Billy Name: I met Andy Warhol when I was working as a waiter at Serendipity, the hip dessert restaurant on the Upper East Side. Serendipity was this real cool place; Kim Novak used to come in all the time because she was being kept by the young Aga Kahn in his apartment up the street, ha, ha, ha! And Andy Warhol used to come in all the time, so we were on a first name basis, you know, "Hi Andy, how're you doing?"There was a waiter at Serendipity named Ron, who used to go down to the bar the San Remo in the West Village on Saturday night after we got off, and one night, he invited me to go along. Greenwich Village was still very bohemian then; it was filled with jazz clubs and jazz musicians who were really into heavy heroin, and there was really great grass around. It was this whole new world of magic, mystery, and intuitive intelligence—that went beyond explaining about things—you know, smoke some grass and immediately get turned on to the chromatic waves of the music!So the Village was like being in a Middle Eastern country, like Turkey, and it was so cool to be out of that middle-class, America-Eisenhower, new-refrigerator scene, you know?The San Remo wasn't the literary crowd like at the White Horse—or the painterly crowd like at the Cedar Bar—it was sort of this hybrid of the arts. More like some existential, hip, cool place, but where you're not really doing anything, ha, ha, ha!
Andy Warhol came to one of the hair-cutting parties at my apartment, and he said, 'I just got this new space, this loft on 47th Street. Would you decorate it like you did with this apartment?' And that's how the Factory started.
I was dangerous in the sense that I would associate with people on the Lower East Side who were into the criminal element—like a woman named Dorothy Podber who was the one who shot Warhol's Marilyn Monroe paintings. Dorothy just walked in with her Great Dane, Yvonne, with her black gloves on and a black bag, and said, "Hi, Billy…"Then she took her gloves off and opened her bag and took out the gun. There was a stack of ten Marilyn Monroe paintings leaning against the wall that we'd just finished. So she took the gun and shot Marilyn right through the forehead—and it went right through all them, ha, ha, ha!And then she put the gun away in her bag and said, "Bye, Billy," and left.It was like a performance piece.After that, Andy asked me, "Please tell Dorothy not to come over anymore," because Andy knew that if he let people like Dorothy into the scene, then most of the people who were buying his work wouldn't come around anymore. They would've been traumatized, devastated, and wouldn't buy his artwork, ha, ha, ha!
People have written about Andy as taking in these young people, using them up, and then dropping them or throwing them out… and then they kill themselves. But that is just wrong, you know?
Let me backtrack. When I was still working with Nick Cernovich at the Judson Church, we became very good friends with La Monte Young, the minimalist composer, who was also the best drug connection in New York City. La Monte had chemist friends, so he got these big acid pills that were actually two colors, green on one side and yellow on the other. It was knock-out stuff where you would get really spaced out with the greatest wackos in New York City, ha, ha, ha!La Monte would do these whole tortoise performances that would go on for days where he'd have people droning, which is the art of a holding a single tone for a long time. I would drone with La Monte's wife, Marian Zazeela, and people would be assigned to drone, and they would just come and go. John Cale was playing with La Monte then, plus Tony Conrad and Angus MacLise, who were the foundation of the original Velvet Underground. So I knew John, Angus, and Tony before the Factory scene, and before the Velvets were actually formed.
Lou Reed was like a guy who grew up on your block who played in a band in your garage. He was a real cool guy from down the street who was just like you.
Then one day we were all at the Factory. Andy was at his table painting, I was doing something, Ondine was there, and Gerard comes waltzing in and says, "Hi, everybody, I have this record from my friend Nico, who I just met in Europe, I wanna play it for you, she's coming to New York…"And Gerard had a 45 RPM single in his hand and put it on the turntable.We all listened to it, saying, "Oh yeah, that's cool, that's cool…."Then Nico came over from Europe, and we were all very taken by her. She was just this fascinating creature, who was totally NOT flamboyant or pretentious, but absolutely, magnetically controlling—and this Nordic beauty, too. And she didn't wear all the hippie flowers, she just wore these black pantsuits or white pantsuits, you know? Nico was too much really, let me tell you, and we were just so taken with her. So anything that we could think of for her to play a role in our scene was what we were going to do.
Nico was too much really, let me tell you, and we were just so taken with her. So anything that we could think of for her to play a role in our scene was what we were going to do.
At that time, the Factory building on 47th Street got sold, so we had to move, and Paul Morrissey found this space in this building at 33 Union Square. He liked it because it had all this great woodwork inside, and the front of the building had this great terra cotta front. It wasn't huge, but it was big enough. So we took that place.See, at the first Factory, I had always been like the manager or the foreman, like the guy who ran it. But when we moved to the second Factory, Paul now moved into the front position as the space operator, and people now had to go through him rather than me. I was still photographing and doing darkroom work stuff, but the second Factory wasn't the same. So I was in the back most of the time.And then we heard that John Cale left the Velvets.John was really stronger than Lou once he made a decision. John felt the Velvets were too restricting for him—that the band really wasn't letting him develop his full talents anymore. So he left the band. He had started in classical music and wanted to experience a broader range of experience, and the Velvet Underground was too limited and too tight for him. So it was really John's doing. The whole thing of "Lou firing John" or that "Lou fired Andy" was cute stuff for storytelling. In actuality, John felt too limited and restricted, and he was much too talented. He just needed more room to work out all the other stuff he wanted to do.
It was the end of an era—and then, just to punctuate it—Andy got shot.