Andy Warhol Hated the Song David Bowie Wrote About Him

Andy Warhol had a more indirect influence on a young David Bowie. Fascinated by everything happening at the artist’s muse-flocked art space, The Factory, Bowie was particularly drawn to Warhol’s use of his house band The Velvet Underground in his series of multimedia installments, Exploding Plastic Inevitable. By 1971, Bowie struck up a friendship with actor Tony Zanetta, who played Warhol in the artist’s only play, Pork, which had a run in New York City and London. Later that year, Bowie got to meet Warhol, through the actor, at the iconic Factory.

At the time, Bowie was a few months away from releasing his fourth album, Hunky Dory, which included the track “Andy Warhol” and wanted to play his tribute to the artist himself, but the meeting didn’t go as expected.

“The meeting was kind of tense because Warhol was not a great talker,” said Zanetta, “You had to talk and entertain Andy, and David really wasn’t a great talker, either. Nobody was really taking this conversation and running with it.”

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The scene at The Factory was an “incongruous kind of situation,” according to Bowie, and Warhol was mostly silent. “The guy was in the Factory place, and it was a hive of activity, everybody was doing something, talking up this, talking up that,” recalled Bowie in a 1987 interview. “And the guy was just sort of very quiet—sort of like a, a lethal kind of Svengali figure over this whole thing. Everything happened without his seeming to be taking any part in it. He was an extraordinary, hypnotic kind of guy.”

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During his visit, Bowie did get to perform “Andy Warhol”—later released as the B-side of the single “Changes” in January 1972—for the artist but got little reaction. “I took the song to The Factory when I first came to America and played it to him,” said Bowie in 2003. “And he hated it—loathed it. He went ‘Oh, uh-huh, okay’ then just walked away. I was left there.”

Soon after, Bowie said somebody came over to him and said, “Gee, Andy hated it.” Bowie added, “I said, ‘Sorry, it was meant to be a compliment.'” They then told Bowie that Warhol didn’t like references to his appearance since he was sensitive about his skin condition.

Like to take a cement fix
Be a standing cinema
Dress my friends up just for show
See them as they really are

Put a peephole in my brain
Two new Pence to have a go
Like to be a gallery
Put you all inside my show

Andy Warhol looks a scream
Hang him on my wall
Andy Warhol, Silver Screen
Can’t tell them apart at all

Yellow Mary Janes

Despite the awkward meeting, there was one thing that helped break the ice with Warhol—the yellow Mary Jane shoes Bowie was wearing. “It was my shoes that got him,” said Bowie. “That’s where we found something to talk about. They were these little yellow things with a strap across them, like girls’ shoes. He absolutely adored them.”

Bowie continued, “Then I found out that he used to do a lot of shoe designing when he was younger. He had a bit of a shoe fetishism. That kind of broke the ice. He was an odd guy.”


Warhol and Bowie’s paths would often cross throughout the 1970s and ’80s. “In the ’70s and early ’80s in New York, it was virtually impossible, virtually to go anywhere and not see Warhol, because he would go everywhere,” said Bowie in a 1996 interview. “If there was a new gallery opening he’d be there. If someone threw a party he was there. If it was a new film—anything.”

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In 1996, Bowie played Warhol, who died in 1987 at the age of 58, in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat, based on the life of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. “I certainly got a strong sense of him [Warhol] on the occasions when we did meet,” said Bowie, who added that the artist was often misconstrued as a “malicious” person. “I actually found him fairly insecure, a little in awe of his own reputation. He was the kind of person who didn’t actually understand why he was taken so seriously or had become so much of an icon.”

Bowie added, “There was almost a little boy lost quality to him that I felt was possibly much nearer to the man than the way he had been construed, and that was an element of him that I wanted to bring in [to the film].”

Photo: Susan Greenwood / Liaison Agency

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