Released: 17 December 1971
Mick Ronson: guitar, percussion
Ken Scott: ARP synthesizer, spoken word
‘Andy Warhol’ was David Bowie’s tribute to the American pop artist, film director and producer Andy Warhol. It was written for Bowie’s former lover Dana Gillespie, who recorded it in 1971.
I’m not sure that there’s such a thing as a fond memory of Andy Warhol. He was a strange fish. Even people who say they knew him well, I don’t think they did. I certainly didn’t know him well.
Blender, August 2002
Bowie wrote brief explainer notes about each of the Hunky Dory songs, which were used to promote the album. For ‘Andy Warhol’ he wrote: “A man of media and anti-message, with a kind of cute style.”
In June 1970, Bowie’s then-manager Kenneth Pitt had considered asking Andy Warhol to provide cover artwork for The Man Who Sold The World. “I wonder if Andy Warhol would design the album cover, or do a portrait we could use,” he said. “Or Hockney?” Although neither artist ever collaborated with Bowie, it is tempting to muse upon what might have been.
In August 1971 a 26-night run of the stage show Andy Warhol’s Pork took place at London’s Roundhouse. The cast included Leee Black Childers, Tony Zanetta, and Cherry Vanilla, all of whom would later work for Bowie.
On 11 August members of the Pork cast watched Bowie and Mick Ronson perform at the Country Club on Haverstock Hill, London. Childers had read a profile of Bowie in Rolling Stone, and persuaded the other actors to attend. Bowie introduced them to the audience before performing ‘Andy Warhol’. Afterwards they all went to the Yours And Mine nightclub where Bowie was fascinated by their flamboyant personas. The following night, and for several nights after, David and Angie Bowie attended Pork performances at the Roundhouse.
In September 1971 Bowie, Angie, Ronson, and Tony Defries flew to New York to sign with RCA. Upon their arrival Angie phoned Tony Zanetta, who was asked by Tony Defries to arrange a meeting with Andy Warhol. The meeting took place on 14 September at the Factory at 33 Union Square.
Warhol was not impressed by Bowie, and the singer’s acetate disc of ‘Andy Warhol’ did not impress. What did break the ice, however, were the shoes – “brilliant canary yellow, semi-wedge heel, semi-point rounded toe” – which Marc Bolan had given Bowie.
I took the song to The Factory when I first came to America and played it to him, and he hated it. Loathed it. He went [imitates Warhol’s blasé manner] “Oh, uh-huh, okay…” then just walked away. [Laughs] I was left there. Somebody came over and said, “Gee, Andy hated it.” I said, “Sorry, it was meant to be a compliment.” “Yeah, but you said things about him looking weird. Don’t you know that Andy has such a thing about how he looks? He’s got a skin disease and he really thinks that people kind of see that.” I was like, “Oh, no.” It didn’t go down very well, but I got to know him after that. It was my shoes that got him. That’s where we found something to talk about. They were these little yellow things with a strap across them, like girls’ shoes. He absolutely adored them. Then I found out that he used to do a lot of shoe designing when he was younger. He had a bit of a shoe fetishism. That kind of broke the ice. He was an odd guy.
Performing Songwriter, September 2003
In 1974 Bowie was interviewed with author William Burroughs for Rolling Stone magazine. Burroughs asked Bowie whether he had met Andy Warhol, and the singer recounted the ill-fated meeting.
About two years ago I was invited up to The Factory. We got in the lift and went up and when it opened there was a brick wall in front of us. We rapped on the wall and they didn’t believe who we were. So we went back down and back up again till finally they opened the wall and everybody was peering around at each other. That was shortly after the gun incident. I met this man who was the living dead. Yellow in complexion, a wig on that was the wrong colour, little glasses. I extended my hand and the guy retired, so I thought, ‘The guy doesn’t like flesh, obviously he’s reptilian.’ He produced a camera and took a picture of me. And I tried to make small talk with him, and it wasn’t getting anywhere.
But then he saw my shoes. I was wearing a pair of gold-and-yellow shoes, and he says, ‘I adore those shoes, tell me where you got those shoes.’ He then started a whole rap about shoe design and that broke the ice. My yellow shoes broke the ice with Andy Warhol.
I adore what he was doing. I think his importance was very heavy, it’s becoming a big thing to like him now. But Warhol wanted to be clichi, he wanted to be available in Woolworth’s, and be talked about in that glib type of manner. I hear he wants to make real films now, which is very sad because the films he was making were the things that should be happening. I left knowing as little about him as a person as when I went in…
He’s the wrong colour, this man is the wrong colour to be a human being. Especially under the stark neon lighting in The Factory. Apparently it is a real experience to behold him in the daylight.
Rolling Stone, 28 February 1974
Angie Bowie recalled the encounter with Warhol in her 1993 memoir:
I remember a space done in aluminum foil and a bunch of incredibly pale people lounging around in various states approaching coma, squeezing out the occasional nihilistic statement or existentialist non sequitur or meaningless triviality (the closer to coma and meaninglessness, the hipper). I remember nobody paying even the slightest attention to me – I might as well have been wood, or nonreflective wallpaper – and I recall many moments of silent, relatively acute social discomfort before David took the initiative and played a tape of his new song “Andy Warhol” to its subject.
That broke the silence, but only temporarily. Andy got up and left the room without a word just after the last note.
There was some doubt, unexpressed of course, as to whether or not that signaled the end of our encounter, but Andy returned after a few minutes, said, “That was great, thank you,” in that little windup-toy-faggot voice of his, and then applied himself, in silence, to the task of taking Polaroids of David, peeling them off one by one, and laying them out before him on a coffee table.
So far so good. Nobody had jumped out the window, choked on his own vomit, or OD’d to the point of actual fatality while we’d been there, and while our host was certainly very low-key, so to speak, there was a clear implication that that was, well, normal. Andy looked dead, all right – his face was the grim gray-white plastic color of an hours-dead battlefield corpse, and that dreadful hairpiece of his looked as if some gang of drunken revelers at his wake had been, well, using it – but that was plainly an illusion. He was plainly alive and well enough to do his thing.
I have no idea how it all might have ended had things gone on the way they were going (we’d been there an hour or more already; how long could those people have sustained that kind of nonbeing?), but suddenly it all changed. Andy noticed David’s shoes – bright yellow patent-leather, as I recall, one of my image-enhancing fashion finds – and evidently that spurred a sequence of neurological reactions resulting in, of all things, volubility. At once he became just as chatty as could be.
Things were fine from that point. An amazingly trivial conversation got started, and everybody relaxed. You could tell because their eyeballs twitched more slowly.
At the time I ascribed Andy’s abrupt sea change to some sort of accelerated movement along the biochemical continuum or other random cortical event, but I misjudged the man. David pegged it for me later: Before he’d become the Campbell’s Soup Can man, Andy had been a shoe designer! So we’d been able to come up with something that interested him. Now wasn’t that lucky, and weren’t we blessed?
In September 1972, with Bowie well on his way to superstar status, he played a sell-out show at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Warhol and his acolytes were in the audience, and was considerably more favourable towards Bowie than he had been the previous year. His verdict on the show was that it was “the best thing since Kitty Hawks”, according to Al Aronowitz’s review in the New York Post.
Warhol was also in the audience for Bowie’s show at LA’s Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in October 1972. The show, in which Bowie performed ‘Andy Warhol’, was broadcast live by KMET-FM, and eventually released as Live Santa Monica ’72.
‘Andy Warhol’ was the b-side of the single ‘Changes’, released in January 1972 shortly after Hunky Dory.
In France, the ‘Changes’ single’s label indicated that the b-side was ‘Andy Warhol’, whereas it actually played ‘Song For Bob Dylan’.
A live performance of ‘Andy Warhol, recorded in Aylesbury on 25 September 1971, was released on the 2022 box set Divine Symmetry.