Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel
Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Like most of the underground stars who emerged from Andy Warhol's circle, Viva was an unconventional personality. Her oldest daughter - my guest, Alexandra Auder - had a very unconventional upbringing. Her mother appeared in several Warhol films, including "Lonesome Cowboys" and "The Loves Of Undine."
Alexandra's father, Michel Auder, is a video artist and filmmaker. When Alexandra was a child, she had a part in an underground film as the daughter of a dominatrix. After her parents split up when Alexandra was 5, she went on the road with her mother and a cat they picked up along the way, traveling cross-country in a beat-up car. For several years, they lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, Bob Dylan, Sid and Nancy, among others. When Alexandra was 11, her mother gave birth to another daughter, Gaby Hoffmann. Alexandra became a second mother to Gaby. By the time Alexandra was 11, she was carrying Gaby around in a Snugli.
Alexandra became an actress. You might know her from the HBO series "High Maintenance," from an episode in Season 2 when she tries to break a dance marathon record. But her career has largely been devoted to teaching yoga and using Instagram to satirize how yoga has been commercialized. Her younger sister, Gaby Hoffmann, is an actress who's co-starred in "Transparent" and "Girls." Alexandra Auder has written a new memoir called "Don't Call Me Home." Note to parents of young children, we're going to be having an adult conversation.
Alexandra Auder, welcome to FRESH AIR. What a really interesting book you've written (laughter).
ALEXANDRA AUDER: Wow. Thank you so much.
GROSS: I want to start with your birth. Your father made a video of the whole thing, and this was, like, years before people were making videos of births. I mean, no one had video cameras there. Your father had a big Sony Betamax, I think.
AUDER: I think they called it, like, a Sony portapak, yeah.
GROSS: A portapak, right.
GROSS: And those were, like, heavy things. Very few people had those. Those were expensive.
AUDER: Very true, yes.
GROSS: And, you know, this was a very graphic video. Like, you saw the birth. And then as a child, you watched it. Like, how old were you the first time you saw the video of your own birth?
AUDER: You know, it's so funny that you ask that because just last night, my father sent me a couple of videos that I asked him for because I'm doing something in Los Angeles. And so I watched this thing. I mean, I've seen them a million times, but not in years and years. And I - it's me. I don't quite have perfect language, so I must be, like, 3. And I'm asking, I want to see Emma being born, because I called myself Emma, which was my name in one of my mother's autofiction books (laughter) - which at the time, I don't think they knew the word autofiction.
But - and so I'm sitting. It's a long video, with the camera just trained on my face watching the video. And it is quite graphic, you know? There's a close-up of my head coming out and an incision. And I'm biting my nails, which I still do, and staring at it. And you can see every expression sort of across my face as each moment in the birth video happens. And it's almost a bit disturbing, (laughter) actually. But - and my mother says - when I say I want to see Emma being born, my mother says, OK, you're really - you know, you're really driving me crazy with this, Alex. How many times a day do you want to see this? And I say, two times a day.
GROSS: You know, most girls, when they find out that babies are born through a woman's vagina kind of freak out because it's, like, so hard to imagine the possibility of that unless there's some kind of, like, magic. And there you are, age 3, actually watching yourself being born in the most graphic way. How did that affect you emotionally? And what did it make you think about what childbirth meant, what it was like and whether you wanted to be a mother yourself?
AUDER: Well, it's - I mean, it's so interesting because, you know, I knew that I, at a very young age, wanted to have a home birth. And it's a great, you know, kind of study in how we become who we are. I think this video - and how our thoughts are formed because my mother in the background says, next time, I'm having a home birth. I want to have another baby just so I can have a home birth. And it's interesting. And I wonder if I really internalized that, you know, kind of monologue of hers about how horrible the birth was. And I am someone who's quite comfortable with my body and sort of, you know, try to share that with people in a way, you know, try to help other women and my daughter.
GROSS: Yeah, you're a yoga teacher.
AUDER: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Right. But I'm particularly extra, you know (laughter)? Like, I'm known as a sort of - you know, I'll take off my clothes kind of any time (laughter). There's plenty of uptight yoga teachers out there, you know, Terry? But it really did affect me on a deep level.
GROSS: Did you hear your mother scream? Was there audio?
AUDER: Yes, there's audio. It's very intense audio. And she's really wailing. And you can see - well, I can see, when I'm watching the actual video of me watching it - so it's pretty meta, I guess, because I was, like, in bed last night at 52 watching my 3-year-old self watching my birth...
AUDER: ...Which is a bit odd. And I do seem a little nervous watching it. So I do think there was an essence of - you know, that I had to self-soothe at a young age, the fact that I'm biting my nails. I've not really seen 3-year-olds bite their nails voraciously, you know? So I think there was definitely a nervousness. And in a way, I had to self-soothe myself, with all of the input and sensory input I was getting at a very young age. And then, like everything, there was this other side that was a great thing that made me very comfortable and open with things like babies coming out of vaginas, for example, you know?
GROSS: One more question about childbirth.
AUDER: Yeah, please.
GROSS: So your mother was on the phone with Warhol comparing the pain of childbirth to his pain of getting shot.
AUDER: (Laughter) Yeah.
GROSS: And she says, I think my birth was more painful than you getting shot.
GROSS: And I think that's just kind of hilarious, them comparing pain...
GROSS: ...Like that.
AUDER: That's very Viva and very Warhol, really. You know, they shared this - they were both Catholic and had a lot in common. And a lot of that personality type, you know - I'm going to use the word martyrs, you know? - they were very into discussing the aches and pains. And my mother always has been, you know, starting as a young age, or at least from what I have observed. And so I think, yeah, I really - I think that's so funny. And he just seems to take it, you know, off the cuff. I don't know. It's so hard to know what Warhol is ever thinking, you know, because he's so kind of deadpan.
GROSS: Is it true she was on the phone with him when he was shot?
AUDER: Yes, it is true. She was on the phone with him. She heard him say, you know, oh, my God, or something like that. And he put the phone down. She was still there. And she heard the shots.
AUDER: And then she rushed - she was basically at the hospital as he was being brought to the hospital.
GROSS: You and your mother were on the Letterman show after you appeared in a Wim Wenders film together, and you were on the show promoting it. And...
GROSS: Tell us what happened at the end.
AUDER: Yeah. So my mother decided that if everybody sent her a dollar, you know, who was watching the show, she could - we could make some money. We could get some money. So she said, you know, I don't have any money, you know? No - none of the men have - they've abandoned me. And I'm not supported. And I'm not sure if she said exactly that. I'm sort of, you know, paraphrasing. And she said, send anything you can, even...
GROSS: Wait, wait, wait. And didn't she mention that Andy Warhol, like, never...
GROSS: ...Gave her her due financially?
AUDER: Yes, yes. Yeah. She said, I've net - you know, I never made a cent from those Warhol movies, a single cent, so if you send me just $1 at 222 West 23rd Street, New York, N.Y., 10011 - I still remember the address of the Chelsea. And Letterman, like - I can't remember exactly what he did, but he tried to, like, end the show. And then we would get these envelopes sent to the Chelsea. You know, in the Chelsea Hotel, you have these cubby boxes, you know, for your mail behind the desk. Each room has a little cubby. And we would have these envelopes, you know, Viva, c/o Chelsea Hotel, and there would be literally a dollar bill in the envelope.
GROSS: Did it help financially?
AUDER: I mean, probably so. You know, I think we kept our cash in a little - in what my mom called the top drawer. We had one bedroom, so all our stuff was in there. And she kept petty cash in the top drawer. And so I think when, you know, she'd send me to Lamstons to grab her some pantyhose from the plastic egg or to the middle deli to grab a St. Pauli Girl beer, she'd say, grab the cash from the top drawer. So I think those dollar bills did contribute to our little fetishes like Petit Beurre cookies and the St. Pauli Girl beer.
GROSS: So, you know, Viva was a star in the underground world and also became famous for her talk show appearances. I'm not sure she was ever on a talk show after David Letterman.
AUDER: Right, right. Exactly.
GROSS: But how did she like being a celebrity? And people wouldn't even necessarily know her movies, but they'd know her because she was like a celebrity personality. And how did you like her being a celebrity?
AUDER: Mmm hmm. I think I was in awe and very proud of her and very impressed, you know, up to a certain age, you know. Not that I wasn't impressed with her and in awe, but obviously when puberty happens, you start to - you know, you start to differentiate from the parent, ideally. So, but when I was younger, I was - no - very, very impressed with her and thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. And I loved when people recognized her on the street, which would happen sometimes. And I thought she was, like, the smartest, you know, most wonderful woman in the world.
And I think she just is who she is. So I don't think she thought about it like, I want to be a celebrity, or I'm a celebrity. She really was just living as she lived. And her convergence with Warhol was just one of those, you know, uncanny moments on the streets of New York at that time. In the '60s, that could happen. That could probably no longer ever happen again.
You know, she literally said to some kids that she saw, oh, what are you doing? They said, we're making a movie tomorrow. And she said, well, can I be in it? And they said, well, show up at this date and maybe you can. And it was, you know, one of the Warhol movies.
GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here, and then we'll take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest is Alexandra Auder. Her new memoir is called "Don't Call Me Home." We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN CALE'S "MOVEMENT 6 [FROM KISS]")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Alexandra Auder. Her new memoir, "Don't Call Me Home," is about her unconventional upbringing. Her mother is Viva, one of the underground celebrities from Andy Warhol's circle. Her father, Michel Auder, is a filmmaker and video artist.
There was a very deep bond between you and your mother when you were growing up, especially after your father left. And it was a physical bond, too. I mean, you'd often sleep in the same bed. You were very, like, physically connected as well as emotionally. You write, my love for her burned inside my chest. Do you think your mother treated you sometimes as if you were her partner or her lover or, you know, a substitute for that?
AUDER: Yeah. I mean, I think when you're a single mother - I mean, I don't have personal experience with that, but I know co-parenting with my husband for my kids - it seems like a very different experience. So I think that a lot of single mothers have that relationship with their children because - and especially if you're not wealthy, and you have to work. I mean, my mother didn't have, like, 9-to-5 jobs, but she wrote from home. You know, I think space is a big issue. You know, so when you share a bed for so long, it's almost the environment that creates that.
But I do think that with Viva - with children, she does - they are an extension of her. And that can be an amazing thing, you know, up to a certain age. And, you know, she doesn't have a filter, and she doesn't have boundaries. So in one sense, it creates this great, like, confidence, I think, in little kids because you're treated almost as an adult in some way, you know, and then certain aspects of that can go awry.
GROSS: After your father left when you were 5, you and your mother went on the road together. And you had a beat-up car. I don't know how many times (laughter) it broke down, but I imagine it did. Tell us about, like, one or two of your adventures on the road and how you experienced that as a child. I mean, children often really want boundaries. They want predictable patterns in life. And you had the opposite.
AUDER: Yeah, I never knew that, you know, Terry? (Laughter) I never knew that until I had kids, you know? But yeah, our car - basically, if you came to a stop, as I remember - and again, you know, memory is faulty. My mother would probably have a different version of the story, but I think she would agree with this. The car would just stall out.
And so we were in the South. She was dating - or dating is the wrong word. She was with - her lover was Bill Eggleston, the great, wonderful American photographer from Mississippi. And I actually really liked him - one of her only boyfriends I liked. So we were traveling around, sometimes with him, but he was married, so sometimes he would go back home to his family.
And we had this car. I don't know if Bill gave it to us or what. And so when a red light would happen, we would actually try to slowly roll through. So my mother would say, OK, hold on, honey. You know, I'm going to go really slow here. And then we would just try to - you know, we would pray that no other cars would be coming.
But sometimes, of course, we did have to stop, and then it would die. And then we'd have to, like, roll it into a repair shop. And, you know, they tried to fix it. I don't know if they did. It had no heat. And so at some point, we were in the Rocky Mountains with no heat. And my mother would say, oh, God, my feet are just freezing to death. And I would, like, rub one of her feet while she was driving to keep them warm.
GROSS: So it sounds like sometimes your job was to take care of her as opposed to her job being to take care of you.
AUDER: Yeah, I think that's a legitimate thing to say. But, you know, she did lots of taking care of for sure. And - but I think that there was that aspect. You know, there was a - we could call it a co-dependency, which is a bit odd since, you know, I guess you're not - as a child, you're not so co-dependent. You're just meant to be taken care of. But she didn't, like - you know, I didn't feel neglected on any deep level in terms of my needs taken care of. But yes, I think there was an emotional caretaking for sure.
GROSS: You wanted a sister very badly. And when your mother became pregnant when you were about 10 or 11 with an actor who you both knew but who was - I think he was married to somebody else at the time. So your mother asked you - and you're, like, 10 or 11. She asked you if she should have an abortion. That's a pretty big question to lay on a child and a big responsibility, too, because say you answered her, pro or con...
AUDER: (Laughter) Yeah.
GROSS: ...And she decided, even if it was independently decided, to do the same thing that you suggested, if things went wrong one way or another, if she had regrets one way or another, you might have felt a responsibility for that.
AUDER: Yeah, you bring up a really good point. In this kind of, you know, relationship that we had, I felt I had a great deal of control on some level. Whilst, you know, of course, in retrospect, you know, if you were going to go to the analyst couch one - the thing is there was no control. But yet I did believe I had this ability to, you know, steer the ship. And, you know, her saying, should I have an abortion - again in the time of, that didn't upset me at all in the sense that I wasn't shocked by the idea of abortion. I think I just took it - you know, when you live with someone who is in a sort of constant monologue, a lot of the stuff just kind of goes in one ear and out the other. So sometimes it can be as intense as talking about abortion to just, you know, like, where are my socks, that it becomes kind of the same tone in your head.
So I just knew, no, we're having this baby. You know, and I would say we. And I was absolutely certain I wanted a baby sister. It had to be a sister. And it was just outrageous to me, not because I thought abortion was bad or gross or anything - just outrageous to me that she wouldn't have this child that was meant to be that we had both, you know, prayed for at Fatima in Portugal, you know? So I really thought that Gaby was a kind of, you know, destiny - our destiny.
GROSS: You became like a second mother to Gaby, taking her in a Snugli when you were 11, taking her to a sleepover when you were a kid, and you were - the mother of your friend sent you and Gaby home in a taxi because Gaby was just, like, crying all the time and no one could hush her.
AUDER: (Laughter) I find that story so funny, you know, in retrospect.
GROSS: Yeah. But, you know, did you want to be a part-time mother for her, or was that a responsibility you felt compelled to take on?
AUDER: I mean, I really feel I did. I was like - you know, again, in retrospect, obviously, you see things in a slightly different light. But with Gaby, I don't know why it was. Maybe I was super weirdo at 11 years old, but I was so into the idea. And I really felt this deep love for her and really wanted to be with her. I mean, you know, as she became a toddler and I was then coming into my teen years, that felt different, you know? I mean, I adored her, but I wanted some of my own time. So I felt more like a disgruntled mother by that point. But in those first couple of years, I was all in.
GROSS: I want to ask you a question about your father. And, you know, there's so much drama in your life growing up. Your father snorted heroin. He was very functional, and you spent a lot of time living with your father and his then-wife, the artist Cindy Sherman. And, like, you knew he was doing it, you know? And you'd hear the papers rustling. I don't know how much you knew about heroin at the time, but knowing that he was doing something that he shouldn't have been doing, no matter how much you knew about heroin, did you feel like you wanted to talk with him about it or that it was best to just pretend like nothing was happening?
AUDER: You know, I think I didn't exactly know what heroin was, but my mother would always refer to him as a junkie. And so I knew there was something going on and that it was drugs, I suppose. And it made me very uncomfortable when I knew he was doing it. But I don't think I had, like, an intellectual grasp of what it was. But I definitely felt very uncomfortable. It's hard to say which was more uncomfortable, my mother yelling about it a lot - you know? - and asking me to call him and tell him I know or confront him, or being in his loft in Tribeca, knowing he would sometimes do this thing, this mysterious thing.
You know, I almost preferred to just dissociate for a couple of minutes and wait till the process was over and then come out. Because when we were together, he didn't seem high to me at all. He just - I actually really enjoyed his company. And so he would make dinner and we would - you know, he would make his videos, and I would play in the neighborhood with my friends. He didn't seem weird to me. And he wasn't, you know, abusive in any way or - I never saw him nodding out or anything like that. He was very high functioning or at least - whatever he did when I was there appeared very high functioning. But that said, I did not like it, no.
GROSS: Yeah. Well, let's take another break here and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Alexandra Auder. Her new memoir is called "Don't Call Me Home." We'll be right back after a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my conversation with Alexandra Auder. Her new memoir, "Don't Call Me Home," is about her unconventional upbringing. Her mother is Viva, one of the underground celebrities from Andy Warhol's circle. Her father, Michel Auder, is a video artist and filmmaker.
I want to let parents of young children know that we're having an adult conversation. You lived in the Chelsea Hotel for several years with your mother. How old were you during your Chelsea years?
AUDER: So we - I was almost born in the lobby, and then we were there when my mom and dad were still together for, I would say, a couple of years before we moved to Topanga Canyon. And then from, like, 2 to 10, it was a lot of that on the road that you mentioned and, you know, going to different places across the country and even different places in the world. My mother had this sister in Argentina, and I also visited - I went with my dad to Paris and France and saw his French family. So when I was about 9, 10, we secured an apartment in the Chelsea. We had just come back from Portugal doing that Wim Wenders movie. And we stayed there from then on until I left for college.
GROSS: What was it like spending some of your formative years in the famous Chelsea Hotel? And who was living there at the time whose names we might know?
AUDER: It was honestly a wonderful place to be an adolescent and a teenager because, one, there's a doorman. So, you know, if you go out partying at night, there's no fear of drunk driving, and there's always somebody there. And it was a very tight community. I mean, of course, there's people - you know, transient people coming in and out. If, let's say, a - I'm going to say a normal person might be horrified...
AUDER: ...At the crowd, you know, but - and there was, like, often cops and, you know, some strange riffraff, but nobody was ever threatening to me at all. In fact, I loved the weirdos. And my mother's greatest friends lived there. So on one floor, we would have Vali Myers, who is this amazing Australian. She called herself a witch. She was an artist, and she had tattooed her whole face with, like, Aboriginal markings around her face. And her apartment was filled with Medaglia d'Oro coffee cans and colored beads.
And my mother and - I would love when my mother would leave me a little note on the door saying, at Vali's. And I would go down and just hang out listening to the women's voices chatting, which I think is, like, one of the reasons I love your voice, Terry. It's just like, I love the sound of women's voices talking in the background while I'm falling asleep.
GROSS: Oh, thanks (laughter).
AUDER: And then Shirley Clarke, who was an incredible video artist, filmmaker, and did an amazing jazz documentary. And she was, you know, a lover of the incredible Ornette Coleman, as was, I think, my mother. So the story goes. And Shirley Clarke was all black and white. She had a Felix the cat fetish. And the entire apartment was black and white with a, like, shelf of Felix the Cat dolls. And even she herself was black and white, like, she had a white streak and a black streak in her hair and wore only black and white clothes.
GROSS: So what was the downside of living in the Chelsea?
AUDER: As community-oriented and fun as it could be, there was also a sort of menacing side. And Stanley Bard, who was the owner at the time and the landlord and is famous for being generous with artists - he would take art in exchange for rent and is often lauded as this great, you know, benefactor of artists - he would, you know, call me into his office at the age as young as 10 years old and tell me I had to go get the rent from my mother or they - quote-unquote, "they" - I never knew who they were - were going to kick us out. And I loathed those, you know, forced meetings in his office. It just made me feel very uncomfortable. And I didn't want to deal with him. And my mother would be constantly fighting with him - big, huge scenes in the lobby, screaming scenes.
And, you know, there was definitely the people you didn't want to deal with. Like, if you imagine living in a commune, kind of, like an old '70s commune in the countryside, it was like a commune in this strange building. So I often had to find little, you know, mysterious and secret exit routes in and out of places to avoid certain people.
GROSS: Why did you need to avoid them?
AUDER: Sometimes it was probably an aspect of being overwhelmed at times at home with, as we spoke earlier about this, like, you know, monologuing, a lot of sensory input. I just could not deal with questions. So sometimes, you know, there would be what you know, we sometimes called, like, a lobby rat - someone who's always in the lobby, never leaves the lobby. And if I was trying to rush, you know, they might say, Alex, Alex, come here. How are you doing? Did you - are you going on that audition? I haven't - where's your mother?
And I just, like, would feel this almost rage sometimes because I just didn't want to talk, you know? So I would sneak through the El Quixote restaurant, which used to have a door by what I called the gold elevator. And you could go out of the building through the El Quixote. But the El Quixote manager did not like that. So he would also yell at me if he saw me. So it was a bit of a maze I had to negotiate depending on the mood of the day.
GROSS: Yeah. You know, you've mentioned that your mother was kind of like a constant monologue. She was, like, always talking. I have to say, that kind of thing drives me crazy. And I think it's in part - working on radio and interviewing people, I'm always, like - in real life, I'm always, like, editing conversations in my head and thinking like, no one needs to hear that part of the story, you know?
AUDER: (Laughter) Yes, yes, yes.
GROSS: It's like, edit that out and move on to the next thought, you know, and, like, make it all shorter. No one has that attention span.
GROSS: And of course you can't do that in real life. But how did you handle the monologues and did it make you want to emulate that and be this person who could just, like, hold forth all the time? Or did it make you more quiet?
AUDER: I think if you ask certain people...
AUDER: ...You would get different answers. So if you ask my husband, he would say it makes me more quiet because I think at home I'm actually quite quiet. In fact, my husband will say, like, tell me a story or something that happened. And I'm just like, you know, I can't. Not right now. But I do have a performative aspect for sure. So I think my friends would think of me as a talker. And I do try to self-edit. In fact, I often - some of those, you know, 3 a.m. moments of shame, I'm like, oh, my God, did I...
AUDER: Let other people have the floor more, you know? Like, shut the F up. So I actually, like, consciously say to myself in gatherings, like, now you be quiet and somebody else tells a story. So I think there's both aspects to me, but at the end of the day, just, you know, home, which - that's where I most often am, braless and in my, you know, loungewear, I'm very quiet.
GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you again. If you're just joining us, my guest is Alexandra Auder. Her new memoir is called "Don't Call Me Home." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO'S "ALL TOMORROW'S PARTIES (ALTERNATIVE INSTRUMENTAL MIX)")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Alexandra Auder. Her new memoir, "Don't Call Me Home," is about her unconventional upbringing. Her mother is Viva, one of the underground celebrities from Andy Warhol's circle. Her father, Michel Auder, is a video artist and filmmaker.
I want to ask you about losing your virginity to a...
AUDER: Why, thank you, Terry (laughter).
GROSS: Yes, I know - I ask all my guests about losing their virginity (laughter).
AUDER: Yes. I'd love to discuss this.
GROSS: Yeah. So you lost your virginity when you were babysitting. You were 17. You were babysitting for a married actor who was out filming a role. And when he came back, his wife wasn't home. She was also an actress, who you very much admired. And he started kissing you. And then you lost your virginity. He was in his 30s. You were 17. How did it look to you then compared to how does it look to you now?
AUDER: Yeah. I mean, at the time, it was just, again, something I was doing. But there was a kind of meta look at it where I did realize he was sleazy. And yet I wanted to use him to get the deed done. And in retrospect, when writing the story, I think I saw it, obviously, in light of the #MeToo movement. You know, when the #MeToo movement was happening, I was always like, I've never - that's never happened to me. I really was like, I respect it. I was like, great. Yeah, speak up. But I've never felt that way. I've never felt that anything's happened to me. And then, you know - and I think a lot of women had this experience. Thinking about it more, I was like, oh, actually, yeah. Yep and yep, oh, and yep (laughter).
And none of it was anything - like, I don't - I never felt deeply internally traumatized by any of those things that happened to me because they were mostly fairly mild. But I think that why I never spoke to this person again after that, after losing my virginity to him, is that the one - you know, something that Gaby and I both got is that we actually have, like, a good deal of self-respect, amazingly. And, you know, I just wanted nothing to do with him. Like, I got the deed done. And I was like, and you're dead to me.
And funnily enough, you know, he would say, well, I just heard through the grapevine, like, you don't talk to me anymore. And in retrospect, I'm like, God, what an idiot. Like, you know (laughter), what do you think? It's so funny that - I think he was clueless, I guess. But I think that in those days, you know - and it's been, I think, written and talked about a lot - it was a very different era, but not to mean that we shouldn't discuss it and recognize the ills done to young girls. But it was a very different era.
GROSS: You were an actor when you were young. You were a professional actor by the time you were in your teens. And even before that, you'd been in front of the camera. And you've continued to have an acting career. And I think one of the best-known things is "High Maintenance." It's an anthology series about someone who's a marijuana dealer known as The Guy. And in every episode, he supplies the marijuana to a different person or a group of people, or a couple. And the episode was all about that interaction and what happens in the person or people's lives who are getting the weed.
And you play somebody who wants to break the world record for having danced the longest amount of time. So you have to keep being videotaped to have evidence that you kept dancing - and without giving away the end. And it seemed like a perfect role for you in a way because you are such a physical person. You're a yoga teacher. You always loved dancing. But how much do you care about acting, because you've really devoted your life more to studying yoga and becoming a yoga teacher, something you've done for years?
AUDER: I mean, my true love was acting and kind of is acting. And the yoga was almost just, like, something to, you know, support my husband and I. Nick, my husband, who's a filmmaker, helped build out my first studio. And it was just like, OK, this is the way we can bring some income. And he was, actually, still finishing college. So I always thought I would get back to acting. But then, you know, I mean, it's so funny to think, when I was in my 30s, I thought I was too old at that point. And my husband and I would always be making films together. We do these collaborative movies. But, yeah, so I was really thrilled when Ben Sinclair, the - one of the co-creators of "High Maintenance," asked me to do that.
And I - that was sort of my dream job because it was - I hate auditioning for things. So even now, sometimes a casting call will come, somebody who knows me and says, you know - wants me to send a video in to, like - for underwear or something, you know, where you make, like, maybe a couple thousand bucks in the day. And I have to send a video in of me, like, sitting in underwear on the bed. And I can't do it. I find it very demeaning. And, like, I could use a couple thousand bucks, but I'm not doing the underwear thing. So I kind of just want to be asked to do something. And that's what Ben Sinclair did. But, you know, of course, like, you know - I don't know - if Tilda Swinton wanted me to audition for something, obviously I won't say no. But yeah, so I think at some point it was clear I wasn't going to be pursuing acting because of that attitude, most likely. I'm sure everyone is like, well, duh, you wouldn't go on an audition.
AUDER: No one's going to come calling, honey. So I - yes. So the yoga thing and, you know - and I do love - I love teaching. I mean, I don't. But I used to love teaching a group yoga class.
AUDER: I did used to love it. But that said, yes, I actually find teaching also demeaning (laughter).
GROSS: But teaching yoga makes a lot of sense to me in the sense that you've always been comfortable in your body. I mean, you and your mother are very comfortable, you know, nude. There was no shame involved with that. And you never were embarrassed, you know? And also, having grown up with a kind of constant emotional tension, I could see how yoga would really be a way to exit that...
GROSS: ...And find a sense of center within yourself, not reliant on another person's approval or validation, but just, like, within yourself - and also just, you know, calmness, the calmness that you can discover with a practice such as yoga.
AUDER: Well, you're making me now want to take a class, Terry.
AUDER: I honestly was like, yeah, you hit the nail on the head. Yeah, I think that's exactly what I discovered at a very young age. You know, I took my first class at Jivamukti, and I really found my yoga mother there, this incredible woman, Sharon Gannon. And she knew, actually - she said, I've seen your birth. She said she had - she was in the art world, as well, in Manhattan, and she saw Michel's video. And she, you know, introduced me to the world of yoga, welcomed me in, and, you know, I almost, like, jokingly call it a curse because basically, I was hooked. And I think it's exactly why you say that somatic connection to self and the silence and meditation. And I think - you know, it's weird - I actually really didn't put that together, like, also as a reprieve and break from the monologue inside the apartment. And I really took to it. And, you know, I think it was just when the commodification of yoga happened, it was hard, too.
And also, we as yoga teachers - I say we as the group - you know, that we realized that there was a lot of appropriation. There was this idea of manifestation and that all - you know, the whole idea of karma can be kind of effed up, that it didn't take into account for economic injustice. So I had a lot of criticisms and questions at some point and that I couldn't, you know, reckon with.
GROSS: Well, let me introduce you again. If you're just joining us, my guest is Alexandra Auder. Her new memoir is called "Don't Call Me Home." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Alexandra Auder. Her new memoir, "Don't Call Me Home," is about her unconventional upbringing. Her mother is Viva, one of the underground celebrities from Andy Warhol's circle. Her father, Michel Auder, is a video artist and filmmaker.
Your book starts in the present or near present with you wanting to smother your mother, Viva. She was in her 80s, you were in your late 40s during the part when this takes place.
GROSS: What was happening? Why did you want to smother her? And I'll remind listeners who maybe didn't hear the beginning, that - I mean, you were so close when you were a child - I mean, just, like, physically, emotionally, totally bonded.
AUDER: Yes. You know, I think all women have that experience with their mother at times, you know, and hopefully some less than others. But I think for whatever strange, you know, whether it's Lacanian, Freudian, primordial, primitive animal thing, we have that kind of repulsion to our mothers at times in our lives. So there's that. But then I think with what I would say a Viva, who is difficult to contend with, and again, the constant monologue, the drama, the histrionic nature of her personality can be very overwhelming, is - often can. It can also be hysterically funny and wonderful and a real joyride, but in its darker moments, can be very overwhelming.
So yes, I have, I think, from growing up in such a confined space and having had to deal with that from, you know, birth onward, when she would come into our lives, which we're all very excited to have for my kids, as well. Everyone loves her. That said, it would be hard for me. Very often, especially if the trip was extended, I would feel that sense of claustrophobia that I had, as an - you know, more as a teenager in our little bedroom. I slept on the top bunk, you know, just - you know, I could practically touch her foot with my foot. And I think there is a kind of almost, you know, internal violence and rage that simmers that I - probably because I could never express any of that as a child - that is under there. And, you know, I wanted to be transparent and authentic when I wrote about that.
GROSS: What are your thoughts about fame, having grown up with a mother who was famous within certain circles, within the underground and alternative world circle?
AUDER: I mean, I really saw that there is a deep misogyny at that time. I think now things are very different, but I think I do see my mother as being discarded when she was no longer useful to Warhol, to certain directors, to the world.
GROSS: Wait, when she was no longer, like, the young and beautiful, sexy person they could use in their work?
AUDER: Yeah, exactly. And she's wickedly smart. She's an incredible writer, too. She truly does - similarly to my father - just do what she wants to do. So she loves painting. That's all she does. So it doesn't matter to her. I do see that for women in that era, you had that moment. And then once you got to a certain age, it was over. I am not allergic to fame. I mean, I'm not famous, but maybe after this, I will be (laughter). I had always envisioned fame for myself. And I always laugh when, you know, actors say, well, I'm just doing this for the craft, I don't want to be famous. I'm kind of like, well, the whole craft is that someone's got to watch it and admire you, you know, and like it. Like, I'm like, yeah, no, I'm fine with that. I mean, I think it's good to be a late bloomer, which it seems I am. So any fame I might achieve is not going to be the fame of, let's say, you know, a Leonardo DiCaprio. So I'm totally titillated.
I wanted to get recognized more in "High Maintenance." I would literally walk around Brooklyn, like - I thought I looked so hideous in that episode, and I wanted to, like, make my lips look like I had dehydration and put that bandana on just so somebody would say, are you the woman in "High Maintenance"? Like, not a single person recognized me. So, you know, I'm an exhibitionist, so I don't have a problem with it. But I do see how fame at an early age, it can be a curse for sure and could lead to depression. And - but I think I'm good now, you know? I think (laughter) - I've only got a little more time left. I think I'll appreciate it if anything happens. If someone wants to recognize me, please do.
GROSS: You have two children...
GROSS: ...In their teens.
AUDER: One is 11, my boy, Miko. And he'll be starting sixth grade this September here in Philadelphia. And my daughter, Lui, is 19, and she's at Bard College, where Nick and I went - my husband and I went.
GROSS: Oh. So when you became a mother, did you make certain vows of what you would do similar to and different from how you were raised by Viva?
AUDER: Yes and no. In some ways, I wanted to do what she did. Like, I was - I always admired, you know, nursing on demand, if you're aware of that, like, idea - like, that the child can nurse whenever they want to nurse. And I guess, you know, what the term would be is attachment parenting. And so I definitely thought that was the way to go, although now, you know, at this point, I'm not sure if that was the right way (laughter), when in retrospect. But I really wanted consistency. I wanted a sense of safety, of boundaries. Now, you know, you'd have to ask Lui. She might not necessarily feel Nick and I provided that for her. But I think we did, you know, the best we could. But, you know, I think that is why probably we're more domestic. We're more boring, really, than my own parents were, you know?
AUDER: And I wanted to - you know, I wanted them to have their own sense of self and my - a sense of privacy with my own private life. Now, again, if you interviewed my kids, they might not say that's how it went down.
GROSS: Yeah. Well, I know from your book that you went through family therapy with - well, I don't know who was in it, but I know your daughter was. And you write that listening to what your daughter had to say about you was a form of torture.
AUDER: (Laughter) Yeah.
GROSS: And that she described how sometimes she feels, when she's at home, filled with anxiety, unable to relax, no privacy, that she's subjugated by her parents' unpredictable moods. I can imagine how that would feel like...
GROSS: ...Torture. But...
GROSS: ...Was it helpful to - since you wrote about it, I'm going to ask, was it helpful to hear that?
AUDER: Yeah, I do think so. I mean, it was shocking, I think. And I - you know, part of me wanted to be like, oh, my gosh, do you know no privacy? You need to see how I grew up, you know? And I hadn't - you know, she hadn't read my book at that point. So it was almost like, you have no idea, kid. But I knew that that was obviously the worst thing one could ever say, you know, in a family therapy session or to your child. That's just - it doesn't mean anything. You know, it doesn't matter how you grow up. It's how they're experiencing it. So I luckily avoided saying that, but I was - yeah, I was a bit devastated, actually, to be honest, to hear that.
I think now that Lui has read my book, she's a huge - she's the, like, greatest supporter and the most wonderful woman, and she's - loves it and finds it hysterically funny. And I gave her a copy to make sure she didn't have a problem with any of, you know, the part she was in. She jokes that I call her a slut on the first page. But - so I think that's been therapeutic on some level - you know? - for us. And, you know, we're pretty honest with each other as a family, most of the time. So, you know, I think what she - you know, everything she said in that therapy session I agree with, you know? And there's - you can't go back. So I just - you just have to acknowledge the faults as best you can to your children and try to do better onward, you know?
GROSS: So, Alex, it's been great to talk with you. I'm so glad we did this.
AUDER: Thank you so much. I adore you, and I'm so appreciative.
GROSS: Alexandra Auder's new memoir is called "Don't Call Me Home." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about the conservative effort to roll back child labor protections and the latest on the use of migrant children to work in some of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Our guests will be New York Times investigative reporter Hannah Dreier and Washington Post business reporter Jacob Bogage. I hope you'll join us.
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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
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