Wes Wilson and Andy Warhol
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Andy Warhol, 1968
One conversation that Wes Wilson (the artist who basically invented the concert poster during the mid-sixties inSan Francisco) and I had was about when Andy Warhol showed up on his doorstep. He had a detailed account on his website: www.wes-wilson.com.
“Sometime in the late fall of 1967 I met Andy Warhol,” Wilson said. “He had been in San Francisco in the spring of 1966 to perform at the Fillmore with a troupe of entertainment associates known as the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” Although I made the poster I did not attend the event. When Andy and his friends returned in 1967 I took part with them in an on-air interview one afternoon at a downtownSan Francisco radio station. That’s where I met Andy. He had returned with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, including Nico, Ultraviolet and The Velvet Underground, to perform at an odd venue called The Cinematique Coffeehouse & Palace of Pleasure someplace in San Francisco. After the radio interview we exchanged small talk before heading off in our separate directions. Andy mentioned his latest film was about a California sunset. We were getting ready to leave when he asked if I knew of anything fun that was happening that evening. I knew of nothing special so I happened to ask him to drop in over at my place, possibly to talk more about sunsets and art. Since Andy looked blank at that and said nothing I assumed he’d taken that option off the table. As I left the radio station to head home I gave him my address and phone number in case he might ever want to get in touch. I left the station and drove home.”
“It had been another full day, following several long nights of work, and I was tired that night. As I drove up to Mill Valley during the late afternoon I looked forward to getting to bed early and catching up on sleep. My wife, Eva, had already left to attend her rehearsal at the Straight Theater where she was soon to perform in a play called ‘The Interviewer’ with Fred Ward. Our infant son Colin was under my mother-in-law’s care for the evening, so right after sunset I went straight up to bed and was soon fast asleep. I awoke suddenly at around 8:00 p.m. or so. Our doorbell was ringing. I was soon awake enough to go downstairs and see who was at the door still, of course, in my pajamas. I opened the door a crack and squinted out. Two strangers were standing there under the porch light. One said, “Is this Wes Wilson’s place?” I hesitated a moment and said “Yes.” They quickly explained that they, along with Andy Warhol, had come up from the City for a visit, “If that’s ok?” By now I was fully awake, “Why of course!” I probably said. They happily waved toward the street, “This is it!” they signaled. Soon several more came walking up from what looked like a long limousine parked out there on the street. Yes, indeed, the one coming up the path wearing dark glasses was Andy Warhol. “Welcome!” I must have said as I ushered them all inside.”
Wilson was surprised by the visit, and he didn’t even have a chance to change clothes.
“There I was, still wearing my pajamas, sleep tousled and sleepy-eyed, with a fresh house full of guests to host (and determined not to complain about not getting a phone call first or anything). I was determined to do my best and be the undaunted, always generous host. As luck would have it, no one even mentioned my rumpled appearance or my pajamas. Two of my guests wordlessly sized up my situation and understood in a flash what needed to be done next. Immediately, these two jolly, wonderful souls volunteered to help prepare and serve party goodies. So the three of us went directly to the kitchen to forage and soon enough sufficient party food and drink was located and being properly served. Nico, an exceptionally attractive, but somehow really sad looking, blonde chick from Munich (“Miss Pop Art ‘66?) quickly placed one of her newer records on the phonograph and turned up the volume. Someone else thoughtfully rolled up a few joints and passed them around. It didn’t take long before everyone was settled in and the party thing was a-happening!”
And that was just the icebreaker.
“A warmly entertaining party then ensued, thumping along merrily into the Mill Valleynight to various odd Velvet tunes with fun titles like “Heroin.” (Whatever floats their boat, I recall thinking at the time.) I soon felt sufficiently relieved of my hosting duties and began to enjoy this unusual array of fascinating guests. There was our party’s centerpiece, Andy Warhol, parked in the middle of the living room couch with friends wedged in closely on either side. When I spoke with Andy again I found him not the least inclined to be conversational. His shortness, his clipped speech, meant that he preferred watching and listening, occasionally fielding brief irrelevant or comic phrases when he felt compelled to respond. This was, apparently, the way Andy was. His friends seemed mildly entertained by these brief utterances but soon I had to quit trying to keep up with all this silliness. After all, who ever really cares to know everything about nothing? There was the beautiful Nico, obviously proud of her latest recordings which all seemed such basal tones of cynical madness. She seemed to deeply enjoy being thoroughly enmeshed in her own kind of darkness, gracefully slouched there next to the speakers, clothed in purple and black, all folded womb-like into her shroud. Maybe she’s on something besides pot and booze, I wondered? At least she talked some. No, I didn’t know that she had a part in a Feline movie along with three hundred pounds worth of Richard Simmons and all! La Dolce Vita! Not much else was being said. Lou Reed might be a super guitarist but he didn’t seem at all friendly. Maybe he was worried about me hitting on Nico? I don’t know. I suspect that as a rule worried people are no fun at parties. Over all the party helpers were the kindest and jolliest of the bunch. How interesting this all was!”
Soon everyone wanted to see what Wes Wilson’s art studio looked like.
“My studio contained my current work in progress, sketches and all. Odd stacks of rock posters were scattered about on the floor, a sprayed on manikin or two, my work table and a business desk all covered at the time with numerous business cards, notes, receipts, newspapers and magazines, etc. Andy took it all in slowly and said very little. Andy’s only comment of note that I can remember came when he noticed a magazine (CA Magazine) on my desk which had pictured on its cover a number of political buttons depicting various symbols or funny sayings with contemporary 1967 meanings such as “Make Love, Not War,” etc. One button in particular caught Andy’s eye and he suddenly laughed out loud for perhaps the first time that evening. He pointed out that one of the buttons read “Pop Art Stinks!” Then, grinning, Andy said, “It does.” In that instant I learned the essence of Andy’s artistic agenda, i.e. making a stink! Now I could fully understand where he was coming from. We chuckled some more and soon returned to the downstairs where we discovered there were no more snacks or drinks left. Especially tough on everyone was that there were no more nicotine cigarettes. By then everyone had become talked out. The hi-fi went silent and Nico gathered up all her records. It was finally time for Andy and all to be driven off in their limousine.”
All in good fun…
“I like to think that Andy enjoyed his visit that evening. It was a wonderful opportunity for both of us to meet yet another ‘world famous artist.’ I’ve also wondered if somehow I may have helped to inspire Andy’s world-famous quote. Too bad he’s gone and I can’t call him up and ask him.”