Once upon a time, in a galaxy…well, not really that far far away, the “M” in MTV stood for “Music.” No, really. And not merely mainstream Top 40 either. Yes, black artists were eschewed in the early days for the appeal of its predominantly white demographic (until Michael Jackson blew away that steel lily-white wall) but with progress, MTV encapsulated a mostly inclusive musicality. It wasn’t restrictive to music, either – but also fashion (which, for better or worse, are usually inseparable. Partly because of MTV). And it changed the world. It was – and I’m not joking with you – the cutting edge. Sure, it had the tendency to jump on bandwagons in lieu of building them, but it nevertheless opened up to the majority of America to heretofore-unseen worlds, including the art house crowd, the downtown scene and the alterna-nation. It wasn’t all Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna videos – it brought the counter-culture to pop culture relevance.
Of course, this changed years ago (that the network continues its annual cacophonous showcase of irrelevance known as the Video Music Awards is ludicrous) and now MTV is artistically and aesthetically a fragment of a shell of what it meant to the youth of America.
So to think that a show like Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes ever existed as an MTV vehicle is astonishing. In a universe that has long-abandoned its quasi-arty roots for the “reality” trash heap it’s now (in)famous for, Fifteen Minutes is not only a relic, but something today’s youth would consider a foreign – if not interplanetary – curiosity. For the rest of us it is nostalgic nirvana.
Warhol always wanted to be on TV. Being an art world iconoclast wasn’t enough. After two brief runs on cable access from the late 1970s through 1983, Warhol’s audience was too limited for his prodigious boob tube ambitions, and in 1985, he hooked up with MTV and, with one of the networks first non-scripted shows, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes was born.
The show personified the 1980s New York scene – the ugly and the beautiful – and it seemed to be all on Warhol’s terms. It wasn’t glittery, but it was glamorous – and gritty, palpable. To watch these fascinating segments is to be immersed in the atmosphere, like 3D public access – you’re not only a viewer, you are a participant. At least that’s how I felt viewing these shows. I remember these people. I’ve met these people. I’ve admired (most of) these people. I’ve mourned these people (it’s sad to see the faces and spirits of those who have succumbed to AIDS, then a still-new horror, like fashion designer Angel Estrada). When Warhol is on screen, which, believe it or not, is not as often as you might surmise, he sits there, with whichever co-host is on that particular episode (Jerry Hall, Debbie Harry, Suzanne Lanza), nonchalantly opining and discussing whatever random topic pops in his/their head(s), as if the camera’s isn’t even on, detached, no matter how nonsensical or topical the conversation.
The music is amazing. The interviews both wonderful and laughable, obscure even. The footage is priceless. There are A-listers, D-listers, never was-ers, drag queens, mooncalves (a young Courtney Love), one hit wonders, obscure fashionistas, forgotten models, artists and artistes. It’s a mesmerizing time capsule of trends, music, fashion and pop culture – a snapshot of a long-ago era of the pre-internet 1980s.
Whatever you thought of Warhol’s version of “pop art,” what’s undeniable is the mainstreaming of it. And to bring it to a new, young audience in 1985 was breathtaking.
Yesterday, Andy Warhol would have turned 83 years old, his place in the pantheon of pop culture and the art world forever cemented. Sadly, Warhol died during the filming of the 5th episode, on February 22 1987. Even sadder, (the real) MTV died within a decade of Warhol.
(The pilot was recorded in 1985, episode 1 was recorded in 1986, and episodes 2 – 4 were recorded in 1987. The original air-dates are unknown to me. It’s my understanding that the pilot aired as ep 4. I can’t verify that or not, but for archiving sake, I labeled them as the production slates were listed on the original masters.)
Robin Leach opens the debut episode outside Warhol’s factory, in his famous “…champagne wishes and caviar dreams…” voice, quoting the famous Warhol mantra, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes…”
Warhol, Jerry Hall, and Debbie Harry explore the art of Neodrag, which makes its home at the Pyramid Club. (Neodrag performers include John Kelley, Jelly Joplin, Hapi Phace, Lady Bunny, and the late Dean Johnson.)
Harry introduces a segment on fashion designer Katharine Hamnett, which features comments by models Marla Kay, Anna Jonsson, and Eric Perram.
Tracy Johns discusses her casting in Spike Lee’s SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT.
Sally Kirkland and Pauline Porizkova discuss working together on Yurek Bogayevicz’s ANNA.
John Oates talks with Billy Bryans (update 2012: Bryans passed away in April of this year of lung cancer), Lorraine Segato and Lauri Conger of Canadian band Parachute Club) about collaborating on their new album (Oates produced the album, and sang back up on “Love Is Fire”). A weird segment follows with the three (and Johns and Kirkland) examining the world of vegetables (Kirkland assures us that vegetarians have better sex).
Dweezel and Moon Zappa discuss being close siblings.
From London, British pop band Curiosity Killed the Cat is filmed by Warhol’s crew performing “Misfit.”
Tama Janowitz reads from her “Slaves of New York” novel.
Back at the Pyramid Club, future drag legend Lypsinka performs and hostess Carla Steimer ends with a refrain of “Let Me Entertain You.”
(At the end of this performance, the tape I owned rewinds itself.)
Famed photographer Peter Beard literally swings in to discuss fashion and art, Grace Jones discusses her music video “I’m Not Perfect” (and it’s visual style created by late, great artist Keith Haring, who appears in the video along with Warhol) and photog Just Loomis displays his “Fashions at 30 Rock.”
Kevin Dillon, John C. McGinley and Francesco Quinn, co-stars of Oliver Stone’s classic PLATOON, opine on the horrors of war. In a somewhat related segment, Beat Generation icon and author William Burroughs philosophizes the universal nature of battle with Blondie’s Chris Stein. (Burroughs passed away August 2, 1997 of a heart attack he suffered the previous day.)
Next is a mini-fashion show of the late Angel Estrada, followed by Elizabeth Pena who discusses why she wanted to be an actress. (Update 2014: sadly, Pena died on October 14 due to complications from Cirrhosis of the liver.)
One hit wonder Gregory Abbott (of the great “Shake You Down” fame) recalls how – with thanks to his Wall Street connections – he entered the music business. Judd Nelson chats the meaning of the word fashion and Punk-Polka band Das Furlines is profiled – even though Warhol loathes Polka. (He says so.)
Husband and wife fashion designers Isabel and Ruben Toledo discuss (in Spanish) fashion and art and their love-at-first-sight romance. Grace Jones’ doppelganger and hanger-on Angelo Colon joins Jones in singing a snippet of “I’m Not Perfect” and shows off his Alan Wilcox-designed hat, which Jones wants.
Kenny Scharf takes a ride in his self-illustrated 1961 Ultima Suprema Deluxa customized 1961 Cadillac, attracting tourists at a neighborhood gas station.
Steven “Steinski” Stein ends the show talking about “We’ll Be Right Back” – according to Wikipedia: “The track “We’ll Be Right Back” was released in 1986 under the name Steinski and Mass Media. As the title indicated, the track was dominated by samples from TV and radio adverts from the 1950s and 1960s.”
Andy co-hosts Episode 3 with model Suzanne Lanza. The episode opens with violinist Regina Beukes performing Jules Maasent’s symphonic intermezzo for solo violin, “Thais for Meditation” and converses romance in music, which acts as the soundtrack for designer Miriam Bendahan, who admits that her designs (modeled here by Jennifer Hamden and Gabriela G. Suzanne) and her own personal wardrobes differ, which allows her the freedom to be as expressive as she wishes.
Queens, NY garage rock band The Fleshtones perform their song, “The Return of the Leather Kings,” which is followed by Anita Martire and Michael Schmidt’s Moto-Fashion biker fashions at the Tunnel club. A voice over gives us a brief history of the club, while Tunnel director Rudolf promises to make every train station in this country a disco. Bartender Carla Steimer and co-owner Thomas Leeser, discuss the Gold Bar.
In a skit detailing the fate of art since the closing of the Mudd Club, “art cop” Alan Jones interplays with artist Brook Larsen (the club was taken over by B. Larsen Frames, Inc).
Visual artist Robert Longo discusses the conductivity music plays to his creative process (a clip of the Long-directed “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Wave legends New Order is played).
Actor Victor Love reads from Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” the role he’s most noted for.
Rock group Wall to Wall performs “Tuff Luck.”
Bo Diddley muses his place on the pantheon of Rock N Roll. (Diddley passed away on June 2, 2008 of heart failure.)
Introduced in storybook form by hostess Lanza, Jeffrey W. Reynolds (Matino) and Suzan Hanson (Pamina) perform an excerpt from Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE presented by Joe Papp’s The Opera at the Academy, which Hanson, Reynolds, director Eric Fraad, and music director Christopher O’Reilly also discuss.
Avant garde drug-trance world music group Saqqara Dogs performs “Across The Sky.” Members Bond Bergland, Ruby Ray, Hearn Gadbois and Sync 66 discuss working and traveling together.
While “No Way” plays, renowned jazz flautist Bobbi Humphrey discusses romance. And the episode ends with The Fleshtones returning to accompany (future Sir) Ian McKellen as he recites William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 20“.
As a sort of epitaph for Andy, the final episode of Fifteen Minutes begins with a montage of Warhol’s art, to the soundtrack of Freddie Mercury’s version of “The Great Pretender” and ends with his memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Eleanor Antin, an American artist and photographer, discusses the genesis of her classic conceptual piece “100 Boots” using Boomerang’s version of “These Boots Are Made For Walking” as its soundtrack. Jerry Hall and Ric Ocasek share their brief thoughts on boots, and Boomerang performs the aforementioned Nancy Sinatra classic.
Scottish rock/pop band Hipsway is on an Interview magazine shoot, as members Pim Jones, Graham Skinner and Harry Travers discuss their style.
Hall then offers some brief thoughts on Andy.
Stephen Pell, Peter Kwalff, John Epperson, Edgar Oliver and Janis Wikoff perform a number from the Off-Off-Broadway cult musical DIAL ‘M’ FOR MODEL. Wikoff interviews each member, and the show’s producer L.L. Aubrey.
The topic of Broadway is introduced by Hall, who talks with Broadway legend Tommy Tune. Tune chats with French actress, singer and ballerina Liliane Montevecchi. In the interim, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein admit that the only Broadway they know is the avenue. (Update 2018: Montevecchi passed away at 85 years old on June 29.)
Stein then talks Rock shop with the Ramones (Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Richie), who are saddened by the lousy state of Rock n Roll in the age of video. They go to Top Cat studio, where they perform “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg).”
Post-punk dance band Konk accompanies an Elizabeth Cannon fashion show with their single, “Say-So.”
Hi-NRG club performer Paul Lekakis sings his club anthem, “Boom Boom Boom (Let’s Go Back To My Room)” and gay rights pioneer and Act-Up member Michelangelo Signorile impersonates Jean Paul Gaultier, who held a look-a-like contest in the Michael Todd Room at the Palladium club, where gay performance artist John Sex performs “Sex Appeal.”
Harry introduces up and coming actress Courtney Love (!), who soliloquizes her bag-lady ambitions. And then Robbi Nevil psychoanalyzes her fantasies.
The series ends at the aforementioned memorial service on April 1st, 1987. Warhol superstar Brigid Berlin gives a reading, and art historian John Richardson and Yoko Ono reflect on Warhol and his legacy.