Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground together reflected the broad popular culture of their times which moved from the innocent frenzy of the late 40’s, and the muted cool of the 50’s to the irresponsible excess and flamboyance of the 60’s – the age of rock ‘n’ roll, the Beat movement, and sex and drugs. An age fueled by creative energy and breaking free from social constraints – an age where art and music took on the task of responding to the chaos and disorder of a society triggered by racism, sexism and its restraints on individual freedom.
When you listen to Sunday Morning or Venus in Furs and imagine the dark romantic milieu conjured by drug-slowed folk rock, the passionate fervor of Cale’s modernist musical genius, and the rugged urban poetry of Lou Reed – you will understand how the Velvet Underground’s music was like a mirror to Andy Warhol’s world. Reed was like a reporter who gave voice to lost souls in Warhol’s Factory.
Many worlds converged at the Factory and it was probably inevitable that Warhol met the Velvet Underground here through Gerard Malanga, his personal assistant during the mid-Sixties. By this time, Warhol had plans to front a rock band and open his first mixed-media show in New York, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, involving live music, dance, and film.
The Velvets regularly rehearsed at the Factory and toured with Warhol and his entourage. The artist had a strong influence in the New York rock underground scene and by taking the Velvets into his social world; he was virtually creating the underground music scene all over again. By the late 60s, Andy was bringing together classical modernist music with gruff pop by managing the Velvet Underground.
The affinity between Warhol and the Velvets goes much deeper than great album art and the atmosphere at the Factory and Exploding Plastic Inevitable events. The Velvets saw the best of the artist and preserved it in their music. There is a fairly broad consensus that their love song I’ll Be Your Mirror is in a sense a portrait of Warhol and his vacant, extinguished gaze. The poetry of Heroin reflects his art, especially his car crash paintings.
Warhol’s soul is witnessed in the music he nurtured. He was driven to make art music and his recognition of the Velvets’ talent was one of the finest moments of the age and they went on to make a modern classic music album in The Velvet Underground & Nico.
The Velvet Underground was also far ahead of its time in many ways, and were headed towards their very own new direction. Their paranoid aggressiveness and boisterous alternative lifestyles have been picked up by other sub-cultures later on, especially punk rockers.