A sighting of Andy Warhol was always an occasion. It usually occurred in a West Village bookstore as he peered shortsightedly at a row of titles. I never saw him with a book in hand, nor heard him speak. He was invariably alone, a languid character, yet ever so distinctive in his bleached isolation.
I wasn’t a fan of his paintings – while skillful they seemed derivative – of course I now see that was the point. Still, he had discovered Lou Reed and Velvet Underground, so Andy was all right by me.
I was much more a fan of Picasso, Dylan, and Joyce – three cultural commandoes who delved deep into the human psyche and positively exuded originality. However, I’m forced to concede that in terms of sheer cultural influence Andy has left this illustrious trio in the ha’penny seats.
Originality has lost much of its lustre of late. Hip-Hop, long the most popular and vital music genre, has turned sampling of previous works into a compelling art form – in much the same way that Andy transmuted photo images of Marilyn and Mao into multi-million dollar paintings.
But it’s his prophecy - everyone will have his and her 15 minutes of fame – that sets Mr. Warhol apart. When he first made this outlandish statement it seemed dichotomous at best. But just a casual sampling of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will show that Andy predicted a celebrity-mad world that Messrs. Picasso, Dylan, and Joyce couldn’t even imagine.
Makes you wonder – did a young Donald Trump also run into Warhol in a West Village bookstore? Perhaps, the androgynous artist convinced the budding wall builder that in the new millennium celebrity would count for far more than talent, and image would trump substance by a Tweeted mile.
But enough of Mr. Trump – whatever you think of him he does wear his celebrity effortlessly. Then again, with 10 billion dollars, a full head of hair, and Melania to go home to, we too might exude charisma.
On the other hand, rock stardom, like originality, is not what it used to be – the glitter is still there but little of the gold. With the advent of Spotify, Pandora, and illegal downloading, none but mega stars can aspire to a penthouse in Trump Tower; and yet there is no shortage of poseurs vying for this faded apex of celebrity.
Speaking of rock deities, I was once in deep conversation with Ric Ocasek of The Cars when a fan of huge girth, many tattoos, and much muscle bellowed in our direction, “You are God!”
After a fretful glance to make sure a holy assassination wasn’t in the works, Ric mildly responded, “Thank you.”
I figured I’d copy this response should I ever be hailed in such a manner, but my moment has yet to come.
Perhaps, just as well, for I have friends who swear by their publicists’ hype, rendering them so boring I now hide at their exalted approach.
Maybe Andy knew that celebrity is not all it’s made out to be. I’ve often thought it must be hard to be Bono. He seems like a decent enough skin but, from what I hear, half the world would love to snub him, while the rest want to beat the bejaysus out of him.
Phil Lynott enjoyed his celebrity better than anyone I ever met, with Frank McCourt a wry half-step behind.
On the other hand, Norman Mailer, one of nature’s gentlemen on a one-to-one basis, seemed to feel honor bound to live up to his aggressive reputation at a gathering, particularly when the drink was flowing.
So, what is this 15 minutes of fame that Andy speaks of and why do we desire it so badly? I suppose it’s a need to know that we matter.
And yet celebrity is hardly the answer. Many of my acquaintances who thirsted for fame have ended up enmeshed in drugs and drink when their 15 minutes have evaporated.
So, later for Mr. Warhol and his prophesies! I’m going to invite Bono over for champagne, sit under my priceless Picasso, read him Molly Bloom’s final soliloquy, listen to Mr. Tambourine Man on repeat, and pray to God no one breaks through my velvet rope and beats the bejaysus out of the two of us.