Episode 030: Campbell’s Soup Cans
In which we discuss 1960s art, game shows, and hoarding
I love Warhol, and pop-art in general. It’s clearly a big influence on the design and the music of Polyester City.
But I really don’t KNOW Warhol. So here is my dear friend and expert in all things music and art, the remarkable author and music journalist James Campion, who I kidnapped and forced to write me a tight 100 words on the man:
“You could make a pretty fair argument that Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup painting—or series of paintings debuting in July of 1962— presented as pop art, is the invention of the 1960s art aesthetic.
“Before the Beatles or Motown or the French New Wave Cinema or street theater or psychedelia or most of the transient Sixties Boomer claptrap, a frail, queer kid from Pittsburgh had already taken most of it to shame. Warhol’s blatant revilement/worship of the comingling of American advertising/capitalist dogma would be his own roadmap to celebrity and waste-art for the coming decade or more – ending up in a flaccid tinsel ****-around at Studio 54 after some lunatic feminist put a bullet in him and for all intents and purposes took the fun out of it.
“New York City, for Warhol, was the center/apex/seventh ring of hell, which he exploited from Max’s Kansas City to the Factory. This was the essence of his spirit. Those soup cans were not a precursor, but an end-all to this what-is-art squabble that needn’t have begun. As he argued it. This is his challenge and eventually his legacy.”
Right. What he said.
So: Warhol’s 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans
One of the funnest fun beats I’ve ever had fun writing and recording.
So. Much. Fun!
My mission: needed this beat to sound like a modern take on a theme song for a 1960s TV game show with a bunch of go-go dancers in fringe skirts and tall boots groovily bopping around in cages above a crowd of dancing teenagers.
I know this sounds nothing like any other PC beat that I've released so far. It actually sounds kind of normal. But hey, it's what the painting called for.
The main theme has something like four or five synth and horn patches layered together to get a nice big sound. The little echo of the theme that enters the second time around was a complete accident, but it really makes it.
I spent 20 years playing guitar in rock bands for a living, but I so rarely get a chance to play a flat-out rock and roll guitar solo. I did it here. (Did I mention this was fun to make?)
Lots of different drums going on as well. I think I layered a genuine 1960s retro-sounding drum kit with a Prince-style '80s-era drum machine to get the final effect. They sound pretty fat, with that one drum fill leading into the breakdown sounding straight out of a 1970s funk record.
Back to weird atonal lo-fi madness next week, I promise.
Being an archivist, I am pretty organized. [You should see the spreadsheets I keep for these episodes.] There has always been something about the repeating symmetry of Warhol’s work that appealed to me on a visceral level. Whether it was soup cans or Marylin Monroe or dollar signs or Elvis, the patterns always dragged me in.
That said, this reduction was a lot of work.
First off, as James mentioned, there are a whole bunch of soup can paintings that Warhol did. 32 Soup Cans is probably the most well-known of the series, but I was looking for more along the lines of the spirit of the painting as opposed to this exact one.
Fun fact: try as I might, I couldn’t get 32 soup cans to look right in a square. So my reduction has 24. That's why the beat is just called Campbell's Soup Cans!
A friend and colleague of mine hails from Pittsburgh and recently brought his two kids on a trip back to his hometown to visit the incredible Andy Warhol Museum.
The museum’s considerable team of archivists has done nothing every day for the last 30 years but sort through a myriad of artifacts stored in the 569 file boxes, 4000 audio tapes, 42 filing cabinet drawers, and a mammoth steamer trunk that Warhol accumulated during his life. (And while visiting, you can watch them do it.)
I mean, that sounds like a fabulous thing to spend 30 years on. You know, for an artist/archivist, that is. How many of us are there, anyway?
Until next week, thanks for reading Polyester City. If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment by clicking the link above. If you know anyone who likes Music and Art and Stories [and soup], which is pretty much everyone, please consider sharing by clicking the link below.