“C’mon Jim. Let’s get out of here. These people are vampires” John Densmore says to Jim Morrison over the pandemonium of an Andy Warhol party at The Factory in New York. The scene is from Oliver Stone’s movie The Doors, and it vividly depicts the outright insanity and depravity of the Warhol scene in the early sixties. Morrison does not leave, and shoots up instead, which is just one more crumbling brick in the wall of his self-destruction. Edie Sedgewick was somewhere in that party, and not only part of that scene, she was the scene, described in the press as Warhol’s “Muse”, a celebrity of the avant-garde and simultaneously, briefly, of the world of high fashion as well.
Lots of things have been said and written about the Factory, about Max’s Kansas City, and about Edie Sedgewick, the “It” girl in Andy Warhol’s circle of freaks. Thousands of words have been devoted to the films, the fashion, the music, the Velvet Underground, the celebrities. It’s safe to say that the general pushing of the envelope in every direction, whether with art, films, drugs, sex, porn, or just general outrageous behavior make today’s celebrities and influencers, with their self-glorifying narratives of addiction and self-abuse, look about as radical and dangerous as an episode of Sesame Street. If you want to know what tearing the fabric of conventional social mores to shreds really looks like, look no further than the Warhol scene.
Jean Stein’s writing is special because her books are assembled, verbatim, from interviews, without explanation or commentary. Reading them is like hearing the stories from the people who were there, unfiltered, directly. The art is in the choices that she made of what to include and what to discard, and the juxtapositions of those choices. She started collecting the material in 1972, one year after Edie’s death, and it took ten years of organizing and editing thousands of hours of interviews before they became this book.
It is the product of an editing process, almost like a documentary; the words you hear come directly from participants in, or at least direct observers of, the events they describe, often close friends and relatives, and the immediacy of the storytelling is unparalleled. It delivers a fascinating perspective on people and
events of (celebrity) history that you may have heard about, but not fully understood, major moments in the zeitgeist.
Experiencing these events through the lens of Edie Sedgewick’s short life will change your perspective on the events of the time, and the ways they still influence the milieu of society, art, celebrity, and entertainment today.
Honestly, I thought this genre of writing might be hard to read, but it isn’t. My experience was absolutely the opposite. It’s a cliché, I know, but I couldn’t put this book down.
Her book, West of Eden, does a similar thing for yesterday’s Hollywood, and it is fascinating as well.
Treat yourself to one of these books. You won’t be sorry. I promise.