I just spent the past hour in an unexpected TV-viewing encounter with Paul Morrissey. For the uninitiated, Morrissey was Andy Warhol’s film director and made many of the films starring Edie Sedgwick, such as “Chelsea Girls”, “Trash”, “Flesh”, “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein”, etc.
As a long-time (20 years) devotee of Warhol, Edie, the Velvet Underground and all things Factory, I obviously had a lot to ask Morrissey. His responses were unexpected in many ways.
Obviously the first thing I asked about was Andy Warhol. Seems like everybody has a strong opinion about Andy. “Andy was materialistic”, “Andy was obsessed with stardom,” etc. Morrissey observed that what you hear about Andy is mostly the media’s fabrication of him, since it has become fashionable to make him into a total charicature. Morrissey himself recalled Andy as being a very challenged person. Andy was dyslexic. Andy had difficulty speaking. So, when he met people on the street Andy always had a few handy one-liners in his back pocket – “Can I take your picture?” “Do you want to buy a copy of my magazine?”, etc to distract people from starting a conversation which may reveal his communications failures.
Being a self-titled bohemian girl (OK, houswife), I obviously asked Paul about Edie. Edie was always one of my idols. Morrissey basically repeated what you often hear about Edie. She was a rich, pampered girl. She was incredibly good-looking. She had an amazing body. She was very disturbed as a result of the way her family treated her, but also thanks to the asylums where she had been continually sent and the drugs she had been given there. I was surprised that Morrissey actually liked “Factory Girl”, which I had heard described as “Edie for dummies”. However, he said that the portrayal of Bob Dylan was completely inaccurate. The film made Bob out to be a moral hero, putting down the factory crowd for their speed and hard drugs and begging Edie to leave Andy, a “bloodsucker” and come with him. According to Morrissey, Bob invited Edie to Woodstock and there he gave her heroin. Bob was apparently no better than any of them.
Surprisingly, for a Factory regular, Morrissey didn’t take drugs. Here is what Andy said about Morrissey (from warholstars.org)
“Paul didn’t take drugs – in fact, he was against every single drug, right down to aspirin. He had a unique theory that the reason kids were taking so many drugs all of a sudden was because they were bored with having good health, that since medical science by now had eradicated most childhood diseases, they wanted to compensate for having missed out on being sick. ‘Why do they call it experimenting with drugs?’ he’d demand. ‘It’s just experimenting with ill health!'” (POP118)
Warholstars goes on to say that although Morrissey himself didn’t take drugs, he was known at the Factory for making films of people shooting heroin. Did those people want him to film him like that? I doubt it.
Morrissey’s strongest opinions are about pop culture and rock and roll and the way this has affected society. Basically, he hates rock and roll. He says that after the first few good acts of the sixties: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, then rock and roll was ruined. It produced a mentality of chaos, sexual promiscuity, and a drug culture which has completely destroyed young people. Basically, his rhetoric is that of the conservative right wing or the 1950’s establishment. He hates rock both socially, for encouraging promiscuity and dissipation, and aesthetically, because rock’s hard relentless beat is ugly, discourages healthy critical thought and just reduces people to animals. He compared the youth rituals of listening to a rock concert, dancing and having sex to a Nazi or communist rally. As we watched Grace Jones sing in a new wave reunion concert, Morrissey praised disco which caused music to become melodic again and broke the destructive trend of rock.
I observed that today, with 1 million different channels for expression on the Internet, there are endless producers but no audience. He blamed this again on the 1960’s rock culture. Thanks to drugs and rock, kids today have damaged their nerve endings so that they need constant stimulation and cannot concentrate on slow culture. There may have been some truth to this, but it was a bit ironic that Paul himself was busy channel-surfing on a large screen television as he spoke.
My conclusion about these points of view coming from the man who used to produce “The Velvet Underground” and hang out at the Factory was that obviously he has seen so many people go down the tubes when their habits caught up with them, that he reacted viscerally.
He condemned me when I told him that I had loved garage rock for about the past 20 years since I was about 15 and had discovered the Velvet Underground, and about my father, a record collector and rock and roll historian who had dedicated his life to the music. He disagreed with my opinions that rock is necessary for young people as it helps them express their natural angst. Well, you can imagine his response. I was just a knee jerk fundamentalist liberal. OK, we went around with the same old tired arguments for some time. Still, he let me express my views – that rock was cathartic and powerful, and sometimes that was what we needed. We don’t want to listen to pleasant , melodic music anymore since frankly, life has not been pleasant and unified since before WWII.
Like just about anyone else, Paul Morrissey is good and bad. For all his right-wing opinions, he was a surprisingly pleasant and humorous man. He was about 70, Scottish descent, good-looking and altogether very smart and astute. He continues to be a well-respected film artist amongst those who look beyond the mainstream blockbusters that fill our cineplexes and minivans.