Talking ‘Velvet Underground Experience’ and Tales of Lou Reed
Warhol’s presence is felt through a large part of the exhibit, having managed the band for a brief time. The Velvets were also the house band at Warhol’s Factory in the mid-late 1960s. Many of the “Warhol Superstars,” including Candy Darling, Gerard Malanga, Edie Sedgwick and others, are given their own sections in the exhibit as well. Nico, who Warhol brought into the band, has her own room.
Thom L, musician, photographer:
I was introduced to a super gorgeous leather clad Nico at the Warhol Factory party for her solo LP release. It was a few months after Andy Warhol got shot, a comeback party for him, too. Since it was Ultra Violet, a rival, who did the introduction, she said to Nico, “this is the drummer in MY new band.” Nico just acknowledged my presence with an icy testicle-shriveling stare.
The exhibit also pays tribute to avant-garde artists of the era such as experimental musician and composer La Monte Young, and groundbreaking filmmakers Jonas Mekas (Film-Makers’ Cinematheque, Anthology Film Archives), and Barbara Rubin. (Rubin is credited with introducing Warhol to the Velvet Underground.)
A popular section of the show is an area where people lounge on floor cushions, watching overhead projections, including a slideshow by Billy Name, and short documentaries, some of which were created specifically for the exhibit.
Everywhere you turn, there is inspiration. On the lower level, there is a collage on a giant wall, part of the “Echoes of Heritage” section. It shows the Velvets’ enduring influence on music, photography, visual arts and film.
For those of us who lived in New York City from the mid-1960s onward, Lou Reed sightings seemed fairly common.
Laurie Gwen Shapiro, writer:
A year before he died, I used to pick up my daughter from acting class at noon. Exactly at noon he would be in the elevator. I think he was rehearsing a musical in the Lafayette Street building where classes were held. This went on for months. I would bring friends so they could ride an elevator with Lou Reed. Like clockwork. Finally, after months and months he said, “Hi, how are you.”
My husband didn’t believe me and came once. He said, “wow, Lou Reed really rides that elevator on Saturday at noon.”
As with many performers, Reed was quite guarded offstage. In the mid-1970s, this reporter would sometimes go to Max’s Kansas City, which was a pretty exciting place for a 15-year-old. I used to see musicians who I was in awe of, and I would say hello to everyone, because I thought it was the “polite” thing to do. One night when I was there with some older friends (who always helped me get into the club), a guy walked up to me and said, “I’ve seen you around, you’re very friendly, and you say hello to everyone. Listen, that’s cool, but whatever you do, don’t say hi to Lou. He doesn’t like it.”
Lisa Albin, designer and fan: “I saw Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson in Bed Bath & Beyond in the early 1990s. And my mind was blown.”
Our favorite Lou Reed story might be from producer Jack Lechner. He was working as an assistant at a TV production company and decided to invite Lou Reed, Martin Scorsese and Sam Shepard to dinner in the mid-1980s in order to pitch a movie idea. The only problem was, he didn’t actually know any of them.
Lou Reed had just released New Sensations, which had a song called ‘Doin’ the Things That We Want To,’ which was about how much Lou loved the movies of Martin Scorsese and the plays of Sam Shepard. So, I wondered, what if someone tried to get Reed, Scorsese, and Shepard to make a movie together?
After his boss gave him the okay, he tracked down each person’s manager or assistant. He then pretended to each of them that the other two had agreed to the dinner.
Reed showed up first, and in keeping with his natural state of being at the time, glowered.
I had never been glowered at the way I was glowered at by Lou Reed, and it’s possible I never have been since. His eyes could burn holes in concrete.
When Shepard showed up, Reed suddenly realized that Lechner didn’t know him.
From that moment on, Lou’s demeanor changed entirely. He stopped glowering at me. On the contrary, he became positively solicitous. Lou intuited – correctly – that I was a scared kid who had somehow managed to invite him to dinner with his own heroes, and that I was way out of my depth.
What I remember most strongly from the whole evening are the looks on Lou Reed’s face – first the deadly glower, and then the surprising tenderness. He couldn’t help rooting for the underdog in any situation; and once he realized it was me, he rooted for me. I’m sorry that many people never got the chance to go from the first look to the second with him – and that just as many who did, ended up right back at the first. But that night, his acceptance felt like a benediction from a hero, and gave me the courage to keep trying to make impossible things happen.
The Velvet Underground Experience runs through December 30.