So I go to the Warhol show at the Portland Art Museum. Memories pop—the term is apt—pop through the layers, fresh and flat. It’s the ’60s. Marilyn, Mao, JFK, Jackie, 20 kinds of that soup, including, of course, tomato:
Liza, Ali, Mick, Birmingham, the hammer and the sickle, a pointed gun, and the chair:
Seeing all the Warhols on the walls is like looking, way back when, at the layout room, early stages, of a magazine that will never go to press, never go to press because there isn’t one, a press. Which I guess is kind of the point, if there is a point. Maybe.
Richard Avedon made a portrait of the Warhol Factory, which was shown at a retrospective at the University Art Museum, Berkeley, fairly large and a going concern at the time. This is a huge photograph, life-size or more. Click to enlarge. I worked at the museum while a grad student and did a good bit of the lighting for the show, including this one. I spent hours on a rolling scaffold, hanging, adjusting the floods and spots, making sure the faces and bodies came out, evening the white space and removing pools. Avedon and crew were there, advising, helping out.
A Berkeley regular, Abe Lincoln we called him—he had the beard, defiled the portrait by spraying iodine on Warhol’s face, taking moral offense or something. Who knows. I lived with four others two houses down from where Patricia Hearst was kidnapped, though I never saw the bullet holes. A year before I worked at The Daily Cal and was there the night the Jonestown mass suicide story broke, in Guyana. Reports came in over the AP wire machine in fragments that made no sense, the body count kept rising as the night wore on. The summer before that, my first in Berkeley, a scene for a made-for-tv movie of the Hearst abduction was being shot in Ho Chi Minh Park, a few blocks away from our house. Extras stood around in designer t-shirts. This one won’t be put to bed, either. It’s the late ’70s.
I think the working title for the movie was Get Patty but it changed when the movie aired, which quickly fell into oblivion.
I took one of my housemates, E—, an undergrad, to opening night of the show. I had to. She was weaned on Vogue and grew up looking at Avedon’s fashion shots. Berkeley via LA via New York, quite sharp, quite sharp looking, not a princess, not easy to pin down and I won’t try. Not my age, not my league, I wasn’t her speed, but I liked her and we got along. She was our entry to the music, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Blondie, The Cars, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the others—more memories but these don’t pop but sizzle, but fall into stupor—we are Devo, we’ve been on tenterhooks ending in dirty looks, fade away and radiate, I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire, I wanna be sedated, get pissed, destroy. We were waiting for the end of the world.
Half of San Francisco was there, dressed to impress in all the different ways San Francisco knew how. The museum was packed, literally packed. All the galleries were mobbed and we couldn’t move. The heat from the lights, from each other, melted our edges, our anticipation. E— and I got stalled before Avedon’s pensive Marilyn it seemed forever.
Avedon, really a gracious, humble man, threw the staff a dinner. Once more I took E—. While we ate he went around with a Polaroid, taking candid shots. But he kept missing our table, so I flagged him and asked if he would get E— and he immediately complied. E— froze, then broke into an exotic pose, hands and elbows thrown into the air.
When Avedon returned with the developed picture, she took it, stood, touched his arm—this memory breaks through the layers now, through the noise—and kisses him on the mouth.