February 22, 2008

February 22 | Andy Warhol

August 6, 1928 - February 22, 1987: Age 58

"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it."

Andy Warhol was a groundbreaking American artist, philosopher, photographer, filmmaker, and celebrity from the 1960s until his death. He had a gift for attracting interesting people and putting them in the spotlight; also for making anyone who wandered into the glare near him interesting. He was famous, for example, for his difficult interviews. His monosyllabic responses had the effect of putting the interviewer (and all the assumptions behind his or her questions) into the spotlight, making the interview much more interesting in a way than a convenional interview would be. Check out this interview to see what I mean.

Warhol was fascinated by the cultural impact of technology and mass production. He experimented with this fascination through his iconic pop art images, including painstaking reproductions of mass-market products, his insistence on mass producing his own work, and his intriguing manipulation of the growing culture of celebrity. He was vividly aware of the shallowness of celebrity, yet did not hesitate to show and act out his own fascination with meeting and being associated with famous people. His quirky blend of irony, honesty, and canny manipulation attracted, on the whole, two types of people: other brilliant people, and crazies.

The first time Andy Warhol died was on June 3, 1968, when a writer came to his studio, waited for him, and shot him when he arrived there. She also shot one of the people he was with. Warhol's injuries were profound, and doctors had to cut his chest open and massage his heart to restart it. This experience changed him. Whereas before his studio had been a 24/7 open house, it became much more exclusive. His friends felt he closed himself off more, and the delicate balance between the warts-and-all clarity of vision and his naturally open and curious mind began to tilt further toward cynicism and depression.

I was surprised to learn that he was very religious. He kept this side of his life private. He was a practicing Byzantine Rite Catholic, attended church almost daily, and volunteered regularly at homeless shelters.

His final death came in 1987. While recovering from minor gall bladder surgery he died in his sleep from a sudden heart attack. Staff had overloaded him with fluids, causing him to develop water intoxication, in which the body's sodium and magnesium levels drop. This creates a number of risks, including the risk of heart attack.

Two years after his death friends Lou Reed and John Cale developed a body of songs called Songs for Drella. "Drella" was a name for Andy coined by another friend, a combination of Dracula and Cinderella. The songs drew from Warhol's own point of view, using his diaries, as well as from that of others. The whole album is worth listening to closely, but there are at least three unmissable songs on it. The first, Nobody But You (very strange French translation on this clip), was also released as a single. The second, A Dream, uses excerpts from Warhol's diary. If you have time for only one, let it be this one. Really listen to the lyrics, you can follow them here. Finally, Hello It's Me is a straight-up address to Warhol himself. All worth listening to.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songs for Drella

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