Nico's self-reflexive book
I bought a copy of Andy Warhol’s silver-covered Index on a recent Significant Birthday for about the same price as my car’s last M.O.T.
The book, which feels like a sturdy magazine, is mostly striking black-and-white photographs of members of Warhol’s late 1960s Factory in New York City, sprawled on sofas or leaning against stark brick walls or inspecting huge screen-prints of bananas. An interview with Warhol contains exchanges like this:
‘What was the purpose of making a 4½ hour film of Robert Indiana eating two mushrooms?’
‘Well, it took him that long to eat one mushroom.’
‘I mean, why did you have to film it?’
‘Uhhh, I don’t know. He was there and he was eating a mushroom.’
But the main thing is the extras: the ten oddities that come between or are attached to the pages. A pop-up paper castle with the slogan ‘We’re attacked constantly.’ A little red paper accordion in the fold: opening and closing produces a squeak.
You can listen to my attempt at a performance here. (If you like the sound of ducks, this could very much be for you.)
There’s a paper disc announcing Warhol's 1966 film Chelsea Girls, and — of course! —a large fold-out nose with coloured, movable stripes. There’s a pop-up paper can of Hunt's Tomato Paste. And there was once a balloon between two pages but in my copy (and apparently in most), the rubber has decayed to leave only a stain.
My favourite inclusion is (I like the phrase) a 7-inch ‘flexi-disc’: not vinyl but cardboard, with a portrait of Lou Reed on one side, taken by the Factory’s photographer-archivist Billy Name.
The disc is magical: a flimsy thing that looks like a paper volvelle that somehow, on my old Technics record player, magics into presence the swirling sound of The Factory in 1967. The audio is pretty chaotic, a stream of partially audible chatter by lounging Factory members. They’re discussing the Index book itself — turning its pages — and the recording we’re listening to now.
‘It’s supposed to be emblematic of the world of Andy Warhol. It’s Andy’s book for the rest of the world.’
‘Do you like it?’
‘That’s this pop-up. Shall we flick through?’
‘Whose leg is that?’
‘It’s a nameless leg.’
The Velvet Underground & Nico – the debut 1966 studio album of the Velvet Underground and German singer Nico – is playing in the background: you can just hear ‘Waiting for that man.’
‘This is 3-dimensional. These little arrows shoot out.’
‘That’s pretty exciting.’
Nico’s voice sounds like slowed-down glue – I thought I had the record on the wrong speed. She says, ‘How about the empty pages? Why don’t they remain empty? It’s a very sentimental book.’
‘You think so?’
‘Very. We’re not really sentimental. We’re not supposed to be.’
The song in the background changes to ‘Femme Fatale.’
Nico notices the flexi-disc.
‘What is that supposed to be?’
‘It’s a record. We’re making it.’
‘We’re making it? Which one? I mean what is going to be on it? Oh oh, just us talking, right?’
‘Yeah. Isn’t that lovely? That’s really lovely.’
Nico speak-sings, ‘Good morning, good morning, good morning.’ (The Beatles’ song was released on 26 May 1967, so this conversation must have been just after that.)
You can listen to my iPhone-recording of the flexi-disc here: it’s a little over 4 minutes of the past as present-tense.