(This was written on Thursday of last week and has been sitting as a draft ever since, sorry!)
So, even though I am leaving on a bus for Chicago at midnight tonight and have yet to pack or really do any sort of prep (aside from thinking about all the things I have yet to do), last night Drew and I made the time to meet my parents at the Cleveland Museum of Art to attend a performance of 13 Most Beautiful.
I’ll be totally honest — I had a bad day yesterday, was super freaked out about not being ready for my trip (I’m attending the second annual Chicago Zine Fest and, as of last night, had yet to make any copies of anything for the table that I’m sharing with my pal Jami), and actually called my dad and asked him point blank if the performance was going to be “boring.” Long story short, I was being a huge brat yesterday and this wasn’t boring at all. It was (forgive what is sure to become an overuse of the following word) beautiful.
13 Most Beautiful is a screening of 13 of Andy Warhol’s screen tests accompanied by a performance of originals and covers. Growing up, I went through this Warhol thing, like a lot of weird nerdy teenagers probably do. I think a lot of young people of a certain background key into Warhol as an admirable figure because he was able to (as my dad, quoting Hugh Hefner, would say) “create his own subculture and become the center of it.” I remember being a teenager, reading POPism and thinking, “This guys rules!” I also remember, later, listening to a tape installation at the Warhol museum that allowed you to pick up a phone and “overhear” phone conversations that Andy had obsessively taped and thinking, “This guy is a total dick and I kind of hate him right now!” (The conversation I “overheard” involved Andy tormenting a girl to the point of tears by iterating all the reasons she would never fit in with the Factory crowd.) I think that falling in and, subsequently, out with Warhol are definitely key processes in coming of age for very certain types of people.
I guess what I’m getting at is that my feelings about Warhol have warmed and cooled over the years. And, as an adult, I find myself in a place where I no longer admire him unabashedly, but instead approach his work not only with a more critical eye, but with a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which our privileges intersect with our lived experiences to impact the lives we live and the art we make.
For me, growing up, so much of Warhol’s work was about the absence of emotion and decontextualizing people and objects to the point of viewer amusement and, in turn, discomfort. Watching original screen tests can be painful. Though the first few seconds allow you to indulge in a pleasantly voyeuristic feeling, as the seconds stretch into minutes the absence of sound and structure grows increasingly difficult to handle and you begin to feel compelled to look away. By scoring the screen tests, Dean and Britta create a new path of engagement. It becomes easier to watch, to look, because the music gives you emotions to engage with that Warhol’s work often doesn’t.
Yesterday I was talking to April about the way our brains work — continuing to allocate space to information we may not have accessed in years — and how I was awed by the things I could still remember. Sitting in the Gartner Auditorium, I couldn’t believe how much I remembered about Warhol’s Factory — minute facts about Ann Buchanan, Billy Name, International Velvet. I guess that’s what happens when you spend your early adolescence reading memoirs and oral histories.
I didn’t expect to be as moved by this as I was. There was something haunting about the combination of film and music and I found myself responding in a way that I hadn’t anticipated at all and I’m grateful for that. It had been far too long since I had been to a performance that invited me to engage in new and unexpected ways.
Their Cleveland show was one of the last US performance of 13 Most Beautiful for a little while, but all you Europeans are in luck as Dean and Britta have a number of European dates for both 13 Most Beautiful and Dean Wareham Plays Galaxie 500 (tour dates.)
13 Most Beautiful has been released on both CD and DVD and can be purchased here.
Lastly, for your approval, two of my favorite screen tests and their accompanying songs:
(Paul America, “Teenage Lightning and Lonely Highways”)
(Ann Buchanan, “Ann Buchanan Theme”)