Glenn O’Brien: Intelligence for Dummies

by Chris Murray on November 21, 2019

Glenn O’Brien was my college chum at Georgetown University from ’65 to ’69. There was a small crew of us at Georgetown at that time who were interested in music, art, and writing, which included Bob Colacello and Michael Netter, and we all miraculously went to work with Andy Warhol after college. Glenn became the first editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. Though I stayed in Washington and opened Govinda Gallery, I was also working for Andy as we were his gallery in the nation’s capital and hosted several exhibitions for him, book signings, Interview Magazine signings, and sometimes I was his chauffeur and bodyguard when he was in town.

A compilation of Glenn’s essays and other writings, Intelligence for Dummies has just been published by ZE Books, and it is a terrific read. It made me very nostalgic for my old pal who passed away in April of 2017. Glenn Sheldon O’Brien, as he is listed in my college yearbook, had great wit and style… even as a young man in college. He was also a lovely friend.

Glenn O’Brien. Photo by Kate Simon

I was just looking at a copy of Interview from February 1981 with a sixteen year old Diane Lane on the cover. My dear friend Bob Colacello was the editor of Interview by then, and in that issue Glenn did an interview with a band called DNA. He also had a column in Interview in those days called BEAT. Here are a couple of quotes from that column in February of ’81:

Rapping is about talking back. It started with talking back to ‘Good Times.’ Nile & Bernie’s riffs moved across the jungles of the world, resonating in millions of attuned humans registering like a neurological Morse Code.

And here is another:

God bless John Lennon... John Lennon was a moody guy and his moods were contagious. They usually seemed to catch on and re-mold our culture ‘in the mutation of a virus’ (or about .0000001 the time it takes to say Jack Robinson). For this reason, John always had the air and breath of a prophet, and, of course, now breathless, he’s more prophet than ever. Prophecy is usually considered to be some kind of visionary visitation but it really has more to do with good vision. John saw what was going on and so always seemed to be ahead of his time. Actually, he was clearly precisely on time: it came out of where he stood. He tuned it like a radio.

Glenn published a terrific feature story about Govinda Gallery in the September 2005 edition of GQ Magazine as the place to go for the best photographs of musical artists. It was one of the finest pieces ever written about my gallery.

Debbie Harry from White Trash by Chris Makos.

Some people may remember Madonna’s book, SEX (Warner Books), published in 1992. Glenn O’Brien was the editor of that book, which created quite a sensation when it was first published. I love Madonna’s acknowledgement of Glenn at the end of the book where she says, “Thanks to the real big daddy, Glenn O’Brien, for teaching me how to spell.”

I still have the fax Glenn sent me when the book was published, telling me how he had told Madonna about my gallery in Washington. Sure enough, Madonna ended up buying some boxing photos from Govinda Gallery.

Last week I was in New York City and went to see an exhibition honoring Glenn at Off Paradise at 120 Walker St in Tribeca. The exhibition curator Natacha Polaert describes the show as “a portrait of O’Brien through works by artists he admired and befriended.” The charming Polaert is having a closing celebration for that exhibition on Monday, November 25th from 6 to 9PM, and is welcoming Glenn’s friends and everyone else to attend.

Cheers to Glenn O’Brien, a great friend and a great Irishman!

Govinda Gallery Director Chris Murray in front of Glenn O’Brien’s bookshelf, presented by Claude Rutault at Off Paradise.
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