Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Making of...

In 1966, Andy Warhol produced The Velvet Underground & Nico. The Cameo-Parkway Studios on Broadway were rented for three nights at $2500. At the time, the relationship between Lou Reed and Nico was volatile at best. Reed didn't want Nico on the album, and Nico wanted more leads. The outlook was bleak, the production of the LP contentious and awkward. John Cale was overheard saying, "Lou was paranoid and eventually he made everybody paranoid," and Andy admitted that, "The whole time the album was being made, nobody seemed happy with it." The dreary prospects for the LP continued after its completion. It was turned down by every label in the city.

When The Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows played The Trip in L.A. (May 3 – 18, 1966), Warhol again tried to hustle the album. Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records rejected it, saying "no drug songs." Elektra rejected it, saying "no violas." (What?) Tom Wilson at Columbia was interested and had the band wait until he moved to MGM so he could release the LP on the Verve label, but that was a year in the making. MGM would also sign Zappa's Mothers of Invention at the same time. Pretty savvy, eh? Two of the 60's most influential underground bands, same guy.

Tensions and troubles weren't confined to the studio however. The shows at The Trip were on again, off again affairs with the club closing on May 12th for non-payment of a promissory note. The band and Warhol remained in L.A. despite the show's cancellation, and for being jilted out of their fee. Union regulations stipulated that if the band remained in town for the duration of the run, they could demand payment in full for the scheduled shows. During their sojourn in L.A., the Warhol entourage stayed in a home deep in the Hollywood Hills, a large imitation-medieval stone structure known as The Castle. It was during the time of the cancelled shows that the VU completed the LP.

There was an obvious east/west attitude that didn't set well in sunny Calif., and Lou Reed wasn't a Zappa fan, either: "He's probably the single most untalented person I've heard in my life. He's a two-bit pretentious academic, and he can't play rock 'n' roll, because he's a loser. And that's why he dresses up funny. He's not happy with himself and I think he's right." Among the celebs attending opening night were Papa John Phillips, Ryan O’Neill, Jim Morrison (while still at UCLA) and Cher who commented that the Velvet's music would replace nothing, except perhaps suicide. The Buffalo Springfield were at the midnight show after their gig at the Whiskey. Hard to contemplate that amazing and frenetic scene. 

In a fabulous first-hand account of the night, waitress at The Trip, Beverly Cavaleri, said, 
On May 3, 1966  I was serving drinks in the celebrity section at The Trip.  Jane Fonda is seated and she orders a drink and I asked her for ID. She removes her sunglasses and says, "Do you know who I am?" People are pouring into the club to see Andy Warhol, celebrated New York avant-garde artist. Cher, Steve McQueen, John Phillips, Lou Adler and Mama's and Papa's drummer Eddie Hoe are a few of the many celebrities seated in my section. Jim Morrison of the Doors is drinking at the bar and talking with Vito and Susie Cream Cheese. 
Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention are the opening act the first night. At the end of the set they receive a standing ovation and cheers from the audience. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable Show started after The Velvet Underground played a couple of songs. The club turned dark for a few minutes and then – like an explosion as the name implied – a light came on and off and when you could see briefly, what appeared put the audience into a state of shock. You had to pay close attention, it all moved very quickly from dark to light. When your eyes adjusted to the manipulation of the light what you saw was an interaction between Nico and two men, one who carried a whip, the other chains.  It was an allusion, I think, of sadism…not at all acceptable to peace loving hippies. 
People were standing up at their tables, booing as they waited their turn to leave the club. The line for the second show circled the block but the customers leaving started warning people not to go in.  They said the show was vulgar and violent.  The line got smaller and smaller until only a handful of people remained.

By late May the Factory crew relocated to San Francisco for a two night stint at the Fillmore, opening for The Mothers of Invention and Jefferson Airplane. The Warhol crowd hated the hippie culture of San Francisco, and the crowd hated the Velvets. Bill Graham pulled the plug on the show, literally, the second night when the band left the stage with their instruments leaning on the amplifiers creating a barrage of sonic feedback. The outspoken Lou Reed said, "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... You know, people like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead are just the most untalented bores that ever came up. Just look at them physically, I mean, can you take Grace Slick seriously? It's a joke! It's a joke! The kids are being hyped." 

That night Gerard Malanga was arrested in an all-night cafeteria in North Beach for carrying an offensive weapon (his whip) and spent the night in jail. He'd gone to the diner with Lou Reed and Nancy Worthington Fish, a friend of Warhol's who was performing with The Committee, a San Francisco improv troupe. Gets worse. While In San Francisco, Lou Reed shot up bad speed causing his joints to seize and an incorrect diagnosis of terminal lupus. California just wasn't working out.

Keep in mind that The Velvet Underground & Nico wasn't released until March 1967. Retrospectively we look back at an incredible scene, a veritable vaudeville show starring Reed and Zappa and Warhol and hippies and greasers and Morrison and Steve Fucking McQueen, but the LP, an AM10, almost didn't happen.