Interested in the Right Thing at the Wrong Time: On Andy Warhol’s (American) Comedic Reflections

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When reading Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and Back Again), one cannot but be struck by his absent-mindedness and innocence. It is distinctly American and, at the same time, it is urban and ironic.  Andy drifts in and out of different topics in a simple and understated way. And, because of his writing’s extreme simplicity, it comes across as comical.

In the first part of the book, entitled “How Andy Puts His Warhol Pants On,” Warhol frames the discussion about “bluejeans” within a conversation between Warhol and B (two ordinary Americans) about the most ordinary things like waking up and talking about what they do once they are up. In the midst of this we see Warhol’s greatest American desire: to have a TV show:

“I wake up every morning. I open my eyes and think: here we go again.”

“I get up because I have to pee.”

“I never fall back to sleep,” I said, “It seems like a dangerous thing to do. A whole day of life is like a whole day of television. TV never goes off air once it starts for the day, and I don’t either. At the end of the day the whole day will be a movie. A movie made for TV.”

“I watch television from the minute I get up,” B said. “I look at NBC blue, then I turn the channel and look at the background in a different color…”(5)

Warhol lets B drone on and then interprets what she was saying, which is, basically, what Warhol dreams of:

B was referring to the great unfulfilled ambition of my life: my own TV show. I’m going to call it Nothing Special.

Warhol’s dream show, like much else he says, is really “nothing special.” But this, Warhol is telling us, is what people do when they have time: they fill it with chat about things they do, like to do, would like to do, and don’t want to do. They also drift into things that “believe” in.

Warhol tells B that he “believes in uniforms”(12). B says she also “believes” in them because “if there’s nothing there, clothes are certainly not going to make the man. It’s better to always wear the same thing and know that people are liking you for the real you and not the you your clothes make”(12). After making this cliché statement about the self vs. the clothes one wears, B changes the subject to where people leave their things. She finds it best to leave ONLY clothes out: “Nothing should be hidden except the things you don’t want your mother to see. That’s the only reason I’m scared of dying”(12).

She doesn’t want her mother to find “the vibrator” and her “diary.” Warhol finds this discussion to be going in the wrong direction. For this reason, he tells B that he “believes in bluejeans.”

Like an ad on TV, B says that the jeans made by Levi Strauss are “the top original bluejeans. They can’t be bought old, they have to be bought new and they have to be worn in by the person. To get that look. And they can’t be phoney bleached or pheoney anything”(13).

In response, Warhol suggest “French Bluejeans.” B rejects this and says, “No.  American are the best. Levi Strauss.” Warhol, excited by her response, whispers that he wants to die with his bluejeans on.” This so excites B that she says he should be President! Blue jeans, it seems, make the American and are more important than TV.

These reflections are, to be sure, comical by virtue of their simplicity and optimism. TV, Bluejeans, and how one lays things out in one’s room are shared as if they were self-evident truths. Warhol would have us believe that bluejeans really do make the man…and the President. He would have us believe that all Americans want their own TV show but really have nothing special to say. Americans are all simple people; Andy is an American; therefore he must like bluejeans, TV, and…things.

What interests me about this comical talk is when it turns away from things and turns toward comedy itself. In chapter seven, which is entitled “Time,” Warhol discuss timing in relation to comedy. What he admires most about comedians is their timing:

I look at professional people like comedians in night clubs, and I’m always impressed with their perfect timing, but I could never understand how they can bear to say exactly the same thing all the time. Then I realized what’s the difference, because you’re always repeating your same things all the time anyway, whether or not somebody asks you or it’s your job. You’re usually making the same mistakes. You apply your usual mistakes to every new category or field you go into. (114)

Warhol, always looking for the American common-denominator, realizes (as if in an epiphany) that we repeat ourselves constantly. Timing makes these things…interesting and funny.   However, when the timing is off, one may fall flat.

Warhol understands this intimately. Following this aphorism, Warhol notes that he, like a schlemiel of sorts, is always off in his timing. Because, whenever he is interested in something, he always seems to come too late:

Whenever I’m interested in something, I know that timing’s off, because I’m always interested in the right thing at the wrong time. I should just get interested after I’m not interested anymore, because right after I’m embarrassed to still be thinking about a certain idea, that’s when the idea is just about to make somebody a few million dollars. My same good mistakes. (114)

Like the schlemiel, Warhol’s mistakes are honest and common. The irony of this reflection is that Warhol, as we can see above, seems to be on time. After all, B says he should be President because he said he would like to “die in bluejeans.” But there is something odd about this timing. The idea of bluejeans being something someone should die in is not novel, but, at the moment, it sounded so novel that Warhol – in a brief moment – became an icon.

But, as Warhol muses elsewhere, one must do something…regardless of whether one is on time or not. And that’s the wisdom of a schlemiel who does things all the time – even though those things might be too late, at least the fool does them…And, sometimes, as Warhol knew very well…being late can be fashionable.

 

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