COLUMN EIGHTY, DECEMBER 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)
HUSTLERS' TRIP TO
THE ORIGINS OF THE VELVET UNDERGROUND
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND
(Photo " 1966 Lisa Law)
Subject: NEED PIX OF VELVETS CIRCA 1964-5
Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2002 13:58:01 -0400
From: al aronowitz <email@example.com>
Organization: THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST
To: "Finklestein, Nat" firstname.lastname@example.org
NAT: Can you oblige? --Al
THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST
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Subject: Re: NEED PIX OF VELVETS CIRCA 1964-5 WITHOUT NICO
Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2002 18:53:11 -0400
From: Nat <email@example.com>
To: al aronowitz <firstname.lastname@example.org>
p.s. non sequitor but i have many times,in print and interviews credited you with discovering them and that they fucked you....they are a batch of rancid scumbags..;.sterling excepted
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Date: Mon, 9 Sep 2002 20:27:31 EDT
I was a velveteen [excerpt]
Dec. 11, 1965, Summit High School, Summit, New Jersey
Towards the end of 1965 there was a lot of good music on th airwaves. But for us kids, High School was a real drag and life in our little suburban town (ONLY thirty miles west of Greenwich Village) wasn't too exciting. Except for one thing: a local band called the Myddle Class! To us, they were as good as the Rolling Stones ANY day and their concerts were the most exciting ones we'd ever seen. They were managed by a man who lived in our town--?Al Aronowitz. My friend Judy was the Aronowitz's babysitter and she would tell us the most amazing stories about the people who would call for Al or come home from New York with him to hide out in the suburbs: people like Brian Jones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Carole King, who wrote songs for everyone including the Myddle Class. We would hide outside Al's house for hours at a time just to catch a glimpse of those stars. Al usually hired other local bands to open for the Myddle Class but for the December 11th concert at Summit High, he hired (for $80) a NY band called the Velvet Underground.
Judy told us that the band was feeling low because they had just been fired from the Cafe Wha for being undanceable, so we were not expecting too much from them.
Nothing could have prepared the kids and parents assembled in the auditorium for what they were about to experience that night. Our only clue was the small crowd of strange-looking people hanging around in front of the stage. When the curtain went up, nobody could believe their eyes! There stood the Velvet Underground---all tall and dressed mostly in black; two of them were wearing sunglasses. One of the guys with the shades had VERY long hair and was wearing silver jewelry. He was holding a large violin. The drummer had a Beatle haircut and was standing at a small oddly arranger drum kit. Was it a boy or a girl? Before we could take it all in, everyone was hit by a screeching surge of sound, with a pounding beat louder than anything we had ever heard. About a minute into the second song, which the singer introduced as Heroin, the music began to get even more intense. It swelled and accelerated like a giant tidal wave which was threatening to engulf us all. At this point, most of the audience retreated in horror for the safety of their homes, thoroughly convinced of the dangers of rock & roll music. My friends and I moved a little closer to the stage, knowing that something special was happening. Backstage after their set, the viola player was seen apologizing profusely to an outraged Myddle Class entourage for scaring away half the audience. Al Aronowitz was philosophical about it, though, "at least you've given them a night to remember" and invited everyone to a party at his house after the show. ##
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[The foregoing was excerpted from I WAS A VELVETEEN by ROB NORRIS from KICKS, 1979, at
With her shaved head haloed
by the distinction of being the eminently homosexual Allen Ginsberg's
girlfriend, the late, great Barbara Rubin couldn't wait to fuck Bob Dylan.
Allen brought her by my
house in Berkeley Heights, N.J. one night after I think it was a Dylan concert
in Princeton. We all partied into
the early morning, after which my wife and I had to improvise a place to sleep
on the floor of my office in the cellar. Bob and Barbara had barricaded
themselves into our bedroom. That left Allen, his lover Peter, and Bob's
faithful road manager, Victor Maymudes, to bed down on sheets spread on the
family room and living room floors. I forget whether Gregory Corso was also with
us that night. The house had three bedrooms, ours, one for our two young sons
and the other for our lone young daughter.
Allen had boasted to me of
his orgies with Barbara and with Jeanine Pommy Vega, who also sometimes occupied
his Lower East Side apartment. It was about then that Allen started asking,
'should I have babies?? That was a question he kept asking himself at least
until he reached an age when the question became moot. I don't really know if
he ever stuck his dick into a woman because the only things I can ever remember
him being untruthful about concerned the image of Allen Ginsberg that he would
leave for history.
As for Barbara, she showed
up with stories of having been one of Aldous Huxley's victims, one of that
crew of young and dedicated followers to whom Aldous fed doses of LSD every day.
He was experimenting with their minds, see. With an amazing sense of what
was hip in the Underground, Barbara quickly gained a reputation in
countercultural filmmaking with her revolutionary editing technique. She told me
she would cut her reel into strips, throw the strips into a bag, shake the bag
thoroughly, put her hand into the bag and draw out the $100-million-dollar lotto
winner. That was the strip that would begin the movie. Barbara would keep
reaching into the bag and pulling out strips of film at random and then she
would splice each strip onto the proceeding strip.
Strip after strip after strip and Voil?! That was her movie! I
don't think I ever got around to seeing it.
Despite the facts that she
was way out beyond left field and that she never gave me any pussy, Barbara cast
a spell over me. Actually, I never was able to figure out whether it was despite
those facts or because of them. I found her a woman of great clarity. great
charity and great charm. Although she never succumbed to my entreaties for her
to give me some sex, she all but commandeered my family. It was with her help
and care that my kids survived the five-year ordeal of my 41-year-old wife's
losing battle with breast cancer.
I remember a nagging regret
casting a shadow over the joy I was supposed to feel when I later attended her
wedding to some kind of Hassidic zealot. I felt betrayed because she never
confided to me the reason for this sudden plunge into extremist Judaism. I later
heard she bore six kids and died in childbirth with her seventh. As my daughter
(who still worships Barbara's memory) now asks, how can a woman die in
childbirth in this day and age?
So one day way back then,
Barbara says to me, 'there's a hot new band on the Lower East Side. The
Lower East Side wasn't referred to as the East Village in those days. To me,
there's still a difference. Even Allen never chose to move into the Lower East
Side's deep pullchain bowels, which is where I found the Velvet Underground..
So I have to credit Barbara
Rubin as the person who turned me onto the Velvets. At this time I am managing a
band called the Myddle Class in a gentleman's agreement with Gerry Goffin and
Carole King, the producers. They have a label deal with Atlantic and I have
dreams of making a million dollars in the rock and roll business. So Barbara
attaches herself to me. She hangs out, befriends my wife and kids, helps me in
little ways and before long she's urging me to expand. She wants me to take on
the job of managing the Velvets. She tells me they're the Underground's
"Come hear "em!" she
says, adding that I should go with her to the "ritual? at which the Velvets
are going to play. A "ritual? at a now long-forgotten address on a canceled
Lower East Side Street.
What kind of "ritual? A human sacrifice, maybe??
"No, just a ritual."
"A religious ritual??
"No, there's no
religion. It's just a hippie thing. Just an excuse to get together. We're
going to serve refreshments."
OK, so I'm interested.
Through Barbara, I arrange a meeting with Lou Reed.
"I'm the fastest guitar
player in the world!"
I tell him I'll come to
At this time, Robbie
Robertson is a buddy of mine and I ask him:
'this guy says he's the
fastest guitar player in the world. Come check him out with me. I need your
Robbie obliges and
accompanies me to the "ritual," which takes place in some cellar. Robbie
sits through one tune by the Velvets and then gets up and walks out in disgust.
"I can't take no more a
this!" he exclaims.
Still, Barbara keeps
plugging this band.
"Y?gotta be able to
dance to it, I tell her.
Barbara gets me a tape. I
listen to the tape. .Awful! A piece of shit!
Years later, and that tape
is lost in the mountain of clutter atop of which I live. Too bad! It's now
gotta be worth a few bucks.
Anyway, I tell Barbara what Albert Grossman always used to say:
"It's gotta be
accessible. The music's gotta be accessble?
What I hear aint
accessible. All I hear are screeches, drones, noise.
But Barbara keeps after me.
"I see something in this
group," she tells me. 'the more far out something is, the further it goes.
That's what's happening now. Something far put is gonna make it big."
To make a long story short,
she even gets me believing her. OK,
I'll go manage the Velvets, I tell her.
'they need a
manager like you," she says.
As for me, I am pompous and
arrogant because of my success in getting this venture together. But I am also
something of an asshole, a nerd, a schmuck, a Gimpel the Fool, a street-unwise
na've and trusting innocent. I make a date with the band in the
percussionist's Lower East Side fifth-floor walkup. His name is Angus and the
band congregates in his loft so he doesn't have to carry his set of bongo
drums up and down five flights every time.
The time for this date
falls on a moment when I have just introduced Carole King to Brian Jones and we
are enjoying a conversation while riding through Manhattan in Brian's rented
limousine. I finally have to break in and tell Carole and Brian that I've got
this date in a fifth-floor walkup in the bowels of The Lower East Side. No
problem, they say, and we drive to the address. Brian and Carole wait in the
limo while I climb the five flights, catch my breath and we talk things over. I
tell them I will start them off with gigs in Village clubs that'll tighten and
polish them for a rock audience. Lou Reed objects that they want to be overnight
stars like the Beatles.
"I can't promise
that," I tell them. "I can get you exposure. You yourselves have to do the
I make a handshake deal
with Lou. Only Angus objects. He says he doesn't want anything to do with
commercialization. It seems to me he'd rather not carry his big set of bongos
up and down five flights of stairs every time there's a gig.
'so, what are y?gonna
do for a percussionist?? I ask Lou.
He comes up with Maureen. Maureen Tucker.
'she's got a car!"Lou exclaims. "Who gives a shit whether she can play drums or not? She's
got a car! She can drive us and our equipment to our gigs!"
OK, so I give them their
first gig. I want them to open for my other band, the Myddle Class, at a concert
in the high school auditorium in the white, wealthy and WASPY New Jersey suburb
of Summit. Rob Norris has captured his own reaction on beholding the Velvets.
Nothing could have prepared the kids and parents assembled in the auditorium for what they were about to experience that night. . .When the curtain went up, nobody could believe their eyes! There stood the Velvet Underground---all tall and dressed mostly in black; two of them were wearing sunglasses. One of the guys with the shades had VERY long hair and was wearing silver jewelry. He was holding a large violin. The drummer had a Beatle haircut and was standing at a small oddly arranged drum kit. Was it a boy or a girl? Before we could take it all in, everyone was hit by a screeching surge of sound, with a pounding beat louder than anything we had ever heard. About a minute into the second song, which the singer introduced as Heroin, the music began to get even more intense. It swelled and accelerated like a giant tidal wave which was threatening to engulf us all. At this point, most of the audience retreated in horror for the safety of their homes, thoroughly convinced of the dangers of rock & roll music. My friends and I moved a little closer to the stage, knowing that something special was happening. . .
What was happening is that
I'm taping the concert on my brand, new Wollensack tape recorder, with which
the Velvets simply walk away. Someone tells me he saw them pack it up with their
equipment. It doesn't take me
very long to discover that that the Velvets are a bunch of speed-freaks and
junkies. Heroin not only is their favorite song, it's their favorite thing.
OK, so I get "em a gig at
the Caf? Bizzare, a well-known Village tourist trap, and they keep complaining
that they want to be overnight stars. I start bringing people in to see them.
One of those I bring into the Caf? Bizarre is this gorgeous bonde---one of the
most gorgeous blondes I've ever seen---who goes by the name of Nico. She
immediately gets the hots for Lou and starts dreaming of the Velvets as her
Now, at this time I have been crazy about Nico ever since we spent a night together in a motel stoned out of our gourds on LSD. She had just arrived from Europe with a bottle of the stuff, which she picked up in a Swiss lab. While sticking our pinkies into the bottle and sucking the LSD off each other's pinky, we decided to drive to the Delaware Water Gap. It was very romantic but after she took off her clothes and got into the motel bed, she wouldn't give me any. That's the night she told me she likes her lovers half-dead.
So, like a schmuck, I
still had eyes for her, but she has been
using my head for a doorknob. She keeps turning it any way she wants. Except
there's one way she can't turn it. She wants me to manage her but I tell her
I can't stand her singing. Not only does her singing sound like a harmonium
stuck on one note, but her songs are so morbid she ought to be an undertaker.
Still, she is one of the most gorgeous creatures ever conceived and I have had
the privilege of seeing her naked. And would like to see her naked again.
According to photographer
Barry Feinstein, whose marriage to Mary Travers broke up after Mary found Nico
in her bathtub, "Nico was like the Hope diamond. Something you can't do
anything with, except maybe to show off once in a while."
Anyway, Nico goes after
Andy Warhol, whom she later tells me she detests, and gets him to come into the
Caf? Bizarre to see the Velvets. And Warhol keeps coming in and keeps coming
in. In a meeting I have with Lou Reed at around this time, he never mentions
Andy. He is very stoned and talks about his paranoia.
"Every time I pick up the
phone, a helicopter flies overhead," he says. "D?ya wanna see??
He picks up the phone and a
helicopter flies overhead.
In my mind, Andy was not
very ethical in the way he stole away my management of the Velvets. But I?ve
never known Andy to be ethical about anything. How can a con man be concerned
with ethics? To me, a con man is what Andy Warhol was. In his art and in his
entrepreneurship. It was Andy who founded the
Whatever-You-Can-Get-Away-With-School-of-Art. Money, money, money! That's all
Andy cared about, next to celebrity. On the other hand, I am a total asshole
and idiot to have put any faith in a handshake deal with a bunch of junkie
It was through Andy's
hustle that those junkie hustlers made it to stardom. Just as Barbara Rubin
predicted, the more far out something is, the further it went. There came a time
when George Harrison became so hung on one of Lou Reed's records that he kept
playing it for me over and over again, the song with the line: "And the
colored girls go. . ." And Allen Ginsberg even told me that after the
Velvets played in Prague---in the 1980s around the the time of the Fall Of The
Berlin Wall---the Czechs afterwards rose up in a bloodless coup that came to be
known as the Velvet Revolution.
"Yes, the Czechs were
very impressed with the Velvets" Allen said. "They made quite a stir
Once since then, I bumped
into Lou at a Clive Davis party and was surprised by how charmingly Lou acted.
Eventually, I wrote him a letter asking for an interview. The letter was
returned unopened. The last I saw Lou was the night of Phil Spector's
Fuck-You-Fuck-You-Fuck-You party when I bumped into Lou in the Waldorf ballroom
at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Dinner. He shook my hand but
didn't recognize me. Of course, he never did recognize me.
Now, many years afterwards,
Lou is lost in Rock and Roll stardom and I am lost in cyberspace. But then, I
never wanted to be the kind of guy who holds a grudge.
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