They’d ring a bell. You were allowed three minutes in the pit and they’d pull you back up on the rack and you’d sit there for five minutes. Five minutes up and three minutes down all day long. Sounds like a great job, doesn’t it?
I’m a cool seventeen-year-old, I’m a grizzled, hardened worker in the forty-inch soaking pits when, as I’m about to go to work one day, my foreman calls me into the office and says, “Listen, I’m going to send you down to the shipping end. Don’t suit up today. I want you to wear safety shoes, a hard hat, asbestos gloves, and a pair of blue safety goggles.”
I take my lunch bucket while the other guys are getting their asbestos suits on and their oxygen inhalants, and I go clunking down toward the shipping end, that was a good two miles away.
And I’m walking along through the great racks of roaring relays that are exploding and booming. Because all of this mill is electronically operated by some monster, some King Kong somewhere, and every five minutes you’d see this whole bank of relays go tuummm! Booom booom! And the sparks would fly out and more ingots would come moving down on the overhead cranes through the darkness, and I’m moving out into the Lake. This forty-inch soaking pit mill stuck out into the Lake on a long peninsula that had been built out of slag, and because it was way out in the Lake you could smell the fish. This strange combination of total machinery and complete nature.
I was not all that sure of what “pop art” meant as far as art was concerned, but Warhol’s quirky mind fascinated me, and I liked the way he seemed to focus on getting observers to pay more attention to the everyday world that is their environment. It seems somewhat related to Happenings and Fluxus. I would include in a descriptive name for his work, “Conceptual.”
I went to an early show of his at the Leo Castelli Gallery. I remember it as consisting of an almost empty room—on the wall there were large images of cows plastered like wallpaper. In the middle of the room there were about a dozen pillow-sized-and-shaped, floating metallic silver objects referred to as “Silver Clouds.” Nobody went anywhere near the floating balloons. They must have been intimidated by the “art.” I decided that the floaters were meant to be interacted with, so I went up and began flicking some of them to get some more action. Decades later I found out that one was expected to do this.
At an experimental film showing, I saw Warhol’s film, “Eat,” featuring artist Robert Indiana and a cat. It lasted about 40 minutes. About 15 minutes into it, people began leaving—obviously bored and annoyed. What I saw was visually interesting—close up of artist Robert Indiana, seated; with large-brimmed hat; eating something (later I encountered it described as a mushroom). Texture of sweater; tall thin potted plant in background (nature) echoed by carved floral motif in wooden chair back (manmade); curious cat jumps on him and stays for a short period, seems bored, jumps off. The whole thing, apparently, a means to get one to concentrate—to focus one’s vision– on a simple human occurrence–like a Zen experience. I appreciated it.
I’d not heard of “The Velvet Underground” when I went to a small theater in the basement of an office building on 42nd Street just west of 6th Avenue, expecting to see some experimental films. I sat in the center, about the eighth row, and was surprised to see Salvador Dali and his wife, Gala, come in and sit about three rows in front of me. The lights went down, the show began–on came a rock band, in an early presentation of Warhol’s “The Velvet Underground” with Nico and Lou Reed. (Never heard of them either.) They intrigued me enough so that the next day I rushed to a record store and bought their album for the list price of about $4.00. The cover, white with a removable yellow banana peel, under which was an obscenely pink, naked banana. Decades later, no longer having the means to play LP records, I took it to a used-record dealer, who gave me $150.00 for it.
END PART 2 of 3