Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 30 May 09 08:41
Jon, I agree that Reed's state of mind was so agitated by pressures relating to the band and other things when he left the Velvets that he wouldn't approach reorganization of the band in a methodical way. He said in some interviews that he was just desperate to get out of there. I think he must have been, considering that an album he'd worked very hard on to be commercial was just a month away from release, and leaving at that moment was terrible commercial timing. But it still seems odd that, within days (according to Sterling Morrison's later recollections) after leaving, he would have approached Morrison to propose forming a band. Morrison was already *in* his band. So why not just reorganize the Velvet Underground, which would probably still include Maureen Tucker, who was ready to start playing again after giving birth to her first child, and who had never fallen out with Reed? One speculation is that Reed would have been unable to do so and use the Velvet Underground name for legal/managerial reasons. Perhaps Steve Sesnick could have clarified this, but he declined my interview request through an intermediary. It could be that shortly after leaving the group, Reed might have realized it was too hasty a decision and had regrets, and so was approaching Morrison to mend fences. It's also odd that Morrison declined the offer, as he must have known the VU had no real future without Reed. Lou and Sterling were close friends, but maybe Morrison had enough of working with the brilliant but mercurial Reed after five very intense years.
Ed Ward (captward) Sat 30 May 09 10:38
It's also possible that Sesnick had the legal entity "The Velvet Underground" in a stranglehold, and Reed/Morrison couldn't have done anything really creative with him lurking around and didn't have the resources or knowledge to find someone who could actually manage such a weird band at that time. Getting out of the contract might have been the very hardest thing to do, so it was easiest for Lou to just go solo. Pure speculation, of course.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 30 May 09 12:36
I think that's reasonable speculation, actually, though without access to the legal documents, it's hard to say for certain. Sesnick did own the Velvet Underground name for at least a while in the early 1970s as a result of an out-of-court settlement in which Reed won back sole songwriting credits for the Loaded material (which were initially credited to the band as a whole). I think they could have found a manager, though. One strong candidate would have been Richard Robinson, who was heavily involved in getting Reed's solo career off the ground. I don't know if Danny Fields (later manager of the Ramones) would have been interested, but he was on the VU's scene and might have made a reasonable choice.
Angus MacDonald (angus) Sat 30 May 09 13:03
I should look in the book for this, but: When Reed left the VU, did he express an intention to return to music, or did he act/speak like he was out of the business for good?
Ed Ward (captward) Sat 30 May 09 13:13
I knew Richard at that time, and his choice was between actually managing Lou or working for RCA and getting him (and others) signed. Given that choice, I think I'd have done what he did. Danny Fields is an interesting pick, though. Maybe if he ever finishes his memoirs we'll find out. Big maybe...
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 30 May 09 13:27
Ed, I'm going to have to interview you if the book goes into a second edition! And just so Inkwell readers know, Ed was one of the first high-profile critics to give the VU and their members a lot of positive press attention. He gave John Cale's 1970 solo debut "Vintage Violence" a rave review in Rolling Stone that year, and also reviewed Nico's "Desertshore" in Rolling Stone that year, at a time when those solo records were even more obscure to the pop mainstream than the VU's albums. Which gives me a chance to note that the book does also cover Cale and Nico's pre-1971 solo efforts in great detail, as well as their work with the Velvets. Danny Fields had some interesting interactions with the VU, the most notable of which was confirming that Brigid Berlin had taped their last show with Reed at Max's on August 23, 1970. This was the material later issued on the 1972 "Live at Max's" album (more from the tape eventually came out on the two-CD expanded edition). According to Fields, Atlantic bought the tape for a $10,000 fee that he and Berlin split.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 30 May 09 13:27
Speaking of strange contractual situations, by the way, one of the most interesting and surprising things that came out of my interview with Paul Morrissey was his recollection of how the VU ended their management deal with him and Andy Warhol around mid-1967. According to Morrissey, Reed essentially claimed the VU were breaking up, and so asked for a release from the contract. Then he got them back together -- actually, if this contract-breaking action occurred, my guess is Reed probably never disbanded the band in the first place. Morrissey: "Lou wanted to end the management contract before any hoped-for record royalties came in. Lou immediately did so by disbanding the group. [He] told us they weren't going to play any more, and he asked for a release from their contract. But Andy especially, as well as myself...[we] were glad to get rid of them. Then I sort of inherited Nico, who had nowhere to go, because Lou got rid of Nico as well when he regrouped [the band] later. Nico was the last thing he wanrted. I realized he had had that idea in his head from the beginning in order to get out of the contract he had signed with us. Once they were released he re-formed the group without Nico and soon after he managed to get rid of John Cale as well. I often wondered after that what kind of royalties were collected and who received them." Unfortunately I didn't come across this contract or contract-breaking agreement when I did research at the Andy Warhol Museum archives in Pittsburgh. During that research I *was* especially glad to be able to view a copy of their May 2, 1966 recording contract with MGM in its entirety (another copy is on partial display in the museum). The advance, for this legendary group co-managed by one of the most famous artists in the world? $3,000 -- not very impressive even by 1966 standards.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 30 May 09 13:37
Angus, it's hard to determine whether Reed was thinking of leaving the music business for good when he left the Velvets. He did keep an extremely low profile for the next six months or so. To the shock of many who knew him and his generally rebellious nature, he moved back to Long Island to live with his parents, even working as a typist in his father's accounting business for $40 a week for a while. Whether or not he ever seriously considered leaving the music business, he definitely did seem to want/need a total break from it for a while. Interestingly, his first post-VU public appearance wasn't a music gig, bugt a poetry reading on March 10, 1971 at St. Mark's, with Jim Carroll (who, coincidentally, can be heard in the audience on the "Live at Max's" album) also on the bill. But in a March 1971 article in ZigZag magazine, Reed played tapes of some of his new songs to writer Geoffrey Cannon, indicating that even by then he was getting ready to start a career as a solo act. In his first lengthy post-VU interview (June 1971 in Metropolitan Review), he still seems to be vacillating, saying that his plans are "I'm gonna think a lot." He also says he's currently working as a bookkeeper, confirming he's still working for his father when the interview takes place. But he doesn't rule out the chance of working again with Nico and John Cale (which he did, briefly, at a good January 29, 1972 Paris concert that's now on CD), and talks about possibly doing a score for a Broadway adaptation of Nelson Algren's "A Walk on the Wild Side," which of course likely inspired his most famous song. On November 29, 1971, it was announced he's signed a solo deal with RCA, so his hiatus from active involvement with the record business only lasted a year or so.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 30 May 09 14:17
In "Songs for Drella," Reed describes the break with Warhol as his decision to "fire" Warhol.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 30 May 09 14:35
Yes, and in 1989 around the time of "Drella," Lou Reed elaborated in Rolling Stone: "[Warhol] sat down and had a meeting with me.[He told me], You gotta decide what you want to do. Do you want to keep just playing museums from now on and the art festivals? Or do you want to start moving into other areas? Dont you think you should think about it? So I thought about it, and I fired him. Because I thought that was one of the things to do if we were going to move away from that. He was furious. Id never seen Andy angry, but I did that day. He was really mad. Called me a rat. That was the worst thing he could think of. While Steve Sesnick has often been criticized for his handling of the Velvets, it is true that over the next three years, the Velvets *did* break into the standard rock concert circuit, with more success than is generally realized. They played quite a few major venues throughout the US, like the Avalon, the Whisky in LA, the Boston Tea Party, and the Electric Factory in Philadelphia.
Ed Ward (captward) Sat 30 May 09 15:54
They broke into it because there was more demand than supply, though. Sesnick actually had a fairly easy job: band with records, notoriety through Warhol. I think (based on no Reed-based evidence, but informal conversations with Cale) that the real problem was they'd had Nico imposed on them, and when the famous "I do not wish to sleep with any more...Jews..." incident happened, Reed just knew he had to assume control.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 30 May 09 16:12
That incident between Reed and Nico seems to have happened pretty soon after she joined the group, however. That was more than a year before Warhol was fired as manager. Reed was, it's not always realized, certainly the business leader of the band as well as the artistic one. Back on July 19, 1966, about a year before the split from Warhol, all five members (including Nico) signed a memo for MGM Records stipulating that all royalties be paid to Reed. There's interesting ambivalence on the part of the group members as to whether Nico was worth having around. In subsequent interviews they've praised her work on the songs she was given to sing, but kind of stated they didn't think she was a true full member of the group, and didn't especially miss her when she was gone. In an obscure interview I found (in a Vancouver paper) from late 1968, Reed was quite unsentimental, saying that all the songs she sang were dropped from their live repertoire "just like that" after she left, snapping his fingers for emphasis. Yet Reed, Cale, and Morrison all helped a lot with Nico's debut album "Chelsea Girl" (recorded shortly before she left the group), writing half the songs and playing on much of the record. Cale helped a great deal with Nico's solo career, producing, arranging, and playing on several of her albums. It's true Nico was installed into the lineup at Warhol and Morrissey's behest. It's too bad Tom Wilson (who died in the late 1970s) wasn't interviewed about this, but Paul Morrissey told me Wilson signed the VU to Verve mostly because of Nico. Since three of the four songs on the two 1966 singles Verve issued were sung by Nico (and the fourth, "Sunday Morning," was originally intended by Wilson to be sung by Nico), she might initially have been seen as the focal point of the band by Wilson and Verve, which the other Velvets might not have appreciated. But I do think that ultimately Nico added a good deal to the group. All three of the songs on which she sings lead ("All Tomorrow's Parties," "Femme Fatale," and "I'll Be Your Mirror") are among their best. And her early solo albums, in which the Velvets and especially Cale had some role, are both worthwhile and not too similar to the VU's own work, with Nico establishing herself (with "The Marble Index" and "Desertshore") as a singer-songwriter in her own right.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sun 31 May 09 11:24
Going back to surprising information I found out about certain Velvet Underground songs, an obscure August 1969 article in a Philadelphia underground paper reported the group were planning to issue "We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together" as a single. They never even released the song while Reed was in the band, and for that matter they didn't release *any* singles for about the last year-and-a-half Reed was in the group. Nonetheless, according to that article, Reed and Doug Yule told the reporter that they were "totally disassocaited with the 'underground,' from FM radio to drugs. They don't even like record albums...Reed says he can't listen to FM for long before he either fals asleep or gets sick...So the Velvet Underground is moving into singles." A plan that obviously never took off. In that article, Reed said that a fourth VU album had been recorded, but wouldn't be released for some time yet, as "It would be totally senseless. In a few years it will be ahead of its time, but now it just won't sell and will go unknown. We've had enough of that." Doug Yule told me, however, that to his memory it wasn't shelved for being ahead of its time, and that Reed was probably just coming up with a snappy soundbite answer that sounded good, possibly prompted by manager Steve Sesnick.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sun 31 May 09 11:39
The "totally disassociated with the underground" thing certainly sounds like a Warhol idea, if not directly, at first remove.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sun 31 May 09 11:56
Do you mean that would have been a Warhol idea to disown associations with the "underground," or that the Velvets wanted to distance themselves from the kind of "underground" they'd been associated with when they first emerged in 1966 as part of Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable? Warhol hadn't been their manager for two years by the time of this quote. Though the VU's official relationship with Warhol ended around mid-1967, looking through press clips from the time, it's interesting how some writers continued to assume that Warhol was involved with or even masterminding the band for quite some time afterward. Even a June 1969 review, and a quite misinformed one, of a Philadelphia concert describes Warhol as "the spiritual force behind the Velvet Underground" and viciously slags the band and the concert as a sort of Warhol pop art put-on or gimmick.
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Sun 31 May 09 15:02
>And her early solo albums, in which the Velvets and especially >Cale had some role, are both worthwhile and not too similar to the VU's >own work, with Nico establishing herself (with "The Marble Index" and >"Desertshore") as a singer-songwriter in her own right. Those 2 LPs were very imaginative, I can't imagine Cale and Nico doing anything quite as unusual as what they did on those 2 LPs inside the framework of VU. In a way its good they left VU, seems a win/win situation to my ears.
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 31 May 09 16:00
Plus, of course, John's solo stuff during that same period. He was doing A&R at Warner's, and that led to the Island albums like Fear (the title track of which, he told me, was "based on working at Warners.").
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sun 31 May 09 16:15
Yes Darrell, "The Marble Index" and "Desertshore" gave both Nico and Cale opportunities they wouldn't have had within the Velvet Underground. It's doubtful Reed would have made space for many if any songs that Nico wrote on VU albums, and in any case Nico might never have been spurred to become a songwriter had she not gone out on her own as a solo artist. As arranger and producer for Nico, Cale was able to put some avant-garde/experimental/classical ideas into practice that wouldn't have fit so easily into VU albums. Cale's contribution in these areas to Nico's albums is immense. When you compare Nico's sparse demos of some of these songs (now available on the double CD "The Frozen Borderline") to the finished versions, the differences can be mammoth. The demos tend, in my view, to be too similar too each other and rely too heavily on just Nico's voice and harmonium, becoming wearying in some respects when heard bunched together. Cale fleshed the songs and arrangements out with a lot of imagination and variety. Also Cale's 1970 solo album "Vintage Violence," though sometimes overlooked though it's very good, gave *him* the opportunity to do something that he probably couldn't have done within the VU. Becoming a solo artist gave *him* the impetus to start writing actual complete pop-rock songs, which he really hadn't done before then, though he gets some co-credits on a few early VU tunes. I also think "Vintage Violence" is admirable because Cale was doing something wholly unexpected, given his background with the VU, La Monte Young, and Nico/Stooges production/arrangement projects. He didn't go all out on an experimental/dissonant limb, as many would have expected; he went into gentle if enigmatic singer-songwriting with almost Band-like arrangements and considerable skill. My book covers "Vintage Violence" pretty extensively as it falls within the pre-1971 era that's the volume's main concentration, including information taken from Columbia Records session sheets and a first-hand interview with the album's co-producer, Lewis Merenstein. Also, a word about Nico's first album, "Chelsea Girl." This sometimes gets dismissed by critics and historians, I think in part because Nico herself didn't like the album (especially the orchestral production) and put it down in several interviews. But I like it very much. It has some real interesting songs that Reed, Cale, and Morrison wrote or co-wrote that the VU never put on their records, as well as some obscure material by Tim Hardin, Jackson Browne (Nico's boyfriend at the time), and Bob Dylan.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sun 31 May 09 17:15
To add a little more about John Cale as he was making the transition from the VU to a solo career, one of the most amusing obscure reviews I dug up was one of the third album that appeared in a July 1969 edition of a leftist Danish newspaper. The reviewer was mystified why Cale had been pushed "too far into the background," somehow remaining entirely aware that Cale wasn't even on the LP. He singles out "The Murder Mystery" -- really the album's only avant-garde track -- as the strongest cut, crediting Cale with the arrangement. He's puzzled by the group's change in direction, especially the total lack of irony in songs like "Jesus" and "After Hours." Where, he asks, is the spleen, the morbidity, the satanic mood of the first two albums? Furthermore, he reviews "The Marble Index" as if it's a Cale record rather than a Nico one, declaring that "in the final instance, the music is down to Cale's contribution in all essential respects." Yes, Cale was extremely important. But Nico did sing and write all of the songs, as well as play harmonium. While this was beyond the means of 1968 marketing, it might have been interesting for the Velvets to record two versions of the third album, one with the Cale lineup and one with the Yule lineup -- kind of how today's way of making music available for release can put out two versions of an album simultaneously, as in situations where one is electric and one is acoustic/"unplugged." Maureen Tucker once specifically regretted that the VU never got the chance to record even just one more album with Cale, and Cale said in a 1974 interview that his exit "was sad in a way because there were still some great songs to be recorded like 'Here Come the Waves,' which later became 'Ocean' on [Reed's] first album, and a bunch of others." Also, while Doug Yule plays great organ on "What Goes On" (especially the "Velvet Underground 1969 Live" version), Sterling Morrison said that the song sounded best in 1968 when Cale was playing organ on the song in concert.
outside the law and honest (tbessoir) Sun 31 May 09 20:54
Lou Reed talks in detail about the writing of "Walk on the Wild Side" during the live rendition captured on "Take No Prisoners." Nico played her first concert in the U.S. since the 60's the month before the performance captured on the What Goes On EP "Four Songs Recorded Live at CBGB, March 8, 1979." She played two sets at CBGB's on February 19, 2009. For those sets she was accompanied by John Cale on viola on a few songs as well as Lutz Ulbrich on guitar. She also played a set opening for John Cale at a club called Alexander's in Browns Mills, NJ on March 2, 1979. Squeeze has another connection to the Velvet Underground besides being named after one of their albums. Squeeze's EP "Packet of Three" and their self-titled first LP were produced by Cale.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sun 31 May 09 21:55
While my book doesn't deal with Nico's post-1970 solo career except noting some instances in which there were direct VU connections, she did play live in the US in the '70s earlier than 1979 on at least one occasion. She played at the Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco on December 17, 1977.
Ed Ward (captward) Mon 1 Jun 09 02:19
(Lutz Ulbricht, aka Lüül, is the official caretaker of Nico's grave, and issued a public appeal last year for funds to keep it from being dug up and eliminated. Only needed to raise a few hundred euros, and succeeded way beyond his expectations. He's a good man.)
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Mon 1 Jun 09 04:30
wow, i had no idea that squeeze was named after the VU album or that their early EP and LP were produced by Cale. I never would have guessed at a direct relationship between the two groups!
outside the law and honest (tbessoir) Mon 1 Jun 09 06:09
Thanks for the info on the Mabuhay Gardens show. I didn't know about it or see it on any of the lists of her performances.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 1 Jun 09 13:16
A live recording of Nico's December 1977 Mabuhay Gardens show is listed at http://smironne.free.fr/NICO/tapes.html, though I haven't heard it. Interestingly, it doesn't include any Velvet Underground songs. From 1979 through the end of her life about ten years later, however, she often sang "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Femme Fatale" live, though curiously didn't often play "I'll Be Your Mirror." She also did "I'm Waiting for the Man" (which of course Reed sang with the Velvets) on her 1981 album "Drama in Exile." With the early Velvets, Nico wanted to sing some other Reed songs (like "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "Heroin") than the three she given to do on the banana album. She wasn't allowed to do this, however, and I think that was the right decision.
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