarians like Klaus Schwab and his twisted program of unpopular fascism masquerading as the “Third Industrial Revolution” that nobody wants.
During the 1980’s the digital format of optical compact discs gradually replaced analog formats, such as vinyl records and cassette tapes, as the popular medium of choice.
That seemed benign until music lovers discovered the overpriced inferior sound quality of CDs over vinyl records, now virtually extinct except to wealthy consumers with a fetish for nostalgia and superior sound.
We are now told with glee that we will have no private possessions, own our own homes or have the right to full use of our rent paid apartments. And we will “like it!” This is the science of mind control advocated by power-junkies like the unlikable Schwab, elevated to hero status by Time Magazine in the same way that useless Mayor of NYC Giuliani was following the whitewashed 9/11 inside job.
Giuliani went with Trump, becoming the obvious buffoon he always was to all but those compromised by controlled corporate media who are always wrong. These frontmen for naked fascism are later dumped in favor of unelectable vermin like Vice President Kamala Harris (selected by the establishment solely based on gender and skin color, not her police state policies of prosecuting poor black mothers with truant children and delaying release of black prison inmates to perform unpaid and dangerous firefighting in California during yearly forest fires caused by global warming).
The result of all of this bizarro world insanity is the dystopian lockdowns enacted by power-mad politicians at the behest of everyone’s enemy – the pharmaceutical industry – providing incentives for mass murder. Only by unrelenting resistance will the masses ever stop them in their tracks before they destroy civilization.
It remains to be seen if the collective majority will wise up and revolt in time to end the transformation of Earth into a prison planet.
SB: The pandemic, as you have said, affected the entire art world and fucked collaboration up.
I know you were a DJ before it started, how did it change or reshape your work?
NZ: The lockdowns and fake pandemic forced me to start making commissioned pen and ink portraits for $100 each. People around the world responded in 2020 so I had a small income from that plus selling DVDs by mail order and the occasional painting. All filmmaking stopped.
I did a rooftop DJ gig and a birthday DJ gig in someone’s backyard in Mexico, too.
SB: What would you say to a close friend of yours who believed they’re dying of COVID?
NZ: First of all, how old is this friend? Do they have a pre-existing comorbidity like diabetes, a heart condition, or some other serious condition? Nobody dies from COVID since it barely exists.
I would tell them it’s never been isolated in a lab and has only resulted in 0.7% of the general public ending up in hospitals where they are murdered by nurses following doctors orders.
0.7% is a smaller number than the amount of people dying from catching the flu or having diarrhea. Look it up if you don’t believe me.
Most people dying in hospitals were first examined and told to go home and do no preventative treatment. When the flu symptoms get worse due to government scare propaganda and they enter the hospital, they are immediately given a dose of Remdesivir which killed a huge number of Africans but was recommended by Big Pharma pimp and mass murderer Fauci.
After the Remdesivir, patients are tranquilized, then a ventilator tube is shoved down their throats, killing 80% of patients.
No family members are allowed to witness any of this and the dead patient is labeled another COVID death.
Patients are being murdered daily by nurses in hospitals. The ones who feel guilt and know the truth have made many videos and are then fired.
So the friend has been LIED to by doctors with administrators whose incentive is money in compensation from Medicare of $13,000 for each corpse “killed” by COVID. At least in Amerika. The safest place to be is OUT of a hospital.
Hospitals are now where people go to be murdered. It’s mass murder on a global scale, willingly submitted to by brainwashed sheep who still believe the government. They’ve been programmed by fear and have succumbed to mass psychosis.
Getting vaxxed will just prolong the misery and accomplish nothing except lowering the immune system and lowering it more after the bogus booster shots.
All politicians and rich white celebrities get saline solution so they are in no danger and useful for their propaganda value.
NZ: In 1983, I wrote a play with Lydia Lunch called SHE which she performed on TV in Sweden or Holland.
Later I directed her in The Wild World of Lydia Lunch (from 1983).
SB: I understand that was born out of a tasteless voice message telling you to fuck off.
NZ: YES. When Lydia saw it, she told me, “That’s the best movie I’ve been in.” She also told me she loved me.
I’m not interested in any two faced lies she’s told regarding me since then.
That’s all I have to say about her.
- Nick Zedd Archive – via The Fales Library
- Nick Zedd – IMDB entry
- Nick Zedd – Wikipedia entry
- Nick Zedd – UbuWeb entry with links to watch full films
- Cinema of Transgression – UbuWeb Entry with links to watch full films
- Long 2014 Article About + Interview with, Nick – via Vice
- Long video interview with Nick (source and year unknown) – via Vimeo
- Nick Zedd 2016 Interview – via Body Count Rising
- Police State film, from 1987, by Nick – via YouTube
- 2022 Obit for Nick Zedd – via The Village Sun
“This piece would have been impossible without the help of: my beloved family: Patricia Reyes and Renato Perazzo; as well as Tom Cash, Jean Kennedy, Monica Casanova, Muffinhead, Mike Diana, Jack Sargeant, Angelique Bosio, Brent Bechtel, Robert Carrithers, Colby Smith, Ben Dreith, Mykel Board, Rodrigo Moro, Catlin Bergman and many others.”
– Salvattore Beteta
All images supplied by Nick Zedd or sourced online.