Velvet Underground doc explores why Lou Reed took down Andy Warhol

Before the Velvet Underground landed under the wing of Andy Warhol, its members were misfits who performed on West Village tourist dives, alienated the public, and were fired for being too abrasive. “Some [Velvets, led by Lou Reed] played with your back to the crowd, ”says Martha Morrison, wife of guitarist Sterling Morrison, in“ The Velvet Underground, ”a new documentary directed by Todd Haynes that stumbles upon Apple TV + and plays in theaters on Friday. “They had that off-putting aura. They were scary.

Barbara Rubin, a drugged teenage girl from Queens who had Warhol’s ear, was delighted. She told Warhol in 1965 that he needed to see the Velvet Underground. The group was invited for ostensible audition at Warhol’s Factory. Billy Name, a photographer there, recounts in the doc how it happened: “They were all dressed in black, they started playing heroin, we were upset.”

Andy Warhol (left) with Lou Reed at Studio 54 in 1977, a decade after the Velvet Underground debut album was released and Warhol was fired by Reed.
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In no time, Warhol becomes the manager of the group. But his relationship with the band ultimately angered Reed despite Warhol getting them some cool gigs, publicity, and a recording deal. Warhol had an incredible work ethic and flaunted it to an annoyed Reed. “Every day Andy [arrived to the Factory] in front of me, and he was asking me how many songs I had written that day, ”Reed explains in the documentary. “I’d tell him 10. He’d say, ‘Oh, you’re so lazy. You should have written 15. ‘ “

Warhol’s impact on the group was great and immediate. “Andy made the group visible in every way imaginable,” Haynes told The Post. “He gave them legitimacy and visual impact. He called the band’s music rude and coarse… like his films. His cinema was personified by the Velvets.

While Warhol gave them bizarre gigs – including entertainment for the annual psychiatric society dinner, which The New York Times covered; a shrink there compared the group to “an LSD experience” – he also offered them a permanent booth, as part of his Exploding Plastic Inevitable, at the Dom, a former Polish wedding hall in St. Mark’s Square. This show was all the rage and made the Velvet Underground famous. Walter Cronkite, Jackie kennedy and Rudolph Nureyev all headed downtown to enjoy the pop artist’s new discovery.

The Warhol mob dug out the Velvet Underground.
The Warhol mob dug out the Velvet Underground.

Other signs of a power struggle between Reed and Warhol emerged during this concert. As part of the act, Rubin threw peas at Reed; When asked why he is supporting the points, Reed wearily replied to future Ramones manager Danny Fields, “That’s what Andy wants.”

Warhol also put forward the idea of ​​having Nico, a gorgeous blonde Teutonic who stole scenes from “La Dolce Vita”, join the group to sing some of Reed’s songs. “Paul [Morrissey, the filmmaker who collaborated with Warhol] began to convince Andy that Lou was not really good-looking. You must have had a beautiful girl in there, ”Name recalls in the doc. “Lou must have been begged by Andy.”

Reed gave in and the idea turned out to be a good idea. “You realized,” Velvets co-founder John Cale says in the documentary, “[Warhol’s] the eye for publicity and the idea of ​​that blond iceberg next to us all dressed in black.

Andy Warhol (right) had to beg Lou Reed to let Nico (left) join the group.
Andy Warhol (third from left) had to beg Lou Reed to let Nico (second from left) enter the group.
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But Nico herself was not so easily convinced to accept a seemingly insane concept presented by Warhol. “Andy wanted her to sing in a plexiglass box,” said Jackson Browne, who dated Nico and played guitar with her, in the documentary. “But Nico didn’t have it.”

Neither did Reed, apparently, who, as Cale notes in the document, “went mad and fired Andy” in 1967. “Andy produced the first record he was there on, breathing, in the studio,” Reed says, although he did. recognize that “his presence meant that we could make the record without anyone changing anything.”

The Velvet Underground (Lou Reed, second from left) after Andy Warhol was fired and John Cale was kicked out.
The Velvet Underground (including Lou Reed, second from left) after Andy Warhol was fired and John Cale was kicked out.
Michael Ochs Archives

Seeking a reason for the split – beyond everything else, Warhol designed one of the all-time iconic album covers, depicting a peelable banana, for the band’s debut – a Rolling Stone reporter asked Reed if Warhol was fed up with Velvets. Reed replied, “No. Andy goes through things but so do we. He sat down and had a conversation with me. “You have to decide what you want to do. Do you want to continue playing in museums and art festivals? Or do you want to start moving to other areas? Lou, don’t you think you should think about it? So I thought about it and fired him.

The artist, surely surprised his heart to heart had gone so badly, responded by calling Reed “a rat.” Reed and others have already used a sharper review for Warhol: Drella, a combination of Dracula and Cinderella.

Lou Reed (above) gave the ax to Andy Warhol.
Lou Reed (above) gave the ax to Andy Warhol.

Warhol’s absence was probably felt during the recording session for the band’s fast and loud second album. The creation of “White Light / White Heat” was very present and caused such a uproar that the engineer told the group: “I don’t need to listen to this. I’ll put it on file. When you’re done, come get me. (After the album’s release, Reed also pushed Cale out of the band.)

Apparently, Warhol overstepped his limits – as Haynes said, the Velvets “became performers for Andy Warhol’s circus show” – and perhaps became too much of the band. This is perhaps what really marked the naturally mercurial Reed. “People thought Andy was our lead guitarist,” Reed said in the document, before adding sarcastically, “It made it difficult when we lost our Great Shepherd.”

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