Tuesday, December 29, 2009

(Part Of) The Velvet Underground Appeared At NYPL Live

Granted, it's been almost three weeks since the event, but that doesn't reduce the awesomeness that occurred as HAD got to sit down and watch three of the four (John Cale was not in attendance) surviving members of The Velvet Underground in conversation with David Fricke. The group came together at the New York Public Library's main branch for the latest installment in the New York Public Library Live series. The event was ostensibly driven by the publication of the new book about the band entitled The Velvet Underground: New York Art. However, conversation was definitely not limited to the book, and there were quite a few tidbits to be had. Here are some notes from our man on the scene:

The lights dimmed, a PA clumsily moved the needle on the phonograph which was to the side of the stage, and Heroin came blaring on the speakers. After the song, the lights came up and David Fricke (moderator), Maureen (Moe) Tucker, Doug Yule, and Lou Reed took the stage to a standing O.

Fricke is clearly a fan of the band and of Reed in particular. Below are notes from the talk and Q&A

  • Began with discussion of history of band and its ambitions, first paying gig was 12/11/1965 (almost 44 years ago) at a high school in New Jersey, they were paid 75 bucks which prompted original drummer Angus MacLise to leave the band because they were sellouts. Sterling Morrison's brother recommended a friends sister, Mo Tucker, because she could play the drums and "she had a car", Reed added.

  • Fricke inquired how Andy Warhol came into the picture. Reed and Tucker indicated a mutual friend brought them together. Reed offered that "Andy Warhol is one of the greatest people I've ever met in my life." Tucker "loved" Warhol but said Reed had a more "intimate and scholastic" relationship with Andy. Warhol started booking them for his gallery openings and by March they were recording their first album with Andy. Andy brought in Nico to sing because they needed a "Chanteuse" Reed said. Reed also mentioned that All Tomorrow's Parties was Andy's favorite song on the album, "that's my faaaavorite" Reed said, mimicking Warhol in his distinctive nasally voice. Reed also mentioned that Moe did some typewriting for Andy at the Factory for his 24 hours in the life of project. Moe didn't like all the swearing so she would put in spaces when curse words came up. Andy got wind of this and came over, sat on the desk, and said, "Gee, Moe, can you just put the first letter of the dirty words or something?"

  • Fricke asked Reed about his songwriting. Fricke asked Reed about some ostrich song that Reed wrote while at PickWick records and Reed sang a few bars, which was pretty funny. He talked about his love of the songwriters and songs that influenced him including Coney Island Baby and Tell me Why by The Excellents (he heard these when he was around 14 and made him want to write songs) Another song he mentioned was The Wind by The Diablos. Lou said his favorite song is Lonely Woman by Ornette Coleman.

  • Other Notes:

  • When recording Sister Ray, the engineer said "I don't have time for this shit, when you guys are done fucking around let me know" and left the studio.

  • Yule talked about seeing the VU at a show at Harvard and being blow away by the "intensity and in-your-face-ness" Yule also talked about singing Candy Says and at the time not even knowing who Candy Darling was, he just thought it was a "pretty song."

  • Q&A:

  • 120 questions were submitted, only 3 or 4 were answered. Talked a bit about NYC and the scene today. Moe said she doesn't live here and hasn't even been in NYC for years, but from what she hears and reads, it's too expensive today for artists. The Velvet Underground couldn't exist today. Reed disagreed somewhat saying there are a lot of interesting things going on in Brooklyn.

  • The last question was would they ever think that 40 some years ago, would they ever be up on the stage doing this talk at the library, Reed, Tucker, and Yule unanimously said, "No."

  • So there you have it folks, you get no Velvet Underground with your 2009 New Year's dinner - and with that, we say good day!

    Photos by Peter Foley for NYPL Live