THE NEW YORK CITY UNDERGROUND
How did New York bands interact with the city's art scene to create something new?
Interviewer: Since you were here last time, you seem to have been working full time doing concerts all over.
Lou Reed: It's a lie. There are five of me going out, just like the Drifters in the old days.
-- Interview with Lou Reed, 1975
Although a mop-headed "swinger'"who claimed to be [Andy] Warhol created a mild furor during and after an appearance in the Union Ballroom Oct. 2, extensive evidence has suggested he was not Warhol "in the flesh'". . . . At a reception after the program, two members of the Art Department staff who had met Warhol in New York claimed the artist and "guest of honor'" was not Warhol.
-- Daily Utah Chronicle, January 31, 1968
This lesson considers New York City and the cross currents that run between the worlds of music-making and the arts in a broad sense, particularly the visual and literary arts. The epigraphs above provide a launching point for a discussion about one example of such cross currents. Lou Reed, a member of the Velvet Underground, a group Rolling Stone's David Fricke described in 1989 as, "arguably the most influential band of rock's last quarter century," describes becoming multiples of himself so that he can tour frequently. While Reed associates that with the Drifters, a vocal group that purportedly performed in latter-day incarnations that included no original members, But the more obvious line of influence for Reed's thinking goes back to Andy Warhol, the New York art world's most celebrated figure and onetime producer of the Velvet Underground.
As this lesson will describe, Andy Warhol was interested in the meeting place of "high" art and commercial art. Where the paintings of Rembrandt and Leonardo Da Vinci are single pieces, with museums across the world fighting to get one of these originals, Warhol created multiples. Much of his work was done using a silkscreening process that allowed him to create a "run" of paintings rather than just one. As a process, it was, at least to the fine-art world, shocking. When Warhol went one step further and sent a "copy" of himself to give a lecture at a college in Utah, he further offended the sensibilities of his patrons. Lou Reed, who described Warhol as the Velvet Underground's "catalyst," slyly picks up Warhol's line of thinking when asked about his active schedule: "There are five of me."
This flow of ideas between Andy Warhol and Lou Reed, illustrated in their actual or purported play with multiples, is representative of a New York experience. Surveying the city from the vantage point of 1976, Nick Kent, in an article from the Rock's Backpages archive, describes the scene thus: "Getting down to basics again, I'd confidently state that out of this current plethora of new N.Y. groups, at least five are capable of exceptional contributions to rock. It should be dutifully noted that at least four of those bands bear obvious heavy debts inspiration-wise to Lou Reed's work specifically within the framework of the [Velvet Underground]." The bands/artists he's referring to include Television, the Talking Heads, the Heartbreakers, and Patti Smith. But what did they draw from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground? As this lesson will suggest, the answer wasn't always in the music itself. The example of Lou Reed was an example of the cross current described above, that movement of influence between the art world and the music scene.
Video pages: Lou Reed - Aversion to Performing and Giving Interviews (1975) | Patti Smith - Imagination and Liberation (1976) | Patti Smith - Redondo Beach (1976) | Lou Reed - Walk on the Wild Side (1974)
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
1. Explain to the students that Andy Warhol was involved as producer with the New York Rock and Roll band the Velvet Underground. Tell them that they're going to see an excerpt from an interview with Lou Reed, the former singer for the Velvet Underground, done in 1975 on a solo tour.
2. After showing the clip, ask the following:
3. To the instructor: explain to the students that the Velvet Underground worked with Warhol at Warhol's "Factory," where the artist based his film, painting, and other art operations. Tell them that Reed described Warhol's role with the band thus: "He was the catalyst. always putting jarring elements together."
4. Ask the group to reflect on the ways in which an artist who is not a musician can affect a group of musicians or an individual performer.
5. Show an image of the Rolling Stones' Some Girls album. Explain to the class that the cover was done by Warhol at a time when the Stones were based largely in New York. Ask them the following questions:
6. In what way would you say Lou Reed and the Rolling Stones share an understanding of how they can learn from and work with a visual artist?
7. Break the students into groups of four or five and ask them to watch the clip of Patti Smith performing "Redondo Beach." Based on that performance, ask the students in each group:
8. Have the students watch the Patti Smith interview clip, "Imagination and Liberation." Based on that, ask the group to arrive at what they think Smith's artistic philosophy might be.
9. Lastly, read them this excerpt from Nick Kent's piece: "Getting down to basics again, I'd confidently state that out of this current plethora of new N.Y. groups, at least five are capable of exceptional contributions to rock. It should be dutifully noted that at least four of those bands bear obvious heavy debts inspiration-wise to Lou Reed's work specifically within the framework of the [Velvet Underground]." Explain that Kent counts the Patti Smith Group central among them.
Have the class watch a clip of Lou Reed performing "Walk on the Wild Side." Ask them to respond to this question: If indeed Patti Smith was influenced by the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, what in Reed's performance seems to be something that influenced Patti Smith? (Note to instructor: Encourage them to consider how Reed forms his words, so much like spoken language, and how he uses his body on stage.)
Assign one or more of the following:
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Speaking and Listening 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
Core Music Standard: Responding
Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.