Monday, November 03, 2008

Are You Still Hungry?

If my unmitigated envy of Buffy and Jody's life in a high-rise apartment sparked my initial desire to move to New York back in elementary school, then it was Andy Warhol who fanned the flame into an inferno. Between reading about his exploits with the-beautiful-and-the-damned heiress Edie Sedgwick in the '60s, and those endless nights with Truman and Liza and Bianca at Studio 54 in the '70s, I was pretty convinced New York City held something magical for me. And by the time I reached my confused teen years in the early '80s -- when the city's downtown scene exploded and Diane Brill seemed to rule the world -- I became certain that the only way I could survive this horrible "secret" inside me was to head east and become one of "Andy's Babies." It's not that I was a even huge admirer of his work (like most people I got a kick out of his iconic Campbell Soup and Jackie and Marilyn paintings, but I was hardly a die-hard fan).

Andy's babies: Edie 1966 and Kenny 1986

And it obviously wasn't a physical attraction, although by college I -- like Edie -- certainly didn't shy away from emulating his bizarre translucent appearance (and I may have worn a black turtleneck on a 110-degree Phoenix afternoon or on a beach or two back in the day). What drew me to Andy Warhol was that he seemed like such a freak -- just like I felt -- yet he was still able to be successful and famous, and had this unparalleled ability to attract the most beautiful, interesting and talented people in the world to surround him. It was almost like I wanted to see if he would accept me -- whatever it is I was, I wasn't even sure -- because if he did, then maybe that meant I was OK after all.

This essay from Mrs. Fagan's English class earned me an A, even if my classmate Shane Ray -- James Earl Ray's nephew -- didn't approve

The fact that my blond(ie) obsession -- Debbie Harry, whom I'd written two essays about in junior high school -- now seemed to be with him every time I picked up a magazine only made me more convinced that New York was the place for me and that we'd all become lifelong friends(!) in no time.

I'd also seen Debbie and Andy palling around on his excellent MTV show, "Andy Warhol's 15 Minutes." My favorite episode was when he had the Brit boys Curiosity Killed the Cat on and he could hardly contain himself gushing all over 'em. That they used him in their "Misfit" video still makes me happy every time I watch it.

But no sooner had I completed my first semester of J-school -- with all post-grad roads leading to New York and landing my dream job at INTERVIEW magazine -- did we get the horrible news that Andy had died, following routine gallbladder surgery. 

I can still remember sitting on a stool at Graffiti's nightclub on Mill Avenue in Old Town Tempe with my friend Chantal and feeling numb.

Stephen Sprouse and Debbie Harry arrive at Andy Warhol’s memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Had Manhattan nightlife been changed forever? Would people ever go out again? All of my dreams seemed to die that night as New York suddenly seemed to be over before I even got there.

As the '80s came to a close, "The Andy Warhol Diaries" was released and I raced to get a copy. By now I had my first boyfriend and had come to realize I was not the only gay person in Phoenix after all (go figure!), but my hunger for New York was still just as voracious as ever. Instead of reading the book from beginning to end, I naturally parked in the Index pages and looked up every reference to all of my favorite stars (Maxwell Caulfield? YES! Bjorn Borg? YES! Jon-Erik Hexum? NO -- WTF?!). Of course, the entries about Debbie Harry were the first ones I read, and although I was tickled to hear little intimate details about their relationship, I began to learn that these enviable high-profile "friendships" were often not how they appeared. ("Debbie isn't really interesting to talk to, but her interviews always come out right." "If you saw their apartment ... it's so junky." "Debbie's so fat now.")

Shortly thereafter I read former INTERVIEW editor Bob Colacello's eye-opening Warhol tell-all, "Holy Terror," and learned more about what a manipulative, self-absorbed, slave-driver Factory boss Andy had been. (Nearly a decade later I introduced myself to Bob at a party at some polo club in the Hamptons and told him how as I kid I'd dreamed of working for him and what a fan I was of the book -- and how it had toughened me up for my career in publishing. He laughed and told me that it was funny that I should mention it because he had just been contacted by "some kids" who were starting a new imprint and wanted re-issue "Holy Terror." ) Although my bubble had been burst -- Andy and Debbie really weren't BFFs after all and working at INTERVIEW was probably much more of a nightmare than a "dream" -- it probably wasn't such a bad thing. I don't want to say that it pre-jaded me for my future life in Hollywood and New York. But it was probably just as well that when I first left home and landed on Santa Monica Boulevard at 22 I was not as completely naive to the ways of the world as I might have been otherwise, fresh from Mesa living at home and watching "Family Ties" and "The Cosby Show" with the family every week.

Although I let my beloved subscription to INTERVIEW lapse years ago, I still smile when I go back and flip through Andy's diaries, as they remind me of a completely different place in my life and the world. With Andy dead over 20 years now and Debbie even older than he was when he died (and increasingly spending her time at her home in Red Bank, N.J.), it seems like it was all just a dream now. But dreams are what life in New York are inspired by, and as Debbie says, dreaming is free.

Here are a few of my favorite diary entries, which I've tried to illustrate with the help of some things in my apartment and the World Wide Web:

Saturday, June 16, 1979: Then we went over to pick up Blondie. She lives in the great building on 58th and Seventh. Blondie -- Debbie -- was sweet, her hair was fixed up, and you'd never believe she's in her thirties -- no wrinkles and so pretty. She said her grandmother lived to be nine-five and all her family looks young. She spends all her money on makeup. She must not have been pretty all these years, though, or I would have noticed her. She must have tried to look bad or something. But I guess some people look better, actually, when they get a little older. I didn't know what to call her. I guess I call her Debbie. But when I introduce her, I call her Blondie. But Blondie is the name of the whole group, so ... She was really great on the ride out, she didn't complain about anything and she didn't want anything.

Friday, July 4, 1980: Cab to meet Debbie Harry at 7:30 at her and Chris Stein's apartment at 200 W. 38th St. The penthouse. It took an hour to get there because everybody was merging into Central Park for the fireworks later at 9:00. ...When we got there Chris and Victor Bockris had their tapes on. Debbie has beautiful eyes. Debbie had worked all day trying to find an interesting place to have dinner and (laughs) she did. We went up to 119th and Morningside Drive to the restaurant with the big view. The food was as good as La Cote Basque. I don't know how people up there can afford it, though, because it's so expensive. Maybe doctors and professors.

But first we had drinks at Debbie's. She's gotten really rich from the Vanderbilt jeans ad and they're going to buy a building. Chris wants to rent an apartment on the Lower East Side to give interviews in because they don't want to spoil their low-life image, and Debbie will have to give interviews there, too. I think he's really going to do it. But if you saw their apartment -- and he's saying he doesn't want people to know how (laughs) well they live. It's so junky. It seems like one room made into eighteen rooms. Maybe it used to be a storage floor. There are at least 100 gold records on the wall. I don't know why there's so many -- oh, maybe duplicates. I guess. But there's a good doorman.

Tuesday, August 12, 1980: At 12:00 I had an appointment to meet Debbie Harry at the office (cab $4). I was early and Debbie ad Chris were on time. We worked all afternoon. Debbie was sweet, every picture came out perfect. Vincent was taping her for the Andy Warhol's TV show and he had Lisa Robinson there interviewing her and Chris. I sat in so that I'd have a higher profile on the tape for the TV show. Lisa is a good interviewer. They were there till 4:00.

Wednesday, August 27, 1980:Doc Cox called and said he was picking me up for the screening of "Union City" starring Debbie Harry.

December 20, 1980:Vincent was having a party so cabbed there ($5). It turned out to be a really great party. I was taking pictures of this handsome kid I though was a model and then I was embarrassed because it turned out to be John-John Kennedy. ... And Debbie Harry gave me a present, and she said to open it up and I said no, that I'd wait till I got home, and I'm glad that I did, because I just don't know what it is. It's this black thing. I wonder if it's a cock ring because it's rubber with a stick on it, but it has this one piece that doesn't make sense.

Monday, August 24, 1981: Debbie Harry's Newsweek article came out and it was strange because the article mentioned me about eight times, quoting from the "Philosophy" book and saying that she had worked at Max's. And you know, Debbie isn't really interesting to talk to, but her interviews always come out right. It's like they did with me, they pick up the right one-liners, and the words sound good in print. Debbie ad Chris just bought a house on 72nd between Second and Third, so they're rolling in bucks.

Saturday, August 14, 1982: The limo driver said he didn't know really how to get to New Jersey, but that he'd try. We picked up Christopher and Peter and went out to the Meadowlands to see Blondie, and before them on the bill was Duran Duran, and also David Johansen. We went back to see her. And Chris Stein has lost thirty pounds, he's sick, I think it's all that bad air from some air conditions. Debbie's so fat now, she kicked us out because she wanted to get dressed in her Stephen Sprouse clothes.

Wednesday, January 12, 1983: Grace Jones came by with her Swedish boyfriend. And I gave her a speech about how she should look more normal or no one would hire her. It's the same speech I gave Debbie Harry after I saw "Videodrome," that she should just be normal-looking, keep her hair red so she could get the Faye Dunaway parts.

Monday, May 6, 1985:Debbie Harry called and said that it was a big secret but that she just signed with David Geffen. And Stephen Sprouse is so happy about that because he's been turning down people like Madonna who wanted him to do clothes for her because Debbie was the one who really started Stephen and he wanted to be loyal to her, that 's the kind of person he is. So now she's be out there again.

Tuesday, July 23, 1985: The day started off with dread as I woke up from my dreams and thought about my live appearance and how nothing is worth all this worrying, to wake up and feel so terrified. Had to be over at Lincoln Center at 9:00, so I was up at 7:30 (cab $4). Debbie Harry got there before I did. She's a blonde again and she's lost another ten pounds. And she was wearing the outfit from Stephen Sprouse that I've never seen anybody else wear yet -- the shoes glued into the leg stocking. We ran through it and the easiest part is running through our thing for the press, that's so easy. They said we had to be back there at 5:30.

The whole day was spent being nervous and telling myself that if I could just get good at stuff like this then I could make money that way and I wouldn't have to paint.

Then when I went back there at 5:30 we went on and I thought I was going to pass out. I forced myself to think about the next job I could get if I didn't. Went along and the drawing came out terrible and I called it "a masterpiece." It was a real mess. I said I wanted to be Walt Disney and that if I'd had this machine ten years ago I could have made it. Then afterwards people saw the portraits of Debbie and thought they were (laughs) the Xeroxes.

And the news is full of Rock Hudson having AIDS in Paris. And now, I guess people will finally believe Rock Hudson is gay. When you'd tell them before, they wouldn't believe it.

Thursday, October 24, 1985: Cabbed to the Palladium for Debbie Harry's party ($6) for her song that Jellybean produced, "Feel the Spin." When Debbie arrived, she saw us in the balcony and came up there because she thought it was the place to (laughs) be, and then it was the place to be because all the photographers came after her. She looks great. Debbie actually was the first Madonna.

Wednesday, May 21, 1986: Stephen Sprouse called and he was going to the Palladium to Keith's birthday party. We went over to pick up Debbie Harry at the Chelsea (cab $5). The party was fun, except that a cute actor named Tim stole my date, Sam (laughs) because when Tim said he was staying, Sam said, "I think I will, too." I wasn't upset, though. I was glad because then that means I don't have to feel guilty about going places with Wilfredo. ... I wish I were twenty and could go through all this again but I never want to go through anything or anybody again in m whole life. Sam and I just kid aroud. But he cleans up well and he learns things fast. But when somebody corrects him he gets an attitude sometimes and that's hard to change.

Sunday, December 29, 1986: I finally saw Debbie Harry's video that was made in L.A., she's at the Beverly Hills pool and she didn't wear the camouflage dress that we made for her, the Stephen Sprouse thing. I guess the director didn't want her to wear it, and it would've been so good. My ambition if I were to really go and have a facelift and everything would be to come out like Debbie. Her songs grows on you, "French Kissing."


IT IS WHAT IT IS said...

I really enjoyed reading these, kenneth. so great

Matthew said...

This must have taken forever. Normally I'd go on and on about how I related to this, most of all the Debbie/Andy fixation and the Andy Warhol Diaries impact, but I'll just say this post is...


You said...

I like the photo of you wearing earrings better than the one with the Flock of Seagulls haircut... ;-)

nojarama said...

I was also devastated by Andy's death. I am obsessed with his art (especially his early shoes period) & his commentary & fascination with pop culture was hilarious. And, I too, adore all things Debbie!

Anonymous said...

love the warhol diary extracts about debbie, and your accompanying pics. i too liked andy a lot - was a big fan both of his art and his persona. i've read all the bios and all of his own works too. i met UltraViolet on her book tour and she was absurdly fab (fably absurd too!). She asked me what i did for a living, and when i told her molecular bio research in a lab, she inscribed in the book..."to Bruce - Our genetic is esthetic. Love Ultra Violet" How deep. how shallow! love it.

Steve Reed said...

Excellent post! Warhol's influence on me was more subtle, I think -- I was never a huge fan of his but I loved movies that were flavored with his Factory sensibility, like "Midnight Cowboy." (Toned down for the masses, admittedly.)

Only recently have I been renting Warhol movies and learning more about his work. (I didn't even know who Edie Sedgwick was for the longest time.)

The entry from his journals that most stands out in my memory was all about seeing Shaun Cassidy in concert, and how he looked in his tight pants! :)

Sean said...

Excellent. I did the same when I purchased my copies of the diaries. I remember the first year that the Warhol Museum upon in Pittsburgh and I was having my own treasure hunt trying to find Deb references. Love it. Thanks for the memories.

Anonymous said...

Cool take on an obsession, thanks for sharing it.

The first edition of Andy's diary didn't actually come with an index. Spy magazine (sigh) took on the Herculean task and made one as a special insert in the mag. Which was then permanently popped into the diary to be used until this very day. One of pop culture's greatest gifts.

Anonymous said...

The Stephen Sprouse Book is coming out in January go to amazon...i think u'd like it!

Anonymous said...

the Stephen Sprouse book comes out in January...go to amazon to check it out...i think you'll like it