A.M. Homes Imagines an Oyster Date Between Warhol and Jagger
In 1975, The Rolling Stones rented Andy Warhol’s Montauk, New York compound to rehearse for their upcoming tour. Andy paid Mick Jagger a visit, shot some Polaroids of Mick and the band and the result was a portfolio of ten screenprints of Mick and the cover for the Stones 1977 album Love You Live. I was already obsessed with both Andy and the Stones when I finally met Andy in 1980. Warhol came to Washington D.C. for the launch of the portfolio Ten Portraits of Jews. I took a lot of Polaroids of him at the opening of the show and each time one spit out of my camera Andy would sign it and give it back to me. A few days later I brought Andy a piece of art I’d made imitating his style. Andy took out his sharpie and signed it. There was no conversation about it—but it was a much-needed vote of confidence for a young artist and disrupter.
I was a student at The University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop when Andy Warhol died in New York on February 22, 1987. By 1990, Montauk and the east End of Long Island had become a creative home to me, first at Edward Albee’s Barn, where he invited artists for residencies, and then when I bought a very small home of my own. The Memory Motel lives on. In 2008, The Art Museum at U of I was damaged in a historic flood. In celebration of its reopening, the curators asked writers with a connection to the University if they would create fictions based on images in their collection. And so, Eating Oysters with Andy is a fictional moment set in the summer of 1975. The only thing missing from the story is me, but I am waving from the side lines.—A.M. HOMES
Eating Oysters with Andy — a fictional interview based on real events.
May 18, 1975: Eothen (Andy Warhol Compound) Montauk, New York
NOTE: Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones rented Andy Warhol’s House—Eothen—in the summer of 1975 to rehearse for their upcoming North American Tour. Andy was an old friend of the band; he designed the cover for their 1971 album Sticky Fingers.
Mick and Andy are sitting outside, the sun is out but in Montauk there is always a breeze. Andy wears a sweater over a turtleneck and a bucket hat. Mick is wearing a kind of loose gauzy shirt with a sweater tied around his neck and shoulders. Andy is wearing wing tips and Mick has on leather sandals—his feet are dirty.
Andy: Do you remember when we first met?
Mick: I’m not sure, remind me.
Andy: It was 1964 and Baby Jane threw a dinner party in her father’s apartment.
Mick: I didn’t realize it was her father’s place.
Andy: In 1964 Tom Wolf called her “the girl of the year.” She was twenty-four at the time.
Mick: That was my first time in New York. Was I behaving?
Andy: I think so. Do you usually?
Mick: Yes except for the brief period where I did not.
Mick: It was like I was putting on a show.
Andy: A song and dance?
Mick: I felt obligated to behave badly—we were expected to be rude and break things.
Andy: You always seemed nice to me. I’m too shy to misbehave.
Mick: Never do anything you’d be ashamed of your mother hearing about.
Andy: Well that kind of limits the options doesn’t it.
Mick. Maybe mother doesn’t have to know.
Andy: That’s what confession is for.
Mick: Do you go to church?
Andy: Oh yes. I hope one day to meet the Pope. I spend a lot of time thinking about religion and looking at paintings. That’s basically all I do is going around looking at things….
Mick: And listening. You tape record conversations.
Andy holds up his tape recorder, its long and thin like a cigarette lighter or a candy bar.
Andy: Someone gave me this as a present. I started carrying it around like a lollypop and suddenly everyone wanted to talk. They all wanted to be recorded. Sometimes I don’t even turn it on. Or the batteries die, and I don’t replace them and the people just keep talking. I used to have to remember everything or write it down, but this makes it so easy.
A man comes outside and moves the umbrella so that Andy is entirely in the shade.
Man: The vampire can have no light.
Mick: People often ask me, what is Andy really like?
Andy: I’m not like anything. There is nothing to me. Absolutely zero.
Man: (nodding towards Andy) He is as original as he is original.
Mick: (to the man) Have we met before?
Man: Yes, I am the poet in residence.
Andy: (whispers) A failed poet. He’s one of the caretakers.
Man: All poets are failed poets. I work in exchange for rent.
Mick: How much is your rent?
Man: More than words can cover.
Mick: Andy are you recording this conversation?
Andy: Of course, I am.
Mick: Are you going to publish it in your magazine? I always read Interview on the plane. It helps me fall asleep. You get the most famous people to talk about the most boring things.
Andy: Oh, Mick, thank you. That’s a beautiful observation. I just love these conversations because they are about, nothing. They are just the most ordinary, blah, blah, blah.
Mick: Please pass the salt.
Man: Just the salt or would you also like pepper? Either way I have to go back inside.
Mick: There is nothing to put the salt on. I was speaking metaphorically re the blah, blah, blah
Man: Some people throw it over the shoulder for good luck.
Andy: What do you think I should paint next? I asked (unintelligible) and he said, just print money. I thought he said paint money and so I did these paintings of dollar bills and he laughed. I said print money and so I did that too. Those were the first screen-prints. It turns out you really can print money. What do you do with your money? I’m sure you have a lot more money now than you did in 1964. Do you collect anything?
Mick: Moss. I collect moss.
Andy: (Andy doesn’t seem to get the joke) Do you save your receipts? You should save them for your accountant?
Mick: What do you collect Andy?
Andy: Household items. Sometimes I think I’m like a little old lady who counts the silver every morning.
Mick: (laughs) Keith says I’m like an old lady, or the queen. Apparently, I must have things my way, I don’t think it’s true. If anything, I’m more like a drill sergeant. I like things to run on time.
Andy: Me too, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. Speaking of which.
Mick: They’re still sleeping. Night Owls.
The man returns with a watering can and waters the flowers that are around the edge of the house.
Man: April showers bring May flowers. May flowers I water for hours.
Andy: The Queen. Are you friends with the Queen? I’d like to paint her sometime.
Mick: We’ve met but I can’t say we’re friends.
Andy: Have you ever slept with someone royal?
Mick (laughs): I don’t know Andy, have I? Andy, have you considered putting in a pool?
Andy: Oh no, Mick. I can’t even wear a bathing suit. I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea and besides the whole Atlantic is right out there, just waiting for someone to dive in. If you get up early, you’ll see dolphins.
Mick: What about sharks? Some of my friends are afraid of sharks. Wasn’t Jaws set out here?
Andy: Not here.
Seagulls fly by.
Andy: If you’re not careful the birds will take the food right out of your hand. They once stole Little John’s hot dog.
Mick: Who is Little John.
Andy: Jackie’s son, Little John.
The man adjusts the deck chairs.
Man: You might know him as John, John.
Andy: I’m teaching him to be a filmmaker.
Man: Actually, Jonas is teaching them how to make movies.
Andy: Jackie and Lee are so nice. I just love listening to them talk. They took me to East Hampton to meet their Aunt Big Edie and her daughter Little Edie. Both are incredibly glamorous if a bit eccentric.
Mick: Are they the ones with the scarfs?
The three of them are talking about Jackie Kennedy Onassis, her sister Lee Radziwill and their maternal Aunt Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, also named Edith, aka Big Edie and Little Eddie. The eccentric relatives were the subject of a famous film—and then a play—Grey Gardens.
Andy: Mick, you’re very interesting because you’re both masculine and feminine — attractive to men and women.
Mick: Thank you Andy. I suspect you have a little bit of lady in you as well.
Andy: My Polish grandmother.
Pause while Andy turns tape over. Re-starts recorder.
Andy: When I was young, we did life drawing at school. There was a nude model. Have you ever drawn someone naked?
Mick: Not that I know of.
Andy: It’s really kind of wonderful you just look at them and let your hand find the form. It’s about what you see and what you don’t see, what you can’t anticipate. Later, I’m going to take pictures of you. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but the hair on your nipples so cool-it’s sexy.
Mick: Rudolph (Nureyev) told me that you’d try and get my clothes off.
Andy: shrugs. It was just a suggestion.
Man brings two glasses of water with ice out on a tray.
Man: Sometimes people do things just to get a reaction.
Mick: Well, now I know the real reason why you brought the oysters and have been sitting there with that glove on showing me how to shuck them.
Andy: Why Mick?
Mick: Andy, you know all about the effects oysters have on men. They say that is because of the zinc.
Andy: You must be very careful, oysters are sharp, the razor blades of the sea. You just put the tip of the knife–carefully. (He pauses) Once it’s all the way in, you give it a good slow twist. They call it shucking. I like that word. Can you say it Mick–shucking?
Mick: Andy, you’re shucking the oysters.
Andy: Maybe you’ll write a song about it–‘shucking oysters in Montauk with Andy.”
Mick: My friend Andy, he’s a dandy, a little bit randy, afraid to sit in the sandy.
Andy: Maybe work on it some more later.
Man: Do you swallow or bite the oyster?
Mick. I bite it.
Andy: Sometimes I swallow. These are nice and plump. (titters) I’m not athletic like you are but I am good with my hands.
Mick: My father was a gym teacher.
Andy: Did he make you lift weights? I can barely lift my finger. (Andy mimics the exhaustion of dialing the phone with his index finger.)
Mick: Barbells and calisthenics.
Andy: While you were working out, I was putting mustard plasters on my chest. They thought I had Rheumatic fever, but it turned out to be St. Vitus Dance. I was always in bed, that’s where I started drawing. My older brothers were strong but not me. Do you like tomato soup? That’s what we used to eat.
Mick: Yes, Andy I’ve been eating your tomato soup since I was a boy. Only in England it’s not Campbells it’s Heinz and has cream.
Andy shucks another oyster.
Andy: These are local oysters. My friend Larry gets them. They’re very briny and have deep cups. He taught me to say that. Deep cups. Do you like fishing Mick?
Mick: Fishing for what Andy?
Andy: Anything. Fish. Complements. You have a good body.
Mick: Andy, did you bring the oysters because of the oven?
Andy: The oven? Is there a problem?
Mick: Has it ever been turned on?
Andy: Oh, gee, I don’t know. Were you going to cook something?
Mick: I was thinking of roasting a chicken but when I opened the oven it was filled with books.
Andy: Well, that’s a surprise. Maybe someone put them there to dry them out-or maybe they were you know—cooking the books. Were they good books Mick?
Mick doesn’t say anything.
Andy: A lot of times we just grill a fish. If you put a piece of raw chicken on a string and throw it in the water, in about five minutes you’ll catch an enormous fish. They swim right by. It’s a great deal, one drumstick for a really big fish. We could go fishing sometime.
Mick: I can’t get my arm wet.
(Mick holds up a bandaged arm. The night before he accidentally put his hand through the glass door at a local seafood spot and had to be rushed to the hospital. Annie Leibovitz was there and took pictures.)
Andy: That’s the reason I brought the oysters. I heard about your accident and felt bad. After all, you are a guest in my home.
Mick: We rented the house Andy. You asked for and got a lot of money.
Andy: It’s not really a lot of money, just mowing the lawn costs a lot of money. Anyway, I came out because I was worried about your arm. Will you be able to play?
Mick: I hope so, but I’ll have to do some exercises for my hand.
Andy: I could teach you to knit, I bet you’d make a nice sweater. (pause).
Mick: Are you a big knitter?
Andy says nothing but appears to be blushing.
Mick: We all have hobbies Andy, I bet you can’t guess mine.
Andy: Posing naked.
Mick: Bingo. (pause) I love to play bingo. I even have my own dabbers.
Andy shrugs. He seems to have no idea what a dabber and doesn’t have the energy to ask.
Andy: If I’d been here when your arm went through the glass. I like to think I would have gone to the hospital with you if only to take a picture—but I’m afraid of hospitals. Were you scared?
Mick: No, I mean there was blood everywhere.
Andy: Oh, that sounds disgusting, tell me more. Did you think you might bleed to death?
Mick: It didn’t occur to me until now. (Mick laughs)
Andy: It happened to me once—when I got shot.
Mick: What year was that?
Andy: It was June 3rd, 1968. I was dead on arrival but when they found out I had money they brought me back to life, five hours in the operating room. And the surgeon had to massage my heart with his hand. I heard them tell people that I was dead. I think that’s when I lost consciousness. For a long time after I wasn’t sure if I was alive or not. (Andy looks at Mick carefully.) You’re going to have a scar.
Mick: Well, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.
Man: The seagulls. They hover like in a Hitchcock film.
Andy: My figure was ruined when I got shot. They didn’t even try and do a good job sewing me up—they figured I wouldn’t last the night. Can you imagine that woman tried to assassinate me? I didn’t press charges. She was mentally ill. Before she tried to kill me, I had actually offered her a job at my office, but some people are never satisfied. She felt I had control over her life, she wanted something from me that I didn’t have to offer.
Man: There have been others who shared similar feelings. The desire for what is not on offer.
The Man walks towards them balancing a plate of lemons on his head like a circus act.
Man: Would you like a lemon?
Mick: For the water? Or the oyster?
Man: For whatever. Would you like a lemon whatever for. Lemons. I have lemons.
Andy: (irritated) Go. Go make some lemonade. (pause) Two days after I was shot Robert Kennedy was killed. I remember hearing about it when I was in the hospital and I just didn’t understand, I still wasn’t sure if I was alive or dead.
Mick: (shakes his head) Wow Andy that’s intense. In December 1968 a man got murdered at one of our shows in Altamont California. The Hells Angels were working security and they beat him. It was so upsetting. For the first time I saw into the heart of a deep darkness in your country that I still don’t understand.
Andy: You don’t understand?
Mick: Not really.
Andy: It’s the myth of the melting pot. In this country we’re all immigrants, we’re supposed to all get along, but everyone hates each other and wants what the other guy has.
Mick: In England everyone is just English and when they fight, they make up with a cup of tea or a pint of beer.
Andy: That’s why people left England….they found it boring.
Mick: Even out here, we have to have security guards.
Andy: I saw them at the end of the driveway, flirting with your fans. Celebrities are so beautiful, it must be difficult. I know I’m ugly.
Mick: You’re not ugly you’re British. In England no one notices if your pale and spotty, it’s just normal.
Andy: The thing is it’s hard to watch people when people are watching you. It’s hard to be both the observer and the observed.
Mick: That’s the price of fame.
Andy: Wooden nickels.
Mick: That’s why people wear sunglasses because if you can’t see their eyes then they’re invisible.
Andy: Do you need privacy, or do you need to be looked at?
Mick (shrugs) Both?
Man: Scoop of Vanilla, Scoop of Chocolate?
Mick: What about you Andy do you like to be watched?
Andy: I just like looking at people. I look through my camera, I can see how sexy or charming someone is but because I’m looking through the lens, I don’t have to be embarrassed. All I do is stare. I love mirrors and plastic and anything that’s fake. You can make anything you want out of plastic. Even a new life.
Mick: A plastic life.
Andy: Entirely. This house used to belong to the family that invented baking soda. I love people who invent things and then get rich that’s the American dream.
Mick: I think some people would say that you’ve taken the American Dream and painted it on canvas, silkscreened it across some paper and sold it for 100 times what it cost.
Andy 🙁giggles) Are you flirting with me?
Mick: I’m serious everyone knows who you are. Andy Warhol.
Andy: Maybe but I am invisible, anonymous. Everyone knows who I am not as a person but as a thing. As a person I do not exist.
Mick: Didn’t you once say you were having an affair with a TV set?
Andy: Did I? Well, I do like to watch TV.
Mick: And then you said you married your tape recorder.
Andy: I did?
Andy: I get bored easily.
Man: Did you see that? Off in the distance.
Mick: What was it?
Man: A humpback. A whale. Oh, I want to be a whale, what a wonderful life splashing around in the sea.
(The man makes awkward gestures, that look more like drowning than splashing).
Andy: Whales, they come up. And they do back down. Peter photographs them.
(Peter is Peter Beard, the very good-looking artist and adventurer, who lives next door to Warhol in Montauk)
Andy: Peter takes pictures of everything. Dead or alive.
Mick: That’s for sure. (terse) I know he took photos of my wife.
Andy: (changing the subject) Uh, have you hiked over to the radar tower?
Mick: No, Andy, we’ve been rehearsing.
Andy: People say young boys get kidnapped over there and are forced to do time travel experiments.
Mick: That sounds like a dream you would have–time traveling with boys, like Peter Pan.
Andy: I’m serious. There’s a secret military base underground.
Mick: Not a secret anymore. It’s too many oysters Andy. Maybe the Oysters have too much heavy metal in them. We should perhaps have some tea and a biscuit.
Andy: Am I making you nervous?
Mick: Andy, no offense but there is nothing about you that could make anyone nervous. I’m glad we had a chance to talk. Sex and Death—that’s pretty much what its about isn’t it, Andy?
Andy: Is it Mick? I kind of hope there’s something more.
Mick: Like what?
Andy: Money? An Afterlife? And of course, spending time with friends, that’s really the best.
Man: Would it be weird if I said I love you?
(Both Andy and Mick are confused about who the poet is talking to.)
Mick: Somethings are better left unsaid.
Andy: Yes, better to leave a little mystery.
Andy: Mick if you need help with your hand, let me know. I can give you some knitting lessons. It’s very good for your wrists and fingers.
Mick: Thanks Andy.
Andy: And good luck on the tour.
Mick: We’re recording it. The plan is to release a live album. Maybe you’ll design the cover?
Andy: You know I’m your fan.
Man: Andy, are you blushing or is that sun burn?
Andy: I’m melting. I better go inside.
Mick: Bye Andy, thanks for the oysters.
Andy: See you later Mick.
Eating Oysters with Andy will be published in the The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art catalogue In a Time of Witness in September 2023, with a foreword by Marilynne Robinson.