The Velvet Underground
Nico – circa 1967
“Between thought and expression / Lies a lifetime” – ’Some Kinda Love’ (The Velvet Underground)
The Velvet Underground has got it all wrong. Their debut album is released in March 1967, just before the so-called ‘Summer of Love.’ The middle of 1967 sees the cultural triumph of the hippies, the flower children, the San Francisco bands like The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead – it’s the era of joss sticks, psychedelics, bells, beads, kaftans, long hair and beards. And there are The Velvets – in black leather and biker boots, glowering behind dark glasses – singing songs about narcotics and deviant sex. Lou Reed, vocalist, guitarist and chief songwriter for The Velvet Underground, grumbles, “We had vast objections to the whole San Francisco scene. It’s just tedious, a lie and untalented. They can’t play and they certainly can’t write.” His aide-de-camp, John Cale, adds, “The only reason we wore sunglasses onstage was because we couldn’t stand the sight of the audience.”
Lou Reed (2 March 1942 – 27 October 2013) is born Lewis Allan Reed in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, U.S.A. He is the son of Sidney Joseph Reed and his wife, Toby Reed (nee Futterman). Sidney Reed is an accountant and Lou comes from a ‘rich middle-class family.’ When Lou is 11, he and his family move to Freeport, Long Island, New York.
Lou Reed is trained to play classical piano. He learns to play guitar, listening to songs on the radio. While still an adolescent, Reed works with bands such as Pasha And The Prophets and The Eldorados.
In 1956 Lou Reed spends some weeks as a patient in a mental institution. He is treated with medication and subjected to Electro Convulsive Therapy. His stay is at the insistence of his parents. The dubious goal is to ‘cure’ Lou Reed of his bisexual tendencies.
In 1957, the 14 year old Lou Reed makes his first recording. By this time, he is part of a band called The Shades – though on the record label they metamorphose into The Jades. This ‘doo-wop band’ issues the single ‘So Blue’ backed with ‘Leave Her For Me’. The latter song is written by Reed who also plays rhythm guitar on the track.
After graduating from Freeport High School, Lou Reed goes on to Syracuse University. He undertakes a Bachelor of Arts degree, but also dabbles in journalism and poetry. The poet Delmore Schwartz is something of a mentor to the young man. Lou Reed has not lost interest in music. He has his own jazz radio show while at college and plays in local bar bands with Sterling Morrison, a fellow guitarist and student at Syracuse University.
Sterling Morrison (29 August 1942 – 30 August 1995) is born Holmes Sterling Morrison, Jr. in East Meadow, Long Island, New York, U.S.A. He is the oldest in a family of six children. Sterling Morrison attends four different colleges, including the University of Illinois and Syracuse University. At the latter, Morrison meets Lou Reed whom he gravitates toward as another ‘anti-authoritarian.’
Lou Reed graduates from university in 1964. He takes additional courses in journalism and acting. He gives poetry readings at St Mark’s Church and some of his verses are printed in ‘Fusion’ magazine. However Reed’s main occupation is as a songwriter for Pickwick Records. One of his (not very successful) attempts at writing a hit tune is ‘a silly dance record’ called ‘The Ostrich’. To publicise the disc, Reed forms a group called The Primitives in 1964. One of his bandmates is John Cale.
John Davies Cale is born 9 March 1942 in Garnant, Carmenthenshire, Wales, U.K. (It may be noted that John Cale is born one week after Lou Reed.) John Cale is the son of Will Cale and Margaret Cale (nee Davies). Will Cale is a coal miner and his wife is a primary school teacher. “Growing up in Wales was a pretty draconian experience with religion,” John Cale recalls. He is a classically trained musician. “I missed out on my teenage years,” he reflects. “I was practicing scales instead of playing football.” Cale studies viola and keyboards at Goldsmith’s College, London, from 1960 to 1963. During that time he also studies under the experimental composer Cornelius Cardew. “The avant-garde makes more sense to me,” Cale shrugs. In 1963 John Cale wins a Leonard Bernstein scholarship to study modern composition at Tanglewood in Massachusetts, U.S.A. Later in 1963, Cale moves to New York and mixes with America’s experimental composers. He is reputed to have been apprenticed to John Cage but, more significantly, Cale works with La Monte Young in The Dream Syndicate, embracing minimalism. Cale appears on two of Young’s albums. All this artistry may seem impressive, but John Cale finds himself seriously low on funds. This leads him, ‘through a bizarre set of connections’, to audition for The Primitives and meet Lou Reed. John Cale plays bass in The Primitives.
‘The Ostrich’ is a ‘non-hit’, but John Cale is interested in Lou Reed’s songwriting. Cale is drawn not to Reed’s attempts at writing a hit, but the darker material that even Reed recognises is non-commercial. With his taste for the avant-garde, Cale encourages Reed to form a band to play these compositions. For instance, ‘Heroin’ (a future Velvet Underground song) was written while Lou Reed was still at Syracuse University. Reed calls in his old buddy Sterling Morrison to join the group and the line-up is completed by drummer Angus MacLise (4 March 1938 – 21 June 1979). MacLise, like John Cale, had played with La Monte Young. This quartet, formed in 1965, is called The Warlocks at first, changing soon after to The Falling Spikes. A college friend, Jim Tucker, visits the group at their New York loft ‘carrying a paperback book he’d found in the street en route, a sexual expose by Michael Leigh titled “The Velvet Underground”. The name is ideal and is adopted right away’ by the group. Another version of the same legend has Tony Conrad, an associate of John Cale’s from The Dream Syndicate, carrying the book. In any case, The Velvet Underground becomes the name of the band.
The Velvet Underground rehearses Lou Reed’s songs. They play at screenings of experimental films. However, just before their official debut at a high school in Summit, New Jersey, in November 1965, Angus MacLise quits. After leaving The Velvet Underground, Angus MacLise marries his wife, Hetty, and they have a son, Ossian. Angus MacLise settles in Nepal in the late 1960s. He dies in Kathmandu in 1979 from hypoglycaemia and pulmonary tuberculosis.
In November 1965, The Velvet Underground hires a new drummer: Maureen ‘Mo’ Tucker.
Maureen Ann Tucker is born 26 August 1944 in Levittown, New York, U.S.A. She is the sister of Jim Tucker, the college friend said to have given The Velvet Underground their name. Jim Tucker is described as ‘one of [guitarist Sterling] Morrison’s friends.’ Jim and Maureen have another sibling, Margo. Maureen Tucker grows up playing drums at home in time to records by 1950s rocker Bo Diddley. She is working as computer keypunch operator when she is recruited to The Velvet Underground. Maureen Tucker is one of the first female musicians in rock. With her short, Beatles-style haircut and the standard Velvet Underground uniform of dark shirt, pants and boots, the five feet, four inch drummer certainly doesn’t trade on her femininity. At a glance, she looks like another one of the boys. After an early gig with The Velvet Underground, Tucker’s drums are stolen. She plays a set on trash cans and lids at the next show until a new drum kit is obtained.
The Velvet Underground gets a residency playing at the Café Bizarre in Greenwich Village, New York, in late 1965. They play there through the winter of 1965-1966. Their rather extreme repertoire is the cause of some angst with the café’s proprietors who forbid the group from playing ‘Black Angel’s Death Song’ again. One of those in the audience at Café Bizarre is Gerard Malanga. He is an associate of Andy Warhol, the outrageous painter at the centre of the Pop Art movement. Malanga brings Warhol with him one night to see The Velvet Underground. The two men have the idea that it would be good for Warhol’s image if he managed a rock ‘n’ roll band. For twenty-five per cent of their earnings, Warhol offers to take on the Velvet underground as well as buy them new equipment. The group consents, but still have to get out of their residency at Café Bizarre. The key to this is the fuss over ‘Black Angel’s Death Song’. As Lou Reed puts it, “They said, ‘One more song like that and you’re fired.’ So we played one more song like that and, sure enough, they fired us.”
The Velvet Underground finds that Andy Warhol’s first move as their manager is to give them a fifth member, a beautiful female vocalist known as Nico. The band accepts her ‘rather reluctantly.’
Nico (16 October 1938 – 18 July 1988) is born Christa Paffgen in Cologne, Germany. She is the daughter of Margarette Paffgen. Christa works as a model, actress and singer. She learns to speak German, English and French. Christa Paffgen works for the French fashion designer Coco Chanel. She studies acting at Lee Strasberg’s method acting school in 1960 in the same class as Hollywood sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. Christa has a relationship with Nikos Papatakis from 1960 to 1962. German photographer Herbert Tobias names Christa Paffgen Nico after her ex-boyfriend, Nikos Papatakis. A relationship with French actor Alain Delon from 1961 to 1962 results in the birth of her son, Christian Aaron Boulogne (‘Ari’) in 1962 – though Delon denies his paternity. Nico teaches herself to play the harmonium. In 1965 she arrives in London to begin a singing career – and becomes romantically involved with Rolling Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones. She records an unsuccessful single, ‘The Last Mile’, produced and co-written by Jimmy Page, later of heavy metal band Led Zeppelin. In 1966 Nico relocates to New York where she is a chanteuse at the Blue Angel Lounge. From there, she is spotted by Andy Warhol and taken into the Factory, his loose collective of artists, film-makers, musicians and free spirits. Nico appears in Warhol’s ‘Chelsea Girls’ (1966) film. Her rather chilly and forbidding fascination is exemplified by this quote: “I’m a nihilist so I like destruction. Nihilism seemed to be the most suitable religion since I started to think.”
In 1966 The Velvet Underground consists of: Nico (vocals, occasional harmonium and percussion), Lou Reed (vocals, guitar), Sterling Morrison (guitar), John Cale (bass, viola, piano) and Maureen Tucker (drums). Nico is romantically linked to Lou Reed in 1966, but transfers her affections to John Cale in 1966-1967. The Velvet Underground tour with Andy Warhol’s show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, with films being projected on the walls and over the group. While The Velvets absorb the generally freaky atmosphere and the outré characters that trail in Warhol’s wake, their patron uses his influence to secure them a recording contract with MGM subsidiary, Verve.
Describing the music of The Velvet Underground is difficult. They are categorised as, simply, rock music, or alternative rock. Rock is too broad a designation to have much meaning and while The Velvet Underground is certainly an alternative to the mainstream, the term alternative rock did not really come into use until the early 1980s, long after the advent of The Velvets. Lou Reed (doo-wop, commercial songwriting), Sterling Morrison (bar bands) and Maureen Tucker (Bo Diddley fan) all bring an element of early, basic rock ‘n’ roll to the group. However, the more highbrow, arty types like John Cale, Nico and Andy Warhol redefine this as primitivism. Added to this is Cale’s background in the avant-garde which puts into play more experimental characteristics such as drone theory and atonal sounds.
Challenging as The Velvet Underground’s music may be, their lyrics are equally confronting. Lou Reed’s early poetic aspirations are welded to a journalistic detachment allowing him to cast a knowing eye over the underbelly of life. Here are songs about drugs, sadomasochism, religion and death – not exactly common radio fare at the time.
Over the course of their career The Velvet Underground’s level of commercial success is meagre at best. Yet their importance to the history of rock and the influence they exert is disproportionately large. Later art rock experimentalist Brian Eno notes that though hardly anyone bought The Velvets’ records at the time they appeared, almost everyone who did formed their own bands.
The songs of The Velvet Underground are largely the work of Lou Reed. Some compositions are credited to the group as a whole, but the impression is always that Reed is the driving force in the act.
The debut album, ‘The Velvet Underground And Nico’ (1967) (US no. 171), is produced by Andy Warhol. The peelable banana image on the album cover is also Warhol’s work. The skills of the famed painter as a record producer are questionable but perhaps it is enough that he kept out of the way and, through his reputation, gave the brand-new group some artistic cachet. Pundits claim that Lou Reed and Tom Wilson, a better known record producer, actually do most of the production work on this disc. “We were trying to do a Phil Spector thing with as few instruments as possible,” states Reed. The odd thing about his statement is that Spector’s claim to fame as a producer is conjuring a ‘wall of sound’ from a large ensemble of musicians. So The Velvet Underground is trying to make a big noise from a small number of musicians. Nico is handed lead vocals on four of the album’s eleven songs. The best of the Nico songs is the softly seductive ‘Femme Fatale’: “She’ll build you up just to put you down / What a clown,” she utters disdainfully, her Teutonic accent rendering ‘clown’ as ‘klonn.’ The tinkly soft ‘Sunday Morning’ is a sort of hungover lullaby, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ is hypnotic and ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ is weirdly folk-ish. As may be expected, Lou Reed sings the most significant tracks on the album. The definitive Velvet Underground song is ‘Venus In Furs’, a dark parable of sadomasochistic love. John Cale’s discordant viola scrapes away relentlessly, adding to the sense of unease. “Shiny, shiny / Shiny boots of leather / Whiplash girlchild in the dark,” intones Reed. The song pounds away until the protagonist is urged, “Severin, Severin, speak so slightly / Severin, down on your bended knee / Taste the whip, in love not given lightly / Taste the whip / Now plead for me.” With its taboo-busting, blackly intoxicating lyrics working in combination with the band’s taut, minimal rock overlaid with experimental noise, ‘Venus In Furs’ sums up The Velvet Underground’s appeal. Lou Reed provides a pair of drug songs. The ragged, shuddering ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ sketches a junkie’s relationship with his dealer: “Feel sick and dirty more dead than alive / I’m waiting for my man.” ‘Heroin’ is a love song (“It’s my life and it’s my wife”) to perhaps the most insidious of all narcotics. At the time Reed composed the song, when he was still at Syracuse University, he ‘had never tried the drug [and] just drew from others experiences and descriptions.’ In a deceptively gentle voice that hardens to steely resolve, Reed advises, “I’m gonna try to nullify my life / ‘Cos when the blood begins to flow / And it shoots up the dropper’s neck / And I’m closing in on death…” The musical accompaniment accelerates from throbbing to pounding to a distressing screeching. Rock music has rarely, if ever, painted such a vivid image of the drug scene. By contrast to the rest of the album, ‘Run, Run, Run’ and ‘There She Goes Again’ are almost conventional pop songs. The album crashes to earth with its two most experimental pieces. ‘Black Angel’s Death Song’ has a babbling vocal and grating viola while ‘European Son’ is an epic eight-minute barrage of noise and momentum interspersed with smashing glass. ‘The Velvet Underground And Nico’ is not released until nearly a year after it is recorded, some radio stations ban it in its entirety, and its sales are poor. Despite all these things, this is the best Velvet Underground album, ‘a record of fearless breadth and lyric depth.’
In the wake of the debut album, The Velvet Underground’s association with Andy Warhol is weakened and fades away. Nico ‘leaves or is fired.’
Nico’s first solo album, ‘Chelsea Girl’ (1967), includes songs by Lou Reed, John Cale and a young singer-songwriter, Jackson Browne, who is also one of her lovers (1966-1967). She goes on to relationships with other rock stars, The Doors’ Jim Morrison (1967) and The Stooges’ Iggy Pop (1969). John Cale continues to work with Nico as producer and accompanist on ‘The Marble Index’ (1969) and ‘Desertshore’ (1970). Nico has a relationship with film director Philippe Garrel, living with him from 1970 to 1979. ‘June 1, 1974’ (1974) is a live album co-credited to Nico, Brian Eno, John Cale and Kevin Ayers. The last-named is also reputed to be Nico’s lover in 1974. Lutz Ulbrich is another supposed lover of Nico from 1974 to 1979 – though that overlaps with her time with Philippe Garrel. After ‘The End..’ (1974), an album produced by John Cale, Nico is absent from the recording scene until ‘Drama Of Exile’ (1981) and ‘Camera Obscura’ (1985). She becomes ‘a heroin addict for the latter part of her life’, but finally kicks the habit and gets clean. On a holiday with her son, Ari, in Ibiza, Spain, Nico suffers a minor heart attack and falls off the bicycle she is riding. She sustains a head injury that results in her death on 18 July 1988. Nico was 49.
‘White Light / White Heat’ (1968) (US no. 199), released in January, is the second Velvet Underground album. Tom Wilson is credited as the producer for this disc. The black-on-black cover image is actually a photograph of the tattoo on the arm of the band’s friend, Billy Name. According to legend, this album is recorded in a single day, but drummer Maureen Tucker remembers there being a series of recording sessions. The album is characterised as ‘the most extreme album in The Velvet Underground’s extreme catalogue’ and one that ‘focuses almost exclusively on their noisiest arrangements.’ ‘White light goin’ messin up my brain / Oh, white light, it’s gonna drive me insane,” sings Lou Reed on the title track, ‘White Light / White Heat’, a shambling composition that is always on the verge of total disintegration. The album has only six tracks: ‘Here She Comes Now’ and ‘Lady Godiva’s Operation’ are comparatively short; ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ is celebrated for Lou Reed’s guitar chaos; ‘The Gift’ is a ‘surreal recitative’; but the knockout blow is the seventeen minute noise sculpture ‘Sister Ray’, a group composition. This is ‘one of rock’s most uncompromising albums.’
In 1968 John Cale marries Betsey Johnson, a fashion designer and photographer who was part of Andy Warhol’s circle of acquaintances. The newlyweds divorce less than a year later.
The Velvet Underground goes on tour to promote ‘White Light / White Heat’. However, tensions on the tour lead to a rift between Lou Reed and John Cale. The matter is resolved when John Cale leaves the band in September 1968.
John Cale goes on to record a series of solo albums: ‘Vintage Violence’ (1970); ‘The Academy In Peril’ (1972); ‘Paris 1919’ (1973); ‘Fear’ (1974); the live album ‘June 1, 1974’ (1974) (with Nico, Brian Eno and Kevin Ayers); ‘Slow Dazzle’ (1975) in March; ‘Helen Of Troy’ (1975) in November; ‘Sabotage / Live’ (1979); ‘Honi Soit’ (1981) (US no. 154); ‘Music For A New Society’ (1982); ‘Caribbean Sunset’ (1984); ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (1985); and ‘Words For The Dying’ (1989). In 1971 John Cale meets Cynthia ‘Cindy’ Wells (a.k.a. Miss Cindy of GTOs [Girls Together Outrageously], associates of art rock adventurer Frank Zappa) and they marry soon after. John Cale and Cindy Wells divorce in 1975. On 6 October 1981 Cale marries Rise Irushalmi and they have a daughter, Eden Myfanwy Cale (born 14 July 1985).
In 1968 Doug Yule (guitar, bass, keyboards) takes the place of John Cale in The Velvet Underground. He is born Douglas Alan Yule on 25 April 1947 in Long Island, New York, U.S.A.
‘The Velvet Underground’ (1969) (US no. 197) is released in March. The band is credited as the producers on this disc. Doug Yule makes his debut on this set. Where the group’s second album was an abrasive, noisy assault, by contrast this set is hushed, ideal listening for the wee small hours. The lullaby-like qualities of ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ are tossed a curve by Lou Reed’s typically provocative lyrics: “It was good what we did yesterday / And I’d do it once again / The fact that you are married / Only proves you’re my best friend / But it’s truly, truly a sin.” ‘Candy Says’ is a delicate late night croon while ‘I’m Set Free’ is a fragile supplication. The unlikely ‘Jesus’ comes across like a junkie’s prayer: “Help me find my proper place / Help me in my weakness ‘cos I’m falling out of grace.” The exultant ‘Beginning To See The Light’ is more uptempo as is the steady, strumming rhythm of ‘What Goes On’, the latter aided by a church-like organ highlight towards the latter stages. ‘Some Kinda Love’ is twisted and wiry, falling between the album’s poles. ‘That’s The Story Of My Life’ is a lightly swinging number, ‘The Murder Mystery’ features clashing reading voices over staccato music, and the album closes with the old-fashioned love song ‘After Hours’ sung by drummer Maureen Tucker. The Velvet Underground’s third album is ‘a gentle invitation to intimacy.’
Live performances by The Velvet Underground in 1969 are recorded in Texas and San Francisco. They will be released as a live album in 1974.
The Velvet Underground had always been a marginal commercial proposition for MGM / Verve. In the middle of 1969 they finally lose their recording contract. A more sinister interpretation has it that MGM was clearing its roster of all ‘supposedly drug-related acts.’ In any case, The Velvet Underground spends ‘some few months’ without a recording contract until being picked up by Atlantic Records in 1970.
Maureen Tucker falls pregnant and is absent from the recording sessions for the next Velvet Underground album. Doug Yule’s younger brother, Billy (who is still in high school), plays drums with the group for these sessions. Back in New York, The Velvet Underground has a residency at a venue in that city that has the contradictory name of Max’s Kansas City. The group plays there through the summer of 1970. Brigit Polk, a fan of the band, captures the show on her cassette recorder. It will be officially released as a live album in 1972. In August 1970, Lou Reed quits The Velvet Underground in ‘a bout of disenchantment.’
‘Loaded’ (1970), released in September, is recorded before Lou Reed’s departure. The Velvet Underground’s first release for Atlantic is co-produced by Geoff Haslam, Shel Kagan and The Velvet Underground. Billy Yule deputises for Maureen Tucker on drums for this album. ‘Loaded’ is viewed as the group’s ‘most conventional rock album.’ ‘Sweet Jane’ is a melodic, numb-mouthed mumble as Lou Reed sings of, “Heavenly wine and roses / Seem to whisper to me when you smile.” The ragtag anthem ‘Rock And Roll’ is reduced to its most elemental form. “You know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll,” Reed asserts in this song about the radio, “It took no computations / To dance to a rock ‘n’ roll station / It was all right.”
Although his subsequent commercial achievements are, generally, modest, Lou Reed is the most successful with the public of the former members of The Velvet Underground. Lou Reed releases the following solo albums: ‘Lou Reed’ (1972) (US no. 189); ‘Transformer’ (1972) (US no. 29, UK no. 13); ‘Berlin’ (1973) (US no. 98, UK no. 7); the live album ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal’ (1974) (US no. 45, UK no. 26); ‘Sally Can’t Dance’ (1974) (US no. 10); ‘Metal Machine Music’ (1975); ‘Coney Island Baby’ (1976) (US no. 41, UK no. 52); ‘Rock And Roll Heart’ (1976) (US no. 64); ‘Street Hassle’ (1978) (US no. 84); ‘The Bells’ (1979) (US no. 130); ‘Growing Up In Public’ (1980) (US no. 41, UK no. 52); ‘The Blue Mask’ (1982) (US no. 169); ‘Legendary Hearts’ (1983) (US no. 154); ‘New Sensations’ (1984) (US no. 56, UK no. 92); ‘Mistrial’ (1986) (US no. 47, UK no. 69); and ‘New York’ (1989) (US no. 40, UK no. 14). Reed’s best known solo song is ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ (US no. 16, UK no. 10) from ‘Transformer’. Reed marries twice: Betty (surname unknown) (9 January 1973 – 1979) and Sylvia Morales (14 February 1980 – 1994).
Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker also leave The Velvet Underground soon after Lou Reed’s exit.
While ‘Loaded’ was being recorded, Sterling Morrison obtained a Bachelor’s Degree at City College in New York in 1970. The guitarist bicycled between school and The Velvet Underground shows at Max’s Kansas City. After leaving the band, Morrison returns to academia, working as a teaching assistant at the University of Texas in Austin. During this time, he also goes on to earn a doctorate in medieval studies at the same educational facility. Sterling Morrison marries a woman named Martha and they have two children, Thomas and Mary Anne. After leaving the University of Texas, Morrison works as a tugboat pilot in the ship channel of Houston, Texas, through the 1980s.
Maureen Tucker marries in the early 1970s and divorces in the early 1980s. She has five children: Kerry (a daughter born in 1970), Austen (a son, date of birth unavailable), Keith (born 1974), Kate (born 1979) and Richard (born 3 February 1981). Maureen Tucker works at a Wal-Mart department store in Georgia for five years during the 1980s. She also has a sporadic solo recording career that results in these albums: ‘Playin’ Possum’ (1981); ‘MoeJadKateBarry’ (1987); ‘Life In Exile After Abdication’ (1989); ‘I Spent A Week There The Other Night’ (1991); and the live album ‘Oh No, They’re Recording This Show’ (1992).
In 1970-1971 Doug Yule recreates The Velvet Underground under his leadership. The line-up is: Doug Yule (vocals, guitar), Willie ‘Loco’ Alexander (keyboards) (born 13 January 1943 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Walter Powers III (bass) (born 4 August 1946 in Boston, Massachusetts) and Billy Yule (drums).
‘Live At Max’s Kansas City’ (1972) is the recording made by Brigit Polk of Lou Reed’s last show with The Velvet Underground in the summer of 1970.
Doug Yule heads to England to record a new Velvet Underground album – but none of the other neo-members of the group accompany him. Ian Paice, drummer of British heavy metal band Deep Purple, helps out on the sessions for ‘Squeeze’ (1973). Released on Polydor, this album is supposedly produced by The Velvet Underground – which presumably means Doug Yule.
Seeing the writing on the wall, The Velvet Underground disbands in 1973.
‘1969: The Velvet Underground Live’ (1974) is released after the group splits and features concert recordings from 1969 (as the name of the album suggests).
Doug Yule gives up rock music in the late 1970s, becoming a carpenter and cabinet-maker instead.. He sticks with that profession through the 1980s. He returns to music in the 1990s (but not with The Velvet Underground) and adds violin to his multi-instrumental capabilities.
When Andy Warhol, the pop artist and early mentor of The Velvet Underground passes away, Lou Reed and John Cale reunite to make a tribute album, ‘Songs For Drella’ (1990) (US no. 103, UK no. 22), on which they are co-credited.
The quartet of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker reunite as The Velvet Underground in June 1990. In Paris, France, they perform ‘Heroin’ at a tribute to Andy Warhol. “That was extraordinary!” gushes Lou Reed. “To have those drums behind me, that viola on one side and that guitar on the other again. You have no idea how that felt.” Given that sort of enthusiasm, it is not surprising that The Velvet Underground undertakes a European tour in 1992. However, they ‘fall out’ again before a projected American tour. ‘Live MCMXCIII’ (1993) (US no. 180, UK no. 70) becomes The Velvet Underground’s last word. The individual members resume their individual lives and careers.
Maureen Tucker releases the albums ‘Dogs Under Stress’ (1994) and ‘Moe Rocks Terrastock’ (2002) – a live album.
Sterling Morrison dies from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on 30 August 1995. His death comes just a week after he is diagnosed with the illness. There is speculation that the toxicity of the shipping channel he plied in the 1980s as a tugboat pilot is what led to the cancer.
John Cale earns these words from Lou Reed: “I only hope that one day John will be recognised as…the Beethoven or something of his day.” John Cale issues the album ‘Walking On Locusts’ (1996). He then divorces his wife, Rise Irushalmi, in 1997. Cale goes on to release the albums ‘Hobosapiens’ (2003) and ‘blackAcetate’ (2006). In the 2010 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, John Cale is made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) for his services to music. He continues his career with ‘Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood’ (2012) (US no. 44).
Lou Reed resumes his solo career with ‘Magic And Loss’ (1992) (US no. 80, UK no. 6). In 1995 he begins a live-in relationship with New York musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson. Reed’s next albums are: ‘Set The Twilight Reeling’ (1996) (US no. 110, UK no. 26); ‘Ecstasy’ (2000) (US no. 183, UK no. 54); ‘The Raven’ (2002) (UK no. 122); and ‘Hudson River Wind Meditation’ (2007). On 12 April 2008 Lou Reed marries Laurie Anderson. ‘Lulu’ (2011) (US no. 36, UK no. 36) is an album Reed works on with heavy metal band Metallica. In May 2013 Reed has liver transplant surgery. He dies as a result of liver failure on 27 October 2013.
When their debut album arrived in March 1967, The Velvet Underground was horribly out of step with the prevailing hippie peace & love vibe of the time. Yet their work proved both prescient of the next decades’ punk rock and alt rock and more individualistic and timeless than most of their contemporaries. ‘Though their impact at the time was minimal, The Velvet Underground’s legacy and influence on the subsequent course of rock has probably been second only to…The Beatles.’ ‘Few rock groups can claim to have broken so much new territory and maintained such consistent brilliance on record.’
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Song lyrics copyright Screen Gems Columbia
Last revised 17 August 2014