As the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” blared through the loudspeakers at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street last night, a spotlight focused on a lone turntable and the band’s Lou Reed, Maureen “Moe” Tucker and Doug Yule took seats alongside Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke. The special occasion: a rare discussion of everything from the Velvets’ first paying gig at Summit High School in New Jersey ($80 for the night) to their success with Andy Warhol. “Warhol was one of the greatest people I’ve met in my life,” Reed remarked. “It’s hard to conceive where we would be without him. If he had a gallery opening he took us with him. He fed us.”
The trio addressed questions about how Warhol was actually involved in the goings-on of the group. “He was the guard dog,” recalled Reed. “He produced it. Andy said ‘don’t change anything.’ ” Reed said Warhol’s favorite Velvet Underground song was “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” off of the 1967 album The Velvet Underground & Nico. “What did he like about it?” asked Fricke. “I never asked him that,” replied Reed.
The discussion went on to topics including Nico, (“The songs were done. I didn’t write them for her,” said Reed as to whether or not he wrote specifically for the German chanteuse), lyrics (“I didn’t grow up on a farm,” said Reed. “I’m from the city!”), and influences (“Ornette [Coleman] changed my way of thinking of how to play guitar,” remembered Reed. “Certain people are such geniuses; in five seconds you know what it is”).
Though Reed’s responses dominated the chat, Tucker spoke up to recall a memorable early show: “We played out on Long Island, one show at a barâ€¦ the next night the drummer was shot. We were lucky.” Yule stayed quiet for most of the night, chatting with Fricke in a somber moment about Sterling Morrison as Fricke paraphrased with Luna’s Dean Wareham said at Morrison’s memorial service: “He could talk about Moby Dick and Moby Grape with the same enthusiasm.”
The evening took a particularly jovial turn when Fricke asked the band about their less than successful 1966 San Francisco shows. “We were OK,” said Reed. “The press wasn’t OK. Rolling Stone wasn’t OK,” he added, referring to a notably harsh review by Ralph Gleason for the San Francisco Chronicle which called the band “very campy, and Greenwich Village sick.” As the crowd laughed, Fricke was quick to remind the group, “I was in high school then! That’s not me!”
In response to whether or not the Velvets could do what they did in the mid-1960s in current 2009 New York, Tucker confidently replied, “Yeah. We’re us; we would still do the same thing.”
The night closed with questions from the audience, followed by a signing of bands’ book, The Velvet Underground New York Art, published by Rizzoli, that was also showcased during the discussion. In the end, even Mrs. Lou Reed (a.k.a. Laurie Anderson) admitted she’d learned “a lot of stuff” from the chat. Anderson added, “I think [the band] did, too.”
Hear the discussion here: