A conversation with Andy Behrman, author of Electroboy.
When was the earliest sign that you might be suffering from manic depression?
I was probably seven or eight years old when I started experiencing mood swings and engaging in severely obsessive compulsive habits - - "checking and counting" and cleaning constantly. I also had a very short attention span. But I think that my mania really took control of my life the day I arrived at Wesleyan. I would go for days without sleep and induce the mania with alcohol and drugs (usually cocaine). I was full of energy, talked incessantly and was extremely hypersexual. I was unable to focus on doing any type of work at all and came very close to failing out of school.
And then you left Wesleyan for the most manic city on the planet?
I moved to New York City and started raising money for an independent feature film, which in retrospect was quite delusional. I worked fourteen to sixteen hours a day. I also spent my grandfather's inheritance in about a month and had to get a real job. I worked at a boutique and got heavily involved in the fashion world. That's when the trouble really started -- I started procuring young men for some visiting executives and made friends with these escorts and became involved in their world.
Did you become involved personally?
Yes. I started stripping at a club in Times Square called "The Follies," which was just a seedy basement theater where we stripped all the way and hooked up with customers after our performances for "private shows." I also became friendly with the other guys who worked there, drinking and doing drugs - - mostly speed and cocaine.
What did you do next?
I went into the public relations business with my sister, representing doctors, authors and anybody willing to pay us a monthly retainer. We represented the exercise guru “Body by Jake,” debutante of the decade Cornelia Guest, the late diet doctor Stuart Berger, and the queen of disco, Regine. I was socializing with a strange mix of people like David Byrne, Sydney Biddle Barrows, Sylvia Miles, and Keith Haring.
You’re not afraid to name names in this book?
No, Not at all. You'll notice that some of the names and identifying features of individuals in the book have been changed to protect their privacy or spare them embarrassment. Where publicly known figures and events are concerned, including the Kostabi World episode and everything that led up to my conviction for art fraud, I’ve been very careful to tell the story as it happened. The bottom line is that this is a book about a particular period in my life and I'm not ashamed about the things that I've done.
Let’s talk about Mark Kostabi and the scandal that received so much attention.
In July of 1988 I met Mark Kostabi, an artist who openly paid other artists to paint his work and then signed his name to the works they produced for him. I was supposedly interviewing him for a magazine article for 7 Days Magazine. However, the interview turned to talk about public relations representation and after an hour I had signed a new client. I saw that there was a huge untapped market for his work and I wanted to be the first to get to it. I helped him open his new studio, Kostabi World, and took charge of both domestic and international sales, as well as handling his public relations. I began traveling to Tokyo and Europe four or five times a month to sell his work. Later, I was approached by a German painter who asked me if I wanted to go into partnership to make reproductions of Kostabi's paintings and I was quite excited about it. I was feeling manic and thought I was invincible. I thought I could make enough money to buy an apartment I had seen on Central Park West.
So what happened?
Annike painted all of the paintings in her studio in Brooklyn and I picked them up and transported them to Japan and Europe. Most of the deals were cash deals, so I had to hide it in my shoes when I came back into the country. Some of the money was wired directly to my personal bank account, which was of course, the dumbest thing I could have done, because it left a huge paper trail.
Weren't you scared of being found out?
Never — A manic depressive is not concerned with the consequences of his or her actions. What’s important is to go with the impulse. At the time, I didn't believe that anybody would ever trace a painting back to either Annike or me and also, the paintings were identical to Kostabi paintings. In fact, I still believe they were Kostabi paintings. In the end, Kostabi himself noticed one of my reproductions in a gallery window in Tokyo that he didn't remember as being “his.” Then he pressed charges against me.
What was the trial like?
I was starting to get so manic that I didn't really grasp the fact that I was a defendant in the case. I simply watched my attorney question witnesses and argue before the Judge. The conviction on one count of fraud didn't shock me. It's exactly what I had predicted and I was relieved that it was over.
What was the sentence?
I was prepared to serve a few years, but fortunately only ended up serving five months in a federal facility and five months under house arrest. The prison was like a half-way house. Most of the residents were transitioning between federal prisons and home after serving long terms for drug charges. I was lucky to have a sentencing advocate to convince my judge, because of my psychiatric condition, to keep me nearby my doctors in Manhattan. I was one of the few white residents - - most were Hispanic or Black. I kept to myself and stayed away from the gangs (the Latin Kings). During my house arrest I had a monitor the size of a walkman on my ankle for five months. I was only allowed out four hours a day but I was allowed to have visitors. I became very ill during house arrest - - my manic depression peaked and I started having visual hallucinations. I imagined knives and razor blades cutting off my tongue.
What did you choose to do?
Since no medication was working for me, I opted for electro-shock therapy (ECT) and had four treatments in ten days at New York’s Gracie Square Hospital. The first four treatments provided me with immediate relief. I started up again on a regimen of medication, but relapsed several months later. I went on to have fifteen more treatments that left me confused and with horrible memory loss. The actual procedure was simple -- not frightening at all. I was totally unconscious and actually became addicted to the anesthetic.
How are you now?
My condition now is stable. I take medication four times a day - - nine different types to stabilize my mood, control my anxiety and to get me to sleep - - the rest are to counter the side effects of the drugs - - muscle stiffness, shaking and a little bit of a blank stare. I have had a few episodes in the past three years, but they are easily corrected with an adjustment in medication.
What do you hope will happen with the publication of ELECTROBOY?
I would hope that the publication of this memoir brings more attention to the huge percentage of Americans affected with mental illnesses and also help to eliminate the stigma associated with having a mental illness. It would be nice to show that a mental illness is no different than having any other disease - - it just needs to be monitored constantly. In addition, it would be nice to give some hope to those people whose lives have been destroyed by their inability to overcome their mental illnesses, because of a lack of resources available to them or a mediocre mental health program in this country.
From the Hardcover edition.