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THE NEW YORK CITY UNDERGROUND

ESSENTIAL QUESTION

How did New York bands interact with the city's art scene to create something new?

OVERVIEW

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.


Lou Reed, 1972     |     Credit: Carl Guderian

VIDEO

IMAGES

OBJECTIVES

Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • How the music and art communities intersected in the case of the Velvet Underground and their work with Andy Warhol
    • The example of Patti Smith as a poet-bandleader
    • The examples of the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan as musicians who have actively collaborated with New York's wider art world
  2. Be able to (skills):
    • Extrapolate arguments about music by assessing sound, mood, tone, instrumentation
    • Write creatively for personal and/or small group expression
    • Compare and contrast texts, arguments and ideas
    • Common Core: Students will draw connections among various print, audio and visual texts to deepen their knowledge and understanding (CCSS Reading 2; CCSS Reading 7; CCSS Speaking and Listening 2; CCSS Speaking and Listening 3)
    • Common Core: Students will draw evidence from informational texts to suport research and analysis of the contributions of Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and/or Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsburg (CCSS Writing 9)

ACTIVITIES

Motivational Activity:

  1. Share handout of an article from the Daily Utah Chronicle. Ask the students the question below and divide the class up in two groups based on their answer.
    • Do you think what Andy Warhol did when he sent an impersonator in his place, after booking himself to deliver a lecture, was right or wrong?
  2. Have the two groups conduct a debate, basing their support or non-support of Warhol's actions on the following questions:
    • What do you think his point was?
    • Do you think there is artistic value in his act?
    • How do you think the art world reacted?
    • How do you think this is or is not an artistic act?

Procedure:

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:

  • In what ways do you think Warhol might have influenced Reed?
  • What in particular makes Reed seem a product of Warhol's thinking?
  • What kind of presence is Reed?
  • Would you want to be the interviewer? Why or why not?

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.

  • Could an artist affect a band's look?
  • Could an artist or writer affect their songwriting?
  • Could a filmmaker affect a band's visual appearance?
  • Ask them to explain their answers.

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:

  • Why might the Stones have wanted Warhol to create the cover for an album that was very much about New York in the late 1970s?
  • What do you think Warhol is saying about identity when he presents the band in this way?
  • How does this record cover relate to what you've already learned about Warhol?

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:

  • Can you speculate as to what kinds of New York artists might have affected Smith's approach to making music?
  • Do you think she was affected by painters? Filmmakers? Poets? Explain your answers with reference to the performance.

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.

Summary Activity:

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.)

Homework/Assessment:

Assign one or more of the following:

  • Design and create cover art for a current band, imaging yourself to be a New York City artist who's trying to help the band create an image.
  • Research Andy Warhol's work with the Velvet Underground and write a one-page paper describing how Warhol affected their approach as music-makers.

Extensions:

  1. Research Bob Dylan's artistic relationship with poet Allen Ginsberg. Write a two-page paper describing the way Dylan has worked as a literary artist, including an account of the interactions he had with Ginsberg and how they might have affected him.
  2. Read the rest of Nick Kent's 1976 piece on New York City Rock and Roll. Pick one the bands he speaks well of and do a one-page research paper on that group.

STANDARDS

Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text

  • Reading 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

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

  • Writing 9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

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.

 

Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

National Standards for Music Education

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.