New York City, Provincetown, Paris
Brian, among many things, was a poet. From an early age, his work has been published in many, largely extinct magazines and chapbooks.
Part of a circle of friends that included poets, writers, and artists. He was such a sweet kid, very thin and soft spoken. Brian, David Wojnarowicz, Anado McLauchlin , and several other people from that period were part of a group of performance poets who beautifully illuminated that period.-Perry Brass, Poet
“Bill [Silvers, sponsor to the event shown above,] was at the center of the Presbyterian turmoil about ordaining openly gay ministers. He was the first person to try to do so, and the church literally locked him out. ” recollects Perry Brass.
In the mid-1970’s, he submitted some of his work to “Mouth Of the Dragon” magazine, which had the reputation of being the first openly gay poetry magazine in the States. This NYC magazine, edited by Andrew Bifrost (née Andrew Morris) featured gay poetry and published works by numerous authors including Frank O’Hara, and Emilio Cubeiro. A total of seventeen issues of the magazine were published between the years 1974 and 1980. Bifrost, according to Brian, was warm and receptive to his work and it was readily published.
An event sponsored by the magazine in Prospect Park, Brooklyn brought about Brian’s first encounter with David Wojnarowicz. This began an intimate collaboration between the two.
Photographer Dirk Rowntree, whose work was used for the above flyer, captured these iconic images of Brian and David in 1978.
For a time, although still quite intertwined with the NYC gay and arts scene, Brian, in pursuit of his poetic dreams, left the city and moved to Provincetown, where he worked, in his own words, as “Chambermaid, Breakfast Cook, Waiter” at the Gifford House Inn. He lived with a group of people including poet Larry Jones. During this period, his relationship with Wojnarowicz continued through a series of correspondence.
Back in the city in 1978 and living at 45 Orchard Street, then later with David at Vinegar Hill (59 Hudson Ave), Brooklyn, he held various small jobs. During this time, both he and David worked at the Penn Station Bookmasters, a busy bookshop headquartered on W. 10th Street.
Close friend and Brooklyn poet Donna Masini recalls: “All three of us worked at the Penn Station Bookmasters— David on the street level, me and Brian in the basement— right near the Long Island Railroad waiting area. House of Pain, he’d say when he answered the phone (at work!) Casa de dolor.”
Brian’s reunion with David was relatively brief, however, and David soon departed for Paris.
This December 1978 David Wojnarowicz postcard to Brian from Paris features the punk imagery of a St. Sebastian-like figure (ORIGINAL). Pierced by the arrows of persecution and forced to endure the suffering of his beliefs, this homoerotic martyr was greatly significant to both Brian and David, who thrived on the expressive theater of symbolism.
Brian, often photographed by David, can be seen portrayed as St. Sebastian in a photograph inset in one of David’s collages, a piece entitled “Fuck You Faggot Fucker” (LINK).
Like Brian, David appears to have shared the stigma of a deeply Catholic upbringing. Although the youthful remnants of Catholicism had faded, the significance of the Saints and David’s adulation of Brian as some gay holy martyr cannot be overlooked. Brian was conflicted in coming to terms with the Catholicism which somehow fed his vast repository of Saintly obscurata (e.g. Saint Dymphnas). Among friends he was a perfectly cast expression of the saintly role.
Brian recounted the story of his final turn toward the church soon after the death of his eldest brother, of taking the train midtown, and of arrival, to be faced with protest. The New York Times headline read: “111 Held in St. Patrick’s AIDS Protest”.
David’s adaptation of symbolism as a form of expression can be widely found throughout his correspondences with Brian. The close nature of David’s relationship to Brian becomes clearly apparent and Brian claims David as one his very few great loves. In place of intimacies, David thematically made use of playful and “fruity” nicknames and employed imagery to imply meaning. It is likely that David’s upbringing, accompanied by the oppressive stigma of homosexuality of the time, caused a great deal of resistance to overt emotional expression.
The concept of Rimbaud in America appears after Brian attained the nickname “Rimbaud” with a nod to his intellect by his circle of friends while in Provincetown, 1977.
Bearing this nickname back to David in New York, Brian went on to portray Rimbaud in all but two of David’s Rimbaud series.
In May of 1979, Brian visited David Wojnarowicz who was staying in Paris at the time.
Upon his return, Brian found himself working late nights as a cook at the iconic American diner located in Chelsea. This prefabricated stainless steel diner car was built by the Fodero Dining Car Company in 1946 and has been featured in numerous films and photographs.
It was said that the customers at the diner loved his eggs. The secret, Brian said, was to never clean the pan and to fry the eggs in the thick brown grease left that built up as the night wore on.
Wojnarowicz’s Arthur Rimbaud in America, primarily featuring Brian Butterick, continued to be photographed during this time.
Even on the streets of the City, there was a delicacy to Brian; tender, truly romantic and sentimental. As time and David passed, he would frequently walk along the piers where addictions and dreams were once nourished. It seemed he belonged there, as if rooted. He always lived nearby. To those who accompanied him, these were unusually deep and silent moments. Resting in a dust covered wooden box alongside a single photo-booth picture of David (shown above) we find, in a worn envelope, a small piece of the West Side highway, stained red with paint. The box also held a plastic pickle. A souvenir from the 1939 World’s Fair, this Heinz Pickle pin bears its own story, but also another. It was there that Brian’s parents became engaged.
In a like manner, Brian would visit the Empire Diner. The diner was often was busy and service; poor. Brian, with a familiar summons from his depth of knowledge, demonstrated, as if some parlor trick, how service was quickly gained. Pushing a plate until it teetered perilously at the edge of the table, he leaned back in his chair. And waited. The waiter, in an effort to quickly avert disaster, scurried over .
Brian was involved in many other collaborations with Wojnarowicz over the years including film and music.
According to Brian (from the motherboardsnyc forum) “I was the main character [in David Wojnarowicz’s film Brian Berlin] and I OD’d in an alley at the end. David literally painted my face blue for the scene. But he really didn’t have to. It was shot one freezing day in January on Charles Lane in the West Village. ” The film is unfortunately presumed lost.
Wojnarowicz’s creative influence with the band 3 Teens Kill 4 can been both seen and heard through examples of his art and poetry.
Numerous scenes took place on the tiled floor featured in these images.
Brian’s close collaboration with David also extended to his literary work.
The back cover of to David Wojnarowicz’s publication of Sounds In the Distance (Aloes Books, London, 1982), is said to be a paraphrase of Brian’s Forward, written for David. Here is the complete, previously unpublished forward (Courtesy of Dirk Rowntree and Jane Foos):
Later we develop a sense of Burroughs’ connection with a story passed on through both Brian and the El Salvadoran immigrant-janitor at Brian’s Canal Street apartment, Oscar. Perched over the perpetually blaring horns and traffic jams at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel, 501 Canal Street was a noted tenement-turned-artists-collective and also Brian’s home throughout much of the 1980’s. In this accounting, Brian brought Mr. Burroughs to the Canal Street tenement, now demolished, and eventually to the empty floor above. The flurry of Oscar’s excited gestures is very much a part of his particular recounting. The walls of the hallway were fully riddled with bullet holes, the floors littered in bullet casings and coated in plaster dust. Brian was the last remaining hold-out at 501 Canal before reaching an eviction settlement with his landlord, an affable fellow, yet connected enough to a certain NY culture. Connected enough to earn himself a role in The Godfather for the use of his restaurant. It was of little surprise when Oscar flew down the steps to hammer on Brian’s door in alarm. Here, Brian, in his offhand manner with that ever so memorable, effeminate, theatrical sweep of the hand, trailing cigarette smoke, always, filled in the details. “Were you around then? I don’t remember. Anyhow, Oscar came running down the stairs, shouting, and he pounded on my door. “What happened?!? What happened?!? Are you alright?!?” Well it turns out we did this photo-shoot with William Burroughs for 3 Teens and I brought him back here after. We took the gun that William used in the photo-shoot and did some target practice up on the next floor. Everyone had moved out by then, so it was empty. I guess Oscar thought I had been shot.”
The transition of the decade into the 1980’s also corresponds with the significant transition of Brian Butterick’s life as he enters the club scene of New York City, as he finds himself working in various clubs, including the Mudd Club and Danceteria before establishing himself at the Pyramid Club.