Tag Archives: The Velvet Underground

Person of Interest – Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol is an obviously a person of interest to art history. David W. Galenson ranks Andy Warhol as the 8th most important artist in the 20th Century by mean illustrations in a sample of texts on the history of 20th Century art (Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art, Cambridge University Press, 2009, New York). But this monthly series is about artists, writers and thinkers who have had an impact on me at some time in my life and have continued to have an impact, so I have to write about Warhol. He was the most famous living artist in the world when I went to university and studied art history. He was already part of history and his name and influence was everywhere from textbooks to t-shirts.

I remember being at Linden Gallery for a film festival on the day in 1987 that news in Melbourne broke that Andy Warhol died. There was a jam session in one room, a group of people were drumming and chanting: “Andy Warhol’s dead. There will be no trash.” (Trash being one of Warhol’s films.) It was a strange vibe but Warhol’s influence was unavoidable and a few years later I was playing in Edie Sedgwick’s Overdose – a Velvet Underground tribute band fronted by Ron Rude with Frank Borg on drums.

There is so much to say about Andy Warhol – did you see that two-part documentary on his life on the ABC? What quickly became apparent to my youthful interest in Warhol is all of the interesting people around him. There was The Velvet Underground for one. And all the people mentioned in Lou Reed’s song “Walk On the Wild Side”: Hollywood Lawn, Candy Darling, Little Joe, the Sugarplum Fairy and Jackie Curtis many of whom also appear in Warhol’s movies.

There are so many biographies and books by people associated with Warhol that they rival the Dadaists in this sub-genre. Do read Hollywood Lawn’s A Low Life in High Heals (St. Martins Press, 1991, New York). Do not read Ultra Violet’s Famous For 15 Minutes (Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1988, Orlando).

Last year I read All Yesterdays’ Parties – The Velvet Underground in print 1966-1971 edited by Clinton Heylin (Da Capo Press, 2005). It is collection of original articles about The Velvet Underground arranged in chronological order.

Aside from watching the evolution of the mythology of the Velvet Underground in the original press articles, there is also the media’s view of Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol was associated with the Velvet Underground long after he stopped producing the Exploding Plastic Inevitable show and the Velvet’s first album. Andy Warhol was the famous name promoting the band and attracting the media.

The early social elements described in the article are the most revealing, little details like: the waitresses at the clubs, Sterling Morrison’s green suit, the Velvets playing music at a wedding. These little details reveal elements that are often forgotten in the broad brushstrokes of history.

The evolution of the light show in rock history is extensively discussed by a number of the authors. Light shows and projecting moving images are now an essential part of a rock shows and discos that it is difficult to image the world without them or their rapid development during the Velvet Undergrounds early gigs. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable was Warhol’s vision for a total sensory art experience complete with his silent films running as part of the light show.

Extreme sixties weirdness does creep into later in the reviews, especially in the long and rambling essay by Wayne McGuire that originally appeared in Crawdaddy. The book also marks the emergence of the 60s underground and music press – with the first appearance of serious rock magazines like Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone. But Wayne McGuire does take the Velvet Underground seriously, way too seriously, unlike the trivialization of mainstream press.

For me the connections between art and rock’n’roll were obvious because of Warhol. Considering Warhol as a rock impresario is another dimension along with his painting, photography and filmmaking. As an art form it was something that Malcolm McLaren would later master. Part of Warhol’s artistic legacy would for be to ever confuse the distinctions between art, rock and fame and his influence is still present in the galleries, in music and in street art.

Kach paste-up, Melbourne, 2012

Kach paste-up, Melbourne, 2012


The Velvet Underground film

After about twenty minutes into the film parts of the audience started to walk out. Either the camera work had got to them or it was clear to them that the Velvets weren’t about to break into a chorus of Sweet Jane. What did these people expect from an Andy Warhol film? Hadn’t they heard The Velvet Underground playing Sister Ray? People continued to walk out throughout the film. I was chilled in the front row with TC, tranced out with the droning electric guitars that seemed to have more in common with the dust and scratches on the film than the black and white images of Nico or Lou Reed.

The Velvet Underground and Nico: a Symphony of Sound was filmed at the Factory in January 1966. Even though music video clips had not been invented yet this 67min film features many of what have now become clichés of music videos, including the use of rapid zooming and panning in time with the music. Even the plot for a music video is remarkably familiar: band is playing live and the cops turn up. One NYC police officer suddenly appears in shot, smiles at the camera and turns the music down. The band plays for a bit more – “that’s still too loud” says a voice off camera. The cops talk to Andy and Gerard Malanga, his studio assistant, And the band packs up.

Eventually the camera runs out of film, end of film. Although the camera remains in a fixed position throughout the film and there is only one shot. It appears that Andy, or who ever was behind the camera (because Andy is in front of the camera at the end), was endlessly playing with the camera rather than doing what Andy Warhol was famous for a static shot with no pans or zooms. If only they had done a fixed shot the film would have been a lot better.

The Velvet Underground and Nico: a Symphony of Sound was part of a series of films by Andy Warhol showing at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). I went with my old friend TC who played guitar in a garage band with me. We are both fans of the Velvets; we used to play cover versions of Sweet Jane and Venus in Furs. Later I played in a Velvet Underground cover band, Edie Sedgwick’s Overdose with Ron Rude. Although, we were both fans of the Velvets, neither TC nor myself had seen the film nor heard the music. This was a rare screening of the film. Except for footage from their revival tour I have never before seen The Velvet Underground playing. I have seen a few still images from this film but never the moving picture.

Although I had never heard the “symphony of sound” before the music was not unfamiliar. It was not unlike Sister Ray but without any vocals and an hour long – something like the performances that the Velvets would later do in the afternoons of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Mo Tucker’s ever steady drumming was holding the droning sound of guitars and electric viola together. At one stage John Cage appeared to play some amplified long steel springs with a table knife but it was difficult to see what he was doing as the camera was mostly on Nico (tambourine) or her 3-year old son, Ari (maraca).


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