Factory iPod prescription
2,000 mg of the Factory sounds (Velvet Underground substitution edition)
When we think Warhol, we may very well think about the Velvet Underground, his co-creation with Lou Reed. The Velvets were, after all, the Factory house band. To steal from author Alice Munro, Warhol’s aura has been transferred to the name Velvet Underground, and perhaps vice versa.
The contemporary pop zeitgeist has linked the two again and again, from the film recreations of the Factory days like Yo La Tengo’s background role as the Velvets in "I Shot Andy Warhol,"or Lou Reed dropping Andy anecdotes in magazine and radio interviews.
But as Tucson gears up for a massive bout of Warholia (see: Powhaus, TMA, Firestone Gallery, etc.) it might behoove one to revisit some of the other music that came out of that era. I’m prescribing the following:
Nico, "Chelsea Girl" (1967)
After her stint with the Velvet Underground, Nico went on to record this psychedlic folk-pop pastiche that’s as bizarre as it is enchanting. An all-star cast wrote the songs that appear: John Cale, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, et al. On Cale’s "Winter Song" Nico’s a pagan priestess, girded by improvisational flute riffs. She says, "The angry and blazing circus of sun blasphemes as the crown prince arises." It doesn’t mean anything, but it’s so weird and stylized that its engrossing. The best of the lot are the Jackson Browne songs, like "These Days" which is a coherent and simple eulogy for lost youth. It’s about world-weariness and a late life shift from action to meditation; Nico’s never sounded lovelier. Remember, she named this album after Warhol’s 1966 film "Chelsea Girls."
The Rolling Stones, "Sticky Fingers" (1971)
Mick Jagger hung out at the Factory for years. Warhol created the cover art for this one, featuring a real unzippable fly. The Stones’ ninth album, it’s got "Brown Sugar," "Wild Horses," and "Moonlight Mile.""Sister Morphine" is an emblematic theme song for the Factory’s dark side, and "Can’t You Hear Me Knocking" is the perfect rallying cry for all those Warhol Superstars seeking their fifteen minutes, to whom Jagger sings "You got satin shoes/ Yeah, you got plastic boots/ Y’all got cocaine eyes." Overall, it’s a perfect album for either bacchanalia or reverie.
The Doors, "Waiting for the Sun" (1968)
It may seem obvious, but the Doors have that same blistery, fuzzed out, neo-shamanism that exudes from tales of the Factory. On "We Could Be So Good Together" Morrison admits, "I tell you wicked lies" before he tries to tell us "'Bout the world that we’ll invent…Enterprise, expedition/Invitation and invention." It’s a world-builder’s fight song, thrumming with the bravado of a visionary, but this one’s got a forked tongue. As a result of his efforts, there will be ephemeral bliss and eternal loss: "Angels dance and angels die." Was he talking about Andy?
The Fugs, "The Fugs" (1966)
Crass hedonism of the so-bad-it’s-good variety; protopunkers billed retroactively as perhaps the world’s first underground rock group, you can’t revisit the Factory without stopping by to hang out with the Fugs for a spell. Formed by poets and infamous for their explicit sexuality and DIY street-theatre antics, they may not have hung out with Warhol, but they’re akin to his vision despite the lack of glamour.
Bob Dylan, "Blonde on Blonde" (1966)
Think "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat," Dylan’s referendum on the twin appeal and repulsion of fad culture, which, along with "Just Like a Woman," was inspired by Factory-made princess Edie Sedgwick. Then consider "Temporary Like Achilles," with its "scorpion who crawls across your circus floor." The pseudo-Dixieland stomp of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," which could be paranoid, cynical or just pragmatic, definitely insists that we’re all replaceable, and that disposability might make us both doomed and holy. All this, and "Visions of Johanna"? Definitely feels Warhol.
What's your take?
What are some your your best-loved Factory era records? Let us know in the comments.
Sean Bottai is a Tucson-based novelist and journalist. He teaches at the University of Arizona.