On June 21, 1966, 18-year-old Susan Pile and a group of friends lied to their parents, saying they were going out to a sock hop. Instead the Elmhurst teens drove to Poor Richard's in Old Town, where Andy Warhol's traveling psychedelic revue, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, was beginning a weeklong run. Amid dizzying strobe lights and projections of Warhol's films and slides, Pile and her pals gyrated to the sounds of the Velvet Underground.
"It wasn't quite the full-strength version of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable," says Pile. "Nico had gotten bored or didn't want to come to Chicago or something, and Lou Reed was down with hepatitis, so the Velvets' lineup consisted of Mo Tucker on bass, Angus MacLise on drums, Sterling Morrison on lead guitar, and John Cale playing viola and organ. Mary Woronov wasn't there, and of course, neither was Andy. But to us it was fantastic. It was our ecstasy. We had never taken a drug in our entire life, we were desperate for culture. Do you know how straight Elmhurst was? Totally Republican. That was a very exciting summer."
Perhaps aided by a savage review by Chicago Daily News critic Michaela Williams (headlined "Warhol's Brutal Assemblage: Non-Stop Horror Show"), the EPI was held over for a second week. The Velvet Underground also played a side gig, a fashion show at the Playboy Club sponsored by a mod haberdashery, Man at Ease.
"My friends and I went back for almost every show," says Pile. "We were like Chicago's unofficial welcoming committee to the tour. I remember Gerard Malanga wanted to see the beach, so I took him down to the lakefront."
A few months later, Pile moved to New York to attend Barnard College, where she renewed her acquaintance with the Warhol crowd. "There wasn't a dorm immediately available for me at Barnard," she says. "So my parents, who were really conservative and had absolutely no idea what they were doing, arranged for me to stay at this awful YWCA at 50th and Eighth Avenue. It was a horrible neighborhood--hookers and drug addicts. Coming from Elmhurst, I was scared, so I called the only people I knew on the whole northeastern seaboard: Ingrid Superstar, Paul Morrissey, Malanga, and that configuration of the Velvet Underground. They said, 'Poor dear, come on over to the Factory.' So I did."
In time, hanging out at the Factory turned into an after-school job for Pile. "Early on I decided to make myself useful," she says. "I did typing and proofreading, I answered phone calls, I was babysitting for Nico. Eventually Andy started paying me a small wage. My classes were over at two o'clock, and after that I was at the Factory nearly every day. I didn't really make any friends at college."
Pile later became an editor at Warhol's magazine, Interview. She now lives in LA and works as a film-marketing consultant.
One of the Poor Richard's shows Pile and her friends attended was captured on 16-millimeter film by a recent graduate of IIT's Institute of Design, Ron Nameth, who edited the footage into a 12-minute short, Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Pile and her friend Ed Walsh are listed in the credits as dancers.
Steven Watson, author of a new study of the Warhol scene, Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties, will introduce Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable and other Warhol-related films at "Warhol on Film," a two-part presentation Friday and Saturday, November 14 and 15, at 8 PM at the Chicago Cultural Center's Claudia Cassidy Theater, 78 E. Washington. Friday's program includes a 16-millimeter projection of Warhol's Vinyl (1965, 70 min.) and Nameth's film, to be projected from DVD. Saturday's program includes Paul Morrissey's Trash (1970, 110 min.), some Factory "screen tests," rare interview clips, and selections from a DVD entitled Visions of Warhol. All of the second program will be projected from video. Michael Ferguson, author of Little Joe, Superstar: The Films of Joe Dallesandro, will attend on Saturday. It's free; call 312-744-6630 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bonnie Schiffman.