DATE May 20, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Dr. Lynn Amowitz discusses the condition of health
care in Iraq
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Like the museums, schools and banks of Iraq, many of the hospitals have been
looted. My guest, Dr. Lynn Amowitz, has just returned from Iraq, where she
was assessing conditions in hospitals. She also observed the chaos at mass
graves that were just uncovered. Dr. Amowitz is senior medical researcher
with Physicians for Human Rights, a group of health-care professionals
dedicated to the investigation and prevention of violations of international
human rights and humanitarian law. She's a specialist in internal medicine,
women's health and epidemiology. Her work with Physicians for Human Rights
has also taken her to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. From
late March until the end of last week, Dr. Amowitz traveled through the Iraqi
cities of Nasiriyah, Umm Qasr, Najaf, Karbala, Hilla and Baghdad.
I asked her if hospital conditions were similar in the cities and villages she
Dr. LYNN AMOWITZ (Senior Researcher, Physicians for Human Rights): Conditions
are not similar in Iraq; it depends on where you are. If you're in the north,
it's very different from the south, or even from central or Baghdad area.
Remember that the previous regime favored Baghdad and the Tikrit area; did not
favor the Shia areas and certainly didn't favor the Kurd areas. So much of
the resources went to the central areas and into Baghdad.
Hospitals in the south were dilapidated. In many cases, unclean, did not have
electricity, did not have water, did not have supplies, where initially some
hospitals in Baghdad had a three-month supply of drugs or had equipment. You
can find MRIs in Baghdad; you cannot find MRIs in the south.
GROSS: So Baghdad had MRIs, but in the south there were none.
Dr. AMOWITZ: No, there were none. And you were lucky if you could find an
operating X-ray machine in the south or in the Shia areas.
GROSS: Well, forget high tech. I mean, you've reported that doctors were
reusing scalpels and using catheters and IVs for periods far longer than
they're intended to be used, and that can result in terrible infections.
Dr. AMOWITZ: This is always the case. And, you know, whenever you're in a
situation where supplies are short, you're always going to see things that are
not supposed to be used more than once to be reused. It was particularly bad
for the maternity hospitals where supplies for the maternity hospitals in
particular had not been happening to the same level that they had been
happening for other hospitals. And so you were seeing women having to use a
urinary catheter for more than a month, or they were reusing scalpels and all
kinds of other equipment.
GROSS: What else did you see at the obstetric units?
Dr. AMOWITZ: The obstetric units were a completely separate case, and this
was somewhat of a surprise to us, because we had heard before we went in that
the hospitals were sort of uniformly not well supplied or had supplies for
three months but maybe didn't have some specific drugs.
When we went into Nasiriyah, we went to visit the maternity and child hospital
that was in Nasiriyah. We found actually in discussions with the female
OB/GYNs that, in fact, they had not had drugs that were specific for women for
the last five years. They had no anesthetic, and they were doing the
episiotomies, which is to cut the skin so that the baby can come out easier,
without any type of anesthesia whatsoever when the other hospitals had
anesthesia not more than a five-minute drive away.
GROSS: Are there many women dying in childbirth now because of the bad
sanitation and lack of electricity?
Dr. AMOWITZ: Maternal mortality or women dying in and around childbirth is
relatively high in Iraq. The number quoted by UNICEF is 294 women die for
every 100,000 live births. If you look at that number compared to
Afghanistan, where it was 1,600 per 100,000, it doesn't sound like a huge
number. But if you compare it to the US, which is eight per 100,000, and you
look at the Iraqi medical system, you have to wonder why it should be so high.
And there are many reasons that women die in childbirth. They are usually
because of lack of hospitals that can care for women that have complications
in pregnancy. And we saw quite a bit of this in several of the hospitals in
the areas that we were in.
In addition, over the last 10 years there's been more than a doubling of
infant mortality cases and children dying under the age of five. So the Iraqi
health-care system has certainly declined over the last 10 years, and will
probably continue to do so unless this is paid attention to.
GROSS: Now it sounds like the problems that you were seeing at the hospitals
in Iraq were from a combination of things. Some of the problems were just
because of sanctions; some of the problems were because Saddam Hussein was
totally unfair in how he allocated funding for hospitals; some of the problems
were because of the bombings; some of the problems were postwar problems
because of the looting and the anarchy. Am I being accurate in saying that?
Dr. AMOWITZ: I think that's completely accurate. I think it is
GROSS: But what held it all together is that all the hospitals you went to
were in terrible shape.
Dr. AMOWITZ: It's hard to say that they were in terrible shape. They were
not in a shape that you would want to get care in. I think one of the most
surprising things is that you forget how necessary it is to have water and
what a simple loss of water can do to a hospital. There's nothing to clean
with. There's no water to clean hands. There's no water to clean
instruments. So the hospitals were filthy, and you were spending most of your
time batting away flies than trying to listen to the needs of the doctors and
the nurses on the hospital staff, and you were just amazed at how many flies
could gather in one place.
GROSS: Now the lack of water--was that because of the bombing of
Dr. AMOWITZ: Part of the lack of water was bombing of infrastructure. Part
of it was some of the holdouts from Saddam's regime that went and purposely
cut water lines and cut water mains.
There was another problem that we discovered which was not expected was that
as the water supplies and the pumping stations lost electricity and weren't
able to pump water to houses, people started digging down into the water
mains. And we saw this in Nasiriyah, that they would dig down to the water
main, punch holes in the water main, put hoses in and then siphon off the
water into those houses. Now what that does is make a closed system now open.
And so even if you're able to get the water pumping again, you're going to
have a completely contaminated system, and then you have to go around and
really start plugging all these holes that are being put in the water main
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dr. Lynn Amowitz. She's a
senior medical researcher with Physicians for Human Rights. And she was in
Iraq from the end of March through just a few days ago.
Some of the medical aid to Iraq has come in the form of donated field
hospitals. What are those field hospitals?
Dr. AMOWITZ: The field hospitals in Iraq were given by governments around the
world. I think the intention was that these would substitute and definitely
these political governments thought that these would substitute for care in
Iraq. The problem is that they set up a parallel system of care. Iraq is not
one of those places that had no health-care system. You have a community of
physicians that prior to the 1980s were all subspecialty trained in the West
and were highly trained and technical.
One of the things that we saw as we were going through the hospitals was very
elaborate echocardiogram reports and catheterization reports from highly
trained physicians. So for a government to send in a field hospital that's
supposed to substitute for what's already there was not the best way of
handling any type of aid or care to the hospitals. It would have been far
better to figure out what was needs based, go to the hospital, find out what's
missing and supply that as opposed to taking a very expensive field hospital,
bringing it in and not using the Iraqi health professionals that are already
Parallel systems only create an expectation of the Iraqi civilians that it's
better care. They see it as these big, fancy tents and lots of doctors who
are not Iraqi, and they feel that that's better. And it really changes the
relationship between the doctors and the patients within Iraq.
GROSS: Now you mentioned that the obstetrics units were having a lot of
problems. Were there other problems that you found in your tour of Iraqi
hospitals that seemed unique to women?
Dr. AMOWITZ: I think one of the things that is probably unique to women in
Iraq is that we don't know anything about their needs or their desires. They
have not had a voice for years. And similar to Afghanistan, there is a lot of
assumptions that are made about them and about what they need.
One interesting thing that we found was that the Ministry of Health, which was
a male-dominated Ministry of Health, had made rules and regulations about who
could and could not get birth control. And when you asked the female
physicians, or the OB/GYNs, about this, they were very adamant that those
rules needed to go as the regime went and as there were new rules made within
the Ministry of Health. They also felt that birth control should be free and
that it should be supplied, because apparently over the last five years in
many of the hospitals it was very difficult to get birth control and any type
of medicine that was specific for women.
GROSS: Gee, what was the Iraqi government's criteria for deciding which women
get birth control and what kind they get?
Dr. AMOWITZ: They had this very elaborate system of deciding how many
children you had, whether you had medical problems or not, whether it would be
a danger to you to have more children, but the decisions were always made by
someone else, not by the patient or by the patient and her husband alone.
GROSS: Did you find that there were any fears within the Iraqi medical
community about Islamic fundamentalists gaining more control in the country
and how that might affect health care?
Dr. AMOWITZ: There was a concern. As we were starting to wind down our
activities over the last couple of weeks, a lot of the clerics, the Islamic
fundamentalists, were taking over many of the clinics and hospitals, including
taking over hospitals with force. We had reports in Baghdad of several
hospitals being taken over with AK-47s.
The concern that we had was that this type of takeover--and what the clerics
were doing were saying, `Well, you know, we're filling the gap. We're going
to pay the salaries of the doctors. We're going to give you security. We
have lots of money. We're going to give you the supplies that you need.' So
the hospitals and the hospital administrators were thankful for all of these
things, but it was also somewhat clear that there was a little bit of fear of
what would happen once that gap was filled.
And we had a concern that we still have not been able to substantiate very
well that women's health care would suffer under another Islamic
fundamentalist regime. We have seen this in Afghanistan, that when you have
this type of fundamentalism, that women are usually the ones who suffer the
most and that they could possibly make policies within clinics that would
affect women, such as women cannot be examined by men no matter what, or women
cannot get birth control, or there are certain drugs that cannot be given to
women. And I think only time will tell and further investigation, but this is
a great concern.
GROSS: My guest is Dr. Lynn Amowitz, senior medical researcher with
Physicians for Human Rights. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Dr. Lynn Amowitz, senior medical researcher with
Physicians for Human Rights. She just returned from Iraq, where she was
assessing conditions in hospitals.
Now in addition to touring the hospitals of Iraq, you also visited the sites
of mass graves. What did you see? Like which graves did you visit and what
did you see?
Dr. AMOWITZ: Some of the graves I will not talk about only because we are
trying to protect some of those from being identified. Some of the ones that
I did see were between Karbala and Najaf and have already been dug up mainly
by bulldozers and by family members, you know, deeply searching for their
But what you find when you go to these areas are just piles of bones and
clothing and shoes. And one of the more surprising things to me was to see so
many female skeletons, you know, skeletons that clearly had longer hair or
still had the black head scarf around their head. And you find things like
bullet holes in the heads. You would see wrists that were still tied together
with this nylon rope; and it wouldn't just be one pair of wrists, it would be
many pairs of wrists.
GROSS: Now I know a lot of people were going through the mass graves trying
to see if they could find evidence of loved ones they had who had disappeared.
How were they doing that? Because unless you find an article of clothing, I
mean, you can't identify bones without, like, scientific lab work. You can't
just find bones and figure out whether that's your husband or your son or your
Dr. AMOWITZ: You're exactly right. And what happens when family members
start looking for their loved ones, if it's not the first body they come
across, they sort of just pass those bones off to the side.
Unfortunately, there were lots of victims that were buried in their clothes.
And at that time, particularly in the early '90s, you had to carry an
identification card in the pocket. And so many of the skeletons were found
with an identification card in the pocket. And if that family was somehow
lucky, they were able to find out if that was their loved one. If it wasn't
their loved one, they just sort of pushed it aside or a bulldozer came and
pushed it aside, and then that card is now separated from the skeleton and
everything is blowing the wind. So it does leave a huge problem for those who
want to find their loved ones.
And in some cases, I think that they were probably just taking bones, wrapping
them in the shrouds that are so traditional for the Shia and taking them for
burial because of this need to have something to have a family member back.
GROSS: What is usually done at the site of a mass grave to protect against
this kind of chaos?
Dr. AMOWITZ: Protection of mass grave sites has to have US troops. At this
point, the US has not done this. And you have to have some type of security.
But at the same time that you're securing the site, you also need to say why
you're securing the site. You need to talk with local leaders. You need to
educate the community as to what the process will be and why it's important
and to reassure them that, you know, the bones are not the property of anybody
but the families and they will be theirs; however, there has to be an orderly
process to do it so that it's fair to everybody.
GROSS: One of the things that I believe you investigated was whether doctors
were asked to participate in torture sessions, and this has been a problem for
many years, where there are doctors who are kind of pressed into doing this,
pressed by the state. Did you find this in Iraq?
Dr. AMOWITZ: We did find this in Iraq. In Basra and Nasiriyah and in Najaf,
we found physicians who were willing to tell us that they had been threatened
by the previous regime into doing things that they would not normally have
done, such as one of the problems with not wanting to be in Saddam's army was
that if you refused--and remember, most of his army was force conscripted or
forced to fight--and if you somehow refused, the penalty was to have your
right ear cut off. What the regime would do is that they would bring these
deserters or these young men who refused to enter the army to the surgeons in
a hospital and they would then threaten the doctors and tell them that they
had to cut off the right ear.
GROSS: And what was the penalty if the doctor refused?
Dr. AMOWITZ: If the doctor refused, we heard reports of them being threatened
to be killed or the family would be threatened to be killed or even tortured.
In other cases, we also heard that many of them simply heard that the, quote,
"security persons" were coming with these young men, and they would take
emergency leave and go away for a month and hope that some other doctor was
forced to do this, and that way they would get out of it. It was a survival
technique that they tried to employ to try to get out of having to do
something like this.
GROSS: Now how did you find out about this?
Dr. AMOWITZ: We actually asked the doctors directly what had happened over
the last few years and what had they been forced to do that they didn't want
to do. And in a flood of conversation in one hospital in particular we had
four older physicians that had been working in a hospital in the late '80s,
early '90s, and they basically said to us, `You know what? We've had this on
our mind forever. We need to get it off our chest. Here's what happened.'
GROSS: And what else did you hear besides cutting off of ears in punishment
for young men who didn't join the army?
Dr. AMOWITZ: Physicians were also asked to administer the mercy bullets in
people that were being tortured, victims that were tortured by the regime. If
the torture didn't kill them, they were brought to the hospital or a doctor
was brought to the torture chamber, which was not usually that far from the
hospital--it was usually the police station or some other security building
close to one of the hospitals--and they were asked to administer the mercy
bullet to kill the patient. Or they may have been asked to say whether the
torture victim was dead or alive. If the doctor had said that he was alive
when he was really dead, the consequences were swift for the doctor as well,
or if he pronounced him dead when he was really alive, then the doctor would
also be in trouble. So this was a dilemma for the doctors.
And when we asked the doctors what they did in a case where it was a no-win
situation for them, one of the doctors sort of looked at the floor, shuffled
his feet, and said, `I don't remember what I did.'
GROSS: Why would you need a doctor to deliver the mercy bullet? I mean,
couldn't any old torturer just shoot somebody in the head and kill them?
Dr. AMOWITZ: Of course they could, but this was--you know, techniques were to
intimidate, to make sure that leaders within the community were afraid and
would do whatever they were told by anybody. It's a very oppressive regime.
GROSS: Are there a couple of other countries that you can mention in which
doctors have been forced to participate in state-sponsored torture?
Dr. AMOWITZ: I think there are 60 countries around the world that use torture
that is state sponsored, and many of those physicians are asked to be
complicit. Pakistan has been noted in that; Kosovo in the recent years.
Turkey is another one.
GROSS: Dr. Lynn Amowitz is senior medical researcher for Physicians for Human
Rights. She traveled through Iraq in April and the first half of May.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, visiting Uncle Andy Warhol. We talk with artist James
Warhola about his new children's book which describes a 1962 visit to his
uncle's home. Also, the early days of The Velvet Underground when it was
managed by Warhol.
(Soundbite of music)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: (Singing) I'm waiting for my man, $26 in my hand, up
to Lexington, 125, feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive. I'm waiting for
my man. `Hey, white boy, what you doin' uptown? Hey, white boy, you chasin'
our women around?' `Oh, pardon me, sir, it's furthest from my mind. I'm just
lookin' for a dear, dear friend of mine.' I'm waiting for my man. Here he
comes. He's all dressed in...
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: James Warhola discusses his new children's book "Uncle
Andy's: A Faabbulous Visit with Andy Warhol"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Imagine how surprised Andy Warhol must have been when his brother,
sister-in-law and their seven kids paid one of their surprise visits to his
Manhattan home and moved in for a few days. My guest, James Warhola, was one
of those seven kids. He loved those visits to Uncle Andy's house. And now
he's written and illustrated a book called "Uncle Andy's: A Faabulous Visit
with Andy Warhol." It's in the form of a children's book, but it's probably
even more interesting to adults. Warhola is a children's book illustrator who
has also done the cover art for many paperbacks and has drawn for Mad
James Warhola's father, Paul, was Andrew Warhol's oldest brother. The Warhola
family lived in the countryside outside Pittsburgh where Paul owned a
junkyard. The new book is set in 1962, the year that Andy Warhol made his
first soup cans. James was about seven. Warhola says his uncle's house was
like a giant amusement park filled with art and found objects, like carousel
Mr. JAMES WARHOLA (Author, "Uncle Andy's: A Faabbulous Visit with Andy
Warhol"): When we would first come into the house we'd go up a few steps and
there was this giant crumpled piece of metal, and it was a John Chamberlain
sculpture of a wrecked car. And it was kind of stuck in the hallway, and
you'd always have to make a right into a smaller room, which was his studio.
And that was always a centerpiece we'd kind of look at. And he was always so
proud of that piece. He'd always say it was by a famous artist, and we'd kind
of look at it and seem to, like, question it. You know, what was it? And
he'd say it was a part of a car. And, of course, we always saw a lot of that
back home at my dad's junkyard.
But throughout the house he had a lot of early--I guess you'd call them
advertising objects, such as large Coke bottles and Pepsi-Cola signs, and they
would be intermixed throughout the house. And I think he had a--he actually,
you know, thought all that was art in some way, and he started collecting that
all through the '50s.
GROSS: Now you said that your Uncle Andy's house, and some of the art in it,
reminded you of your father's junkyard. Your father ran a junkyard, and it's
just such an interesting comparison between the kind of pop art and found art
that Andy Warhol was interested in, the kind of junk that you father collected
and sold. You want to make that comparison a little more for us?
Mr. WARHOLA: Oh, yeah. For one thing, it's hard to believe that my dad, who
was his older brother, came from the same family. And we lived a life in
Pittsburgh--actually in the countryside of western Pennsylvania, not far out
of Pittsburgh--and my dad ran a junk business. And there were seven in our
family, and the boys were expected to kind of help out in the junkyard, and
we knew the junk business pretty well. So every once in a while my father
would announce these visits, that it was time to go visit Uncle Andy and
Bubba in the big city, Bubba being my grandmother.
And he'd always take things from the junkyard when we'd go up on these trips.
He'd take things that he thought that my uncle would appreciate, 'cause my dad
was almost a frustrated artist in his own right, and he had a good eye for
things. And, in fact, early on he was always bringing objects home for me to
kind of make art out of, and I was a bit more of a traditionalist in certain
ways, and I couldn't see it the same way as my father.
But anyway, my dad--you know, he'd bring this stuff home from the junkyard and
he would kind of do different types of sculpture, and when he had the time he
would fool around. But in general he had to just make a living and support
GROSS: So what kind of objects would your father take from his junkyard to
bring as gifts for Andy?
Mr. WARHOLA: Oh, well, if it wasn't crumpled-up metal, the one object I
remember, and I show in the book, was this giant magnet that has this mass of
bolts and screws attached to it. And it was kind of like you could sculpt the
mass of bolts into different shapes. And he brought that up, and my uncle was
quite impressed and put that near the doorway.
And there was many other odds and ends, even like old arcade, like, vending
machines and things that he thought that Andy would appreciate. And my uncle,
he was always impressed. I mean, he saw something interesting in everything.
So it wasn't too hard to make him happy with some object that we would bring
GROSS: What great eyes to be able to see out of. Do you know what I mean?
To, like, see things through your uncle's eyes who found so many discardable
objects really fascinating and beautiful and important.
Mr. WARHOLA: Yeah. Yeah. I kind of wondered how, you know, he got that. I
always attribute it to my grandmother, who he lived with for some 20 years.
She had an interesting kind of artistic sense, and, of course, she was quite
an important foundation for him, living there in New York with him.
GROSS: Yeah. And you know what? It's so hard to think of Andy Warhol living
with his mom. You know, you think of Andy Warhol as like this kind of
detached, cool, you know, hip artist surrounded by, you know, gender-bending
artists who are high on drugs and creating this really, you know, nearly
perverse scene. You don't think of him as living with his mom.
Mr. WARHOLA: I know. I know. That's been the usual perception. Most
people are quite surprised that he had his mother there. And she took care of
him, and I think, you know, a lot of his success he owes to his mother. And,
of course, having two brothers, you know, each of them having a lot of kids,
was another aspect that people didn't realize. And it was quite an
interesting contrast that was quite a surprise to a lot of people.
GROSS: How long did he live with his mother?
Mr. WARHOLA: It was probably from the early '50s to 1970, so it was almost 20
GROSS: So even after he was famous, he was living with her.
Mr. WARHOLA: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Actually, he didn't really have too
many people come to his house, so I think that's, you know, the reason maybe
some people didn't realize it.
GROSS: So the scene was at the factory, but that was separate from his house.
Mr. WARHOLA: Yeah, definitely. The factory scene came about, I think--well,
his first studio was an old firehouse, and that was in 1963. And then a year
or two later he got a place in Midtown, and I think that's when the word `the
factory' got coined, and that's where all the stories come of the wild
going-ons. And most of the time, up on 89th and Alex, he was always hard at
work. There wasn't really--if anything, they protected us from the city
itself. We were kind of isolated there.
GROSS: My guest is James Warhola. He wrote and illustrated the new book
"Uncle Andy's: A Faabbulous Visit with Andy Warhol." More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is artist and children's book
illustrator and author James Warhola. His new book is called "Uncle Andy's:
A Faabbulous Visit with Andy Warhol," and it's a children's book about his
visit to his Uncle Andy Warhol's place when he was a child.
Now your father ran a junkyard. The junkyard was about a mile away on a dirt
road from your actual home, but judging from the illustrations in the book,
the lawn of your home was filled with junk.
Mr. WARHOLA: Oh, yes.
GROSS: Describe what your lawn typically looked like.
Mr. WARHOLA: Well, it always had a few junk cars. I think when my dad found
it convenient, instead of taking some truckloads of things up to the junkyard,
he would just dump them off at the house. And it was quite a sight at times.
And, you know, with seven kids and, you know, having a busy family, it just
was really a sight with all kinds of objects strewn about. Occasionally we'd
clean things up, and then slowly but surely it would get back to quite a mess.
And, of course, it was an old, shingled, ramshackled house before we got it
sided and made it a little bit more presentable, but the illustration I did of
that scene is pretty true.
GROSS: Let me ask you to describe one of the illustrations in your book that
is among my favorite. And this is the illustration of one of your siblings
walking into Andy Warhol's bedroom.
Mr. WARHOLA: Yes. That's my little sister Maddie and we kind of put her up
to it. Usually my uncle would go out late at night. He'd come back very
late, and he'd sleep in during the morning till around 10. And when the door
would crack open, it was time that he could have visitors, and we'd be waiting
on the steps anxiously wondering who he had seen that was famous, and he'd
love telling us.
And I think during that specific time we told our little sister Maddie that
Andy was ready, our uncle was ready, to have guests, and she went in ahead of
us. And, of course, he didn't have his wig on yet, and there was a bit of a
shriek. And he grabbed, I think, a handkerchief to throw on his head for that
moment. But it was quite funny, and I was able to work it into the story. I
don't think any of my other siblings have seen him without his wig, so I think
my sister Maddie was the lucky one there.
GROSS: It's a great picture. So there's a picture of your sister shrieking
because she realizes she's shocked Andy. And Andy has his hands over his
head, and he's kind of screaming because he's so surprised and embarrassed.
His wig is flying through the air. He's jumping in surprise so that there's
magazines falling off the bed, his tape recorder, cassette recorders falling
off the bed. The cats are falling off the bed. There's cats all over this
picture. There's a couple of cats falling off the bed. There's cats
underneath the bed. There's cats in the canopy over the bed. There's cats
under the night table. There's cats on the rug. Cats all over.
Mr. WARHOLA: Yeah. The cats actually--he had a lot of Siamese cats going in
through the house. I think they were friendly to him and my grandmother, but
they were very mysterious animals. They hid a lot, so we didn't get to see
them very much, but they were always around.
GROSS: You say he had wigs for every occasion, and then when he was done with
wigs, he'd give them to your family. And then there's another picture of
everyone in your family wearing an Andy Warhol wig. It's a great picture.
Mr. WARHOLA: Yeah. Of course, my father was bald, and he thought my dad
would, you know, be able to use his old wigs. And, of course, we brought
boxes of wigs back to Pittsburgh. But little did my uncle know that we kind
of masqueraded through the house with these wigs. And my dad, of course,
didn't use them that much except to entertain people, when we'd have guests.
So I don't think my uncle would have appreciated that.
GROSS: There's a great picture of you sleeping at your Uncle Andy's town
house. And you're in a room sleeping, you know, on this cot, and you're
surrounded by rows and rows of cartons piled up to the ceiling of Campbell's
Soup cans. And tell us about this illustration.
Mr. WARHOLA: On the top floor he had this room where he had nothing but soup
boxes, and they were stacked like skyscrapers. And I remember on one of those
visits he'd bring us to the rooms at night, and we wouldn't know quite what
was in it, but in the morning we'd wake up and there'd be these huge columns
of these soup boxes. And, of course, they weren't just cardboard boxes. They
were made out of wood and silk screened very carefully, and it was quite a
sight. I mean, we always questioned, like, what it was, but we knew it was
important. He always told us not to touch them. And it was certainly a
sight, especially when you have to sleep amongst them.
GROSS: Your family used to own one of Warhol's soup cans. How did you end up
owning it, and how come you no longer own it?
Mr. WARHOLA: Well, early on, in late '61, my dad was in New York, and I think
it was just at the very beginning when my uncle was coming up with the idea of
the soup can. And he gave my dad a small 16-by-20 can that was hand painted,
and my father brought it home, and we cherished it for many years. Of course,
it was important to us. He didn't give us too many things, a few things, a
few small things, but that was one of our prized possessions. And we jointly
owned it for all these years, and it just got to be kind of impractical to
kind of keep it, and I think last year we all decided that it was probably the
best time to try to sell it.
And we did sell it. It sold at Christie's for a little over a million
dollars, which was quite an amazing amount to all of us considering we took it
to school endlessly on the bus in a brown paper bag, showed it to our
teachers, our classmates. Each of us had a turn with it, and it was always in
the family. It was tough to see it go, but it was the only way of kind of
sharing it at this point in time when most of us, most of my siblings, are in
their 40s and 50s and 60s.
GROSS: You said it became impractical to keep it.
Mr. WARHOLA: Yeah. I think occasionally one of us would have it for a few
years, and then it would get passed on to, you know, another family member.
I mean, we kind of shared it, so I think it was hard to keep as a family
GROSS: What kind of reactions from people do you get when they see that your
name is Warhola? Do they guess that you're a relative of Andy Warhol's? And
then if so, what kind of questions do you get asked?
Mr. WARHOLA: Well, I guess it's only since he passed away that most people
make the connection, but most people never made the connection that his name
was Warhola. So, you know, nowadays most people do make the connection. And
I guess sometimes they think that maybe we inherited a lot of paintings and
maybe we're very wealthy, but I sometimes have to tell them that it's not
quite that way. Most of his paintings were left to a giant foundation, and
it's a foundation for the arts. And it's quite an important foundation, and
it does a lot of good for institutions and artists. So I usually tell them
that. And then, quite often, they want to know if I ever met him and, you
know, how I knew him and if I met any famous people. And occasionally I say,
`Yeah, I occasionally did, and it was quite a lot of fun.'
GROSS: Did your family feel cheated at all that he didn't leave more to the
Mr. WARHOLA: Well, I think there's always been a little question there. I
mean, it would have been--his will was, of course, very concise and very
brief. I don't think he ever expected to die as suddenly as he did. He died
from, you know, a bad gall bladder back in '87. So even though he had
premonitions that if he went into a hospital that he wouldn't come out, he
just wasn't prepared for it. So I think he may have--you know, if he had
lived longer, he may have, like, thought it through and been a little more
considerate, I think, to the family.
GROSS: Are you preparing another book?
Mr. WARHOLA: I have a few ideas. It's either going to be a book about race
cars or a runaway pig. I'm not quite sure what it's going to be. Ultimately,
I would love to do another book about my growing up. I think that my
grandmother--I couldn't show her fully in this book because it was limited to
32 pages, and actually, she would have just taken over because she was such a
character. She was a very magical character in our family. And I think that
if I was to do another book, I'd probably want to highlight her more.
GROSS: Well, James Warhola, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. WARHOLA: You're welcome.
GROSS: James Warhola wrote and illustrated the new book, "Uncle Andy's: A
Faabbulous Visit with Andy Warhol."
Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on the early days of The Velvet Underground
when the band was managed by Andy Warhol. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: Early years of The Velvet Underground
TERRY GROSS, host:
James Warhola's book about his uncle, Andy Warhol, is set in 1962. Three
years later The Velvet Underground started recording. In its early days, the
band was managed by Andy Warhol. The Velvet Underground never made the
charts, but today they're recognized as one of the most important bands in
rock history. After the release of a box set collecting The Velvet's
recordings from 1965 to '70, our rock historian Ed Ward looked back on The
Velvet's first recordings.
(Soundbite of music)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: (Singing) I'm waiting for the man. Twenty-six
dollars in my hand. Go up to Lexington, 125. Feel sick and dirty, more dead
than alive. I'm waiting for the man.
ED WARD reporting:
Things didn't look good for American rock 'n' roll in 1965. The Brits were
running riot over our charts, and while retaliation was in the works, it
seemed like it would be a long time before we came up with anything half as
innovative or important as The Beatles or the Rolling Stones were doing.
Actually, though, something did happen, something that was ignored at the
time, The Velvet Underground.
The Velvet Underground was the result of a unique group of talents getting
together: Louis Allan Reed, a troubled Long Island teen-ager who'd recorded
while still in high school and then attended Syracuse University to study
literature; Sterling Morrison, who was attending classes there, but never
registered; and John Cale, who met Reed while they were both working at a
schlock rock label, recording hot-rod novelty records in the year after Reed's
Reed and Morrison had the literary background; Cale, the avant-garde musical
chops. He'd come from his native Wales on a Leonard Bernstein scholarship,
and was performing LaMonte Young, father of today's avant-garde, and hacking
out rock novelties to pay the bills. The three started jamming at Cale's
downtown New York loft, and the result sounded like Simon and Garfunkel, until
the lyrics kicked in.
(Soundbite of song)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: (Singing) Shiny, shiny boots of leather. Whiplash
girl child in the dark comes in bells. Your servant, don't forsake him.
Strike, dear mistress, cure his heart.
WARD: They added Maureen Tucker, sister of Morrison's college roommate, on
drums after their first drummer proved too weird and started calling
themselves The Velvet Underground after a book on suburban sadomasochism
they'd found in the street. Journalist Al Aronowitz got them a steady gig at
Cafe Bizarre. They were fired before too long, but not before attracting the
attention of Andy Warhol, who needed a band for a multimedia spectacular he
was planning. In early 1966, he produced their first album. Those songs from
Cale's loft were transformed.
(Soundbite of song)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: (Singing) Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather.
Whiplash girl child in the dark comes in bells. Your servant, don't forsake
him. Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart.
WARD: Cale's electric viola, the groaning guitars, not to mention the subject
matter, this was something new. But Warhol insisted that the four weren't
glamorous enough, and he added a singer, Christa Paffgen, a German model who'd
been doing some recording in London and used the name Nico. She added another
dimension to the sound.
(Soundbite of song)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO: (Singing) And what costume shall the poor girl
wear to all of tomorrow's parties? A hand-me-down dress from who knows where
to all tomorrow's parties.
WARD: Her vocal range was identical to Reed's, and, yes, she was glamorous in
a chilly sort of way. Having Warhol's art cache freed the band to experiment
sonically, too. And here, Cale's genius kicked in. The notorious noise
blowout, starting with an electrified metal chair being scraped across the
floor in "European Sun," is definitely aimed at the New York art crowd.
(Soundbite of music)
WARD: If they'd released their first album while they were still riding high
on their success in Warhol's plastic exploding inevitable show, they might
have achieved some notoriety. But things dragged on, and it didn't appear
until early 1967, at which point peace and love didn't want to know about
those boots of shiny, shiny leather. Undaunted, the band went back into the
studio in September to make a second record without Nico and with their
avant-garde tendencies in full cry.
(Soundbite of song)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: (Singing) White light. White light goin' messin' up
my mind. White light. And don't you know, it's going to make me go blind.
White heat. Aww, white heat, it tickle me down to my toes. White light.
Oo, have mercy. White light have it, goodness knows. White light. White
light goin', messin' up my brain. White light. Aww, white light, it's gonna
drive me insane. White heat. Aww, white heat, it tickle me down to my toes.
White light. Aww, white light, I said, now goodness knows. Do it.
WARD: "White Light/White Heat" was a truly inspired failure. Some of it was
virtually unlistenable more than once, like Cale's Reading of Undergraduate
short story, Reed's on "The Gift." And then there was "Sister Ray," 17 minutes
of ghastly noise that sort of grew on you if you could stay the course.
(Soundbite of music)
WARD: Distorted almost to the point of pain with perverse lyrics, this music
opposed nearly everything the new era seemed to stand for. The album vanished
almost without a trace. Warhol was out of the picture, and tension between
Cale and Reed was reaching a high point. Who would have thought they stood
on the verge of making one of the greatest albums of all time?
GROSS: Rock historian Ed Ward lives in Berlin. The great album he just
referred to is called "The Velvet Underground."
(Soundbite of music)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: (Singing) Well, I'm beginning to see the light.
Well, I'm beginning to see the light.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of song)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: (Singing) Well, I'm beginning to see the light. I
wanna tell all you people now, now, now, baby, I'm beginning to see the light.
Hey, now, baby, I'm beginning to see the light.
Announcer: Tapes and transcripts of FRESH AIR are available at 1 (877)
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is NPR, National Public Radio.
GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, filmmaker Guy Madden talks about his new
"Dracula," a silent film version of the Bram Stoker classic, danced by the
Royal Winnipeg Ballet. A New York Times review described it as voluptuous,
whimsical and exceedingly strange. I'm Terry Gross. Join us for the next
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