November 19, 2013

The Velvets- Fragments of a History, Chapter 1: Andy and the Factory

John Cale: "When we went up to the Factory it was a real eye-opener for me. It wasn't called the Factory for nothing. It was where the assembly-line for the silkscreens happened. While one person was making a silkscreen, somebody else would be filming a screen test. Every day something new. I think he was dipping into anything he fancied."  Andy Warhol had immigrated to New York City from Pittsburgh in 1949 and spent much of the fifties slowly gaining fame as a commercial artist for his innovative shoe drawings. By the early sixties, Warhol had begun opening eyes in the fine arts community with his silkscreened paintings featuring the repetition of images adopted from popular culture such as 100 Soup Cans  and the Marilyn Diptych, but in truth, Warhol's use of such images was anathema to the conservative critical watchdogs of the art establishment. For example, at a symposium on pop art held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1962, Stanley Kunitz argued dismissively, "If the pop artist is concerned with creating anything, it is with the creation of an effect. Consider, for example, the celebrated rows of Campbell's Soup labels. We can scarcely be expected to have any interest in the painting itself. Indeed, it is difficult to think of it as a painting at all."  Despite the critical resistance, by 1963 pop art had come into vogue, and Warhol, now using a gang of assistants (including Gerard Malanga) in the silkscreening process to expedite the production of prints, moved to the midtown Manhattan studio that would come to be known as the Factory. This is where, over the next several years, Warhol would begin collecting his so-called "superstars": Billy Name, Rotten Rita, the Duchess, Ondine, Paul Morrissey, Ultra Violet to name but a few and socialites such as Edie Sedgwick and Susan Bottomly. Added to these was a revolving cast of prospective artists, musicians, exhibitionists, hustlers, transvestites, and anyone else able to contribute to the Factory's air of cultivated decadence, all of which was ultimately fodder for Warhol's voyeuristic predilections. It was in the middle of this strange mélange that The Velvet Underground would opportunistically find themselves in late 1965.

Warhol at Work in the Factory, 1964
By the time the Velvets had come under the aegis of Warhol, their now-iconic lineup of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker had only been together for a short time, but it was clear from the beginning that this band was a different breed altogether. As their first manager, Alan Aronowitz once recalled, "They were just junkies, crooks, hustlers. Most of the musicians at that time came with all these high-minded ideals, but the Velvets were all full of shit. They were just hustlers." Depending on whom you ask, it was either Gerard Malanga or Paul Morrissey who happened to catch one of the first gigs Aronowitz had secured for his presumptive band of hustlers at a Greenwich Village dive called Cafe Bizarre, and knew right away that Warhol and the Velvets would be a good fit. Morrissey: "Andy didn't want to get into rock and roll [....] he never would have thought of it. Even after I thought of it, I had to bludgeon him into doing it. My idea was that there could be a lot of money managing a rock and roll group that got its name in the papers, and that was one thing Andy was good for- getting his name in the papers." It also didn't hurt that this was no ordinary rock band. John Cale, a classically-trained Welshman who wielded an electric viola, had been playing in minimalist composer La Monte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music, an experimental collective also known as Dream Syndicate, which focused on drone music. Lou Reed, after graduating from Syracuse University, had worked as a tin-pan alley songwriter at Pickwick International, but his aesthetic tastes pulled in far less mainstream musical directions. First introduced by Pickwick employee Terry Phillips, as he was looking for a backing band for a potential hit Reed had penned called "The Ostrich," these musical and cultural polar opposites were initially resistant to working with each other, but they shared a fascination for the use of a drone effect in music composition. This eventually brought them together, along with Reed's former Syracuse classmate Sterling Morrison, in a short-lived band called The Primitives, which, after adding drummer Angus MacLise, who had played with Cale in the La Mont Young collective, quickly metamorphosed into The Velvet Underground.

Andy with His Band of Velvets
When Paul Morrissey returned to Cafe Bizarre a few nights later with Warhol in tow, the latter was treated to a surreal scene comprised of the Velvets (now with Maureen Tucker on drums, as MacLise had quit on the grounds that they weren't avant garde enough), playing their tales of S&M and heroin highs to a crowd made up of tourists nervously sipping exotic drinks. Ironically, the band was fired that night, but Warhol had been sufficiently impressed with what he had seen and heard and invited the Velvets to join his Factory and work under his tutelage. Lou Reed: "To my mind, nobody in music was doing anything that even approximated the real thing, with the exception of us. We were doing a specific thing that was very, very real. It wasn't slick or a lie in any conceivable way, which was the only way we could work with him. Because the very first thing I liked about Andy was that he was very real." While the Velvets benefited immediately from Warhol's patronage in the form of new instruments, rehearsal space, and the rigorous Factory regime, the relationship soon grew strained as a result of Morrissey's insistence that the band needed to be fronted by a singer more visually appealing than the often recalcitrant Lou Reed. A German model and fledgling singer, Nico, who had visited the Factory the week before, was Morrissey's choice and Warhol agreed.

Andy Ascending to the Factory
Predictably, Lou Reed and John Cale hated the idea of Nico fronting the band, but given the significant career perks that came with being aligned with a figure such as Warhol, they eventually acceded, and Reed was even persuaded by his benefactor to write songs specifically for Nico. Several of these would appear on the Velvets' debut album, funded and ostensibly produced by Warhol himself (more on this in Chapter 2). During their stay at the Factory, The Velvet Underground was used in a number of ways by Warhol, including providing largely improvisational soundtracks for some of his films and multi-media presentations, the most famous of which was the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, featuring the band accompanying a silent film directed by Warhol, titled The Velvet Underground and Nico: A Symphony of Sound, along with dancers, strobe lights, slide projections, etc. Nevertheless, the Velvets never fit comfortably into Warhol's "superstar" coterie, as they were more akin to restless students of his rigorous methodology. Lou Reed: "His work ethic, what he was about, the way he turned things around, anti-slick. Genius. An enormous, insane talent, brilliant with colors and composition. Ideas. He'd look at something that you'd be looking at, and then you'd hear what Andy sees. He was so receptive to your ideas; he made you feel like he really believed in you, and he did. He believed in us, and that's why he made us part of it all. He got it. He really got it. Then you look at what he did and you say 'Wow! If he says it's okay, then it must be okay. Because as far as other people were concerned (at that point), we were less than a Campbell's Soup can. We weren't even the paper bag it comes in. 'Some Warhol toy.' They didn't think that for long after we came in and really hauled off and batted them."

Throughout the sixties, Warhol steadily cultivated an interest in film-making, most of which featured voyeuristic footage of Factory regulars sleeping, having sex, getting stoned, etc., all filmed with an extraordinary sense of detachment. For Warhol, the purpose of his pursuit of film-making was at least partly social, "a way of getting to meet more people," Morrissey recalls, as well as economic: "Andy always thought that films would be where we'd make money." Among the more enduring of his film-related projects are the hundreds of screen tests Warhol or his assistants filmed of various visitors to the Factory, including Dennis Hopper, Bob Dylan, Nico and Lou Reed. However, Warhol's screen tests were not limited to celebrities, as almost anyone who came into the orbit of the Factory, no matter how briefly, was a potential subject. As he stated in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, "I've never met a person I couldn't call a beauty [...] I always hear myself saying, She's a beauty! or He's a beauty! or what a beauty! But [...] if everybody's not a beauty, then nobody is." To create these screen tests, Warhol used a stationary 16mm camera equipped with silent, black & white 100 ft. rolls of film set at 24 frames per second, as well as a strong key light to place the subject in stark relief. The results were later arranged into compilations and screened in slow motion at 16 frames per second. In 2008, The Andy Warhol Museum commissioned Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500 and Luna fame, along with Wareham's Luna band-mate Britta Phillips, to compose music for thirteen of the screen tests. In addition to original compositions by Dean & Britta, 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests features a cover of Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It with Mine" and an amazingly effective re-working of an obscure Velvet Underground song, "Not a Young Man Anymore." While Wareham's earlier work with Galaxie 500 made explicit his strong affinity with the V.U. aesthetic, which is also in evidence throughout this project, his true inspiration here is Warhol himself. Wareham: "You could make a case that he [Warhol] was one of the first punks in two ways. 1) He suggested that anyone could be an artist, and that an artist could try his hand at anything. 2) Punk rock celebrates the commonplace and the ugly, and elevates it, and I think Warhol did the same." Good night Andy.

13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests (2010)
Disc I:
 1. Silver Factory Theme
 3. Not a Young Man Anymore (My Robot Friend Remix)
 4. I Found It Not So
 6. Incandescent Innocent
 7. International Velvet Redux (Anthony LaMarca Remix)
 9. Herringbone Tweed
10. Richard Rheem Theme
11. Knives from Bavaria (Spoonful of Fun)
12. Eyes in My Smoke
13. Ann Buchanan Theme

Disc II:
1. Incandescent Innocent (Sanctus)
2. I'll Keep It with Mine (Scott Hardkiss Electric Remix)
3. Silver Factory Redux (Sonic Boom Remix) 
4. Not a Young Man Anymore
5. I Found It Not So (Sonic Boom Remix)
6. It Don't Rain in Beverly Hills
7. International Velvet Theme
8. Teenage Lightening (And Lonely Highways)

Links in Comments

John Cale - Eat/Kiss: Music for the Films of Andy Warhol (1997)

Eat/Kiss is comprised of soundtrack material John Cale composed during the mid-nineties for two of Andy Warhol's earliest films, Eat (1963) and Kiss (1963-1964). The performances are live and many feature Cale's ex-Velvet Underground band-mate Mo Tucker and British pedal-steel guitar legend B.J. Cole. The music itself is what you'd expect of Cale, moody and quirky by turns, but regularly punctuated by moments of twisted beauty. Not a major work, but deserves to be heard nonetheless.

 1. Kiss Movement 01 (Infinite Guitar, Quartet)
 2. Kiss Movement 02 (Frozen Warning, Jimmy, Metal-Violin Solo, David Tiyé-Backing Vocal)
 4. Kiss Movement 04 (Violin Solo-Todd, Tiyé, Quartet)
 5. Kiss Movement 05 (Harpsichord, Infinite Guitar)
 6. Kiss Movement 06 (Quartet, Moe-Harpsichord, Tiyé-Percussion)
 7. Kiss Movement 07 (Quartet, Cello Solo-Dawn, Harpsichord)
 8. Kiss Movement 08 (B.J., Quartet, Electric Piano)
 9. Kiss Movement 09 (B.J., Quartet, Electric Piano)
10. Kiss Movement 10 (Quartet Solo)
11.  Kiss Movement 11 (Solo Tiyé, Strings)
12. Eat Movement 12 (B.J., 12-String Guitar Intro-David)
14. Eat Movement 14 (Todd Solo, 12-String, Moe)
15. Eat Movement 15 (Piano, B.J.) 

Links in Comments 


  1. 13 Most Beautiful




    part 1


    part 2


  2. Eat/Kiss





  3. That is such a great Warhol clip.

  4. Thank you for the walk down memory lane with the perpetually bored Andy, and for the 13 Most Beautiful post. Never heard of it till today.

    1. Scurfie, I hope you enjoy it; I think it really captures the VU aesthetic