Astonishingly, David Bowie and Andy Warhol only ever crossed paths on one occasion during their lifetimes. Still, after hearing how disastrously things went when they did actually meet, then it’s no surprise that the two pioneers failed to keep in touch.
Bowie’s obsession with Warhol had started at a young age. His fascination with everything related to The Factory meant that he was an early adopter of Lou Reed’s band the Velvet Underground. In fact, it has been claimed that it was Bowie, way back in the late sixties, that had given the band their first British cover as he sang ‘Waiting For The Man’ to a somewhat bemused audience.
Bowie’s 1971 masterpiece Hunky Dory even features an ode to the artist, one aptly titled ‘Andy Warhol’. The track isn’t exactly a love letter to Warhol but instead examines the artist through a darkened lens, as Bowie sings: “Andy Warhol looks a scream, hang him on my wall / Andy Warhol silver screen, can’t tell them apart at all.”
Before the album was released, Bowie met his golden ticket to Warhol when he struck up a friendship with actor Tony Zanetta in London. He was in the capital to play Andy Warhol in the stage production of his play Pork, which only increased Bowie’s deep infatuation with the actor.
Their friendship blossomed over this time, and the actor agreed to show Bowie around New York when he arrived in 1971. However, Ziggy Stardust fever hadn’t swept the nation in the States as it had across the Atlantic, and Bowie’s star power was lost on Warhol, who thought he was just another obsessive fan that had wrangled his way into The Factory.
Although Bowie was in New York to sign on the dotted line with RCA, that didn’t mean anything to Warhol. “We all marched over to The Factory,” Zanetta recalled to Bedford & Bowery about when he and Bowie first met the mystical Warhol. “The meeting was kind of tense because Warhol was not a great talker, you had to talk and entertain Andy, and David really wasn’t a great talker either. Nobody was really taking this conversation and running with it.”
Bowie couldn’t resist the opportunity which had presented itself in front of him. It would have been a deep regret if he didn’t deliver a rendition of ‘Andy Warhol’ to the very man who the track was about, and it’s safe to say that he wasn’t best pleased. “I took the song to The Factory when I first came to America and played it to him,” Bowie later recalled to Performing Songwriter. “And he hated it. Loathed it. He went ‘Oh, uh-huh, okay…’ then just walked away,” he added.
This version of events is supported by Zanetta, who said: “Warhol didn’t say anything but absolutely hated it,” he recalled. “Which didn’t help the meeting. Remember, David Bowie was not a big star. He was just some guy off the street as far as Andy Warhol was concerned.”
Zanetta continued: “They found a common ground in David’s shoes. David was wearing yellow Mary Janes and Andy had been a shoe illustrator, which David knew so they began talking about shoes. Otherwise, it was not the greatest meeting [laughs].”
If this meeting had taken place a couple of years later when America had firmly taken Bowie to their hearts just like in his homeland, Warhol might have seen the track as a genius because of stature. In fairness to his reaction to ‘Andy Warhol’, it’s far from Bowie’s best work and doesn’t paint a portrait of somebody who was soon to have the world at his feet.