Andy Warhol the Musical
I spent the summer of 1984 in New York City learning to screen print at Warhol's Factory. It was not glamorous. Most mornings, I woke to the sound of cockroaches scrambling around the floor of my 4th floor walk up apartment. The space was very basic, a room and kitchenette located in an old tenement building in the East Village. At 100 dollars a month it was more than I could afford. With little money left for food I was always hungry. I lived on coffee and takeout from food trucks and whatever else I managed to salvage often from upmarket dumpsters. That sounds worse that it was. The Waldorf Hotel regularly threw out 2 or 3 dozen fresh pastries mostly croissant after breakfast each morning and the kitchen assistants there were kind and gave me a quart of fresh coffee if I remembered to bring a flask. I walked everywhere, regularly going as far as Little Odessa and Coney Island, where I spent most of my Sunday afternoons. It was a solitary existence but I had a mission that summer, it consumed me, to learn how to screen print and that's just what I did at the Factory on Union Square. It was there, through countless and thankless hours of repetition, that I honed my skills working on some of Warhol's most iconic images including a repeat edition of the Marilyn Diptych originally produced almost 20 years earlier. People think we just hung out at the factory the truth was it was hard work, physical work. During the 80’s Andy had amassed a following of rich patrons eager to have their portrait made by him. This had proved very lucrative, so much so that Andy had to share out the job of creating and reproducing images to his assistants including myself. At the same time his dollar prints were also in big demand selling for $25,000 and more depending on the print quality. I know this because on the one occasion I meet Warhol face to face it was to have one of these prints signed after hours at his home on Lexington Avenue before delivering it to a buyer on Park Avenue. I remember he had this really thick accent and without his wig he was just like any regular joe you would meet in the neighbourhood. He wore a white coat like a chemist and I could tell he had been painting from the small flecks of gouache on his fingers. After I delivered the print and collected the cash payment. I walked home to the village with the dollar notes in my apron pocket. I was sure I would be mugged. Next day I brought it back to the office on Union Square like Andy told me to. That's when it hit me Andy was really tight with money. He bought us coffee and doughnuts and told us he had made us all famous, 'superstars' and famous people didn’t need money because people, even poor people, want to buy famous people stuff. Later that year Andy would move the factory for the third and final time to a converted office block on 22 East 33rd Street. I never liked this location. It was more like a corporation than an artist's studio. The truth is that by that time it had started to feel that way too. I didn't know it at the time but the summer of 1984 was the last of the great days of the factory era. It was also memorably and oppressively hot that year. The only time to venture out was after sunset. Most evenings I went to the gym to work out. The same gym I learnt later as the novelist and provocateur Kathy Acker. Turned out we shared the same weight lifting instructor too. The place was very basic just a few dumbbells and a couple of benches which, like the rest of the city, had seen better days. Sometimes I would catch up with my friends from the factory at a party in the Village. Sometimes Andy would leave comps for us to Studio 54. A converted TV studio which by this time had become infamous as a hang out for an unique assortment of aristocrats, royalty, impoverished artists, gays and misfits of all sorts. In 1984 the city was on the verge of bankruptcy and so this seemed like the epitome of glamour. I thought the place was a dive and, to be honest, I never saw anyone there I recognized except Jodie Foster once when Warhol was doing a piece with her for his magazine 'Interview'. Funny, how being in the middle of history in the making can seem very unexceptional at the time. When I look back on it now what I remember most about that summer was the heat and the sound of police sirens but most of all I remember the sunsets over Manhattan. They were breathtakingly beautiful turning dull blocks of lifeless grey concrete into shimmering gold towers each evening before the cities lights came up. It was the best show in town and like all my best experiences it was free.
These are cuts ups because history like identity is relative and is continuely made, unmade and remade - done, undone, redone.