Charles - Music Lover
I'm going to need a new copy of the Andy Warhol Diaries in a year or two. The binding on my current copy is really creased from periodic re-examinations. For me, the highpoints of this book are in the 1977 - late 1978 sections, and the early 80s (1982 - 1984). There seemed to be a constant energy in the entries in those years.
Prior to Steve Rubell's (owner of Studio 54) arrest for tax evasion, the entries were dominated by descriptions of New York City nightlife and name dropping. In 1982, there seemed to be a renaissance of social activity, albeit tempered, with a new group of regulars (Chris Makos and his boyfriend Peter, Jon Gould, etc.). AIDS was originally referred to as "gay cancer." What is striking me most in this re-reading of the Diaries is how much has been left out. There are a lot of gaps, especially when it comes to Warhol's personal relationships. For an overview of NYC's nightlife and artworld circa 1977 - early 1987, this book is essential. Social and popular culture historians will delight at Warhol's wry observations of celebrities and superstars in his immediate sphere. I remember when this book was first published, without an index. That was, in retrospect, a public relations coup. People were forced to comb through the volume to see who merited a mention.
Sadly, many of the Diary's notables came to a bad end: Andy himself died unexpectedly - and prematurely - after gall bladder surgery in February 1987. Jed Johnson died in the TWA plane crash in 1996. Steve Rubell, Jon Gould, Robert Hayes, Keith Haring, Halston, and so many others died of complications from AIDS. Jean-Michel Basquiat died from a drug overdose. Truman Capote died, relatively young, after decades of alcohol and drug abuse. Berry Berenson (Marisa Berenson's sister and one-time wife of Anthony Perkins) died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Despite the "gaps" I referred to previously, this volume is a remarkably fluid, entertaining document spanning a ten-year period. Pat Hackett did an admirable job in compiling and editing this massive tome into a readable, fascinating, and enduring pop-culture history. Warhol describes creating "time capsules," where he would throw items dating from a certain year into a box and then storing it for years before opening it again. Invariably, upon opening the time capsule, he would become transfixed in its contents. That is what this book is like at its best.
If you are at all interested in Warhol's work -- either as artist or observer -- this book is a must. Given its size and scope, this is not a book you will read from cover to cover, but, rather, one to be skimmed through, referred to again and again, and enjoyed each time you do. Warhol emerges as an immensely likable figure: funny, whimsical, shy, insecure, and very smart, despite his disingenuous protestations to the contrary.
For centuries, the world of visual art was filled with mythical giants, people whose genius was not revealed to the world until long after said person's demise or people whose genius so overwhelmed others that no one dared get close to the figure. Thankfully, Andy Warhol was neither of those two types of artists. And the world knows this due to the IRS, a woman who originally just wanted a little excitement in her life, and a man who refused to censor himself.
Andy Warhol was a lifelong Democrat who criticized the Nixon administration, thus sparking a series of intense IRS audits. To help make these audits easier, he and his then-assistant Pat Hackett began cataloguing his daily expenses and saving every single receipt he received. This grew into a routine that lasted long after Hackett stopped officially working for Warhol, through phone conversations and taped recordings. Warhol would inject bits of his everyday life into the financial chatter and he and Hackett became close friends and confidants. Approximately two years after Warhol's passing, Hackett compiled all of her notes together, made it into a cohesive whole, and published it as The Andy Warhol Diaries. And the Warhol fan should silently thank Hackett every day for this.
Because of the intimate friendship these two people enjoyed, the reader is able to get a more personal, more vulnerable view of one of the art world's most original and celebrated figures. By devouring the pages of this easily readable text, one can understand that for all the glitz and glamour associated with this artist's public persona, his private life was actually not that much different from that of the "average" American. He went to work, he paid his bills, he interacted with his friends, he tried to navigate the tricky world of love and romance, and experienced the same level of disappointments, setbacks, rejection, and confusion as that of any other human being in the post-industrial world.
Though that isn't to say that Warhol's life was completely devoid of the glitter that seemed to shine on the surface. To delve into the diaries is to escape into the celebrity-filled world of Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s, where one could bump into Jacqueline Onassis, Bianca Jagger, Diane von Furstenburg, or a massive array of other celebrities, all of whom Warhol had at least brief encounters with. Warhol did live what some might describe as a jet set lifestyle, flying off here and there to do promotional work, to attend various events held in his honor, to work with some new art patron of his, or on occasion to just relax and interact with his friends, both famous and non-famous. But he was by no means a spendthrift; indeed, many passages in the diaries indicate his desire to save money or to invest it, not wishing to squander his money away and return to the life he had as a child in a poor immigrant family. So his jet-set lifestyle did have its limits and he did end up spending a tremendous amount of time in and around his NYC home base, choosing to do most of his lounging at his vacation home in Montauk.
One might think that all of the above might tell the full story of The Diaries, that this means The Diaries are no longer worth checking out. One would be wholly incorrect, there, because The Diaries are so much more than just a chronicle of an artist's life. They give the reader an insight into the artist's personality that only his own words, lovingly preserved by his former assistant, can give. They make the reader fall in love with Warhol, make the reader forever protective of him, make the reader wish he or she could've gotten a chance to know the late artist before his untimely and unfortunate demise in 1987. For this and many other reasons, this publication is an absolute must-read for anyone even remotely interested in "that guy who painted Campbell's soup cans" and is worth every single penny of its list price and then some.