The following article originally appeared in the February 16, 1980 issue of the English music magazine, Melody Maker. The original article was illustrated with photographs by Adrian Boot and Kate Simon:
Some people claim that only James Brown can match Andy Warhol's contribution to the Modern Dance. in the mid-Sixties, Warhol's Factory in New York saw the birth of the Velvet Underground, Polaroid art and the idea of boredom being fascinating. MARY HARRON circles warily around the silver ghost of Studio 54.
Pop Art/Art Pop: The Warhol Connection
"Because of Andy Warhol, it's no longer possible to just do what you do and not have to act it out 24 hours a day. His style of doing things changed everybody's idea of what the values were that could make you a star. And as a result there's this self-consciousness going on everywhere, this use of the media. It's not just what you do now, it's what you say about it, the way you behave, who your friends are. Your life has to reflect it. And in a way a lot of trash has been produced because of that. Which was also part of his idea..." (Steve Piccolo of the Lounge Lizards)
Andy Warhol is one of the great unacknowledged influences on pop music. He influenced it in a very specific way, by fostering the Velvet Underground. But his influence spreads beyond that - you see it everywhere, but it's hard to define. It's a matter of style and attitude. Not only did Warhol leave his mark on Roxy Music, David Bowie, the Ramones, Talking heads and every other new York art rock group, but he helped make them possible.
Warhol's influence on pop music started with pop art and what it did to America. He did not, in fact, originate pop art, but it's very typical of Warhol that most people now think he did. It was already news in 1959 when Jasper Johns exhibited two bronzed beer cans - a good three years before Warhol showed his silkscreens of Campbell soup cans to the world. But it was Warhol who became the symbol of pop art, and who took it to its farthest edge.
Warhol's soup cans stood for everything that was trashy, disposable and mass-produced in American life. By bringing the supermarket into the art gallery, pop art discarded all prevailing values about what was good or bad, beautiful or ugly, art or non-art.
Pop art provided an exhilarating liberation. After all, not only was trash part of the modern landscape, but it had a life and beauty of its own. In America a lot of vitality, care and imagination has gone into producing trash. For artists, that whole bubblegum/comic strip/pop music/ B-movie side of America had the excitement of forbidden territory. Children and teenagers could love it unselfconsciously, but artists had been taught to reject it as having no permanence or value. Pop art kicked down barriers; now artists could admit to their secret love of trash. But because these artists were sophisticated adults, they celebrated bubblegum culture in an ironic, self conscious way.
The age of pop art was also the age in which pop music lost its innocence. You can hear that innocence in the Ronettes and the Shangri-las and all those Twist songs, cheerfully fizzing away, never dreaming that anyone would take them seriously. But when the art world began to take an interest in pop, pop began to look at itself very differently. The two worlds locked; pop music acquired a history and influences.
Purely commercial pop continues to be produced, of course, as does purely "art" music, but it was only after the two worlds interlocked that you had arty pop. Only after pop music had become self conscious could you have a group like the Ramones, with their amazing ironic dumbness. The Ramones eternally stand back from themselves. They are both an expression of American teenagehood and a comment on it, and perhaps for that reason they have never been embraced by the mass of American teenagers. But then pop art was never truly popular either: reproductions of Warhol silkscreens never found their way onto the living room walls of Middle America.
But if most Americans didn't approve of Warhol, and still don't approve of him, everyone heard about him. The entry for him in Webster's Biographical Dictionary says: "Perennially controversial, Warhol reached mythic proportions in the 1960s largely because his motives were almost totally obscure..."
Public fascination with Warhol revolved around two questions: Why is he doing this? and How is he getting away with it?
To the public he was a hustler, and in a way they were right. The way that he manipulated the media was part of his statement - which makes you wonder whether Malcolm McLaren isn't one of his spiritual heirs. Both used the media - but, unlike McLaren, Warhol never had any subversive aims. Warhol has always had the greatest respect for money and fame and power.
The public must have been bewildered to see Andy Warhol, who seemed to be doing nothing, embraced by the Establishment - welcomed by the Museum of Modern Art, courted by Nelson Rockefeller. One reason was, quite simply, his talent. Warhol is a designer of great brilliance, and even when he seemed to be doing nothing but reproducing common American images - from dollar bills to Jackie Kennedy, from Elvis Presley to the electric chair - he did it with unmistakable flair.
Another reason was his talent for making the right social connections - at a time when art had become very fashionable. Tom Wolfe wrote in his profile of art collector Robert Scull: "Abstract Expressionism was so esoteric it had all but defied exploitation by the press. But all the media embraced Pop Art with an outraged, scandalized, priapic delight. Art generally became the focus of social excitement in New York. Art openings began to take over from theatre openings as the place where the chic, the ambitious and the beautiful congregated."
Finally, there was the fascination of Warhol's attitude, as seen in his occasional childlike, oracular public statements: "In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." "Business is the best art." "I love Hollywood. It's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic." "We're a vacuum here at the Factory. I think it's great."
The Factory was his studio on West 47th Street. The name was both ironic and candid. The building had, in fact, once been a factory; now, by silkscreen paintings and having most of his work done by assistants, Warhol was trying to produce factory art.
Warhol's Factory threatened the whole idea of art as individual painstaking self-expression, and in this he went beyond his contemporaries. On the whole, pop art was fun. The work of someone like Claes Oldenburg - he of the enormous plaster hamburgers - could be seen as an affectionately satirical look at American life. Warhol himself was not satirical. He not only accepted the supermarket as valid subject-matter, he accepted it for what it was. He may have outraged the bourgeoisie but he approved of consumerism, of modern industrial life, in a way that the president of IBM in his most secret thoughts would not have dared to admit.
Warhol's blank acceptance, his refusal to make value judgments, had dangerous implications, but it was also liberating. Most people had become so frightened by the modern world that they couldn't even look at it straight. Warhol seemed to have none of the normal human reactions - no fear of alienation, loneliness, conformity.
Many of his pronouncements were witty: he was never totally sincere or insincere. The best source of these is The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A To B And Back Again) - a book which, characteristically, he did not write. His assistants wrote it up from taped conversations with Warhol: "I like eating alone. I want to start a chain of restaurants for other people who are like me called ANDYMATS - The Restaurant for the Lonely Person. You get your food and then you take your tray into a booth and watch television."
At times Warhol seemed to be looking at the world with the naive curiosity of a creature from another planet. The only person I can think of now who shares this vision is David Byrne of Talking Heads. The title More Songs About Buildings And Food, the line "Heaven is a bar where nothing ever happens" and the lyrics to Don't Worry About The Government are all very Warhol. But Byrne seems more vulnerable. Throughout his songs, it's as if he's taking a correspondence course in modern life, learning step by step how to fit in.
Both Byrne and Warhol believe in the virtues of hard work, business and success, and accept the status quo. But there's one big difference between them. Byrne worries about human emotions; Warhol doesn't, or at least claims he used to but stopped when he discovered the television set and the tape-recorder:
"During the Sixties, I think, most people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don't think they've ever remembered. I think that once you see emotions from a certain angle you can never think of them as real again. That's what more or less has happened to me." (The Philosophy of Andy Warhol). People did not forget how to feel during the Sixties; this statement is about Warhol himself, and the solution he found to his problem in living. His problem seems to have been an extreme timidity, an almost pathological shyness which made it impossible for him to relate to people directly. He also loved and needed to be surrounded by people. His solution was to relate to them through tape and films. and because he was so famous and could attract fame, his solution was a very public and influential one:
"The acquisition of my tape-recorder really finished whatever emotional life I might have had, but I was glad to see it go. Nothing was ever a problem again, because a problem just meant a good tape, and when a problem transforms itself into a good it's not a problem any more. An interesting problem was an interesting tape. Everybody knew that and performed for the tape. You couldn't tell which problems were real and which problems were performed for the tape. Better yet, the people telling you the problems couldn't decide any more if they were really having the problems or just performing."
This only makes sense in the context of Warhol's social circle, where people wanted to sit around and put their problems on tape. This doesn't mean all his friends were rich and spoiled. Warhol hadn't yet become the full-time socialite he is today, and some of his entourage were social outcasts - hustlers and transvestites. But they all had a certain New York style of dealing with their neuroses by turning them into theatre - by developing an attitude and then acting it out full-time in an amazing performance. Living theatre.
Warhol's entourage was also vulnerable and narcissistic. Warhol had spotted something about film and tape: they were an invitation to narcissism. You could act yourself out and record yourself and then play yourself back.
They don't necessarily function that way, of course - most home movies are not narcissistic. But Warhol began to make a very sophisticated kind of home movie, in which his friends acted out themselves, and which were then shown to the public. And for some of his friends it was the most glorious thing that had ever happened to them, and for some it was ultimately destructive.
In 1963 Warhol and his assistants began making films at the Factory, which was a very large L-shaped loft with the walls covered in silver paper. The early films were silent, black and white, and had titles like Eat, Kiss, Sleep, Blowjob, Haircut: single camera shots, concentrating on a single activity, sometimes for many hours. The culmination of this was Empire in 1964, the eight-hour film of the Empire State Building which contained one action: a light being switched off.
What Tom Wolfe said about modern art in The Painted Word is also true of avant-garde filmmaking: the simpler something is, the more elaborate the criticism it inspires, until the explanation becomes more important than the work itself. Thousands of pages have been written trying to explain these films, and I don't want to add to them. Perhaps Warhol just became interested in the idea of film and approached it with his usual blank curiosity, as if he had never seen anything like this before.
So there was no story, no acting, no artistic touch. Just - "Here is a camera. See? This is what it does." The films were stunningly boring (although they make beautiful still photographs) and were obviously meant to be. When questioned, Warhol said that he liked boredom. Boredom was great.
Gradually, the films became more elaborate, with soundtracks and scripts. The performers were drawn form Warhol's entourage, the inner circle of the madhouse of people who filled the Factory day and night.
As Warhol's Philosophy says: "In the Sixties everyone got interested in everybody else. Drugs helped a little there..." At the Factory members of the art Establishment and rich debutantes like Baby Jane Holzer and Edie Sedgwick met the sexual underground of drag queens and Times Square hustlers. And the drug underground, too - amphetamines played a big part in the life of the Factory.
These "underground" movies were made in a steady glare of publicity. Everything Warhol did at this time was news, and he could bestow the protection of his fame on the misfits who came off the streets to shelter at the Factory. In modern America, celebrity was becoming an end in itself; it no longer mattered what you were, as long as you were famous.
Movies, radio and TV changed the nature of fame. Until they were invented, fame had always been a matter of reputation: as long as it depended on word of mouth or on print, it was necessary to be or do something extraordinary to attract attention. You had to be very talented or very rich or beautiful or powerful or evil or saintly.
The advent of the electronic media meant that anyone's voice or image could be sent into a million homes (an advance of sorts on the movies, which could only send them into movie theatres).
At the same time, celebrity-watching became a full-time occupation for many people, because you could now "get to know" anyone by seeing him or her on television, all by yourself in your own home. Actually, you wouldn't get to know them at all, or at least nothing beyond their public image, but still - there they were in your living room.
The teasing sense of intimacy made the public fascinated by personalities; the emphasis shifted from what people did to what they were like. Rock music, which came of age with television, is totally obsessed by personality.
In the Sixties very few people were willing to admit that fame no longer depended on achievement. Warhol was quite happy to admit it, and to play with it. What he did was to take a group of unknown people and turn them into "superstars".
The word itself was invented by Warhol's friend Ingrid, a raucous blonde from New Jersey who began calling herself"Ingrid Superstar". The more she went to parties with Andy, the more her name was printed in the papers, and Ingrid Superstar became famous. Eventually, all the personalities in Warhol's films became known as superstars. Warhol's Philosophy defined them as "all the people who are very talented, but whose talents are hard to define and almost impossible to market."
Warhol was a great talent-spotter, and most of his superstars had wit and a kind of freaky glamour. (The transvestite's outrageous thrift-shop finery was an influence on glitter rock, at least the American variety, in the shape of the New York Dolls.) Some were great beauties, like Edie Sedgwick and International Velvet, some were great talkers, like Ondine and Taylor Mead - and some were both, like Viva and the drag queen Candy Darling.
In the early films they would just start with an idea - "sit over there and eat a banana" - but even when they had scripts most of the action was improvised. The superstars would camp around or discuss their problems or reminisce, or just sit there, transmitting their presence onto the screen.
Cameras don't make judgments: they record everything, whether it's interesting or not. So, true to the nature of the medium, Warhol and his assistants let their cameras record everything: the early films were almost never edited. This made them boring, but life-like in a bizarre way. Warhol once called them "documentaries". It's true that even the most theatrical performers, the drag queens, were just repeating a performance they carried on in life; however, the camera was also inspiring them to perform.
Alan Midgette, who was probably the only professional actor to appear in Warhol's early films, says he remembers that once the fashion model Ivy Nicholson stood in front of the camera at the Factory and tried to slit her wrists.
"Those kind of people get demented when they become involved with movies, because they don't understand how powerful they can be," he says. "Something gets triggered off because they're not really acting. They haven't been given a part to play, so they start pulling these weird things out or their psyche and throwing them at the camera."
Appropriately enough, the only real acting Warhol asked Midgette to do was to impersonate Warhol himself. In 1966 the artist was invited to go on a university lecture tour, and since Warhol was too shy, his assistant Paul Morrissey, asked Midgette to go instead; there was a certain resemblance between the two, although Allen was younger and better looking. so he sprayed his hair silver, like Andy's, rubbed the lightest shade of makeup on his fact to imitate Andy's pallor, and borrowed Andy's black leather jacket.
Midgette impersonated Warhol at lectures, meetings with academics, and in interviews."I knew as Andy you could answer a question anyway, and that the most ambiguous answer was the closest to being like Andy." Eventually, the hoax was discovered, and the fees for the lectures had to be returned - but it also won Warhol thousands of dollars' worth of free publicity.
When questioned Warhol told a newspaper: "Oh, well, we just did it, well, I uh, because, uh, I really don't have that much to say. The person who went had so much more to say. He was what the people expected."
Midgette thinks that it was seeing his replica accepted on the lecture tour that gave Warhol the confidence to appear in public. Warhol, who always delegated everything , had succeeded in delegating the responsibility for being himself.
Warhol was, at this point, probably the most famous and highest-paid artist in the world. And, ironically, his superstars became famous, too - real media celebrities. In a way, what Warhol had done was sick. He had let people expose themselves to the camera, and he had shown that not only did they want to expose themselves but that other people wanted to watch. He had made voyeurism chic.
Some of the superstars destroyed themselves, like Edie Sedgwick, who became a drug addict and died of an overdose at 27. But something good came out of those films, too. It was an attitude - tough, funny, sharp-witted - sustained by many of the superstars even when they were showing their scars. It was the attitude of people who had been through the mill and come out flaunting. Their detachment, the way they paodied themselves, was a form of courage - and if you were a drag queen in 1966, you needed all the courage you could get.
You can find the same attitude among certain personalities on the New York rock music scene today, like Lydia Lunch. You can also find the same sickness and affectation.
So many worlds converged at the Factory and Warhol knew so many people that it was probably inevitable that he should meet the Velvet Underground.
He was friendly with the avant-garde musicians La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, in whose Theatre of Eternal Music John Cale played when he first came to New York. Warhol also knew a conceptual artist named Walter DeMaria, who played drums for John Cale and Lou Reed in an early incarnation of the Velvets called the Primitives.
According to Gerard Malanga, at one point Warhol was planning to start his own rock band along with Young, Zazeela, De Maria and Patty Oldenburg, the wife of Claes Oldenburg. The idea of Warhol fronting a rock band is irrestible but it never came to anything. However, it does show that rock was on his mind. By 1965 he had plans to open the first mixed-media show in New York, involving live music, dancers and film.
It was Gerard Malanga who actually led Warhol to the Velvet Underground. Malanga was Warhol's personal assistant during the mid-Sixties, a poet and superstar, and Warhol's opposite in every way: good-looking, street-smart, an unabashed exhibitionist and extravagantly heterosexual. Warhol fired Malanga years ago, for some undisclosed transgression; this was after 1968, when the Factory had moved premises to Union Square and its whole style had changed.
It was easy to track Malanga down to his home on 14th Street at 3rd Avenue. It seemed appropriate to find this symbol of the old Factory still living here, on a a block lined with cut-price stores, pawnshops and liquor stores. It is not one of the most dangerous streets in New York, just one of the sleaziest, like Times Square. Everyone, even the newsagents, looks like they are involved in something vaguely illegal and unsuccessful. It is also a drug street, where addicts of various kinds huddle in little groups rocking back and forth, whimpering long, frenetic monologues.
Whenever anyone talks of the romance of streetlife I always think of 14th Street at 3rd Avenue and wonder if that's where they really want to be. But I also suspect that all the New York art undergrounds, from the Beats to the Factory to the rock scene, have been most alive when they connected with this world, maybe because it acts as a constant reminder of what you face when you put yourself "outside of society." Certainly, the Factory stopped taking risks after it closed its doors to Times Square.
When I met Malanga he still looked very much the way he does in photographs from ten years ago, down to the black leather trousers that he made into a fashion. Malanga explained that it was the first time in years that he had worn leather: he was leaving that night to appear at a poetry festival in Amsterdam and though he should dress for the part.
It was the way he dressed when he went to see the Velvet Underground at the Cafe Bizarre at the tend of 1965. He was also carrying a large whip at the time. Not because he was into S & M, but as an accessory - it went with the leather. As the Velvets played Malanga began to do an extravagant whip dance, and afterwards Lou Reed came over and asked him if he'd come and dance every night.
Warhol's mixed media show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, opened upstairs at the Dom Theatre in early 1966. Sometimes five films would be projected at once, running all over the walls and ceiling, and anyone from the audience could come up and run the projector. Sometimes the Velvets would all wear white so that they simply reflected the film images and became invisible onstage, and sometimes the entire cast of the Living Theatre would come by after a performance and start leaping around the room.
This was the time when the whole Factory entourage hung out in the backroom restaurant at Max's Kansas City. Warhol's bill there was said to be 3,000 dollars a month. Deborah Harry, who was a waitress there at the time, has said in interviews that not only were the Warhol crowd the rudest people she ever met, but they never left any tips.
The Velvets began to rehearse at the Factory, and did so nearly every day for almost two years. The phone was always ringing with invitations for Warhol and his entourage. This was an age of lavish parties, in lofts and art galleries, parties everywhere from discotheques to the Statue of Liberty. And so the Velvets wrote All Tomorrow's Parties: "What costumes shall the poor girl wear/To all tomorrow's parties?"
Malanga says, "The Velvets were always invited to things, and usually they would show up. But they were very much in the background, and no one really paid any attention to them. Except for Nico, because she had a lot of social connections."
Nico was then a successful fashion model who had appeared in La Dolce Vita and cut a single in London with Andrew Oldham. Malanga: "It was Warhol's idea to bring Nico into the group; he wanted her in because he felt the Velvets on their own 'lacked charisma'."
Of all the Velvets, Lou Reed spent the most time at the Factory and was closest to Warhol.
In some way their attitudes were close. Warhol has often gone on record as saying that sex is too much trouble, but he is fascinated by the idea of sex, and many of his films were semi-pornographic in a distanced, ironic way. A friend of Reed's in the Factory days said to me: "Lou is mostly a voyeur. In my experience he never had any sustained interest in either sex. You see, sex just doesn't offer Lou enough - he's just really bored by it." But like Warhol, Reed was interested in the idea of sex, in the sexual role-playing of transvestitism and S&M.
Reed drew on the Factory for his subject matter - the Chelsea Girls are all Warhol people, Candy Says is about Candy Darling and Walk On The Wild Side is a series of vivid superstar portraits - but he didn't share Warhol's passive, objective eye. Candy Says is a very moving song, and Lou Reed had obviously been touched by this people; he identified with them.
Some of the Velvets' most important songs,, like Heroin, Venus In Furs and I'm Waiting for My Man, were already written by the time they met Warhol. He functioned less as an inspiration than as a source of financial and moral support.
Sterling Morrison, the Velvets' guitarist, thinks they might have broken up in six months if it wasn't for Warhol. Morrison says: "He argued against restraint." John Cale says: "Andy's a good catalyst." One reason why Warhol had such a powerful effect was that he created an atmosphere at the Factory where it seemed that all the old rules and forms had been broken and anything could be tried. His attitude was "Why not?" Or, when faced with a problem, "So what?"
Walter De Maria says, "There was a serious tone to the music and the movies and the people, as well as all the craziness and the speed. There was also the feeling of desperate living, of being on the edge."
When I asked him if the people at the Factory ever thought about the future he said, "No, I think the present was blazing and every day was incredible, and you knew every day wasn't always going to be that way."
1966 is said to have been the great year at the Factory. By 1968 the Velvet Underground, after touring with the Plastic Inevitable, had come to an amicable parting of the ways with Warhol. That same year a lesbian feminist named Valerie Solanas appeared on the outer fringes of the Warhol entourage, and played a small part in one film, I, A Man.
Solanas, who seems to have had a certain sense of humour as well as a badly deranged mind, formed a group called SCUM - The Society for Cutting Up Men. When Warhol refused to produce a film script she had written, she became resentful. On June 5, 1968, she took the elevator up to the Factory, walked over to Andy Warhol, who was talking on the telephone and shot him three times in the chest.
In his Philosophy, Warhol wrote: "Before I was shot, I always thought I was more half-there than all there - I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life." After being shot, he says, he knew that he was watching television: "The channels switch, but it's all TV."
Be that as it may, it affected him enough to cause a revolution in the Factory. The open-door policy was stopped and the Factory moved premises to Union Square and became an increasingly professional organisation. Paul Morrissey, who had become Warhol's chief assistant (and who once managed NIco), too over the filming. The result was more commercial, and admittedly more entertaining, films like Flesh, Trash and Heat.
The new Factory, in Union Square, houses the offices of Interview magazine. Glenn O'Brien who edited it for three years and now writes its music column, says it was started to give Gerard Malanga something to do.
It began as a film magazine, but eventually concentrated almost entirely on interviews. They were all transcripts from tape recordings and, like the early films, were interesting because they left in all sorts of things that a professional editor would have cut out. The interviews read just like conversations, sometimes boring and trivial, but with the fascination of eavesdropping.
Interview seems to have influenced the punk fanzines. Punk magazine, which started in New York in 1975, picked up the random, slightly surreal style of the early Interview. Mark P. told me in the summer of 1976 that, although he thought Punk was too much of a comic book, it had given him the inspiration to start Sniffin' Glue. And the rest is history. Or not, as the case may be.
The editorial policy of Interview is avowedly to cover people who are doing interesting things, but it has concentrated increasingly on those who are rich or already famous. It's now edited by Bob Colacello, who contributes a rather arch monthly column about his social-climbing. Interview has done a great deal for Warhol's own social connections, and he seems to appear at every important party. But then Andy Warhol - who was born Andrew Warhola 52 years ago, the child of Czech immigrants, whose father worked in the Pittsburgh steel mills, and who grew up in poverty - has always been infatuated with the rich.
The reception area of the new Factory is very quiet. There is a lot of polished wood floor, and polished tables, and the minute you walk in a young man politely asks you what your business is.
There are several of those young men wandering around the Factory, all remarkably alike. They are fair, well-dressed and very well groomed, rather sweet, but enervated. They have the kind of faces that appear in Interview magazine, and like all those faces they are faintly disappointing in the flesh - they only achieve perfection in photographs.
I sat down to wait. Fred Hughes, who is listed as the "President" of Interview, walked in. He is small, neat, impeccably dressed, but brash. I suspect that brashness is his most likeable characteristic.
Hughes sat down at the telephone and smiled at me suspiciously. Did I have an appointment? I was glad that I did, because there is a potential for nastiness at the Factory. If you did not have an appointment they could make it very clear to you that you were not beautiful, rich, amusing, or in any way fabulous enough to have walked in there at all.
Warhol came in and we were introduced, not that I had any trouble recognising him. there was a slight shock at first when I realised how old he was - I had always thought of Warhol as permanently 30. At first sight he is unearthly. His skin is like nothing I've ever seen on a human being. His face, beneath the dyed silver hair, is so pale that it seems to have been modeled out of putty, ridged with little crevices that are, in fact, nothing more sinister than adolescent acne scars. He speaks very softly, and with a shy boyish charm that immediately begins to take effect.
Warhol explained that he had some business to take care of, and I sat down to wait again. I noted, with some satisfaction, that the paint was peeling from the ceiling. Warhol returned and we retired to one end of the room, past a huge vertical prism filled with rainbows, surrounded by black screens and potted plants, past a stuffed penguin on top of a marble table, surrounded by black armchairs. I brought out my tape-recorder.
"Is the radio on?" asked Warhol. He went over and switched it off, so that it wouldn't interfere with the recording. Warhol knows about tape recorders.
I knew that a few days previously Warhol had been down at the Mudd Club filming a "Rock and Roll Funeral Party" in progress there. The party ran for two nights in the upstairs room. The room was filled with shrines, each designed by a different artist. One was a replica of a trashed hotel room with a psychedelic Moon. Another was a room with a psychedelic poster on the wall and a lamp covered with a fringed shawl; on the floor lay a dummy in beads and feathers with a hedge of hypodermic needles sticking out of her arm - Janis Joplin.
"We have a show we're trying to do on cable television called Fashion," said Warhol. "So we were filming it down there."
What did you think was the best exhibit?
"I liked it... uh... well, I liked it because the party was for two days. I think the one I liked was the ham sandwiches in front of the candles."
The shrine was to Mama Cass. Warhol said he thought the kids there wore great clothes. I asked if he thought the fashion had changed recently.
"Well, I think they're, uh, just... well, it looks like they're wearing the Sixties. I don't know. Without being hippies."
In England they're all wearing mod clothes now.
"They are? Oh, again? Oh, really? Oh, great. I like all the things the kids... the punk thing still looks great."
This was all very nice, and very polite, and curiously paralysing. Partly it was the effect of Warhol's shyness; partly it was because I knew that he might walk away at any moment.
In your book, the one that's coming out now (Exposures), which groups have you...uh... have you got any groups in there? (Hesitation was catching.)
"I think so, yeah." (Later, Glenn O'Brien would assure me that Andy really did have a bad memory.) "I think we have the Talking Heads and, uh, we have Walter Steding, who works here. We have Lou Reed. Just, uh, anybody who usually comes up here."
How did you come to... didn't you do an ad for Talking Heads?
"Oh well, I guess I met them a long time ago and I did an interview with them and I thought they were really terrific."
We talked about the Palladium, which Warhol said was great, and then I asked him about the first time he saw the Velvet Underground. What were they playing?
"They were just playing loud."
What did they look like then?
"Well, they always wore black. And Maureen played one note and John wore black. They all wore black. They were great. But somehow they were in the New York kind of music, and California kind of won out with all the hippy kind of music."
Didn't you take the Velvets out to California?
"Oh yes. we were there with Bill Graham at... what's the name of that place?"
"The Fillmore, yeah. Jim Morrison saw the show, and I think he picked up some of his style from that. He began to wear leather, like Gerard. Actually, Barbara Rubin wanted to bring us to London, so I guess if we'd really gone to London it might have been more successful. I'm sorry we didn't do that. She wanted to get the Albert Hall."
Warhol couldn't remember how his involvement with the Velvets stopped.
"I don't know. I like them so much, we might have had a contract but it didn't matter... they just decided to find some other manager. Well, it was just too hard going around. It was fun to go around for a few months. And then we could have gotten another night club, and it would have meant staying up till seven every morning and it was just too hard to worry about that. So then the group broke up or something like that... and then it took years and Lou just kept on working. He's very good now, he's changed a lot."
Do you ever go to his concerts?
"Oh yeah, I think they're terrific."
The Velvets were really the first art rock band weren't they?
"Well, I think the Talking Heads are doing it better. They seem to be more sensible and they work at it. They were art kids, too. They went to Rhode Island School of Design."
What do you mean - more sensible?
"Well, less crazy. It was a crazier time then, I guess. Now they're doing it more like a profession. And they're good at it."
You said something in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol about how the Sixties were very cluttered, and the Seventies were very empty...
"... What are the Eighties going to be like?"
"Oh, well, all I know is that New York is as fun now as it was then, but even more so. Well, the hippies were around then; that was sort of wonderful."
I was stunned - in the Sixties, Warhol and the Factory stood as a symbol for everything that was urban and cynical and decadent - everything that the hippies were not. Also, Allen Midgette and Sterling Morrison had both told me that everyone at the Factory used to laugh at hippies. But, on second thought, I'm sure Warhol does think the hippies were wonderful. He likes to see a lot of activity.
Do you think New York went dead for awhile?
"Yeah, it did, it really did. Well, they kept pushing that New York was such a terrible place. There's just as much crime happening now as was happening then. There are the same people on the same streets."
Do you ever go to London?
"Oh yeah, we were just there with Martha Graham and Liza Minelli and Halston and Steve Rubell. Oh, it was wonderful."
Does it strike you as having changed?
"Well, it was really wonderful and, uh, great."
I asked Warhol about his superstars. What was the difference between that kind of fame and other kinds?
"Uh... well, it was really wonderful and, uh, great."
I asked Warhol about his superstars. What was the difference between that kind of fame and other kinds?
"Uh... well, it was just such a good time for the kids. You got famous in one movie, and they didn't know that you had to go on to acting school if that was your career. It just happened too easy."
I guess they didn't realise that it wasn't going to last.
"I always thought it was just sort of good training. And after you did it, you really had to go on to school to be an actor and really learn what technique was. Because it is technique."
Did any of them try?
"Well, Joe Dallesandro is in Rome. He makes a lot of movies. Not many of the others."
But wasn't that part of it - that it was very easy fame?
"Well, it was just all right then, because everybody was supposed to do something new. And they all had the chance, but they just didn't know what to do with it."
It's a bit like how people get famous in rock music.
"Yeah. like that group that was so great that just sort of fell apart and one of the boys died."
The New York Dolls?
"No, no, no, the English one."
Oh, the Sex Pistols.
"They were just so famous. But they were really talented. I guess the guy who killed himself was just the same kind of Sixties... you get famous with something, and then you have to keep doing it because it's what you know. But the other one, the one that seems to quit because he realised it had gone too crazy - what's he doing now?"
John Lydon? He's got a new group.
"It must be... a different theory, right? So you can change and do anything."
I asked Warhol about Nico.
"Nico is really fat now. She's in town. Have you interviewed her?"
Do you think she ever cared about being famous?
"Well, Nico had like eight careers going for her, and every time they happened she changed. She was a French movie star, and as soon as she became almost successful at that she left and came with the Velvets. And then as soon as she was singing the right kind of songs and she was getting more work, she'd buy an organ and do chanting. Every time it's almost successful, she changes her whole style. I don't know why she does that."
We talked about John Cale, who Warhol said was the most talented of the Velvets. Just then a young man drifted past.
"Have you met Walter Steding? Want to meet him? He's great. Walter, do you want to do a little interview? He's the person you ought to interview, he's the one who plays the violin..."
He beckoned Steding over and said: "Why don't you tell her what you do, why don't you sit down and be interviewed." He turned to me and said simply, "Walter wants to make it, so..." So it made more sense for him to be interviewed.
Walter Steding, a rather shy and sweet young man, sat down by the tape recorder and told me about his first stage performance, in which he used electrical impulses from his brain to activate a synthesizer while he played the violin. Meanwhile, Warhol had disappeared. He had succeeded in delegating the interview.
Whatever Warhol did that was of real importance was probably between 1960 and 1968; once the shock of his refusal to make value judgments was over, he stopped being a radical force and became just an uncritical member of the Establishment. But we are left with his influence. It's particularly strong in the New York rock underground because he virtually created it, by taking the Velvet Undergound into his social world.
Andy Warhol's great virtues were his immense curiosity about people and the world around him, his open mind, his astuteness and his nerve. He could take almost any attitude and make it look cool.
This made him a great legitimiser. He legitimised the sophisticated use of bubblegum which would turn the Shangri-las into Blondie, and beach party music into the B-52s. He legitimised the ultra-naive-but-sophisticated celebration of America, and therefore made it possible for Jonathan Richman to write a happy song about a shoppping plaza, and David Byrne to write a touching song about his apartment building, without being laughed at.
He made his entourage famous, and their outrageousness inspired the rock fashion for using transvestitism and S&M leather for shock effect. With this came the whole idea of using decadence or a parody of decadence as a subject for rock music.
Warhol proved in his own life that no matter how fucked up you were you could survive through style - as long as you were never embarrassed. Wahol's particular style involved an emotional detachment that was based on a fear of emotion, and he helped make non-feeling cool.
He understood the media brilliantly, and he showed how to use them before they used you, by consciously developing an image. His success also made it seem more important to have an image. He probably created David Bowie, and it seems right that Bowie, whose talent for celebrity rivals Warhol's own, should be the only rock star to write a song about him. And when Bowie was at his most famous he projected an invulnerability that, like Warhol's, was based on the sense that he wasn't quite human. He was a star personality who, in fact, had no personality, just a constantly changing image.
After Bowie, Warhol's influence seemed to fade in England. The Sex Pistols, may have killed it. I think one reason why English groups are so concerned with taking moral stands and New York groups are positively hostile to them, is that Warhol's influence is much stronger in New York. Morality is contrary to the Warhol style. The advantage of this is that you are never self-righteous, and the disadvantage is that you are never sincere - or concerned.
At its best, the influence of Warhol's style means that the New York groups are witty and sharp and clear-eyed enough to express unpleasant truths; at its worst it means they will play with evil and not care about the consequences because, well, life is just a movie.
A few days after interviewing Warhol, I saw Glenn O'Brien. He'd just finished taping his cable television show, TV Party. Once a week Glenn and his friends, including Deborah Harry, get together and have a party. On television. (Probably this could only happen in New York.) I told Glenn about the interview, and I asked him whether Warhol meant it when he said everything was great.
"Andy does like everything," Glenn replied. "The only thing he wouldn't like would be something that was boring or imposed on him. But it's also a very intelligent, Machiavellian politeness. If you say everything is great, some people will take you at your word and some people will think you're being ironic. The people who think it's great will think you're saying it's great, and the people who think it's awful will think you're really saying it's awful. So you're always saying the right thing."
And that's where we have to leave it, because that's Warhol's message, that's what he's been saying all along: Here is the modern world - and it's great.