Review: The Andy Warhol Diaries

I’ve come back from hiatus once again to write a review. This wasn’t a complete hiatus and I really do love writing blog posts and I miss writing them on a regular basis. They’re a completely different animal from writing a book and I can more easily see progress as I finish a shorter blog post. This may not be the most timely review since the documentary has been out for a couple weeks, but it’s something I wanted to talk about on my blog because I love pop art and it’s a big part of 60s pop culture and of course, Andy Warhol had classic rock connections: The Velvet Underground and Nico album cover, managing the Velvet Underground; his painting of Elvis, photographing classic rockers like Mick Jagger and Debbie Harry, and David Bowie having a song named after him. You’ll see even more classic rock connections in the documentary series. The whole Factory scene is really fascinating to me and I even found Andy Warhol’s life and work after the 60s interesting too, especially after watching this series.

This blog also talks about people part of the classic rock scenes from all walks of life. My most popular blog posts are the ones about LGBT musicians and Andy Warhol was gay. Some of the most fascinating historical figures were gay/bisexual and I keep coming back to reading about their stories. Many of them were in the arts, be it writers, actors, singers, or dancers. The arts were always a refuge for the LGBT community and a more accepting place. For many of us who grew up in more conservative areas or didn’t have many LGBT friends, these historical figures were our idols and representation and helped us realise that it’s okay to be who we are. They’re also an inspiration and trailblazers. We want to make the world a better place in honour of them, make the world a place that they’d be proud of. Everyone has their time on this planet and it’s now our turn to change the world. I often think about what it would have been like to be gay or bi in decades or even centuries past. It was rough, to say the least. I often have a cynical, pessimistic attitude towards the things going on now, but while scrolling on Facebook, I saw something that someone posted in response to someone saying that racism hasn’t declined and this attitude is bad because it doesn’t encourage progress because if we think that society will always be bigoted, then what’s the point of progress? Facilities are now integrated, segregation is illegal, racial discrimination is illegal. Racism is far from extinct, but to say that today is the same as 100 years ago is inaccurate. Similarly, have things gotten better for women since the beginning of the 20th century? Of course! Women can vote and run for office, sexual harassment is illegal, most countries have maternity leave, there’s laws against the gender pay gap, abortion is legal, women can get birth control. There’s still more battles, such as women getting sterilised and hysterectomies on demand, and I do my best to raise awareness of the issue as someone with pain related to my reproductive system. Have things gotten better for gay people? And how! In many countries around the world: gay sex is legal, same sex couples can get married, there’s anti-discrimination laws on the books, more and more people are speaking out in support of gay rights, there are pride parades (albeit corporate as hell and we can talk about that another time). It’s important to take a step back and have some perspective. Certainly I wouldn’t want to live before the 60s.

When I saw that there’s a new Netflix series on Andy Warhol and his diaries (which I haven’t read), I knew that was something I’d have to check out and I want to take advantage of having Netflix because my husband and I are thinking of cancelling it to save money and because we’re too busy to watch anything because he’s coming down the home stretch with his PhD and I’m working on my book and other writing projects.

Andy Warhol started keeping a diary after he was shot to keep track of his expenses and write about his day to day life and yes, some of that sounds really mundane and boring, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff too. Like why do we need to know what a taxi ride costs or what he had for breakfast? Like I said with The Beatles: Get Back, as much as I love The Beatles and it was cool to see behind the scenes stuff, I don’t know if I needed to see everything and hear slightly different versions of the same song, kinda drove me crazy. But this documentary is totally different from that and it talks about the highlights of Andy Warhol’s career and isn’t full of filler.

Starting in 1976, eight years after he was shot, he made daily phone calls to a friend, Pat Hackett, who would transcribe them. The years that span this diary are 1976-1987, when he died. Now, if you’re like me and you’re a big fan of the 60s, you may be worried that this series is going to only talk about those years based on the title, but it is a comprehensive six part series that talks all about his life and you’ll be learning about his childhood in Pittsburgh, how he started going art, moving to New York City and starting the Factory scene, his pop art in the 60s that he became famous for, being shot by Valerie Solanas and nearly dying, his miraculous recovery and taking portraits and finding beauty in his scars, falling in love with his caretaker Jed Johnson who becomes a famous interior designer, branching out into publishing with Interview Magazine, his rebirth with the commissioned portraits of celebrities (which cost $50k!), growing jealous of Jed and dealing with not being on top anymore in the 70s, partying at Studio 54 and it taking a toll on his health and his relationship with Jed, taking nude photos of various men, breaking up with Jed and going out with Jon Gould – a preppy Paramount executive, having his own TV show (referred to by Rob Lowe in the documentary as the original Wayne’s World), his friendship and working with Jean-Michel Basquiat, the AIDS crisis and how it affected the gay community and what Andy Warhol thought about it and seeing friends die (in those days, people didn’t know how it was spread), his appearance on SNL and The Love Boat, his show Fifteen Minutes, and finally him doing his own version of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper and the symbolism he added in that. In one sentence: his journey from awkward poor kid from Pittsburgh to being one of the coolest, most innovative, most influential, genius artists of the 20th century. A really interesting look at his personal life and a different side of him than we see. And the diary excerpts that are read aren’t all mundane, there are some interesting thoughts about fame in there. The interviews were really interesting. The visuals, you all know how much I love the era, so it was cool to see a lot of vintage footage. I think it was really cool to hear his voice in it reading the entries and it’s amazing how far technology has come because in the first episode, they say that a lot of it is AI. You certainly couldn’t make a documentary like this decades ago!

Anyone part of the LGBT community will find it relatable for sure. You get ostracised as a kid and you need something as a distraction, like a hobby, and you find that you’re quite good at it. Gay people often choose their own families and they find community and family in their friends groups and the Factory was Andy Warhol’s safe space to be himself. Even if you’re not gay, if you’re awkward looking, you can relate to Andy Warhol and his use of fashion, accessories, and wigs to create this persona. He even used his fame and distinct looks to his advantage and tried his hand at modelling. Who says you have to be conventionally good looking to be a model? He even did some crossdressing too in the 80s for the Altered Images project, at the height of the ballroom culture. I also thought it was cool that he did an advert for Commodore International’s computers and even made some art on those computers (even if he thought it turned out bad – hey they didn’t have Wacom tablets and Apple pencils then!), so he wasn’t afraid of technology – I mean like Kenneth Anger, he was also a music video pioneer. And one thing that I found interesting is as many celebrities he hung out with and was seen in photos with and how many celebrities admired him, he felt lonely deep down inside and a big part of it was the homophobic culture he grew up in. It really goes to show you that appearances and photos don’t tell the whole story.

I found it really interesting how while we associate Warhol with NYC, you could see how his childhood in Pittsburgh growing up with a religious mother who took him to church, where yeah he didn’t fit in, but he saw beauty in the stained glass, and you can see how that inspired people. And despite Catholicism having a big homophobia problem, he still identified as Catholic and continued to go to church.

In conclusion, it’s a great watch and an interesting look at Andy Warhol’s life. This is why I like documentaries more than biopics. It’s factual and you learn something and in this case, there’s good storytelling. I also liked that this wasn’t a kiss ass documentary, there were criticisms of how Warhol treated others, especially the trans women (many of whom were black) who modelled for him. One clip shows transgender punk pioneer Jayne County saying she doesn’t trust Warhol because he has power. And I don’t blame her for saying that. I mean they’re certainly not going to invite people who are a threat to the establishment to the White House. People are complicated and Andy Warhol’s no exception. Reminds me of that saying “all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk”. Speaking of racism, Jean-Michel Basquiat dealt with a lot of systemic racism and people minimising his talent, accomplishments, and genius. Andy Warhol was part of the problem and there was a power imbalance between him and Basquiat (even though Basquiat was a quickly rising star, sadly became part of the 27 Club, yet another gone too soon story) and Warhol said some racist things about him in his diary, yikes! I have a feeling that his comments definitely came from insecurity and he grew up hearing racist things from his family, who were Czechoslovakian immigrants. Money and fame changes people, that’s for sure, and this is yet another example of don’t meet your heroes. That’s capitalism and Andy Warhol saw art like a business. Still love his art though. I love this description of Andy Warhol as an “early example of the artist as art”. Not enough to make art, you gotta be the art too! That’s my goal in life, even if I’m far from creative or an artist, I just talk about cool people.

I haven’t binge-watched anything in a while, but I can end this review with something nice… it’s an easily binge-able series. I kept wanting to learn and see more. That’s the sign of a good series. Cue me falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. Maybe I’ll read the book too… add another book to the list of books I need to read.

Loved this blog post and want to support and see more? If you cannot afford to donate to The Diversity of Classic Rock, there are many free ways to support the blog: Follow me on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram, click the follow button on my website, leave a nice comment, send your music or classic rock related books for review, or donate your art and writing talents to the blog.

You can also download the Brave Browser and earn tokens that you can donate to your favourite creators (including me!), donate to charity, or you can keep them for yourself and redeem them for cash. The choice is yours! Thank you!