This past Monday would have been Andy Warhol’s 84th birthday. It’s hard to imagine a world without Andy, and it’s hard to imagine Andy at 84. He hasn’t been replaced. The concept of "downtown,” of art-influenced clubbing, has never adjusted to his loss. Going back before "back in the day” for most of you, there was a scene that was led by the creative crowd. In my club days, I started each night with the concept of having my joint cool enough "in case Andy Warhol walked in.” It was the way I set my goals, got up for the game. On occasion, he would walk in.
I can’t think of a celebrity that would define the "cool" in this era. I guess club owners were fawning over Lindsay Lohan until recently, and at one point it was Paris Hilton. Of course Jersey Shore peeps or Kardashians or basketball stars bring excitement to the hoi polloi. Maybe Jay-Z or Beyonce are the pulse. An art star like Julian Schnabel is often seen at downtown spots. Although he carries impressive credentials, he doesn’t influence the thought process like Andy did. I thought Banksy might create a stir – until we got used to his face.
Andy charged up a room. Any gathering he attended was defined by his presence. He hobnobbed at Studio 54 with Bianca and Mick and Truman and Halston and Elizbeth Taylor, but then snuck south to Max’s Kansas City for Lou Reed, The Dolls, and his crew. The profound difference of celebrity back then and now mirrors the profound difference of VIP, then and now. Then, it was the wonderful, the creative, the style-influencers. Now, it’s all about the Benjamins.
Until a few weeks ago I would catch Taylor Meade’s act at the now-shuttered Bowery Poetry Club. Stories about Andy would drift into his act – one day disdaining Warhol, one day adoring him. Taylor is 87 now. He’s still brilliant but very frail. I don’t know if and when and where I will see his schtick again. I miss my weekly dose of his and Andy tales. Just before his death, Long Nguyen and I produced a fashion show for Kohshin Satoh at Tunnel. Andy, Miles Davis, and Devo’s Gerry Casales were the celebrity models. Andy was complaining about the place being cold, although it wasn’t. He looked ill, so we forgo him walking up and then down the steps from the dressing room he shared with Gerry. We put him on the ground floor with Miles. We weren’t being mean, but we couldn’t make him comfortable. He smiled and waved on the runway and no one in the audience suspected a thing. We knew he wasn’t himself and we found out later that he was sick and in pain. He died a few days later, on February 22, 1987.
Here’s Andy’s own recollection of the event at Tunnel, straight from his diary:
Tuesday, February 17, 1987:
…Then went over to the Tunnel and they gave us the best dressing room,but it was absolutely freezing. I had all my makeup with me. Miles Davis was there and he has absolute delicate fingers. They’re the same length as mine but half the width. I’d gone with Jean Michel last year to see his show at the Beacon, and I’d met him in the sixties at that store on Christopher Street, Hernando’s where we used to get leather pants. I reminded him that I’d met him there and he said he remembered. Miles is a clotheshorse. And we made a deal that we’d trade ten minutes of him playing music for me, for me doing his portrait. He gave me his address and a drawing-he draws while he gets his hair done. His hairdresser does the hair weaving, the extensions.
They did a $5000 custom outfit for Miles with gold musical notes on it and everything, and they didn’t do a thing for me, they were so mean. They could’ve made me a gold palette or something. So I looked like the poor step child.and in the end they even(laughs) told me I walked to slow…