This unplanned post was inspired by Karel Bata’s video – a legendary piece of work about a time of legends.
Lou Reed was a favourite student of author and poet Delmore Schwartz at Syracuse University when he met John Cale. Cale was a Welsh music student on a US scholarship, into post-classical avant-garde and rock and roll. They developed a rapport playing together, rooming together and getting addicted to the same drugs. Sterling Morrison met Reed when he was visiting a friend at Syracuse, while drummer Maureen Tucker’s brother knew Reed from University. Thus was born the Velvet Underground. In 1965 Andy Warhol became the band’s manager, having them play in his Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia extravaganza roadshows- a sort of precursor to raves.
Warhol was a famous as a controversial pop artist. Having studied graphic design he shocked the art world by blatantly embracing American commercialism, producing screen prints of every-day objects such as Campbell’s soup tins, Coke bottles, dollar bills and mushroom clouds – nuclear war was very much in American consciousness.
He also did multi-coloured silk screens of American icons such as Elvis and Marilyn Munroe. Or at least his studio would. Leaving most of the work to his minimum waged employee Gerard Malanga, Andy concentrated on film – his new passion.
Lou Reed remembers Andy as being a very generous person. It may partly be the reason a group of extraordinary people congregated in his Factory studio.
He called them his ‘Superstars’ in a self-fulfilment of his prophecy that ‘one day everyone would be famous for 15 minutes’ and obsessively filmed them. A number starred in his underground films such as Trash and Flesh.
When Lou Reed wrote ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ he originally intended the song to reflect the 1956 novel by Nelson Algren (filmed in 1962) but ended up writing about the characters he knew from the Factory. He said he thought ‘it would be kinda fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn’t met before, or hadn’t wanted to meet.”
Holly Woodlawn was transgender, but rejected gender re-assignment surgery. In the words of the song she famously: Plucked her eyebrows on the way, Shaved her legs and then he was a she.
She starred in Warhol films and Jackie Curtis productions as well as having a successful cabaret career. In the words of one film critic: ‘Holly Woodlawn is something to behold: a comic book Mother Courage who fancies herself as Marlene Dietrich but sounds more often like Phil Silvers’ (Sargent Bilko).
To be fair, I think Holly would have described herself more like silver screen legend Jean Harlow. Her autobiography is called ‘A Low Life in High Heels’. She died at the age of 69 last December of brain cancer.
Jackie is just speeding away – Andy Warhol described Jackie Curtis as ‘Not a drag queen but an artist… without frontier.’ Primarily a stage actor, she wrote and produced her own plays in New York and gave the unknown Robert De Niro – who was fond of drag queens – his first break. Her glamour/trash drag style was believed to have inspired the Glam Rock look. Jackie died of a heroin overdose aged 38.
According to Holly Woodlawn, fellow transgender actress Candy adopted her surname because everyone called her darling and it stuck; reflecting Reed’s words: ‘In the backroom she was everybody’s darling’.
She is the subject of another Lou Reed song ‘Candy Says’ – I’ve come to hate my body and all that it requires in this world.
Dying of lymphoma aged 29 (caused by silicone breast implants or hormone injections – accounts differ) Candy left a letter reading… ‘I have no desire left for life. I am just so bored by everything. You might say bored to death.’
…But she never lost her head… Even when she was giving head…
In the United States, RCA cut the Candy verse from the single. In the UK the BBC, ignorant of the slang term, were not aware there was anything to ban, and as sure as hell their Radio 1 DJs weren’t going to tell them.
Joe Dallesandro was a male hustler remembered in ‘Little Joe never once gave it away, Everybody had to pay and pay’.
Joe the star of many Warhol films successfully crossed over into mainstream productions – ‘the camera loved Joe’. He is the alleged model for the Warhol cover of the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers LP – complete with a real zipper fly in the jeans.
The metal zipper scratched the records when they were stacked and so after complaints, the record company had to despatch the album with the fly half undone to minimise the damage. Joe features on the cover of the Smiths’ first album in a still from Warhol’s film Flesh.
Walk on the Wild Side is from Lou Reed’s Transformer LP. The back cover features a male hustler staring into a mirror at his glamorous alter ego. For many years it rumoured both were Reed, however it was Reed’s tour manager Ernie Thormahlen. Like on the first Velvet Underground cover a banana plays its part, but admittedly in more of a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ way.