The Beauty of the Beast

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Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story by Victor Bockris

A Review by Tobe Damit
A Review by Tobe Damit

Updated after Reed’s death in October 2013, Transformer, The Complete Lou Reed Story definitely offers a lot more than one can possibly expect from a biography. Saying that Transformer encompasses everything you can possibly want to know about the life and times of the rock icon/artist/persona would still be a huge understatement. Going way beyond the usual narration of dates, love stories, anecdotes, arguments, relationships, records and tours reviews, Victor Bockris takes us much deeper, into the artist’s mystifying mind without a single dull moment, unexpectedly delving into the psyche as well as various traumas thus making Transformer a masterpiece that may seem at times closer to an essay written with a truly contagious passion. As I was reading various passages about Lou’s most intimate, meaningful moments, I suddenly became a voyeur, travelling through space and time, only making halts to land, embedded in Lou’s cerebral cortex, at very specific, revealing  moments,  a caterpillar enthralled in a mind-blowing, heart wrenching, enlightening spiritual journey to redemption and self-completion.

Reed©Francesco Scavullo 1974
Reed©Francesco Scavullo 1974

Caterpillar….As I was sifting through other reviews, I paused as I read the word ”butterfly” and pondered. As the biography evolves you really get the sense of a colorful and vivacious punk caterpillar struggling with an acute egoistic hedonism.Reed was constantly and desperately looking for a way to become a magnificent butterfly that proudly spreads its wonderful, astoundingly colorful wings with a rare dignified wisdom that is rarely reached by those who have such a big ego as Reed. Reading the book, you just know that in the end he had reached this point since with an ego, you cannot bend, and with an ego how can one be really dignified? How can an ego give you grace? It would be just a superficial posture, empty, impotent posture. Nothing inside, just an empty shell without any content. Reading Transformer, it is very obvious that Reed tremendously suffered from his ego all through his life. At times he may have had the posture but he was obviously to clever and sensitive to not come to the realisation that something was missing. A man should be able to be undignified too. If you are always dignified you cannot laugh, you cannot joke, you lose all humanity and become inhuman.

Punk Magazine 1976 First Issue with Lou Reed very ''insect'' look drawn by John Holmstrom. Consacrating Lou Reed as the ultimate Punk Rock Godfather.
Punk Magazine 1976 First Issue with Lou Reed very ”insect” look drawn by John Holmström. Consecrating Lou Reed as the ultimate Punk Rock Godfather. Click image for more.

The book bluntly starts, and very rightly so, with the shock therapy treatment Lou received starting in the spring of 1959 after Lou’s conservative parents, Sidney and Toby Reed, sent their son to a psychiatrist, requesting that he cures Lou of homosexual feelings and alarming mood swings. According to Lou, the shock treatment helped eradicate any feelings of compassion he might have and handed him that fragmented approach that took over most of his life. Lou could be so loveable that you wanted to invite him to supper and meet your family but then behaving in such a way that you wanted to kick him out the door the next minute.

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”I’m an artist and that means I can be as egotistical as I want to be”

Bockris really takes his time detailing with an almost scientific manner how screwed up his relationships became from then on, not only because of the treatment itself but also how it put his relationship with his parents in a twisted love-hate trauma because he simply could not fathom how his parents could have agreed to the torture that the shock treatment therapy represented to him, and yet, he simply couldn’t remove his parents from his life, even if he really felt the urge to do so. So there you are, Bockris gets you a privileged seat in the house, an overview of Lou’s entourage through his own mind. Of course it doesn’t explain everything but it sure explains a lot of his writings and the poetry of many of the songs that songs he has written. You get an even more seizing pregnant image of Lou’s relationship with his father towards the end of the book when Bockris hands us a very important of the puzzle when he writes ”One day, as a child, Lou’s hand strayed into close proximity to where his father was standing. He received a sharp smack for this action, recounts Reed’s close friend Julian Schnabel, who adds, “He never got over the cruelty of that.”

Lou Reed performing in UK at Scala Cinema,King's Cross,London on 15th of July 1972.
Lou Reed performing in UK at Scala Cinema, King’s Cross,London on 15th of July 1972. Bowie co-produced Reed’s first solo album Transformer very shortly after. 

Those who see Lou Reed as a punk icon are right, he is and will hopefully remain one  but as you get further down the line reading this biography you get the urge to spread the word that he is way more than that. To me White Light/White Heat was the first punk song ever to be recorded. Far from fast forwarding on that era, Bockris still goes through that era with all the required details even if the book Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story, by Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga and is based on interviews with Nico, Cale, Reed, Morrison and Tucker, as well as others who became part of Andy Warhol’s circle of artistic collaborators. It remains widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest rock books ever published and is an utterly interesting, if not vital complement if you want to know the complete story because in this biography Bockris does not talk about that part of Lou’s life in details. You also get to see how Lou Reed desperately needs to be the center of attention as the original formation rapidly disintegrated. After the release of each album they loose one of the original member. First Nico, followed by Cale and then finally, Reed himself. You get a really good sense of his ”behavioral pattern” in one of Reed’s favorite movies called The Ruling Class featuring Peter O’Toole.

The original formation on the Velvet Underground produced by Andy Warhol in Hollywood 1966 © Gerard Malanga
The original formation of the Velvet Underground and Nico produced by Andy Warhol in Hollywood 1966 ©Photo credit: Gerard Malanga

Fortunately you also get to know other aspects of Lou’s life, especially towards the end his life when he met the one and only person who managed to rekindle all those inner conflicts that were constantly harassing Reed’s mind; his magical, almost mystical, third and last wife, Laurie Anderson. The process had already been put in motion with Robert Quinn without ending well as always but Bockris is the only one who managed to take us to a place that enabled Reed to get closer to functioning as a normal human being with the updated version of the biography. It is through the character of Lulu, who originally came to life in two plays by the ground breaking German playwright Frank Wedekind, an author who came to prominence around the same time as Oscar Wilde in the 1890s. Two great extrapolations of the play are G.W Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box.

Lou with Rachel, his muse from Metal Machine Music through Take No Prisoners and the subject of Coney Island Baby,1975 (Photo by Gerard Malanga)
Lou with Rachel, his muse from Metal Machine Music through Take No Prisoners and the subject of Coney Island Baby,1975 (Photo by Gerard Malanga). Click on image for more about Lou’s ladies.

Just the fact that Reed finally managed to reach what is the closest thing to serenity through his art and music is revealing of how much of a thoroughly honest and sincere artist Lou Reed always was. Each and every record brought him a piece of the solution, even if he sometimes got lost in the way, he obviously always made sure that each and every single thing he did was meaningful to him  as an artist and as a human being. Lulu is a totally underestimated album, a collaboration between him and the band Metallica, the best band he could think of to help him forge this masterpiece that finally managed to set him free, reconciling this ongoing battle between male-female and female-male, the jealousy, the fear of being rejected, all those complex feelings he was constantly struggling with came to be irremediably exposed and somehow ”tamed”. That is why Bockris in another masterful stroke of genius explains in details everything that was implied in the making of Lulu. You may not like the album, but you must take the time to think about everything it represents. Think of it as Lou and Metallica having violent, bordering non-consensual but this twisted passion is honest and not without hope and can be seen as an exorcism with Laurie Anderson’s precious help. It was the final touch that allowed Lou Reed to spend his final years at peace with John Cale with whom he released Peel Slowly and See, the ultimate Velvet Underground re-edition as well as the Deluxe Edition of White Light/White Heat . During the last six month of his life he also worked on his final collection of photographs Rimes/Rhymes and he even went to England to publicize Mick Rock’s limited edition of Transformer, a great collection of Lou Reed’s photographs.

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Lou Reed and Nico ©Mick Rock 1975

Of course this isn’t the only collaboration described in Transformer. You get to witness Lou’s collaborations with some of the most influential artists of his times, from John Cale, Andy Warhol (Reed and Cale made an album called Songs for Drella in Warhol’s honor after his death), and Nico, through David Bowie, Bob Ezrin, Robert Quine, Robert Wilson, Laurie Anderson and the ghost of Edgar Alan Poe on The Raven as well as many, many more. Reading Transformer you do really get the sense that there is a convergence leading to Lulu and get to understand why Lou Reed finally reached a point where he finally got some closure and could sit back and enjoy life, love, friendship and joking around. Maybe he just stopped trying to be perfect in the end, at last. Bockris states that he had learned to enjoy what he had, what he was and was proud of what he had done and was at peace with himself and for that, I think everyone can only be happy for him.

ANNIE LEIBOVITZ - "Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson Coney Island, New York, 1995"
Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson Coney Island, New York, 1995©Photo by Annie Leibovitz

By the way, reading transformer never gives you the overall feeling that Lou Reed was a complete degenerate asshole. On the contrary, you simply learn to get to know him and appreciate him for what he is and respect all the attempt his made to find out what really lies down at the end of every path he could take. Thanks to this book, I know that those of us who dare to try, no matter how fucked up we are, will one day reach a place that can be called home; that perfection can only be found deep inside our heart if only I we have the courage to let it bleed for the things that deeply, truly matters. I now understand that there is no such thing as an end, or death, only constant renewal. Reed reinvented himself so many times and in so many different ways. One MUST take that into consideration despite the despair and the fear the fear of the unknown. There is no ugliness, there is only a beauty that has yet to revealed itself, hidden in our deepest fears. This book is a major statement and is for sure as close as you will ever get to Lou Reed’s Rock’n’Roll Heart. Make sure you give it your undivided attention because just like it’s subject, this book will slap you in the face if you don’t!

Badass
”When I’m talking, listen, goddamn it. When I’m talking to you, you look me in the eyes, goddamn it, or I’ll fucking smash you in the face, and I’m serious, I’m deadly serious’‘- Lou Reed to Robert Quine at CBGB’s, 1977 (extract from V. Bockris’ Transformer)

 

Interview with author Victor Bockris HERE!

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50th Anniversary 1967-2017

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John Cale to Perform Album in Full in Liverpool and New York

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Sterling Morrison, John CaleLou Reed, Moe Tucker and Nico, 1966 – photo by Billy Name.

Following a recent concert at the Philharmonie de Paris, our favourite viola-scraper has announced details of a major open-air gig in Liverpool, the city the Welsh musician sailed from on his journey to America more than 50 years ago, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Velvet Underground & Nico. The show at Liverpool Docklands on 26 May 2017 is the only European date for Cale’s celebration of the Velvet Underground’s iconic debut LP, with the album to be played in full alongside a specially assembled band at a purpose-built stage facing towards the Atlantic Ocean.  Widely regarded as one of the most influential albums in history, the epochal album will only be played again in full at one further show in New York.

“I’m often reluctant to spend too much time on things past, then a time marker shows up – The Velvet Underground & Nico turns 50! As so many bands can attest to, it is the fulfilment of the ultimate dream to record your first album. We were an unfriendly brand, dabbling in a world of challenging lyrics and weird sonics that didn’t fit into anyone’s playlist at the time,” said Cale, quoted in The Quietus .

“Remaining ferociously true to our viewpoints, Lou and I never doubted for a moment we could create something to give a voice to things not regularly explored in rock music at the time. That bizarre combination of four distinctly disparate musicians and a reluctant beauty queen perfectly summed up what it meant to be The Velvet Underground.”

The 1967 album, which was backed by Andy Warhol and featured the voice of budding singer and model Nico, remains an ur-text of avant-rock after five decades, with its influence reaching from Roxy Music, Echo and the Bunnymen, Sonic Youth, Galaxie 500 to most of the punk, jangle-pop, shoegaze and noise underground.

The first show will take place on May 26 at a bespoke open-air stage facing out to the Atlantic in Liverpool’s historic docklands. Cale will be joined by a number of “high-profile collaborators” to perform the album – their identities will be revealed in the run-up to the show. This year’s Paris concert featured The Libertines, Animal Collective and Mark Lanegan.

Tickets for the Liverpool gig go on sale at 9am on Friday, October 28, from all the usual outlets. Further details on the New York show will be announced later.  For a taste of what to expect, here are a few of clips from the Paris show last spring, including Saul Williams guesting on “Heroin,” Mark Lanegan singing “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and Lou Doillon singing “Femme Fatale.” Hopefully that all happens again at the New York show.

A movie about the final year of Nico’s life is also coming in 2017, with Danish actress Trine Dyrholm in the lead role.

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Velvet Underground, Warhol and Nico

Previous Interviews & Articles about the V.U.:

 

Nico 1988

 A Biopic About Nico

By  

     When it’s announced that a figure with a famed history is getting a biopic, it of course feels a. inevitable, b. secretly kinda exciting insomuch as it prompts internal dream-casting brainstorms, and also prompts the often very unmet hope that perhaps this could be one of those biopic that doesn’t suck, and c. mildly skepticism-inducing in that it probably won’t entirely un-suck. But there’s always that category of hope to keep us writing these announcements, apparently!

     The latest such announcement is a biopic about Germanmusician/model/personality /Warhol/Velvet Underground  collaborator, Nico. Though German singer Nico is immortalized for her work with The Velvet Underground as well as her 70’s solo work, she later led a fascinating, if overlooked, life until her sudden death at 49. Those final years will be the subject of a new biopic from Italian director Susanna Nicchiarelli titled Nico, 1988

     The dream-casting bit of this process is going to be cut short in the next sentence, as the star of this biopic has already been cast. Nico will, per Variety, be played by Danish actress/musician Trine Dyrholm (she’ll also perform her songs in the film), who won the Silver Bear for her role in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. According to Pitchfork, the film will focus heavily on performance, and the film’s director, Susanna Nicchiarelli, said they’ll “tell us more than any other dialogue or situation in the film.”

     Many makers of biopics seem to have realized, thankfully, that the best formula for making one such film (supposedly done with immense success in two upcoming Pablo Larraín films — Jackie and Neruda) is not to try to capture the person’s entire life in one film, but rather to focus on a moment or particular period. (Such has increasingly been the trend, and the genre happens to be improving because of it.) This film, titled Nico, 1988, will, as it titularly states, do the same, focusing on the last year of her life (she died in July of that year after suffering a heart attack during a biking accident.) Apparently, Nico, 1988 will actually begin in 1987 as she embarks on a solo tour — with her son going around Europe with her — and attempts to get off heroin.

Nicchiarelli said in a statement:

Most people think, as Andy Warhol once said, that after her experience with Velvet Underground and the Factory —and after having had sex with most of the rock stars of those years — Nico simply ‘became a fat junkie’ and disappeared. But is this how her life really went?

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Nicchiarelli wrote the screenplay based on interviews with Nico’s son, Ari, and her manager from the time. Note that a biopic about Andy Warhol starring Jared Leto based on a biography of the famous artist written by Victor Bockris is also in the making.

A list of Nico’s close friends over the years:

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Rest in Peace Billy Name!

The Silver Factory  Darkroom  Ghost

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William Linich (February 22, 1940 – July 18, 2016), the primary architect, foreman, lighting designer and archivist at Andy Warhol’s Factory,  film-maker and photographer, who used his camera to immortalize its denizens, has died at age 76.

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Screenshot used by Billy for White Light/White Heat

To look through the snapshots taken by Name in the 1960s is to dive into the epicenter of the Pop Art scene in New York, as he chronicled the rise of Andy Warhol from artist to the avatar of an art movement—the shifting of his studio from the place where he made silkscreens to the bustling creative hub known as The Factory. His photographs of Warhol’s “superstars” made that moniker real, and the covers he designed for The Velvet Underground’s classic albums—White Light/White Heat, The Velvet Underground, and the gatefold sleeve to The Velvet Underground and Nico—are all iconic. In 2001, the U.S. Postal Service released a stamp featuring a photo of Andy Warhol taken by Name. The album cover to White Light/White Heat is a faint image Joe Spencer’s tattoo, who played a hustler in a motorcycle gang in Warhol’s 1967 film Bike Boy. Reed selected the image from the negatives from the film, and it was enlarged and distorted by Billy.US Stamps

After fleeing a dull upbringing in Poughkeepsie, New York, and settling into downtown Manhattan’s hotbed of bohemia—where he met Yoko Ono and John Cage at Fluxus events, and collaborated with La Monte Young in one of his drone performances—he met Warhol fleetingly at Serendipity 3, the fancy dessert joint where he was a waiter, and then later through his mentor Ray Johnson, who brought Name to Brooklyn Academy of Music. Name and Warhol became lovers. “We’d go to movies or art openings,” Name told Glenn O’Brien in Interview. “I was sort of like Andy’s boyfriend.”

Billy with Andy at the Factory,1966 © Stephen Shore
Billy with Andy at the Factory,1966 © Stephen Shore

Once Warhol saw how Name had tricked out his Alphabet City apartment in all silver, he asked him to come do the same to the Factory, which was then on 47th Street—silver foil from floor to ceiling, silver spray paint over everything.

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“In 1962 or ’63 I had a hair-cutting party at my apartment, where the entire interior was silver,” Name told the New Yorker‘s website in 2012. “Andy came and loved it so much that he asked me to do the same thing at his new loft. I began installing foil, and it took so long I finally asked for keys so that I could come up anytime. Eventually, I just moved in, and I lived there from about 1964 to 1970.”

Edie Sedgwick
Edie Sedgwick

He soon became a jack-of-all-trades at the Factory, helping Warhol with silkscreens and arranging appointments. When Warhol started getting into film, he hipped Name to the pleasures of taking pictures, a hobby that lead him to produce dozens of indelible images of the era’s towering figures: Bob Dylan, Edie Sedgwick, Lou Reed, Nico, Jane Holzer.

Lou Reed at the luncheonette on the corner of 47th Street and 3rd Avenue,1967
Lou Reed at the luncheonette on the corner of 47th Street and 3rd Avenue, Billy Name (1967)

“Andy decided he was going to make movies, and he gave me his Pentax,” he said in the New Yorker interview. “I got a manual for the camera and set up a darkroom in the Factory. It was so joyous! Really, the joyous part just overshadowed all the work. I was an artist before I worked with Andy, and while I was at the Factory I took photographs mostly for artistic purposes, but over time they’ve became more of an historical record of the time.”

 Here with Henry Geldzahler 1966 photo: Stephen Shore
Here with Henry Geldzahler, 1966. ©Photo by Stephen Shore

Name obsessed over his photography, spending hours in the darkroom without any human interaction. In his diaries, Warhol noted, dryly, that Name lived in the Factory, but no one ever saw him.

Nico by Billy
Nico by Billy

“People would ask Andy where I was, and he would tell them I was in the darkroom out back, and Paul Morrissey would joke, ‘Oh yeah, he hasn’t been out of there for two years now,’” Name told the website Civilian Global.

Despite his obsessive work, the photographs were not recognized for their importance until decades later, and in 1970—two years after Name found Warhol in a pool of his own blood, shot by Valerie Solanas, and went to cradle him in his arms—he left a note for Warhol on the door of his darkroom in the Factory: “Dear Andy, I am not here anymore, but I am fine. With love, Billy.”

He had left for Washington, D.C., and then San Francisco, where he traveled and performed his poetry, but in time the world would come to treasure the images he had created in the Factory. In 1995, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise had a breakthrough Billy Name Billy Name show at its space at 558 Broome Street: over 50 of the black-and-white images that Name had slaved over, a definitive portrait of a New York that had, by the mid-’90s, all but disappeared. More retrospective shows followed, as the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh acquired a number of his works, and his photographs appeared in Warhol exhibitions around the world. Silver Age

In recent years, Milk Studios staged a large show of Name’s photographs in conjunction with a publication called Billy Name: The Silver Age in 2014, and that year the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s store displayed  work by Name to coincide with the institution’s regarding Warhol show.

At the time of his death, Name was residing in an assisted living home upstate on the Hudson. In 2012, he was named Duchess County’s artist of the year.

“I never would have expected it,” he said of the honor. “I’m 72 years old. It was a wonderful thing to happen.”

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John Cale

John Cale
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”I could never figure out whether John Cale wanted to be Elvis Presley, The Frankenstein monster, or young Chopin” -Nat Finkelstein, Up-Tight  

”He’d get paranoid craziness. I thought he was really special because of that, that craziness to me was incredibly interesting. He was really the kind that would be afraid to go into the street -from paranoia or whatever makes you that way. ” –Betsey Johnson, Up-Tight

John Cale has brought an avant-garde ear to rock & roll ever since he founded the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed in 1966.

Born in Garnant, Wales, in 1942, John Davies Cale played piano and violin from an early age. As a promising student at London University, he often chafed at the limitations of the classical hierarchy , and was drawn to the work of such avant garde composers as John Cage and La Monte Young. When Cale moved to New York in 1963, he fell in with each of these influences in turn, eventually playing viola in Young’s Theater of Eternal Music (a.k.a. The Dream Syndicate).

His work shows a fascination with opposites: lyricism and noise, subtlety and bluntness, hypnotic repetition and sudden change. Even as a student of classical music, he was an extremist: During a recital at the Guildhall School of Music, London, where he was studying theory and composition, he demolished a piano. Cale studied in Britain with composer Humphrey Searle, came to America in 1963 to work with Iannis Xenakis and Aaron Copland under the auspices of a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship, then settled in New York with such radical composers as John Cage and La Monte Young. That year Cale was one of a group of pianists to perform Erik Satie’s nearly 19-hour-long “Vexations.” Through his association with the Lower Manhattan art community, Cale met Reed, who directed him toward electric instruments and rock & roll and helped conceive the Velvet Underground, for whom Cale played keyboards, bass, and electric viola. The rock and roll milieu gave Cale a chance to unleash the fierce improvisational skills that classical music had no use for. “Velvets shows were pretty riotous. When we went to the West Coast, we’d end up playing in big clubs with a lot of the acidhead bands, and we found we could fit in there by improvising a little harder than what the acidhead bands were doing.”

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The Velvets by Billy Name 

“When John left, it was really sad. I felt really bad. And of course, this was gonna really influence the music, ’cause, John’s a lunatic. I think we became a little more normal, which was fine, it was good music, good songs, it was never the same though. It was good stuff, a lot of good songs, but, just, the lunacy factor was… gone.”-Moe Tucker

After two Velvets albums (The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat), Cale left in 1968 for a solo career.  Cale worked in production (Nico’s The Marble Index, The Stooges) for a few years before returning with some subdued but elegant solo albums. His 1973 classic Paris 1919 established his penchant for writing allusive, emotionally compelling songs linked to historical and political concerns—a concern that reached its culmination in his harrowing 1982 album Music For A New Society. “Emotional concerns are very political, in the end,” he points out.

The mid-’70s found Cale back in the UK, fronting a series of rock bands that assaulted audiences with a stage presentation that drew as much from Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty as from Phil Spector. His three albums from this period— Fear, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy—capture the dark and manic energy that colored his live shows, and prefigured the punk explosion that lurked right around the corner.

In the early ’70s he worked as an A&R man for Warner Bros. and Elektra, and as a consultant for Columbia, remixing albums by Barbra Streisand and Paul Revere and the Raiders in quadraphonic sound. On his solo albums of the decade, he used elegant pop (Paris 1919, with Little Feat’s Lowell George), hard rock (Fear), Phil Spector/Brian Wilson gloss (Slow Dazzle), minimalism (Church of Anthrax, with fellow La Monte Young pupil Terry Riley), full orchestra (The Academy in Peril), and punk (Sabotage). Lyrically, he displayed equal daring; delivered in a strong baritone, his work ranged from musings about terrorism, espionage, and states of psychological extremity to love songs. His ’70s tours, generally featuring guitarist Chris Spedding, were often acts of disturbing theater (recorded at New York’s CBGB, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues captured the punk ambience of the period); at one point Cale chopped up a chicken onstage, causing his band members to walk out.

By the next decade Cale had established himself as a producer/collaborator on some 80 albums, ranging from the debut efforts of Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Patti Smith, Jonathan Richman’s Modern Lovers, and Squeeze to four albums by former Velvets singer Nico; he also had worked with Brian Eno, Kevin Ayers, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Nick Drake, and Mike Heron and scored soundtracks for Andy Warhol‘s Heat and Roger Corman’s Caged Heat. While commercial success continued to elude him, he was lauded as one of punk’s godfathers, a status he contended against with characteristic irony: His primary interest remained classical music. As the ’80s waned he continued producing (Happy Mondays), scoring (the soundtrack for Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild with Laurie Anderson and David Byrne), and releasing solo work as various as the almost-pop of Wrong Way Up to “The Falklands Suite,” an orchestration of Dylan Thomas poetry that highlighted Words for the Dying.

By 1993 Cale had come full circle: Having, two years earlier, collaborated with Lou Reed on Songs for Drella, a tribute to Velvet Underground mentor Andy Warhol, he teamed with the Velvets on a reunion tour.

On his own, he continued to innovate, releasing in 1996, with help from David Byrne and Velvets drummer Maureen Tucker, Walking on Locusts, featuring a moving tribute to Velvets guitarist Sterling Morrison, and, in 1998, Nico, an elegy for Velvets chanteuse Nico.

This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

 

Interview

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Interview with Sterling Morrison

On the road, Fall 1968 (Sterling Morrison Archives)

This interview conducted by Gregg Barrios was originally printed in Fusion, March 6, 1970.


Sterling Morrison was once described as the most underrated person living. He has been with The Velvet Underground since the dawn of history and hopefully will continue in that capacity forever. He was also called indomitable as well as an astute Italian duke. In any case, he is generally conceded to be a superior musician, as far above in talent as he is distant from the hype of current guitarists. In an interview while on tour in Texas, he spoke with Greg Barrios.


The group originally included Angus MacLise?

You know all kinds of secrets… How did you find that out? Yes, originally we were just jamming around and live in this unheated apartment and Angus lived in the unheated apartment next door. He had just come back from India. He didn’t want to be in a group, though, he thought it was fun to play music now and then whenever he felt like it; so Angus couldn’t be the drummer though we were good friends. At that time, we did some of the absolutely first mixed media things…

…the Exploding Plastic Inevitable?

No, before that. The antecedent of that was done in the old Cinematheque – all done by film people – things which Angus called ritual happenings. “Rites of the Dream Weapon” did you ever see a poster for that? Yes, that was the first one. Before Ken Kesey or anybody. Angus had seen lot of Dervish dancing while he was in India. He had been there for eight years and he came back with his raga scales and assortment of drums and so we used to put on these things and they had films. Piero Heliczer was involved in that.

I’ve seen his Dirt.

Yeah, and his New Jerusalem. Piero just had a showing about a month ago. He’s back in the country. He’s enigmatic.

I gather from some of his poetry…

What was that? Aquarium Productions?

No. Some items in the Film-makers coop catalog and newsletters.

There are really underground personages who have never been transformed by public acclaim. People like Piero, Angus, Tony Conrad, and Walter DeMaria, though Walter is doing somethings in art at present. Underground movies didn’t mean a thing in 1964 in New York. You were just sneaking around with no money.

There are many of them still like that even those who have produced important works like Jack Smith.

Well, yes, and take someone ever more amazing like Harry Smith who should be restrained from destroying his films. He makes those incredible hand-drawn cartoon films. I don’t know how long it takes him, they’re amazing. Have you seen any of those?

I’ve seen the Mirror Animations which is quite short.

They’re really marvelous. And every once in a while Harry flips out and destroys all he can get his hands on.

I met him once at the Chelsea Hotel with Barbara Rubin.

Yes. Barbara is one of the illuminaries.

Getting back to the group. Where did the name Velvet Underground come from? Did Andy…

No, this was before that.

Was the group composed of yourself, Maureen, and John Cale at the time?

Right and Lou Reed. And every group has to have a name so one day we saw the name on a book.

That paperback s&m book?

Yes, and we said, that’s nice. It’s abstract and the word underground meant something, and so we said sure why not – never figuring we would rise above our particular little echelon at the time, so that was fun. It was outrageous, the only people playing in New York City at the time were ourselves and the Fugs. We were lurking around the old Cinematheque and the Bridge and occasional gala underground events at the Village Gate downstairs. It was us and the Fugs – living in the lower East Side with around $25 a month combined (just about).

The first introduction I had to the group was an NET film on television in late 1965. The film was on Andy Warhol and it showed him holding a tryout for a group to use in his EPI.

It wasn’t a tryout at all. They didn’t know what was happening. They came there to do a thing on Andy and found us. We were already working with him.

Part of that film used your music alone. It was very nice.

They (people from NET) didn’t know what to make of it except that it sounded very peaceful and what we were playing was actually an instrumental version of Heroin. The final thing as they were showing the credits and it went droning on, that’s what that was. They didn’t know what was going on. The Factory (Warhol’s studio) in those days was so hectic and they had certain security measures to enforce.

The second time I heard the group was on the soundtrack of Andy’s film Hedy in 1966.

Oh, Hedy. Mrs. Lamarr!

Yes. I thought the music added to the pretentious mood of the film. It was very funny.

The movie was very funny. Almost everyone had a cameo part in the film. I think Jack Smith played the judge.

It was Harvey Tavel. I think Ronnie Tavel wrote the script. How did the group actually become connected with Warhol for a period of time?

He heard us playing in the Village. Barbara Rubin brought Gerard Malanga to hear us and he brought Andy. He thought it would be real nice – he always had the idea to do a media type thing with all types of films, with all possible ways to involve people.

Did that begin at the Dom on St. Marks Place?

Yes. And that wised us up in a hurry about where business begins and that sort of thing. We had the Dom an a three-year lease believe it or not. It really sickens me still when I go to St. Marks Place because more than anyone we invented that street. There was nothing going on there. Absolutely nothing. The Spa at one end and just Polish type stores, and Khadija Design, and the Bridge at the other end. No one had been there very long. Khadija had been there longer than anyone. It was an African clothing store. That was in 1964. Somehow we showed up at the DOM looking for a big room, and we said, ah, Dom (Polish for home), this is it. No one went down to St. Marks Place. No people coming in off the street. There was no point in being there. It appeared to be a disaster.

No concerts in Tompkins Square Park going on at that time?

No. This was way before that. If it was used I don’t know what for. So we got the building for three years and we opened it up and did extremely well. The people came down there and a person who worked in our box office said I’ve got an idea, why don’t we go and play in California. We said sure, why not. So we all went out to California even though we had been at the Dom for about a month.

Was that the trip to California which they said they weren’t ready for?

Yes, we played at the Fillmore and the Trip. We had a great time. I loved it, and when we came back we went back to our room since that was our thing. We owned it for three years, and when we came back we discovered it was now called The Balloon Farm. Actually our lease had been torn up and the director of the Polish home had been bribed and bought off and so our building had been taken away from us and later sold to the Electric Circus for around $300.000.
We did have some valuable property – so I discovered early in life that when you have something valuable someone is going to try and take it away from you unless you go around knowing things. I couldn’t believe something like that could happen and if you bother to sue or do anything like that – by the time it came up in the courts, you’d passed caring.

Were items like The Whip Dance with Gerard Malanga and Ingrid Superstar used all along?

Gerard and Mary (Waronov) though Ingrid did some. They could do anything they wanted. The actual number of people who would travel with us varied. The dances were Gerard’s domain, and the lights Andy’s. We only worried about the music. The way the Whip Dance came about was when someone gave Gerard a bullwhip and one particular night – the night he came down to hear us in the Village, he happened to be carrying it with him and later he started dancing with it. There was no deep dark s&m motivations. Someone gave him the whip just for laughs. He also used flashlights and lifted weights. Gerard is amazing. He was a regular on Allen Freed’s old TV show.

“The Big Beat”? Wasn’t Baby Jane Holzer also on there?

Jane used to be around there, too. When Allen Freed got kicked off the air, his final publicity picture was of him and two regulars. Gerard happened to be one of them.

When did Nico join the group?

Well, she appeared with us at the Dom, so it was right before that.

Was it Andy’s idea that she join the group?

She was around because of Andy, but he couldn’t talk us really into anything. We thought it would be a good idea. I mean that’s how the whole thing was worked on the first album: The Velvet Underground and Nico. In other words, we were a unit with or without her. And she could do some things we really like, so we said do some songs. it was a complicated working arrangement because she said if I don’t sing, I don’t do anything. So it was always a question of how many songs Nico would do, should she do all of them, which we didn’t want, and that was the only cumbersome aspect of it.

Last night as Doug was singing “I’ll Be your Mirror” I detected the Germanic accent…

Oh yeah, we mimic the way she did it. She never said, “I’ll be your mirror,” it was “I be your mirrah.” It’s amazing how those songs are still so good.

What was the reaction to the first “banana” album? I know many people couldn’t get into things like “European Son” and a couple of the other cuts.

“European Son” is very tame now. It happens to be melodic and if anyone actually listens to it, “European Son” turns out to be comprehensible in the light of all that has come since – not just our work but everyone’s. It’s that just for the time it was done it’s amazing. We figured that on our first album it was a novel idea just to have long tracks. I’m not referring to any particular song, but any song running 8 or 9 minutes. People just weren’t doing that – regardless of what the content of the track was – everyone’s album cuts had to be 2:30 or 2:45 minutes.

The three-minute song.

Then here’s “European Son” which ran eight minutes or something. And basically all the songs on the first albums are longish though there are a few short ones. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is rather long.

I have your first single which has an abbreviated version of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” on it.

Well don’t lose it. I really liked that record. You can’t get copies of it anymore. I have about two of those singles. There were never that many. “White Light/White Heat” was also a single. I don’t have many of those either.

I heard many rumors as to why Nico left the group. Would you clarify that?

It was all very informal. We stopped working for a while. We used to do that periodically – just refused to do anything. Nico needed money so she went out on her own. She was working downstairs at the Dom (Stanley’s) and we said sure, do anything you want, and so she was doing that. We’d take turns backing her up. I’d do it for one week, then John Cale, Lou, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Jackson Browne – everyone was showing up as Nico’s accompanist. When we decided to start work again we told her about it, and she said, oh, I have three more weeks here. So we told her to decide what she wanted to do and she decided that perhaps she could go on her own and be a big star, and we said okay. There never was any ill feelings. For instance, Lou played and composed some of the selections for her first album on Verve.

Didn’t you help compose the song, “Chelsea Girls” for her?

Yes I did some meddling with chords.

I liked the first album she did. It was mostly Jackson Browne but it did have some Dylan on it.

Dylan was always giving her songs.

There have been rumors that he wrote several songs with her in mind?

I don’t know, perhaps. It’s very hard to avoid these people in New York. Dylan was always lurking around.

Didn’t Andy use Dylan in a film?

There was one film with Paul Caruso called, The Bob Dylan Story. I don’t think Andy has ever shown it. It was hysterical. They got Marlowe Dupont to play Al Grossman. Paul Caruso not only looks as Bob Dylan but as a super caricature he makes even Hendrix looks pale by comparison. This was around 1966 when the film was made and his hair was way out here. When he was walking down the street you had to step out of his way. On the eve of the filming, Paul had a change of heart and got his hair cut off – closer to his head – and he must have removed about a foot so everyone was upset about that. Then Dylan had this accident and that was why the film was never shown.

What was the general reaction to The Velvet Underground’s second album?

They were stunned.

To the fact that Nico wasn’t on there?

Oh no. By what the album was – kind of raw electronics (most of it). We liked the album very much. Generally reaction to our albums is late in coming. They just lay around for a year and then people start to pick up on them. There isn’t much you can say about your own albums.

Have you always had the liberty to put on your albums what you wanted?

Yes… it was kind of… we just did it. The company wasn’t especially aware of what we were doing.

The production credit for the first album list Andy Warhol as producer. I assume he doesn’t operate like Phil Spector?

No. This was “producer” in the sense of producing a film. We used some of his money and our money. Whoever had any money that just went all into it. Andy was the producer but we were the “executive producers” too. We made the record ourselves and then brought it around and MGM said they liked it. We just never cared to do it the way most people do.

There has been some bad reactions in critical circles toward narrative things like “The Gift” and “The Murder Mystery.” Last night, Lou said that he wasn’t going to do anymore of the narrative things because of the reaction to them. He felt “The Murder Mystery” succeeded. I do too.

I thought they liked “The Gift”. I don’t know. They might react against “The Murder Mystery” but “The Gift” is more coherent. I thought people liked it.

Do you perform either one on stage?

We used to play the music from “The Gift”, occasionally. We never did perform “The Murder Mystery”, it’s too hard. Anything involving narration is really ridiculous to try and do before a live audience.

Now with the third album you have some people saying, “now they’re on to Jesus.” Can you say that’s a progression?

No. It’s just something that you do.

In other words, they keep looking for another “Heroin,” or “Sister Ray,” and so forth.

I think the third album is a lot more subtle.

Exactly. There doesn’t seem to be anything that really comes out and grabs you like “Sister Ray.” (Excluding “The Murder Mystery” of course).

That’s okay by us. As an album, I think it holds up better than the other ones. The others, when you listen to them, something reaches out and hits you over the head, and something else drops back. The new album is a lot more cohesive. I mean why would we do another “Sister Ray”? For our purposes, we’ve already covered that ground.

Well, since you are now on the MGM label, some people thought you might have toned down because of some pressure.

That was only an administrative change so that we can use a different sales manager or something like that. Also, they have a prettier label, aqua and gold; those were my junior high school colors (laughter).

Which of the three albums do you like best?

I don’t know. It changes. Whichever one I haven’t heard lately. If I have been listening to one… for instance, I didn’t listen to the first album for a year… then I went back and decided I really like it. I’m sure no one plays much of what they do everyday. You just let it sit around for a long time, then you drag them out and listen to them.

It was nice last night when you played “Femme Fatale” and “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and later some new songs like “I Can’t Stand It Anymore.”

Yes, there’s all kind of things. We just shuffle them around.

Do you think the group misses John Cale and his presence or not?

Yes… no… it’s hard to answer.

I miss the viola.

Yes, but it wasn’t used that much, and it wasn’t an essential ingredient as far as we were concerned. Everyone thought when we first showed up doing that that it was a gimmick. It wasn’t that at all. You could get a sound out of it that we thought suited the song. It was used only for about three songs.

I think It’s a Beautiful Day makes excellent use of the electric violin.

The electric viola works better than the electric violin. One might say it’s an electric violin but it’s not. The electric viola registers a little deeper, so it has a nicer sound.

Have you heard John Cale’s Stooges album?

No, I haven’t listen to that yet.

Have you heard The Stooges at all?

No.

Have you heard John’s album with Nico, The Marble Index?

Yes I like some of the songs on there. I haven’t heard The Stooges album, I’ll have to do that.

They have some of the early qualities of the Stones way back when Phil Spector would sit in and…

… play zoom bass… (laughter) if they sound that good I’ll have to listen to them.

Which of the current groups do you really like? (Doug Yule interrupting: Taj Mahal)

I do? (Doug Yule: Sure you do. I thought you did.)
I’ve always liked The Byrds. I’ve always liked The Kinks. I like Dr. John’s first album.

Gris-Gris?

Yes.

(Doug Yule: The Rolling Stones.)

Everyone likes them. Let’s see who’s unusual?

(Doug Yule: Creedance Clearwater.)

They get sort of monotonous.

(Doug Yule: But they have some good stuff.)

Yes.

(Doug Yule: Just like us. We all have our ups and downs…)

… and all arounds

Indeed. And Quicksilver, I like them too.

Are there any groups you think have imitated The Velvet Underground’s style? or songs?

Yeah, everybody, kind of. It doesn’t pay to get into it, however, cause people might say, well you’re imitating Josh White, or someone else. If you release records you hope people will listen to them and whatever they do with it you should be happy about it. There isn’t anything to complain about.

What about people like Van Dyke Parks?

I dismiss him summarily. I don’t care what he does. I don’t think he has the credentials. Whatever he’s supposed to be doing – he isn’t good enough.

In the sense of a commercial success?

In any kind of success. If he’s such a great musician then let him go to Tanglewood. His work just sounds like some clever exercises.

He does a creditable job in co-producing Guthrie’s new album.

Oh, as a producer he might be able to do something. It’s that I don’t think classical music, or formal composition, if you will – needs people to release it on the unsuspecting pop world. If you want them to listen to that then go listen to Vivaldi or something Baroque.

But I don’t just sense the classical influence…

Okay, so he’s the great synthesizing mind of the 20th century, well he’s not that either.

Do you consider Zappa more appropriate to that title?

Zappa is incapable of writing lyrics. He is shielding his musical deficiencies by proselytizing all these sundry groups that he appeals to. He just throw enough dribble into those songs, I don’t know, I don’t like their music. I like some of the people in the group. Zappa figures how many opposites can I weld together. I’ll take this phrase from god knows who (i.e. Stockhausen – the magic name!) never heard of him. What is Zappa? I say Frank can I hear a song leaving out the garbage cans? I think that album Freak Out was such a shuck.
For instance, the following is something that would haunt me to the grave. He had this utterance in one of his albums – god knows which one – “I’m not saying I want to be black but there are times I wish I weren’t white.” Now how can anyone come on like that? And he just keeps going on. Now as a satirist, or something, he might be okay. Satirists are capable of knocking things. It’s a label you can hide behind. You might say that I myself am knocking him, well, not really. He’s doing something nobody else is doing. So in that sense he has his little niche.

There have been some comparisons drawn, somewhat outrageously, between The Velvet Underground and the MC5.

That’s a comparison that would drive me to an early retirement.

What do you think of the MC5?

I think seldom of the MC5.

Is there anything we’ve left out?

Well I don’t want it to appear that I’m knocking Zappa because too much has already gone down between us.

I thought his We’re Only in it for the Money was fun. It was a good satire on what they saw in the Beatles’ album.

Yes. But let me see him come out with something as good as Sgt. Pepper. If he comes out with one song that is as good as any song on Sgt. Pepper I revise my opinion. I can make fun of Sgt. Pepper. Everyone can. If anyone thinks that cover was clever, I have no art ability at all, and I can come up with one as funny. I mean here is what The Beatles did and without any stretch of the imagination one can come up with a parody. What Zappa saw in Sgt. Pepper was something good which showed real perception and talent, and lacking these attributes himself, he decided to do something else, and make fun of it. Is there anything on We’re Only in it for the Money that compares even remotely with anything on the original?

Well, the attitude of Zappa on some of the songs toward runaways seems more realistic that the maudlin content of “She’s Leaving Home.”

Yes. But Sgt. Pepper is still a great album. When I think of The Mothers I don’t think of anything they did – I just think of who they’re imitating. Who Zappa is deriving his horn lines from and so forth. The Mothers started out in the early days as essentially an old rock/boogie group. Zappa was doing what he knew best: old rock. There was a real good guitar player on the first album by the name of Elliot. He left because Zappa saw a chink in the social structure and he was going to fill the hole. For better or worse, he did it.

Well, he’s finally disbanded the whole group.

At last. The person Zappa always admired the most was his manager. He wanted to be his manager. Zappa is the kind of person who should be a manager or a publishing representative. He wants to be one of the really sleazy industry types. And he has some need for this too.

What direction do you want The Velvet Underground to go? Are you happy the way it’s going now?

I’d like to see us have a hit single. It’s really important that you do that. Our singles so far are a joke.

I thought some of the new songs you played last night have the potential to be good hits.

Everything, if perhaps not a hit, could be distributed. Most of our singles were never distributed. However where they appeared on jukeboxes, people have really liked them. “White Light/White Heat” as a single is nice. that single was banned every place. When it was banned in San Francisco, we said, the hell with it. That’s as far as it ever got.

You have a single out at present from the third album, “What Goes On.”

That was not a real single. It was just a cut put on a single. There’s a subtle distinction between what is a real release and what is a real real release.

In other words, a single produced for a market different from the album market.

It’s hard to say. It might, it might not. We have all sorts of strange things lying around in the can, as they say. We record them and get tired with them before they’re released. It happens many times. We get demos and we play the demos and get tired of them.

I think there is much humor in your music.

Oh, there is.

Many people, however, tend to emphasize the darker s&m qualities.

Yes, but this is not reflected in fact. We’ve made no attempt to dispel them but if anyone asks us, we say, no, don’t be ridiculous. We owe that legacy to Gerard who in his infinite wisdom did all kind of outrageous things. Suppose that title which we took for our name had been on a detective novel or whatever. It just happened that the book was about that. It was a really dumb book.

Many people consider the light show as an essential part of your image. Now that you are no longer associated with the EPI you no longer have any special lighting effects with your show…

… we got away from that. Actually we built the light show at Fillmore Auditorium. Bill Graham didn’t nor did any San Francisco entrepreneur. When we showed up Graham had a slide projector with a picture of the moon. We said, that’s not a light show, Bill, sorry. That’s one of the reasons that Graham really hates us.

In his recent book on San Francisco rock, Gleason says it (light shows) officially started in SF.

Marshall McLuhan gave us credit for it in his book. He’s the only one.

Right. I remember the photo he used of the EPI and Velvet Underground in The Medium is the Massage. That was quite nice of him.

It was nice. He showed the group that did at all. People like Gleason – he was one of our archenemies. They had the thing sewed up. The reviewer has a piece of the action. Bill Graham has the room, he has apiece of the action, too. San Francisco was rigged. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. The fish being the innocent heads prowling around Haight-Ashbury. We came out there as an unshakable entity. I’d never heard of Bill Graham, in fact. I’ve never heard of him since. I don’t know who he is, I just thought he was an insane sob, totally beneath my abilities to observe. He just didn’t exist as far as I was concerned. An absolute nonentity. He knew what we thought of him. The day I arrived at his club, I was thrown out. I just walked in with my guitar and he said, you, get out of here. They told him , you’ve lost your mind, he’s playing here tonight. He said, get out, get out, you s.o.b. I wish I had. If any man really needs a beating, it’s Bill Graham.

He, of course, has his own defense mechanism. He’s currently telling everyone how S.F. will be dead without his Fillmore West.

Well, it was always like that. When we arrived it was an attack against their way of life. Graham made so much money that week-end we played at the Fillmore, that he didn’t believe it. That’s what blew his mind. We arrived, at a time before Jefferson Airplane was known to anyone, they didn’t even have Grace Slick yet. Everyone was nowhere at the time, The Mothers, and of course, ourselves. Warhol was the name at the time that made the impact with the public.

What groups shared the bill with you that night?

The Mothers of Invention, you see. The Mothers were following us around California. they also had an audition group perform. During the show, Zappa would keep putting us down, like on the mike he would say, these guys really suck. But Zappa is really a great guy, if he weighed fifteen more pounds he’d be in a hospital. No, he’s just a jerk. So The Mothers were chasing us around California so we arrived in Bill Graham country. He always had an audition group. The reason for this was he didn’t get any money. He would say, if you’re really good, I’ll let you play. This guy’s an operator. The audition group that night happened to be The Jefferson Airplane, whom he was managing. They wanted publicity and The Mothers wanted publicity because they were so many people capitalizing on our show that night. We were just a neutral party. We were going back to New York to greener pastures, supposedly, but when we got back our club was gone.

I understand you spent much time in Boston after that.

Yes, because we were so furious about New York and a lot of people who should have been behind us at the time but weren’t.

Were you there during the infamous Boston Sound period?

Yeah, Alan Lorber was responsible for that. He just wound up ruining a lot of Boston groups. Boston, however, is a really nice city, we have lots of fun there. It seems to have much more potential than San Francisco. So we played in Boston as opposed to New York City. Last time we played in New York was at the Brooklyn Academy, private parties, that sort of thing, superbenefits like the big NET one.

Have you been back to The Scene?

It’s closed. The Mafia was beating people up. They were having these incredible fights, thugs coming in. So Steve Paul just shut it down. That was going on at Arthur’s, too. The liquor laws work in such a way that if you have a trouble spot your liquor license can be revoked. So organized crime come in and says, I want a piece of the action, and they say, no, you can’t have it. So they just start these giant fights there. And the clubs lose their license. That’s what happened at Arthur’s. The Mafia people will even beat themselves up just so the police will come. That’s what happened at The Scene.

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VU 1972 Reunion at Le Bataclan

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico on French TV

velvet-underground550 JUST CLICK ON IMAGE FOR FULL FILM VERSION. 

In 1972, Velvet Underground alumni Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico reunited before the cameras of the POP2 TV program at Le Bataclan (yes that very place where those terrorists killed 89 people on November 15th 2015), a well-known and very intimate, Paris venue . It was Cale’s gig originally and he invited Reed and Nico to join him. Reed, who hated rehearsing, spent two days with Cale working out what they were going to do. According to Victor Bockris’ Lou Reed biography Transformer, rock critic Richard Robinson videotaped these rehearsals, which took place in London.

Both the videotape and the audio from this show have been heavily bootlegged over the years. A legit CD release happened a few years ago, but it still sounds like a bootleg. A high quality video turned up on various torrent trackers and bootleg blogs after a rebroadcast on French TV. It’s fairly easy to find. Now if only some of the outtakes from the Le Bataclan filming (if there were any) would slip out—they did “Black Angel’s Death Song” which I’d dearly love to see—not to mention what Richard Robinson might have (There is an audio only recording of the rehearsals attributed to Robinson’s tapes already making the rounds on bootleg torrent trackers.)

One thing worth pointing out here is that during “Berlin” you can see Nico’s face as Reed sings a song which he told her was about her. She might even be hearing it for the first time.

Nico Interview 1972

Reed and Bowie performing “I’m Waiting For The Man”:

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This Ain’t No Holiday Inn

Down and Out of the Chelsea Hotel

A very unique insight of an era that defined so many movements to come. Even today we are still trying to measure the great impact of all that was done and thought during this savage era who would put in the Glamour anyone who had balls….

1981 BBC documentary on the Chelsea Hotel and its legendary inhabitants. This is good stuff. Includes footage of Quentin Crisp, Nico (backed up on guitar by my old friend Joe Bidewell), Warhol, Burroughs, Viva, Jobriath (2 years before he died of AIDS), Chelsea Hotel manager Stanley Bard and more.

 ”And then he was a she…”-Lou Reed

Chelsea Girls is a 1966 experimental underground film directed by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey. The film was Warhol’s first major commercial success after a long line of avant-garde art films (both feature length and short). It was shot at the Hotel Chelsea and other locations in New York City, and follows the lives of several of the young women who live there, and stars many of Warhol’s superstars. It is presented in a split screen, accompanied by alternating soundtracks attached to each scene and an alternation between black-and-white and color photography. The original cut runs at just over three hours long.

The title, Chelsea Girls, is a reference to the location in which the film takes place. It was the inspiration for star Nico’s 1967 debut album, Chelsea Girl. The album featured a ballad-like track titled “Chelsea Girls”, written about the hotel and its inhabitants who appear in the film. The girl in the poster is Clare Shenstone, at the age of 16, an aspiring artist who would later be influenced by Francis Bacon. Notably missing is a sequence Warhol shot with his most popular superstar Edie Sedgwick which, according to Morrissey, Warhol excised from the final film at the insistence of Sedgwick herself, who claimed she was under contract to Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, at the time the film was made. Sedgwick’s footage has been used in another Warhol film “Afternoon.”

Chelsea Girls' Poster

The Dark Angels of Altamont

Gothic Requiem for the Flower Power

aLTAMONT
Click on pic for complete documentary about the events that took place at Altamont in 1969.
gimme sheler
Click film about Altamont 

     I thought it would be interesting to gather some bands that, for a short while during the late 60’s had a look that was some sort of mix between romanticism and what is nowadays called ”goth” with a slight psychedelic touch. I thought some of you might not exactly know what I am talking about…So… An image being worth a thousand words, here are images of some well-known bands that already had the looks of  that style that have become so trendy lately and could very well demonstrate precisely what I am trying to explain.  I wanted to do this for a while now because it is a short and unfortunately rather unexplored period, I thought it looked so cool and mysterious that I was immediately drawn to it the first time I looked at that picture on the Deep Purple album that has that Hieronymus Bosch (see picture further below) painting on the cover that illustrates a hellscape and portrays the torments of damnation in a manner I have never could even have fathomed before; Large explosions in the background throw light through a city gate and spill forth onto the water in the midground, their fiery reflection turning the water below into blood. The light illuminates a road filled with fleeing figures, while hordes of tormentors prepare to burn a neighbouring village. A short distance away, a rabbit carries an impaled and bleeding corpse, while a group of victims above are thrown into a burning lantern. The foreground is populated by a variety of distressed or tortured figures. Some are shown vomiting or excreting, others are crucified by harp and lute, in an allegory of music, thus sharpening the contrast between pleasure and torture. A choir sings from a score inscribed on a pair of buttocks, part of a tryptic that has been described as the “Musicians’ Hell”.  Being quite young (something like 7 or 9) the painting and the picture in the back also had a  lasting effect on me and reflected on something I had never experienced before, the painting was downright scary and the guys from this band called Deep Purple that I had never heard before were looking so detached and relaxed, I already had that fascination with Dracula at the time so I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. I just felt there was something there and I wanted to delve into those medieval Dark Princes. Later on I recognize it was my first experience with the ”Gothic look” and I immediately recognize it when it came back to the surface much later on and I was surprised no one ever mentioned that it was already there during the end of the roaring sixties…Yes it has been indeed revived later on but to me it always lacked the wild romantic, psychedelic-romantic touch of the 60s and its unleashed and uncanny feeling, probably related to the fact that so many things went totally out of control during the end of that decade… Some words automatically comes to mind…JFK (the first victim? 22/11/1963) … Charles Manson…Viet-Nam…Black Panthers…Martin Luther King… The death of the 4 most significant Rock USA Icons within 2 years to the day!!! Brian Jones from the Stones was the first to depart on July the 3rd,1969, Jimi Hendrix on September 18, 1970, Janis Joplin on October 4, 1970 and finally Jim Morrison, also on July the 3rd, 1971 was the last one to leave this world, like I said, 2 years to the day after Brian Jones. One could say in French (since Jim died in France) that ”le jour ‘‘J” definitely is July the 3rd because it started with Jones (or JFK in 1963???) and ended in July with Jim, taking Jimi and Janis in between for their Last Journey.  Maybe I’m just sensing the sheer terror and the unfathomable deception that took place on December the 6th 1969 ”all across the USA”…ALTAMONT!  Everyone seeing and feeling that even The Stones on which some had built high hopes for future generations were fragile, could, and had in fact been shattered...(I think I’m shattered!) Is it possible some of those artists/ musicians/ songwriters/ poets who were just about to become prophets for generations of fans to come who felt it coming and  what they felt was a genuine urge to mourn. Knowing what we do now, we must admit that they were very much right to do so…  Here is my tribute to all of those who felt all what was about to become the death of the dream of all those kids from the 60s (Talking ’bout my Generation) and which became the HELL that we live in today. Maybe some of you think Hell is too strong of a word but if you really take a look back and see what those kids wanted the world to be and compare it to what it’s become now, I would really think HELL is the right word. Don’t you think??? 

BlackSabbathgoth 70

BlackSabbathgoth 71
Black Sabbath 1971
Deep Purple Goth
Deep Purple
Deep Purple 1968

Pink Floyd (Syd Barrett era)

Pink Floyd (Syd Barrett era)
Pink Floyd (Syd Barrett era) 1967
Rolling Stones
Rolling Stones 1967
The Who
The Who 1968
Mick Jagger and John Lennon
Mick Jagger and John Lennon 1967 by David Magnus. ”All You Need is Love” (Is it Really?)
Keith Richard
Keith Richard 1968
Sharon Tate And Roman Polanski’S Wedding. 1968
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Davie Bowie
David Bowie 1968
OK now you have fun finding who's who...
Hendrix, Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett and lots of friends…1967
And of course, The Velvet Underground in their very unique way.
The Velvet Underground in their very unique way. Here with Andy Warhol in 1965.

Lou Reed
Lou Reed
Lou Reed 1971-72
Nico-à-la-croix_modifié-2
Nico, obviously a major influence
Nico
Brian Jones
Nico and Brian Jones at Monterey Pop Festival,1968
8_13_John_Cale_at_Session-10
John Cale from The Velvet Underground, 1966
Arthur BrownTHE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN 1968
ron-ashton800Ron Asheton (From The Stooges) in the Nazi suit he wore at Iggy’s wedding to Wendy Weissberg in 1968!  (Pic taken by Jenny Lens, MFA in 1976)
60s Model Penelope Tree
60s Model Penelope Tree
Jim Morrison from The Doors Jim Morrison, The Doors 1969
jimi-hendrix-jacket
Hendrixgoth
JanisJanis Joplin 1967
The Beatles- Last Photo Session, 1969
The Beatles- Last Photo Session, 1969

Bosh

The Stones at Altamont
THE STONES AT ALTAMONT BY LOIS STAVSKY (CLICK ON PIC FOR MORE DETAILS BY LESTER BANGS)

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