Ilgaz Reviews the Velvet Underground NYC Experience

Ilgaz Reviews the Velvet Underground NYC Experience


“White light, Oh have mercy white light have it goodness knows … “. The vanguard of the 60s, the Velvet Underground created dark, Dionysian music that changed my life, moved me to tears, and shook my soul.

Initially called the Warlocks, the quartet consisted of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Moe Tucker, later replaced by Angus MacLise, the Velvet Underground’s seminal underground art house avant-garde, experimental attitude shaped rock history, and frankly the course of modern music.



The Velvet Underground were without reservations, melancholic, a bit morbid, and full of controversy, yet their songs are energetic with lively guitars and soaring drums that affirm and comfort, which I would argue goes to show how ahead of their time they were. Although their debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, flopped in the charts due to controversial material such as “Venus in Furs” (a tale of BDSM), “I’m Waiting for the Man,” (an account of hustling on Lexington and 125th) , and “Heroin,” (about heroin).

They were therefore banned from being sold in record stores and were not given radio airtime. Despite the content, it is said that while only 30,000 copies were sold, everyone who bought the album started a band. Rock on.

The exhibition itself is located on Broadway, just across the NYU Tisch building. Now, when I first heard that there was going to be a VU exhibit, I cried tears of joy. I really did–my flat mate at the time probably thought I was weird. But to be honest, I was mildly disappointed by the lack of original memorabilia. I anticipated guitars, drumsticks, posters, or a pair of dark sunglasses. Instead, the exhibit was rich with black and white photographs depicting the front and back scenes of the Factory, Max’s Kansas City, and VU shenanigans. One memorable piece though was an original Velvet Underground & Nico record signed by all members including Andy Warhol, who had designed the cheeky cover and sleeve. My favorite aspect of the exhibit was a tent-like viewing area where you could lay down and gaze up at original experimental footage of the Velvets and company.



Fun fact #1: Lou Reed wrote the forward to a reissue of Delmore Schwartz’s first collection of short stories and poems, and that the Velvet’s song “European Son” is dedicated to Schwartz. Schwartz’s stories describe the inner turmoil Depression era intellectuals faced, the tribulations of the children of Jewish immigrant children, and the uneasiness and disappointment in living up to and attaining the American dream.

Fun fact #2: The Velvet Underground band name derives from a book of the same title Lou Reed found, investigated and written by journalist Michael Leigh, which reports on paraphilia in the United States (amazing what you can find on NYC sidewalks, right?).

Fun fact #3: Nico was intentionally added to the group by Warhol to make the band look pretty.

All this just confirmed my belief that The Velvets will forever be my favorite group from the 60s-70s, one that completely ripped me apart and rearranged my atoms.