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Music

The reason why Andy Warhol was a genius, according to Lou Reed

Andy Warhol’s art and ideas were undoubtedly the marks of a truly inspired and otherworldly mind. His strange and often controversial ideas would begin to spread his name across New York City in the late 1950s after he had decided to exhibit some of his art pieces in local galleries as a side aspiration to his original successful career path as a commercial illustrator. With his art gaining popularity in the galleries, Warhol decided to set up his famous studio and art troupe called ‘The Factory’. The studio became an epicentre for his multimedia exploration, and as an eccentric socialite, he would regularly befriend people and bring them into his lair of artistic wonderment where a whole tapestry of intellectuals, drag queens, playwrights, Bohemian street people, musicians and artists would mingle.

Toward the mid-sixties, Warhol would focus on trying to help bring aspiring personalities up to his level of fame and success. These people would later become known as the Warhol Superstars; these stars would become part of his art troupe and would appear in his various artworks and accompany him at social events. It was through these superstars, as he labelled them, that he would coin his famous dictum, “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes”. This mandate appears to be startlingly relevant today, with the advent of social media allowing just about anybody to become a minor celebrity for a short time if they so wish.

During this period, Warhol befriended the aspiring experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and decided to take them under his wing, becoming their manager, promoter and creative director. It appeared to be a match made in heaven; one of the most forward-thinking artists of the 1960s had met a group of the most forward-thinking avant-garde musicians of the decade. The Velvet Underground would frequently perform at The Factory, and Warhol steered them toward their eponymous debut album, insisting that his friend Nico sing with the band despite Lou Reed’s reservations. The Velvet Underground & Nico was not a major hit at the time due to its content that was ostensibly years ahead of its time, but the album has since become one of the most iconic in rock history and was made symbolic by the clever, yet simple, banana illustration Warhol designed for the record sleeve. 

Warhol was a restless creative with irons in far too many fires to possibly count. Lou Reed said of his creative mentor: “He would work 24 hours a day, I’ve never seen someone do that”. Throughout his career, Warhol founded the Interview magazine, directed and produced film projects, authored numerous books and created countless art prints, all of which, in their own way, allowed Warhol to impart his curious and fantastic ideas to the rest of the world. Over his career, he became one of the most commercially intuitive artists of all time, and in 2009, The Economist described him as the “bellwether of the art market”.

On June 3rd, 1968, Warhol’s fame caught up with him when he was shot by the troubled radical feminist, Valerie Solanas, who had been involved with Warhol’s Factory productions in 1967. After accusing Warhol of stealing the manuscript for her play SCUM Manifesto, Solanas explained the shooting stating that, at the time, Warhol “had too much control over my life” – it appears that aside from the paranoia, a great deal of jealousy was involved in the decision. She was subsequently put into psychiatric care and charged with attempted murder. 

By this point, The Velvet Underground had largely cut their ties with Warhol’s creative dominion, but it appears that he had remained in the fond thoughts of band members Lou Reed and John Cale, who released a Warhol inspired album in 1990 just three years after his death. The album, entitled Songs For Drella, contains a run of tracks commemorating the genius of their beloved mentor. The songs cleverly chronicle some of Warhol’s exploits and social experiences in first-person and third-person accounts, often also covering events from Warhol’s imagined first-person perspective.

Just a few months before Lou Reed passed away in October 2013, he gave some touching final words about his old friend and creative influence. During the interview at Cannes Lions in 2013, Reed described Warhol’s genius leaving the final comment: “he was an astonishing person in every way”.

Watch the interview below.