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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: June 12, 2010

John Wilcock

IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS, I’m returning to New York (coffee anyone?) for the first time in years. My presence is to help with the launch of The Autobiography & Sex Life of Andy Warhol which, some readers may recall, was part-serialized on this site a couple of years ago. The book was actually written more than 40 years ago, a series of conversations with Andy’s friends and associates just as he was becoming an international figure. Although selling for $5 a copy at the 1971 Whitney Museum retrospective, the book was eventually asking $150 on Amazon. The current edition, much classier, is priced at $45, or less via

In addition to a book signing at Larry Gagosian’s Madison Avenue store, the crux of the New York visit will be a panel discussion at the New York Public Library on June 23 with some participants in the original book. Almost half of these are now dead, including editor and art critic Mario Amaya who provided a moving account of the day that both he and Andy were shot by a spurned Factory visitor.

“What Andy is selling,” somebody told me back in the Sixties before I met the enigmatic artist, “is not so much art as a milieu” of which I became an eager part. From the beginning, I found myself often confused about what was happening. Thus, my question about what Andy might be trying to say.

Mario replied: “He isn’t trying to say something as such, he’s trying to show something….He’s showing us a little bit about what’s happening with us and to us and for us and in us.”

This library event could provide similar “explanations,” but will largely consist of memories about the trend-setting enigma who has become an icon. Who could possibly have guessed that a half-century later hardly a day would go by when the Warhol name was not evoked in one newspaper story or another?

     Of course, during the years I hung around with Andy and his crew I had no inkling of what
was to come. It just seemed to be the most interesting thing around. I became so fascinated by the overpowering energy of the ‘Factory’ (the original one opposite the YMCA on West 47th Street) that I started to devote two or three days a week to joining what seemed like an endless party. I joined the entourage for film-making jaunts round town, hung out at the Factory getting everybody stoned on good weed, and accompanied them for trips to the mid-West and Los Angeles. Nevertheless, I became more and more baffled by what was going on.

One of the ‘superstars,’ Ultra Violet, said he was just unpredictable. “That’s what I like about all artists,” she said. “You never know what they will be doing next.” (Much later I was much amused by the quote from some now-forgotten source: “The thing to remember about Andy is that he never does the same thing once.”)

Mainly to satisfy my own curiosity, I began to audiotape chats with everybody who seemed likely to “explain” things, and it was the accumulation of these conversations that became the book. It was hurriedly published, to coincide with the Whitney retrospective. The not-quite-accurate title was supplied by Paul Morrissey who had earlier told me that “almost everything that (Andy) does is of a comic nature. He refuses to be serious but being comical is one of the most serious things. It requires an enormous amount of purpose and determination to be comical. To avoid being serious is very hard to do.”
As soon as the collection of the book was in print, I gave Andy a copy, but he never offered any opinion to me about it and I never solicited any. Lacking reviews, the book soon disappeared. But I am very aware that my apprenticeship around the Factory taught me much about my life.

When art lover Chris Trela came across the book in a secondhand store in the 1990s, he felt he saw its value as a piece of documentary history about “the people that Warhol invented and who invented him.” After many delays, Chris was able to republish The Autobiography & Sex Life of Andy Warhol and write a foreword.

Deeming himself  “a Warhol enthusiast” Chris speculates on why he and so many others are fascinated by the artist. He suggests that it may be due to the fact that “his work — and even his persona — was so intricately associated with a particular period, it transcends that era.”


A VERY DIFFERENT IRAN from today is depicted by Abou Farman (in the quarterly magazine Bidoun), a country in which everything good and heroic about America was once embodied in John Wayne. The movie star’s words, subtly translated via the contemporary slang of downtown Tehran —- an urban subculture known as jahel — resonated with viewers. “He was not so much translated as alchemized by the wizards of Persian dub into a new alloy,” writes Ms. Farman, “a man who walked like a cowboy but talked like a dude from south Tehran.”

    The dubbers, it seemed — “freed from any obligation to sync with the image” — would throw in slangy insults on their own initiative. Sometimes even fictitious scenes would be added, as for example, when the saloon doors would swing open to reveal a sultry belly dancer before reverting to the guys around the poker table. “What made the best dubs so good,” says Farman, “was that they added another register, a meta-commentary that created and revealed subtexts in the films.” Alas, she added, “Persian dub died a slow death in the late 1970s with the spread of corporate notions of ownerships, stricter enforcement of copyright, and a growing sense of loyalty to the original.”

 “A Western woman is not her brother’s or her father’s property. She’s just herself. She can choose her own lifestyle. But in a Muslim family, the honor of the man is between the legs of a woman. What they think is that she has to be chaste so that their honor can be preserved.”
— Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the difference between the position of Western women and of Muslim women in the Times Magazine

THE WILCOCK WEB: Pity there isn’t some anti-collusion law under which the networks could be indicted for all showing commercials at the same time …Boxes marked on the road at traffic lights in Portland, OR, allow bicyclists to take off before cars when the lights change…. Except in Britain where there’s been a major shift from beer to wine, alcohol consumption has been dropping in almost all European countries reports the Economist with adults in Italy and France drinking more than a third less than in the 1980s….The average Scot consumes 12.2litres of alcohol a year, equivalent to 48 bottles of vodka according to the Daily Mail….. Robot-driven cars will soon be taking to the highways. This fall a driver-less car, an Audi TTS, will make a test run for 12 miles (and 5,000 ft) up Pikes Peak in Colorado…Instead of paying $100 a ton to ship its garbage to the mainland, why doesn’t Hawaii just tip it into one of the volcanoes?…..A genuine CIA cap with the insignia on the front is being given away to new subscribers by Newsmax“Nobody can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea,” says Sydney Harris, “and thinks it is his own”…..Only a bicycle pump is needed to prepare the new fiberglass & cloth surfboards for action….The lie is the basic building block of good manners,” suggested Quentin Crisp…..Oxford University’s Mark Graham published a map in the Guardian demonstrating that African countries are so short-changed in Wikipedia that the cyber encyclopedia devotes one entry for every 40 square miles of Germany but one entry for every 10,500 square miles of Chad……Opening page of the Atlantic — an ad for FlexJet — depicts a luggage tag bearing the subscriber’s name … A picture is worth a thousand words, but it uses up three thousand times the memory…... Attach the YoGen Universal Mobile Device Charger ($45) to your dead cell phone and it will keep applying a charge as long as you keep pulling the attached string — “In the fight between you and the world, back the world.” — Franz Kafka (3 July, 1883 – 3 June,1924)