As postscripts go it isn't long; it comes in at just one and a half pages.
It tells of Andrea Feldman who left notes saying she was “heading for the Big Time”. To do this she jumped out of a fourteenth floor window clutching a Bible and a crucifix. Andrea was just one of the kids that Andy says were so special to him and his circle of friends. Her suicide is described just after Edie Sedgwick’s death, which was put down to ‘acute barbital intoxication’.
The book jacket says ‘POPism’ is “as absorbing as the best telephone gossip, funny yet full of insights”, and we can thank Christopher Isherwood for that. It is also a bleak, drug fuelled walk on the wild-side of New York through the decade of the 1960’s. It is sometimes said that if you can remember the 60’s you weren't there. Andy Warhol could certainly remember them and he was most definitely there - right through the decade in the centre of the Pop movement in New York and beyond. In his biography we meet “degenerates”, society débutante rich kids, and pop and film stars; all with bit-part roles as their lives move like props through Warhol’s studio that was the 1960’s iconic ‘Factory’.
Three gun shooters make it into the Factory – one shot through Warhol’s canvasses, the other aimed a gun at the head of one of the factories visitors but the gun jammed, the third shooter hit Andy Warhol several times at close range. He was as good as dead. In dreadful pain he heard a medic say “forget it…..no chance…” but he also heard a friend tell them that he was famous with plenty of money. That made the difference. Andy recovered, but nothing was ever the same. He became justifiably jittery and a bit paranoid especially about who could gain access to the Factory. But by then the 60’s were virtually over, the decade of decadence was fizzling out both with a bang and a whimper. All the fun has been had, all the gossip had been gossiped and all the damage had been done.
Throughout the book Warhol wryly observes all that happens around him, as if commenting on a badly scripted film. He charts the good, the bad and the indifferent; the moral, amoral and immoral; the secular, religious and occult. All are given the same deadpan treatment like so many silk screened images of popstars and car crashes. It is after all good gossip, all swish pop entertainment.
It is in the slight postscript that Warhol lets the mask slip. It is a brief catalogue of the deaths of friends that fell just outside the 1960’s parameter of the book and slipped into the early years of the 1970’s. Andy Warhol was too astute not to have grasped the pathos of these brief lives and premature deaths. Here he sets a list, not an entertainment. The postscript is more than a few loose ends that need to be tied up before the reader can close the book and evaluate the contents. They signpost the way to the evaluation.
The last postscript entry describes the departure of Billy. He had locked himself in a dark room at the Factory for a year with 3 occult books by Alice Baily. Lou Reed had given them to him. Billy had shaved his head and was following white magic instructions to reorder his body’s cell structure. Outside the darkroom Andy and company could hear two voices, but only Billy was in there. No-one went in to get him. No one knew what to do. So they left him there.
Then one day he was gone. On entering the empty black painted room they found thousands of cigarette butts and some astrology wall charts. But no Billy. A year later someone said they thought they had seen him in San Francisco. Did he get under the wire?
They found a note tacked to the wall. It said, “Andy – I am not here any more but I am fine. Love Billy.” This is the only teasing hint of hope or redemption in this nihilistic wasteland of a book.
POPism. Andy Warhol and Pat Hacket. Penguine Classics. First Published 1980.