From Toronto Sun:
December 7, 2003
Apply Andy Warhol's prophecy that "In the future everyone will be fa-mous for 15 minutes" to Andy Warhol himself, and the famous sound byte becomes a bit of an understatement. Perhaps a more apt quip when dealing with a celebrity of Warhol's stature would be something like: "In the future anyone who's as famous as me will have at least 15 books written about them."
It's true. There are just so many books already written about Warhol that it's become redundant to kill any more trees on his behalf. Yet almost 17 years after his unexpected death on February 22, 1987, Warhol remains as written and talked about as ever. His paintings continue to fetch record-breaking prices, and the public's captivation continues unabated.
But honestly, how much more can be said about the man Lou Reed dubbed the Pope in the Silver Castle?
About 490 pages more, according to cultural historian Steven Watson, author of Factory Made: Warhol And The Sixties. For a man as obviously talented at gathering factual tidbits as he is, Watson had to have known that when it comes to tackling the mythological status surrounding Warhol, many came before him.
To start with (and if you are a Warhol fan, you should) there's The Andy Warhol Diaries, a gossipy phonebook of who-said-what-to-whom spanning the final ten years of Warhol's lifean immensely entertaining yarn, but perhaps only appreciated by the most ardent fan. Then there's the brilliant Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up, by Vanity Fair writer and former Interview magazine editor Bob Colacello, a compulsively readable account of New York's decadent '70s (the best of the bunch, in my opinion), as well as other tomes by Victor Bockris, David Bourdon (also recommended), Ultra Violet, not to mention books authored (if you could call it that -- he didn't do much of the actual writing) by Warhol himself.
I wouldn't want to say that Watson's book isn't impressive, because it is. The detail here is sweeping, rich and meticulous, from the "Childhood Snapshots" of the off-the-wall characters who comprised Warhol's Silver Factory period, to the fascinating "Aftermath" section, a sobering where-are-they-now compendium of the bright lights that made up Warhol's circle during the heady '60s.
It's just that most of the stories pertaining to Warhol and his Silver Factory were on record long before Watson began to report them. My guess is that Watson thought he could do a better job of piecing the information together, and by and large, he succeeds by taking a distinctly epidemiological approach to Warhol's extensive and influential social network, telling us when and exactly where Andy met so-and-so, including his meeting with Edie Sedgwick, his 1965 superstar, at movie producer Lester Persky's party on March 26, 1965. Watson (who interviewed many of the Factory figures) relays that "Edie was wearing her brunette hair in a beehive hairdo, a leopard shawl thrown over her gown, and a plaster cast on her leg. When he saw her, Andy sucked in his breath and said, 'Oh she's so bee-you-ti-ful.'"
It's that kind of reporting that makes the body of work here commendable. However, detail doesn't necessarily translate into great storytelling, as most of Factory Made reads like a historical textbook. It's actually the 25 pages of "Aftermath" at book's end that warrant the most interest in Factory Made. Perhaps because these pages provide the only truly new and current information, perhaps because this is when the writer gets the most personal with his subjects: "The biographical vignettes that follow don't intend to project an overarching post-Sixties narrative," Watson writes. "They are individual stories, and they suggest the variety of ways that the Factory people coped with the end of an era, the transformations they made, and the prices they paid."
Although quite morbid, most compelling is the account of the death of Valerie Solanas, who tried to kill Warhol by shooting him in June, 1968: "One of the last sightings of Valerie Solanas was by a hotel employee who saw her typing, with a pile of pages by her side. On April 25, 1988, she was found dead of bronchial pneumonia, brought on by emphysema, in her room in a large welfare hotel at 56 Mason Street, in the heart of San Francisco's seedy Tenderloin district. The police report read: Victim was found kneeling on the floor of the one room apt., and her upper torso was facing down on the side of the bed. Her body was covered with maggots and the room appeared orderly."
It's this kind of raw data that makes Factory Made worthy of recommendation, although the prose at times is so straightforward it seems factory made itself. Still, for those interested in the phenomenon that was the 1960s New York avant-garde, this book should not be overlooked.
From Arts Journal:
by John Perreault
Watson, author of Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism and other well-received tomes, gives the full treatment to the surviving denizens of the Warhol factory, genuine super stars all. This may be the Warhol book to end all Warhol books. The oral history is priceless and makes one anxiously await Watson's documentary film based on hundreds of DVD interviews. The film he made based on Prepare for Saints was a knockout. For samplings of the Warhol material, check out: www.factorymade.org