Ian McKellen Recites Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, Backed by Garage Rock Band, the Fleshtones, on Andy Warhol’s MTV Variety Show (1987)

80s revival­ism can be done bad­ly and it can be done well. Those old enough to remem­ber the decade seem best placed to recre­ate it, but the suc­cess of Stranger Things offers an excel­lent coun­terex­am­ple. The mil­len­ni­al Duf­fer broth­ers did a mar­velous job of con­jur­ing the look and feel of mid-80s mise-en-scène by stitch­ing togeth­er close view­ings of a dozen or so films—from the mas­sive­ly pop­u­lar E.T. to more obscure flicks like made-for-TV Mazes and Mon­sters (not to men­tion such pre­cious archival footage as this.)

When it comes to music how­ev­er, 80s retro tends to con­fine them­selves to ear­ly hip and hop and elec­tro, the syn­th­pop of Gary Numan and Duran Duran or the cheesy hair met­al of Möt­ley Crüe. But this lens miss­es the sig­nif­i­cant 60s revival­ism that emerged at the time. Garage, surf, and psych rock and the jan­g­ly sounds of The Byrds inspired R.E.M., the B52s, the Replace­ments, the House of Love, and the Flesh­tones, a much less­er-known NYC band who may nev­er have got­ten their com­mer­cial due, but who cer­tain­ly appealed to 60s art star Andy Warhol.

When Warhol remade him­self as a TV per­son­al­i­ty in the 80s with his MTV vari­ety show Andy Warhol’s 15 Min­utes he cast the Flesh­tones as the back­ing band for ris­ing the­ater and film star Ian McK­ellen, a match-up that rep­re­sents anoth­er hall­mark of 80s pop culture—the post­mod­ern jux­ta­po­si­tion of gen­res, styles, and reg­is­ters which Warhol helped pio­neer 20 years ear­li­er when he brought kitschy silk-screened soup cans, sexy street hus­tlers, and the Vel­vet Under­ground into the art scene.

Warhol’s tele­vi­sion work turned this impulse into a mul­ti­me­dia cir­cus fea­tur­ing “The high and the low. The rich and the famous. The strug­gling artists and the ris­ing stars,” as Warhol Muse­um cura­tor Ger­a­lyn Hux­ley puts it. In this par­tic­u­lar­ly fit­ting exam­ple, McK­ellen and the Flesh­tones bring Shake­speare’s racy Son­net 20 to young, hip MTV audi­ences in 1987. L.A. Week­ly lists a few of the “cool points” from the clip:

  • A young, hot, already insane­ly tal­ent­ed Ian McK­ellen
  • Wear­ing awe­some New Wave fash­ions
  • At Andy Warhol’s Fac­to­ry in 1987
  • Backed by cult group the Flesh­tones
  • Recit­ing a Shake­speare Son­net

What’s not to love? Start your 2018 with some Shake­speare-meets-garage-rock cool­ness from 31 years ago—and revis­it more of Warhol’s MTV vari­ety show at our pre­vi­ous post. For seri­ous stu­dents of the decade, this is essen­tial view­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Andy Warhol’s 15 Min­utes: Dis­cov­er the Post­mod­ern MTV Vari­ety Show That Made Warhol a Star in the Tele­vi­sion Age (1985–87)

Ian McK­ellen Reads a Pas­sion­ate Speech by William Shake­speare, Writ­ten in Defense of Immi­grants

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Sings Shakespeare’s Son­net 18

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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