Andy Warhol: Lord of the Underground

A tour of the Temple of Tin with the Prince of Pop in his silver world
of superstars, neo-motionless movies, sexless sex and terrific peoople.
Profile by Max Gerard (aka Hester Mundis)

Blue-jeaned lesbians shoot-up, turn-on, freak out. A flaming homosexual drug addict screams he's the Pope. A hideous, drunken woman unmercifully beats her perverted son. This is the world as Andy Warhol sees it through the eyes of his camera, a world he has created from the chaos of realities. It is 'The Chelsea Girls,' the first Warhol movie to break from the underground into the light of an uptown marquee. And it is only the beginning.

The writing was on the wall, even before the beginning-or, rather, the soup was on the canvas. In 1962, a pallid, platinum-haired young illustrator put fifty cans of Campbell's Tomato Soup together and caused an explosion. Everything went POP! Brillo boxes were in-Botticelli was out. Marilyn Monroe was in-Modigliani was out. Comics were in-classics were out.

A whole new Dynel and plastic, aluminum-foiled world was formed. An Andy Warhol creation. A world of Superstars and terrific people, a world of neo-motionless movies, sexless sex and dehumanized humans that has only just begun to grow.

For the past year, Andy Warhol's contributions to the New York art galleries have been steadily decreasing. But the number of his underground movies increased to such proportions, that almost all of his time is spent coordinating, casting, cutting or filming at his East 47th Street "Pop Factory" in midtown Manhattan. When Warhol gave his address to me over the phone, he sounded surprised that I'd called for an appointment. (Didn't everyone know where to find him?)

'Come up today, or tomorrow," he said. "Any day, any time after two."

It was about four-thirty in the afternoon when I arrived at the "Factory." From the street, the building looked deserted, as if it had been condemned months ago and was patiently waiting to be razed. No door, no signs, no names of any sort were visible. In fact, the only indication of life was a cigarette butt dying in the hall.

Inside, the building looked worse. The elevator that opened into the hall was dark, tomb-like. Its heavy metal door was framed with layer upon layer of dirty adhesive tape. I hadn't had much exercise lately. So I headed for the stairs.

I was vaguely aware of voices as I climbed, but I had no idea where they were coming from. The doors on every landing were tightly shut and painted a rotting, anonymous green.

Suddenly, one flew open.

A blast of stereophonic rock-and-roll music shot into the corridor, followed by two, paint-spattered Bohemians with eyes as wild as their beards.

"Andy around?" I asked.

They looked me over quickly. One of them mumbled something like "Andy's always around," then disappeared himself.

A tall, long-haired youth yawned from just beyond the doorway. "You looking for Andy?" he asked.

I nodded.

He yawned again, shrugged, and turned back into the room. Taking this for an invitation, I followed.

It was like walking into a huge, foil-lined ice cream bag. Crumpled aluminum foil covered the ceiling and walls. It hung loosely from overhead pipes and dangling electric spotlights. A red "Exit" sign pulsed on and off, flashing rhythmically to the sounds of The Mamas 'n Papas, sending shivers of color across the cluttered floor.

Silver cans of film were stack haphazardly in corners. Silver covered stage lights spotted the room, a silver covered couch (complete with an aspiring, .long-legged, long-earringed, non-speaking Superstar) and several silver colored chairs were randomly studded about. Even the small W.C. at the far corner of the loft had a shiny focal point. It was, indeed, a Palace of Pop. A dingy industrial workshop converted into a tinsled womb. A place described by one Greenwich Village newspaper as where "the amphetamine monsters suck desperately at the acrid dregs of their sexuality." All I.could see were some shaggy denizens of the underground, milling happily about.

I don't take drugs-they're poison. But I think they're terrific."

Paul, the yawner who had met me at the door, said that Andy was expected momentarily. "But," he warned, "Andy only talks to teen-age magazines these days. They're the ones we want to reach. They're the ones we're talking to."

I asked Paul to explain, but my question was obliterated by a call from Baby Jane Holzer that sent him skipping to the phone. Just then, the silver door swung open.

In a blaze of Superstars, a Ijtown leather jacket with a red and white scarf tossed carelessly about the collar, his eyes concealed by sunglasses, looking very much like a pale and somber "Smilin' Jack"-the Lord of the Underground entered his Temple of Tin.

"Superstars" are not made. They just are Superstars."

 "Andy'" Paul shouted. "It's Jane." He qUickly handed the reciever to Andy, and began pushing a merry-eyed blonde, by the shoulder blades, in my direction. "This is Ingrid Superstar," Paul said. "She's in 'The Chelsea Girls' and one of our newest Super-stars." He faced Ingrid toward the couch. "Sit over there, Ingrid. This man is from FLING Magazine and he wants to know all about you."

Ingrid beamed and dutifully sat herself down on the couch. Her long ball-and-chain earrings dangled down past her clavicles to cleavage latitude. Staring up at me with breathless anticipation, she was as impossible to refuse as a child at Christmas time.

"That's I-N-G-R-I-D," he chirped, when she saw me take out my note pad.
"Ingrid what?" I asked.
"Ingrid Superstar," she said. "That wasn't always my name, but it sure is now. It's been my name since I started making movies with Andy." She sighed. "He's great, he's just great. I've made five movies with him already. I think he likes me, probably because I say funny things."

The reason I'm painting this way is because because I want to be a machine."

"What sort of funny things?"
"Oh, you know ... funny things."
I didn't press the point.
"The first movie I was in," Ingrid replied, "I only had a bit part. But. like I said, I just kept saying funny things and Andy liked me and-welllike, Wow! Look, Ma, I'm a Super-star." She giggled.

When I asked Ingrid what she did before becoming an Andy Warhol Superstar, her smile disappeared.

"I lived with my parents in Jersey City," she confessed. "But being a Superstar has changed all that. It's great. Everybody knows me. I walk into a shop and somebody suddenly says, Look, there's Ingrid Superstar'. It's swell. I always wanted to be a comedienne, and Andy's movies give me a change to really act. I even memorize lines. Usually when we work with a script, our lines are flashed on a movie screen behind the camera. But I like to memorize mine I memorized fourteen lines for 'Withering Sights!'"

ANDY WAS NO LONGER on the phone, so I thanked Ingrid quickly, and turned her over to the photographer whom she had been eying surreptitiously throughout our interview.

"Before you go," she said, "I'd like to tell you my philosophy. It's stay happy and groove with it. Please write that down. Tell everyone to always stay happy and groove with it."
"Are you always happy and grooving with it?" I asked.
She frowned. "No-but I'd like to be."
I smiled, then headed for Andy.

He was leaning against against a work table covered with unfinished poster paintings of giant yellow bananas. I introduced myself. From behind the tinted glasses his eyes blinked hesitant recognition.

"Oh-oh, yes," he mumbled.
"I'd like to ask you some questions about your movies, if 1-"
"My movies," he said tonelessly, "are not dirty movies. My underground movies are personal poems."
"What about The Chelsea Girls?" I asked.

He pulled nervously at his fingernails. "Uh-uh-that's different." He spoke slowly, carefully, like a shy school child who knows the whole class is depending on him for the right answer. "That's entertainment. If people have to pay for something, it should be entertaining."

Whether or not ot The Chelsea Girls (which the New York Times called "an extensive and pretentious entertainment for voyeuts" and other, less conservative papers, called a lot of other things) could be classified as "entertainment", is a matter of much conjecture.

I wondered aloud into what categories he would put some of his other movies. Sleep, for instance, showed a Superstar sleeping; Kiss, Superstars kissing. (Entertainment?) And then of course there was thirty-five minutes of Blowjob ... (Poetry?) But Andy was neither interested in my curiosity, nor anxious to answer my question. He somehow had gotten on to the subject of his fingernails.

"The thing I enjoy doing most," he said softly, "is getting my fingernails to grow." He looked at his nails as if they were, and always would be, life's ten greatest mysteries. "I can't understand it. I've tried Knox Gelatin and ... " His voice trailed off. Within seconds he was completely lost in the examination of his own hands.

Was this a put-on, I wondered? Was this really Andy Warhol, Prince of Pop? Was this the man who shook up the entire art world by offering machine-made images for contemplation to make us aware of objects which have lost their visual recognition through constant exposure; the darling of highsociety's not-so-reluctant debutantes like Baby Jane Hoizer and Edie Edgwick: the maker of "happenings," the creator of Superstars; the same man who now stood before me studying his fingers with the wonder of a child?

I cleared my throat.

He looked up. "Oh-oh, yes," he mumbled. "It has been mentioned," I said. "that many of your films try to simulate the increased perceptions usually induced by hallucinogens."

He looked puzzled.

"Drugs and drug addicts," I continued. "seem to play major roles in your underground movies ... "

He shook his head, no. "Oh, I don't take drugs. They're poison. But I think they're terrific." Just then, he swung around and grabbed the arm of a young man passing by. "This is Rod La Rod," he said proudly.

THE HANDSOME, sandy-haired youth smiled politely, wiped his palms nervously on his blue velvet dungarees. "Hi!" Rod La Rod said, the Alabama twang as clear as a freshly plucked guitar. He threw a quick glance at his mentor, as if. to say, "How did I do?"

Andy patted the boy's shoulder. "Superstar Rod La Rod is working on his second picture already. Right, Rod?"

Rod grinned sheepishly. "I sure am -thanks to Andy."

"How long have you been a Superstar?" I asked.
"Four weeks."
"And you're working on your second film already?"
Oh, yes. They don't take long. We just finished Tiger Morse and now we're doing-" He hesitated, looked anxiously at Andy.

There was an affirmative blink from behind the tinted lenses.

"WeB," Rod breathed, "the pictlire I'm working on noW is called d Since The Assassination-and it's just great!"

Without giving me a chance to ask about the nature of the film, Rod declared it was "swell" meeting me, and hurried off.

Superstars are generally thought of as Andy Warhol creations, so I queried Andy on what went into the making of one. He seemed astonished by my question. He found it inconceivable that I didn't know where Superstars came from.

"Superstars are not made," he said solemnly. "They just are Superstars. I don't do anything."

"What, then," I asked, "makes Superstars different from ordinary actors?"

His pale face clouded. He was deeo in concentration, listening, it seemed. for an inner voice to give him the answer. Then, as if repeating each word as he heard it: "They-know-what to - do. They - direct - themselves. They're terrific."

I HAD BEEN TOLD, (warned really) by several people who know Andy (as well as it is possible to know him) that I was wasting my time trying to interview him. His reticence and notoriously outlandish put-ons for the press have forced many a magazine writer back to the drawing board in search of a more cooperative subject.

"If you want an interview with Andy. you might just as well see me," said Ivan Karp, publicity-promotion man for the Leo Castelli gallery. "I've given the damn thing at least a hundred times." 

Ivan met Andy about eight years ago. At that time, the young, silverblond illustrator frequented the Castelli gallery often. He was very impressed with the works of Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. Ivan recalls that the first time he visited Andy's powder blue, Victorian styled home on Manhattan's upper East Side, he was impressed with he uniqueness of Andy's as yet unexhibited works. "The new-art movement was growing all around, but Andy's work was different. It was Andy's work that made everything Pop. Even before his first show, he told me he was going to be famous. I didn't doubt it. Andy always knew what he wanted. As quiet, shy and innocent as he was, he usually got it on his own terms."

Andy Warhol's "terms" have been the subject of many heated controversies, in many different circles. Born of Czech parents, Andy grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, attended college, and enjoyed most all the typical American boyhood pursuits. His mother recalls: "Andy always wanted pictures. Comic books I buy him. Cut, cut, cut nice. Cut out pictures. Oh, he liked pictures from comic books." (Was this, perhaps, where his "terms" were formed?)

Andy Warhol accepts, rather than questions, our popular habits and heroes. He revels in the glorified images of our movie gods and goddesses. Like child demanding repetition of a favorite tale, he tries to see how much we in take of a subject before boredom sets in. He feels that the public will tolerate much repetition of its favorite images. His work is done mechanically, mass-produced to remove himself further from any individual feeling. This to Andy is our culture; this then should be our art.

Andy has said many times that he believes anyone can paint his pictures as well as he can. "The reason I'm painting this way," says Andy, "is because I want to be a machine. Whatever I do, and do machinelike, is because it is what I want to do. I think it would be terrific if everybody was alike." Whether or not Andy really believes this, no one will ever know. The Prince of Pop is a master of the Twentieth Century put-on.

A BRIGHT HALO, courtesy of Con Edison, formed about Andy. Warhol's head as he spoke. "I wouldn't want to change the world," he murmured. He paused, thought a moment. "Yes-yes I would. I'd make everything simple.” He took a cigarette from a nearby youth and inhaled slowly. He looked pleased with what he said.

I discovered Andy neither smokes nor drinks to any extent. Even at cocktail parties, it is rare to see his glass filled with anything other than gingerale. He seems determined to live up to the great American pop image. He has gone so far as to subsist solely on a diet of steak, hamburgers and chocolate.

Andy looks young, thinks young, and tries to keep everything around him young. Yet, when I asked him if it was his intention to stay in a never-never land, he responded to the contrary.

"Oh, no. Death is terrific," he said. "Death is it . . . Black is my favorite color."

The only black to be seen about Andy Warhol was the tips of his leather boots. Evidently, Andy doesn't play favorites.

I knew I was being played with by a champion game player. But there was nothing to do but swing with him; play his game, the game of total acceptance, of passive positivism, of ubiquitous Pop. The rules, though, were more than rules. They were commandments. Though shalt not commit thyself.

Ingrid Superstar bounced over to where we were standing and tossed her arm over Andy's shoulder. "Hi, again," she smiled. Andy was pleased with the diversion. Ignoring Ingrid Superstar's just-ask-me-I'll-tell-you-anything smile, I queried Andy about his Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a touring discothque starring Nico and a frantic rock-and-roll group called "The Velvet Underground." (Part hell, part happening; the group plays, Nico sings, Gerard Malenga (coated in unguentine) dances in an off-white bikini while Andy's movies flash round and round.)

"Oh, that," Andy said. Nothing more. I was surprised at his reluctance to discuss the group, since Nico (a former Federico Fellini discovery) is now one of his favorite Superstars. I mentioned this, and a mischievous smile twitched his lips.

He looked deliberately at Ingrid. "International Velvet is my favorite," he said.

"She's great," chirped Ingrid Superstar.

Andy eyed her suspiciously but said nothing.

"Why aren't I your favorite, Andy?" she pouted.

Andy smiled.

"Don't you trust me?" "Can J trust you?" he teased.

"Do you want to trust me?”

"Should I trust you?"

THEY PARRIED GAILY, caught up in their own youthful version of Virginia Woolfies. It was called "put-on the press." There was nothing to do but wait until they tired of the game. When it was over, we continued the questions and answers.

"I never dream," Andy said, when I suggested that some of his movies bore the stamp of nightmarish reality.

"I do," chimed Ingrid. "I always dream . . . I dream about being a Superstar." I pointed out that she already was a Superstar.

She laughed. "That just makes it better."

There was a look of paternal pride about Andy that prompted me to ask how he reacted when the critics berated his Superstars.

"I don't think critics should criticize," he said flatly. "Critics should just report what they see. You know, like in a newspaper."

"Do you feel that they are missing your message?"

He frowned. "I don't know what you mean,"

"Do you feel that your movies, your themes, are misunderstood by the public at large?"

"Uh-no. It doesn't matter."

Andy's theory is give the people everything and let them pick out what they like. In The Chelsea Girls he uses a split screen technique. "If you're bored with one, you look at the other." He is even considering having two films and two sound tracks running at the same time." One could be a comedy and one could be a tragedy-depending on your mood, you could look at either or both."

Whether Andy's underground movies are really going to erupt into the big time is, to many minds, extremely questionable. But not to Andy's. He feels that even though he has one hundred and fifty films behind him, the climb to the top has just begun.

HOW IS WARHOL going to get there? Through the teenagers. "They're already taking over California, aren't they? At least I hope they are." And by what medium? Television. "Movies. I think, are on the way out. Television is really terrific. People can relax and do whatever they want in their own living rooms. They can really enjoy looking at things and people that way."

conoclastic in the visual arts, I asked. And if there were any writers whose esthetic aims he felt were similar to his own.

"I don't read much." he said. "I just look at the pictures. You know, magazines." He pantomimed flipping through pages with his thumb. "Just look at the pictures."

I nodded that I understood.

Ingrid giggled.

"How would you feel," I asked, "if some Hollywood mogul wanted to make a movie of your life?"

"I already made it." Andy replied.

The details of Andy's autobiographical epic were not to be revealed. All he would say about it was that his life story was "only a small part of a much larger film," and that the part of Andy Warhol was played by a Superstar.

We had just gotten on to the subject of aesthetics in art and reality. when a sloe-eyed young man signaled to Andy from the door. I knew that time was running out.

"What," I asked quickly. "do you consider the most aesthetically beautiful part of the human body?"

 "Tits!" Andy grinned. The interview was over.

I bade goodbye to Ingrid Superstar and walked to the couch to get my coat. Rod La Rod was sprawled next to it.

He rose immediately, extended his hand.

"Lots of luck," I said.

"Thanks," he grinned. "But now that I'm with Andy, I don't worry about luck. I mean. there's Andy." He gazed adoringly across the room at his quietly gum-chewing Supersavior.

"Andy's a saint ... T mean, he's so charitable and good to all of us. He has no private life. He's always with us. I guess. in some ways, he's still a kid ... like he wanted us all to come with him when The Velvet Underground was in Philly. He's like a saint and a father and a big brother combined. I'd do anything for him. He's my guiding light, sort of inspirational. He's-he's-you know-terrific!" •


Copyright Hester Mundis. All rights reserved.