Last week, we told you about the short-lived MTV series Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes, a brilliant and unimpeachably hip NYC countercultural olio that the famous pop artist curated and co-hosted for the music network before its final descent into full suck. I combed the Internet for videos from that show in an effort to be as comprehensive as possible. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how many hours I spent looking, actually. But despite all that effort, OF COURSE I missed something brilliant, and lucky I am that an attentive reader clued me in.
Just before they set off on their Fleshtones Vs. Reality tour in 1987, NYC’s Fleshtones—a great band who’d combined early psych cool, surf-rock twang, R&B swagger, and shitloads of cheeky, high energy fun—taped two segments for Warhol’s show. This confluence of personalities was a perfectly natural one—Fleshtones singer Peter Zaremba was in Warhol’s orbit going back to the days when he lived in a loft across the street from Warhol’s Factory, and he was, at the time, also the host of his own MTV program, the excellent IRS’s The Cutting Edge. (It’s such a damn shame The Fleshtones never really took off big—back in those days, Zaremba seemed to me like such an unfuckwithable ambassador/avatar of cool.) The band first did a madcap lip-syncing of their song “Return of the Leather Kings.”
And while that was great fun, it’s the second segment they taped that should be far, far better known than it is. In it, the band jams while Ian freakin’ McKellen recites a Shakespearean sonnet. It’s my good fortune that the reader who tipped me off to this happens to be the man who literally wrote the book on the Fleshtones, Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band, music writer Joe Bonomo. (Among other works, Bonomo also wrote a dandy 33 1/3 on AC/DC.) I quote here from Sweat, page 256:
The pairing with McKellen was fantastic: as the actor dramatically recited Shakespeare’s “Twentieth Sonnet,” the Fleshtones accompanied him in the background, creating ambient psychedelic music. The kind of marriage of high and low art prized by Warhol, the union provided all concerned with kicks. The guys invited McKellen down to the Pyramid with them after the taping, and he gladly came along for some alternative East Side divertissement. (When the performance was released the next year on the Time Bomb compilation, the Fleshtones were able to enjoy one of the more notable songwriting credits in recent pop history: “Zaremba / Milhizer / Spaeth / Warren / Streng / Shakespeare”.)