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Velvet Underground doc reveals Lou Reed and Andy Warhol power struggle


Before the Velvet Underground landed below the wing of Andy Warhol, its members had been misfits who gigged in West Village vacationer dives, alienated audiences and bought fired for being too abrasive. “Some of the [Velvets, led by Lou Reed] played with their backs to the crowd,” Martha Morrison, spouse of guitarist Sterling Morrison, says in “The Velvet Underground,” a brand new documentary directed by Todd Haynes that drops on Apple TV+ and performs in theaters Friday. “They had this off-putting aura. They were scary.”

Barbara Rubin, a druggy teenager from Queens who occurred to have Warhol’s ear, was enchanted. She advised Warhol in 1965 that he wanted to see the Velvet Underground. The group was invited for an ostensible audition at Warhol’s Factory. Billy Name, a photographer there, remembers within the doc the way it went: “They were all dressed in black, they started playing ‘Heroin,’ we were bowled over.”

Andy Warhol (left) with Lou Reed at Studio 54 in 1977, a decade after the Velvet Underground’s debut album was launched and Reed’s firing of Warhol.
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In brief order, Warhol turned the group’s supervisor. But his relationship with the band finally angered Reed regardless of Warhol getting them cool gigs, publicity and a report deal. Warhol had an unimaginable work ethic and flaunted it to a miffed Reed. “Every day Andy [arrived to the Factory] ahead of me, and he would ask how many songs I wrote that day,” Reed says within the documentary. “I would tell him 10. He would say, ‘Oh, you’re so lazy. You should have written 15.’ ”

Warhol’s affect on the band was giant and fast. “Andy made the band visible in every conceivable way,” Haynes advised The Post. “He gave them legitimacy and visual impact. He called the band’s music rude and crude … like his films. His filmmaking was personified by the Velvets.”

While Warhol did get them some oddball gigs — together with because the leisure for a psychiatrist-society’s annual dinner, which the New York Times coated; a shrink there likened the band to “an LSD experience” — he additionally gave them an ongoing stand, as a part of his Exploding Plastic Inevitable, on the Dom, a former Polish wedding ceremony corridor on St. Marks Place. That present turned all the trend and made the Velvet Underground well-known. Walter Cronkite, Jackie Kennedy and Rudolph Nureyev all swung downtown to soak up the pop artist’s new discovery.

Warhol's crowd dug the Velvet Underground.
Warhol’s crowd dug the Velvet Underground.

Further indicators of a power struggle between Reed and Warhol emerged throughout that gig. As a part of the act, Rubin projected polka dots onto Reed; requested why he places up with the dots, Reed wearily replied to future Ramones supervisor Danny Fields, “It’s what Andy wants.”

Warhol additionally pushed ahead the thought of getting Nico, a stunning Teutonic blonde who stole scenes in “La Dolce Vita,” be a part of the band to sing just a few of Reed’s songs. “Paul [Morrissey, the filmmaker who collaborated with Warhol] started convincing Andy that Lou was not that much of a good-looking guy. You had to have a beautiful girl in there,” Name remembers within the doc. “Lou had to be begged by Andy.”

Reed relented and the thought proved to be a very good one. “You realized,” says Velvets co-founder John Cale within the documentary, “[Warhol’s] eye for publicity and the idea of this blond iceberg next to us all dressed in black.”

Andy Warhol (right) had to beg Lou Reed to let Nico (left) into the band.
Andy Warhol (third from left) needed to beg Lou Reed to let Nico (second from left) into the band.
Getty Images

But Nico herself was not so simply satisfied to associate with a seemingly harebrained idea introduced by Warhol. “Andy wanted her to sing inside a Plexiglas box,” Jackson Browne, who dated Nico and performed guitar along with her, says within the documentary. “But Nico wasn’t having it.”

Neither, apparently was Reed, who, as Cale notes within the doc, “went crazy and fired Andy” in 1967. “Andy produced the first record in that he was there, breathing, in the studio,” Reed says, though he did acknowledge that “his presence meant we could make the record without anyone changing anything.”

The Velvet Underground (Lou Reed, second from left) after Andy Warhol was fired and John Cale was pushed out.
The Velvet Underground (together with Lou Reed, second from left) after Andy Warhol was fired and John Cale was pushed out.
Michael Ochs Archives

Seeking a motive for the parting — past every thing else, Warhol designed one of many all-time iconic album covers, depicting a peelable banana, for the group’s debut — a reporter from Rolling Stone asked Reed if Warhol had gotten bored with the Velvets. Reed responded, “No. Andy passes through things but so do we. He sat down and had a talk with me. ‘You gotta decide what you want to do. Do you want to just keep playing museums and the art festivals? Or do you want to start moving into other areas? Lou, don’t you think you should think about it?’ So I thought about it, and I fired him.”

The artist, certainly stunned that his heart-to-heart had gone so badly awry, responded by calling Reed “a rat.” Most probably, Warhol was unaware that Reed — who advised Rolling Stone, “That was the worst thing he could think of” — and others already employed a extra reducing put-down for him: Drella, a mix of Dracula and Cinderella.

Lou Reed (above) gave Andy Warhol the axe.
Lou Reed (above) gave Andy Warhol the ax.

Warhol’s absence was probably felt throughout the recording session for the band’s quick and noisy second album. The making of “White Light/White Heat” was suitably on the market and prompted such a racket that the engineer mentioned to the group, “I don’t have to listen to this. I’ll put it on record. When you’re done, come and get me.” (After the album’s launch, Reed pushed Cale out of the band, too.)

Apparently, Warhol overstepped his bounds — as Haynes put it, the Velvets “became performers for the Andy Warhol circus show” — and possibly got here off as an excessive amount of a member of the band. Perhaps that was what actually ticked off the naturally mercurial Reed. “People thought Andy was our lead guitarist,” Reed says within the doc, earlier than snarkily including, “That made things difficult when we lost our great shepherd.”

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