His body blue, no blood pressure to speak of, and no pulse to find, artist Andy Warhol was declared dead on arrival at Columbus Hospital in New York City – 4:51pm on June 3rd 1968 – having just been shot by a former colleague at his workshop, The Factory.
Bleeding on the gurney, a senior doctor took a fleeting look at the corpse, peeling back an eyelid and watched as its pupil contracted in the bright emergency room lights.
Andy Warhol wasn’t dead.
More culturally relevant to modern day, materialistic Christmases than Jesus himself, disciples of the king of consumerism gathered outside the hospital that night, Andy’s resurrection happening within. A cardiac arrest on the operating table and 12 pints of blood later, Warhol’s scarified body walked from the hospital alive.
I tell you this because I’ve just finished reading The Andy Warhol Diaries and am about to finish Year of Wonder: Classical Music for Every Day by ex-BBC Radio 3 presenter Clemency Burton-Hill. Clemency’s got a sequel out this December, Another Year of Wonder, which I’ve pre-ordered.
On the subject of music, Paul McCartney’s new double-volume coffee-table book – The Lyrics – is an intimate self-portrait in 154 songs, a fascinating trawl through the handwritten notes of the UK’s greatest songwriter. I got that at the start of the month when I saw his Q&A at the Southbank Centre in London.
Spread over pages 48 and 49 of the most recent edition of Science and Nature magazine, I write about something that world leaders overwhelmingly failed to grasp at COP26: the fragility of planet Earth. Despite their failure, it was lovely to see my writing published and now exist in the hands and homes of people across the country. That edition is still on newsstands if you’ve not been able to pick up your copy yet.
On Audible I’ve been listening to Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris, Your Brain Is a Time Machine: The Neuroscience and Physics of Time by Dean Buonomano, and Transcend by Scott Barry Kaufman.
I’ve also been listening to the tonnes of great music that’s come out this month. HalfNoise’s new album, Motif, is a blend of classical and jazz and a perfect easy evening listen. ABBA’s new album shot straight to number one and it’s no surprise why. Adele’s new album is undoubtedly fantastic too. I was gifted a gorgeous Voyager Golden Record three-LP box-set from Ozma Records and also received a signed copy of Christopher Tin’s Calling All Dawns on vinyl this month.
For me, albums are a snapshot of the time in which they were recorded, something the Voyager record captures so poignantly and Adele clearly feels too; why else would you title each album your age?
That’s why I feel strongly about Taylor Swift’s re-recording of her albums. Red (Taylor’s Version) came out earlier in the month and although I sympathise with the reasons behind its re-release, there’s something wholly inauthentic about a soon-to-be 32 year old re-releasing songs written by a 22 year old Swift. As she catches up with her present day work, I daresay I’ll feel differently. That said, the album is just as fantastic as the first time around and like Paul McCartney’s book, I love gems from the archive.
I’ve had such a lovely month getting out-and-about too. Working on a big project I’ll be able to tell you more about in the new year, I was at the Royal Observatory Greenwich in mid-November. I also visited We The Curious in Bristol yesterday for more of the same.
Either my taste in films is terrible or critics are stuffy people whose self-importance impedes their judgement. The reviews for House of Gucci are terrible; I saw it in the cinema on Friday and thoroughly enjoyed it. I reckon it’s the second of those two things.
I was invited to hear the Cotswold Male Voice Choir perform in Cheltenham on Saturday and even took a walk around Westonbirt Arboretum a few days ago on a press preview of their Enchanted Christmas trail.
I was also invited to the Tewkesbury Festival of Lights at the start of the month, a beautiful sound and light show telling the story of Tewkesbury through the lens of its 900 year old Abbey.
That’s sort of what I’m trying to do with these updates; place my story – what I’ve been doing, reading, watching, and listening to – within the much wider context in which we all live our otherwise individual lives. I think that’s also what makes religion so fascinating, I’m not a religious person (though I did have tea with the Bishop of Tewkesbury in the Reverend’s home) but I do love the theatrics of it; cathedrals and churches and choirs and the feeling of belonging to something bigger than yourself, a grander story.
Today’s the first day of December and the countdown to Christmas and the New Year is on. Assisting me are advent calendars from Yankee Candles and T2 Tea. It won’t be long before we pop up our tree also; we’ve decorated ours in basically the same style for as long as I can remember, only ever replacing and adding ornaments here-and-there.
I’ve also got a smaller tree from Bloom & Wild. It comes through your letterbox, is taking pride of place atop a locker I got from Mustard, and with its roots still intact, you can even plant it on afterwards! I did so last in 2019; it’s still growing strong.
In 1964, a few years prior to Andy’s shooting, he had his photo taken in front of a bare Christmas tree, a blue spruce, stripped of all decoration. The image is anathema to everything we know about Warhol his colourful pop art so I emailed the The Andy Warhol Museum on a quest to find out more about it. Matt Gray, manager of the archives, replied. The photo is a design submission for an exhibit at the headquarters of Hallmark Cards.
His decision to submit an empty tree wasn’t a publicity stunt or a critical read on culture but was a very subversive and deliberate artistic decision. […] He was very aware that the other participants in the show were stuffy and traditional and this was a chance to emphasize his new and rebellious image. […] The fact that he was given the largest tree and a prominent location [in the show] confirms he was on to something.
Warhol’s tree was left out of the cheery full-colour spread that filled Ladies’ Home Journal that year and became known as his ‘anti-Christmas tree’, but neither Matt or I think that was his intention… Warhol’s tree captures precisely what makes Christmas so special because whether you’re a fan of the theatrics of religion or of commercialism, this time is a blank canvas to decorate as you see fit.
There is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays. Whether you spend this time surrounded by family, binge-eating food or in quiet contemplation of the year just gone, I hope you enjoy it.
Here’s how Warhol spent his final Christmas in 1986:
I went to the church of Heavenly Rest to pass out Interviews [his magazine] and feed the poor. Got a lot of calls to go to Christmas parties but I just decided to stay in and I loved it.
You’ll next hear from me on December 31st 2021.
01 Dec 2021about podcast contact