Tag Archive: Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

Ah, Andy Warhol; his presence is felt in rock and roll history yet again. The mad times of the 60s were over, and the differently mad 70s were off and running. Andy had lost only a little of his relevancy, being viewed as an elder statesman of pop culture rather than an active participant. He still created art, and he still inspired art, as well. And being the astute and cutting observer of culture that he was, David Bowie’s attention was of course turned to Andy for a bit.

The song “Andy Warhol” from Hunky Dory is probably the most accurate poetic statement of how Andy and the Factory actually were. Mind you, how they actually were is bound to be a little different from the prevailing public opinion; I wasn’t born yet and if you’re reading this, chances are you weren’t either. Bowie provides a razor-sharp glimpse here, clean as a surgeon’s scalpel. “Dress my friends up just for show / see them as they really are.” What more need be said?

I know how Andy must feel here, being talked about as if he’s not even in the room. Celebrities enjoy that kind of thing; Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” But the ultimate awkward silence moment came when Bowie invited Andy to the studio to hear the finished product before he released it. He played it for him, and Andy didn’t say anything. Bowie waited a few moments, and Andy still didn’t say anything. They were just staring at each other, Bowie waiting expectantly to hear an opinion on his art. Andy must have felt like a person does when they have that dream in which they’re naked in a public place.

When Andy finally spoke, he commented on Bowie’s shoes. The two of them then proceeded to have a 10 minute conversation about shoes.

Months later, Andy said in an interview that he thought the entire song was a heartless comment on his complexion. “Andy Warhol, silver screen / can’t tell them apart at all.” Even if this isn’t a purposeful reference to Andy’s paleness, I can’t hear it without instantly thinking of Andy’s lily-white, emaciated face. And I chuckle a little.

The vinyl flip is the super-campy burst of glam silliness “Fill Your Heart,” and the album turns to more traditional and guitar-oriented material after that, starting with “Andy Warhol.” Mick Ronson is one of the great guitar heroes of the 70s in this humble writer’s opinion, but he wears a different hat for half-plus of the record. His string arrangements, while not worthy of a Broadway play, fit in perfectly with the ironic song-and-dance timbre of Hunky Dory, most especially on “Fill Your Heart.” It’s almost a vaudeville routine.

Bob Dylan

But things change to a more rock tone, though the sarcasm and cutting wit aren’t reduced at all. “Song for Bob Dylan” and “Queen Bitch” are much the same as “Andy Warhol,” blurring the line between homage and devastating criticism. The subject of “Song For Bob Dylan” is rather obvious; Bowie addresses the dual nature of Dylan, commiserating with his desire to be somebody else while criticizing his efforts to hide his true nature. “Song For Bob Dylan” comes right after “Andy Warhol,” which is a little ironic considering Andy and Bob’s simultaneous affections for the same girl (pop superstar/media trainwreck Edie Sedgwick).

“Queen Bitch” is harder to penetrate, though. I’ve read from more than one source that it’s a tribute to the Velvet Underground, but I just don’t see it. It makes intellectual sense, since Bowie was very buddy-buddy with head Velvet Lou Reed, but I don’t hear “Queen Bitch” and get a Velvets picture. The word-scheme and meter are a little similar to “I’m Waiting For the Man,” but “Queen Bitch” has so much more energy and drive than anything the Velvets did. Regardless, it’s a great song, and one of the best on Hunky Dory.

The American press always makes more out of something than is actually there, and Bowie is no exception. “The Bewley Brothers” is his little joke on them. With this song, he invites those silly Americans to speculate at its possible meaning, and gives them plenty of fodder. In reality, though, the song isn’t really about anything. Like a college student majoring in literature, we dissect and dissect ‘til our dissectors are sore, and all the while Bowie is giggling that we’re wasting our time.

Hunky Dory can be most fully enjoyed in hindsight, knowing that the next album, Ziggy Stardust, builds upon the foundation it created. But even in the mere moment of the end of 1971, in a here-and-now context, Hunky Dory challenges us and takes us for a wild ride. How could Bowie get better?

Amazingly, he does; just wait.

Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones – 4/23/1971

Mick Jagger (and the rest of the Rolling Stones), to use a bit of British slang, is a cheeky little bastard. Society has unspoken rules and regulations about what you do and what you don’t do, but he casually bites his thumb at them when it suits him. Mind you, he’s not so shallow or immature to purposefully break social codes for the simple sake of breaking them. Instead, he has a smirking disregard for societal laws, a trailblazing mentality that I sometimes wish I could emulate.

With originality will of course come some ruffled feathers. An example is the artwork for the Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers. It features a picture of a man’s jean clad crotch – belly button to thighs. His jeans are so tight that his features (particularly the male ones) are unable to be mistaken. The photograph is fairly grainy, but if you’re paying attention, it’s pretty clear that he has a raging hard-on. But wait, there’s more! In a very avant-garde move, the cover is more than just a picture. It also has an actual zipper that can be moved up and down, letting you dignify and un-dignify the male model at will. The kicker, though (as if that wasn’t enough), is the back cover. It has the same model in the same pose, but instead of skin-tight black jeans, he’s clad only in tighty-whiteys. His erection is even more pronounced.

Andy Warhol, silver screen, can’t tell them apart at all…

The Sticky Fingers cover was designed by Andy Warhol, that guru of all things alternative culture in the 1960s. In addition to producing the first album from the Velvet Underground, he also designed that album cover: a simple white background with a plastic peel-off banana in the center that revealed a pink peeled banana underneath; nudity, phallic symbols and potassium all in one. He’s just starting his decline in 1971, the cover for Sticky Fingers being his last significant statement.

Even the name Sticky Fingers is loaded with innuendo. Back when I was a kid, KFC had the slogan “It’s finger-lickin’ good!” I thought “sticky fingers” meant something similar ‘til I was about 12. I won’t bother to explain the double-entendre of the album title; I think you’ll be able to figure it out. Hint: it’s not about barbecued chicken.

Other album covers had ruffled feathers with their suggestiveness, but Sticky Fingers takes the cake. It’s pretty much the pinnacle of a sly nudge in the ribs, and goes as far as art can go before tipping over into gross overstatement and crass genitalia jokes, the domain of 12 year-old boys. The statement the Sticky Fingers cover seems to make is that men are purely sexual objects to be done with as the user sees fit. On a deeper level, that’s a criticism of the sexual objectification of women, turning the gender bias on it head; sometimes we can’t see a thing until we see its opposite. If the mishandling of males for the sole use of sexual gratification strikes us as ridiculous, why is the use of females that way any less ridiculous?

липкие пальцы

Some international versions of the cover are different; the Russian version features the same type of photograph, but the belt buckle is a five-point star with a hammer and sickle inside. Also, there’s no zipper, and the model is female; it misses the point, I think. The Spanish version had me recoiling the first time I saw it. It’s a picture of a can opener lying next to an opened can of treacle with actual human fingers coming out of it. It’s like something from a 70s foreign horror film. I guess they’re going for the single entendre there.

Sticky Fingers is the first album to be released under Rolling Stones Records, their brand spankin’ new label. Decca, the label they had their previous contract with, claimed they were owed one more single, so the Stones submitted a tracked called “Cocksucker Blues,” knowing full well it would be soundly rejected. See what I mean about cheeky?

Dedos Pegajosos

It’s also the first Stones record of the 70s, a new age where sex has a changing definition, drugs are more available and more stigmatized, and social activism is becoming a thing of the past. For their part, the Stones are settling into a niche. With their last two albums, they’ve set themselves up as the naughty boys of rock and roll. If you’re a parent in the early 70s, you don’t want your impressionable young son or daughter hanging around with kids who listen to the Rolling Stones. Sticky Fingers does nothing to dispel that image. I think Mick, Keith and company are actually enjoying it.

Union Square

our cat, Ali (think "short for Alison," not "boxer Muhammed")

When my wife and I moved to New York City in the summer of 2009, I didn’t have a job; by that I merely mean I didn’t have official outside employment. My wife would probably argue that I did have a job, because I was taking care of the house.

Yes, I was (and still am, really) a househusband. I cook, I clean, I shop for groceries, I do laundry, I run household errands. Despite some draconian perceptions, it’s quite an honorable job. In New York, my wife had to work almost every free moment; according to her boss, she had to be “24/7” committed. She was making a significant investment so that we could have a roof over our heads, so I made an investment in the roof. More than that, it was a way for me to serve my wife. My central objective was to make sure she had a nice place to come home to after pouring so much of herself into her job. I heard so much squawk about serving my wife when I first got married, and I can think of no better way to do that than literally.

Several things have changed. We moved back to MA, got a much bigger apartment, got a cat, and I’ve now added unemployed writer to my resume. My house-husbandry hasn’t gone away; it’s even more important now, in fact. I didn’t really enter that role until I got to New York, though.

Union Square, 7th floor apartment's eye view

In NYC, our home straddled the line between East and West Greenwich Village. Sometimes I walked around our neighborhood and I could literally feel the culture seeping into my skin; it was glorious. Approximately 8 blocks uptown from where we lived is Union Square, a 3-block plaza with a subway station and a small park where the homeless and affluent alike rest their bones for a spell with a cup of coffee or a bottle of Jack. It also has a playground and a vibrant farmer’s market 3 days a week. I went there every Wednesday morning to the Petco on 17th St. to volunteer at the cat shelter there. Right outside the Petco at the corner of 17th and Broadway, there’s a statue of Andy Warhol.

It stands across the street from one of the sites of Andy’s Factory art studio, but not its original and most famous home in Midtown. It’s about 7 feet tall, which is a heck of a lot bigger than the slight and wiry Andy himself. I don’t know what it’s made out of, but the surface is chrome. He’s got big, bug-eyed shades, a snappy suit, and a Bloomingdale’s bag in his right hand. Were he to see it, I think Andy would be impressed, though he’d probably say something like, “last time I was at Bloomingdale’s the sales clerks were far too polite.”

On Wednesday: The Velvet Underground ditch Andy and get noisy.

The Big Apple

In the summer of 2009, my wife and I moved to New York City; more specifically Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan. Previously, we lived in western Massachusetts, a place filled with forests and general stores and Robert Frost-esque rock walls. Needless to say, there was a bit of culture shock. I had gone to college out near Boston, so I was a little used to the grind and crawl of city dwelling, but Ruthanne was less prepared. She spent the first 2 months nervous and unhappy; she liked the rock walls, and didn’t like the cement wall that our apartment window looked out on.

New York isn’t hiking paths and twisty roads and mountains that are really hills; it’s plazas and avenues and digital billboards in Times Square. It’s Frank Sinatra and the Today Show and TKTS and restaurants we’d never heard of. It’s a place that almost lives up to your expectations you had since you were a kid, but falls tragically short.

But there is another side to the Big Apple (a name no native New Yorker has ever uttered in his life); a stereotypical seedy underbelly part of its past, now acknowledged as lore and legend. Andy Warhol and the Factory and drug-addled parties are an integral part of it. Describing in detached detail that aspect of NYC, as a Greek chorus might the plight of Oedipus, is the Velvet Underground.

The Velvet Underground started as two guys (Lou Reed and John Cale) who loved the avant garde, and eventually became the house band of the Factory, Andy Warhol’s art/movie studio. The Factory had its original home on 47th St. in Manhattan, and was populated by a cadre of artists, hangers-on, drug addicts, and Warhol’s friends. Usually, a single Factory denizen would be all four.

Andy Warhol

Andy was one unique cat. Everything I’ve read, heard and seen about him says he was spacey, free-thinking and revolutionary in his own way, but also manipulative, insensitive, and capable of extreme cruelty. His films are some of the most sexually explicit (and sexually bizarre) ever produced, though he was an unmarried, deeply Catholic virgin. Some say he was gay, but as far as intercourse with another human being goes, I don’t think Andy ever had it.

Enter the VU. After humble beginnings, including John Cale giving their demo tape to Marianne Faithful in the hope she would pass it on to Mick Jagger (she didn’t), Andy Warhol eventually took notice of them. In addition to becoming the Factory’s house band, the Velvet Underground also provided the musical accompaniment to Warhol’s traveling multimedia art show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Warhol also became the band’s manager, and the Velvets benefited from Andy’s high public profile. He “produced” (that’s with air quotes) their first album, though his involvement was little, in the name of giving the band free rein over their own sound. But the most important contribution Andy made was his suggestion (which translated as his undeniable command) that they be joined on a few songs by singer and Factory It Girl Nico.

Ah, Nico. I’m tempted to think the pairing of Nico and the Velvets didn’t initially excite any of the people involved, and was a grudging thing at best, but I’ve seen no indication of that. Still, some of the best parts of their first album came when Nico had no involvement whatsoever. Nico, who was an individual artist in her own right, couldn’t simply be absorbed as a member of the Velvet Underground. I don’t think either party would have been satisfied with that; Nico would have to share the spotlight with four other people, and VU would have to take on what was essentially dead weight. Like it or not, that pairing created an environment that might not have produced such a fantastic album had it not happened. It couldn’t be sustained, though – Nico quit before 1967 was even over.