The most elusive and least documented of all velvets speaks candidly about his life with the VU!
The Velvet Underground fanzine, Volume 3, Fall/Winter 1994
©1994 Fierce Pup Productions, courtesy of Sal Mercuri
Pre VU | Joining the Velvet Underground | The gray album | The road | Drugs | Rock And Roll | Loaded
Late in 1968 The Velvet Underground left John Cale and New York City behind. The acrimonious split has been analyzed and explicated ad nauseum. Indeed, the attention and ink devoted to the infamous parting has overshadowed what became of the band in the post Cale days. The Velvet Underground not only survived but in many ways thrived without the rambunctious John Cale. Cale's link to the avant garde all but guaranteed that the band would not achieve any semblance of mainstream success. Enter Doug Yule, the oft maligned, more oft forgotten Velvet. The Yule era VU has been attacked for becoming the vehicle for Lou Reeds soft side; a homogeneous entity devoid of the white hot intensity which was fueled by the uncompromising spirit of John Cale. What the pundits fail to remember is that regardless of who played faster or louder or dirtier, the VU was always a vehicle for Lou Reeds songwriting. Venus in Furs, Heroin, Waiting for Man, are Lou Reed songs. What turns them into Velvet Underground songs is their performances.
Doug Yule did not replace John Cale. No one could. What Doug Yule did was allow the Velvet Underground to record songs like Pale Blue Eyes, Candy Says, What Goes on, Sweet Jane, and Rock-n-Roll, without fear. Without the Cale/art link, the band could prove to the world that they were not merely New York underground artsy faggot/junkie dahlings, but a real Rock-n-Roll band which could play the balls off of any other band. Of course they had to do this away from the rotting apple.
Boston and The Tea Party became the VU's home in their most productive days. Not exactly the sticks, but Boston's atmosphere is palpably sweeter than New York's. Besides, once you leave New York, you're out of town. As a road band, the VU found some friendly ports. Touring was a way to make some cash, certainly more than any record company was paying them. It also allowed them to develop and hone new material in the most effective way - in front of a receptive audience. The Velvet Underground found more open arms waiting for them in the clubs and auditoria than would ever embrace them via record stores. As a kid, relatively, playing a tough game, Doug Yule found himself, at times, in over his head. But he had the confidence, some may say arrogance, to try and keep up. The records show that he did much more than that. In a short time, Doug would become an important player contributing not only to some classic live performances as documented in 69 Live, but also in fully half of the VU's now revered recorded work.
Doug Yule claims he was a very arrogant, greedy, critical young man. We did not meet that Doug Yule. The one we dealt with is generous, self-effacing, and content with his life far from the music business. He was extremely kind and candid when we asked that he share his memories of life with the Velvet Underground. Doug is a very easy man to talk with. This interview was conducted very casually by Eric and Sal. Rather than sticking to a Q/A format we determined that the article would read better as Doug speaking on various topics. Were certain there are some of you who feel some key points may have been missed this way. Sorry.
We were happy to just let the man talk.
Starting from the beginning - after spending a year at Boston University, I went to the west coast, and then back to the east coast and successfully managed to convince the Army not to take me into the Vietnam War. I went to a forensic psychologist who was actively against the war and who, within the letter of the law, found that I was basically eligible for a deferment on a 1Y and wrote a letter to that effect, which I took to the draft board. According to the Selective Service laws at the time, if you were under psychiatric treatment you were not eligible, and you had to be reviewed in a year.
Six months later they were tearing up letters from the same doctor even though he was still within the law. But the army can pretty much do what they like. I should have been reviewed in a year and then been taken in, but somehow my records got lost.
At Boston University I majored in acting, and I was a terrible actor. To be a good actor you have to be in touch with some basic emotions and be able to actually feel them, but in the family I grew up in we didn't have feelings and we didn't discuss them and we didn't even know that we had them, and so I made a terrible actor. Then I started playing with some bands in Boston. I was playing guitar and got hooked into a cover band playing organ. It was know as the Argonauts, and then the Argo, and then I got hooked into another band playing guitar. That was called the Grass Menagerie. Grass Menagerie was an original band. It was a point of pride back then whether you were in a cover band or an original band. It wasn't a very good original band. We made demo tapes. Never did much recording before the Velvets.
I wasn't a founder of the Grass Menagerie, I just came in and got the job as guitar player. Walter Powers and Willie Alexander were in that band at one point we all played together. There was some unpleasantness involving a keyboard player - whose name shall remain unmentioned at this point - who went on to do some things later, but basically remained sort of undiscovered. He lured another member of the band with heroin in order to get him to play with him. It was kind of nasty. One person was on methadone and this guy brought in heroin and got him high. This guy was trying to straighten his life out, and he'd say "I'm not playing anymore" because he knew that when he played, he would wind up getting high. So I kind of always held that against the other person.
I started living in one of the rooms of the managers apartment over a studio on River Street in Boston, and when they were in town, some of the VU would stay there because their manager, Steve Sesnick, was a friend of Hans and Dick, the two managers of the Grass Menagerie. I was living upstairs with the Grass Menagerie, and Sterling would occasionally stay at the apartment when he was in town, as would Lou sometimes. So I met them from time to time and got to know them and hung out with them. I remember hanging out backstage at the Tea Party occasionally. After a while I remember I was sitting and playing in the living room, and Sterling was sitting around doing whatever we do on Saturday morning waiting for the show, but I heard later that he went back to the hotel where Steven and Lou were staying and happened to mention that I was learning how to play - and it happened to be just before they fired John. Sterling went back and made the comment "Doug is getting better, he's actually getting somewhere", which is nice because I was really trying to get somewhere. That was just about the time that John was fired, de facto fired, although as I understand, the band broke up and reformed without him, which is the classic way a rock-n-roll band fires anybody.
JOINING THE VELVET UNDERGROUND
They went back home to New York, and a couple of weeks later I get a call from Steve Sesnick, I was just going in to take a shower. I remember because I was really stinky. I go in to take a shower and get called out for the phone. It's Steve Sesnick, who says, "Hi Doug, how would you like to join the Velvet Underground?" And of course I figure, here it is. Here's the elevator up. I finally hit it, because to me, this was a big band. They were gaining popularity. They were quite popular before I joined. They played Harvard in front of a college crowd, which was really more like a big party rather than a concert. They were popular along with the whole scene which was gaining popularity, the whole sort of San Francisco style concert.
I remember going to see the band when they played at one of the houses at Harvard and just being totally blown away by the impact of it, the shock. I don't know how to describe it, but I remember going home that night and mapping out a whole theatrical performance in my head. I made notes and everything, which I discovered later and it was very funny, but it involved a way to present a group along those same lines - but with more theater. They were doing it musically, but I was thinking more theatrically. But it really impressed me a lot. So I said "Yeah, I'd love to join". Steve says, "Why don't you come down tonight and well talk about it". This guy was going down. It was 5 or 6 in the evening in October 68, and friend of the manager was going down, so we got into a Volkswagen, didn't get to take a shower, drove to New York and went to Max's, still stinky. So I found Steve and Lou in Max's and sat down and talked for a while. Steve was a spinner of yarns and a bullshiter. He loved to talk and was a good talker. I'm sure he still is, wherever he is. He talked for a long time, and you could tell in retrospect that Lou talked and he talked, but Steve created the web of words that he used to control and manipulate everyone in the group ultimately. So I went that night and stayed with Lou, I think. As I recall this was a Wednesday or Thursday night. I rehearsed for two days with him, just learning tunes, and went to La Cave in Cleveland that weekend. Played two nights there, stayed in a Howard Johnson's that hadn't converted from air conditioning to heat yet and they had a sudden cold snap. So I remember walking around in blankets. I remember staying up the first night with Lou, - we stayed up all night talking.
After La Cave, we left for my first tour with them of the whole west coast, including the End of Cole I think, or maybe it was another club owned by the same guy who owned End of Cole, and up through California. Lots of fun, played the Whisky, the Avalon. I was basically running to keep up. They had been doing this for a while but for me, it was all new. I had been playing in local bands, where you get to a place, you haul out your stuff, you set it up, and you play, and then you break it all down, stuff it in a truck, and go home. Get home at 2 in the morning, that was the music scene. With the Velvets there were roadies right from the start. Someone else was always moving the equipment. Sesnick was a real hustler, and he managed to get the airlines to fly these amps around. People confused him with Selznik, and he encouraged that. They'd confuse the names and say "Oh, are you related to David O. Selznik?" And he'd say "Oh yeah". On one of these tours we stayed at the St. Francis in San Francisco which is like one of the oldest hotels in San Francisco. Really old money, and they don't like men with shoulder length hair walking around in the lobby in flowered shirts. They didn't want us there, but he finagled it with his little song and dance. So we toured and then we practiced, and then we went to record the third album.
THE GRAY ALBUM
The gray album was a lot of fun. The sessions were constructive and happy and creative, everybody was working together. I remember working on What Goes On, working on the solo. Lou cranked his guitar up all the way and played a solo. It was good and we said "wanna try another? We got a few more tracks", and we put down three solos. He came back in and listened, and the engineer said, "well, the next one you do, well have to kill another one, because we don't have any more open tracks". This is in the days when you didn't have unlimited tracks. So I said, "Why don't you play one more, and well play them all at once", and it worked. It sounds like bagpipes. White Light/White Heat and What Goes On aren't that different to me. Different treatments, but basically very similar tunes. White Light ends in chaos and the end of What Goes On is rhythm but they're both Rock-n-Roll songs. Murder Mystery is manic. I can't listen to it. The words are manic and they're presented manically.
The bass part for Jesus was great. It's really nice. It's a finger picked bass line. It's something that I do, which I don't hear many bass players do. Most people come at bass from either the bottom end like rock-n-roll or soul, where you're basically playing roots and bridge notes to the next root, but you're basically holding down the bottom. I play bass from a very different attitude. I started playing in fourth grade. I learned baritone and played at the bottom of a concert band - you know, the lower harmonic end of a concert band - and then in seventh or eighth grade I moved on to tuba. I played tuba all through high school, so in both band and orchestral music, my head is formed around lower harmonic structure but not just the root, not just the bottom.
It has to do more with counter melodies in a bass structure against upper melodies, so I don't play bass the way most people play bass. I can't. I don't think the bass is a rhythm instrument, which is how it's used, for the most part, in rock-n-roll. I use it as part of a larger harmonic structure. What were doing here is intellectualizing something that's not an intellectual function anyway. Music doesn't come from your mind, it comes from your body. When I play bass I don't play notes and rhythms, I play parts. The thing for Jesus actually becomes the main melody at one point. On Sally Can't Dance, on the song Billy, I do the same thing. It's almost a little song in its own right. The way I play bass is halfway between playing tuba and baritone sax. When you hear Eddie Harris play baritone sax, it's not down at the bottom of the mix. It's a whole part of the harmonic structure and when you put it all together, it adds up to the song. If you take it out there's something missing. A lot of bass players, you take them out and you don't have that move-your-shoulders rhythm, but the harmonic structure is still there.
Val Valentin was MGM's producer. We didn't know about his mix when it was done. That was kind of done by MGM on the sly, or they figured we wouldn't hear it.
As I recall, they didn't think it sounded commercial enough. So they sent the Valentin mix overseas, because we wouldn't be going. Valentin was undistinguished in my memory. I've never heard anything about our sonic effects being stolen. It's news to me. All I know was we showed up in LA, we were playing, and they said, were going to stay over and do an album. We had been touring and we just stayed on and did this album. We stayed at the Chateau Marmont in LA, where Myra Breckenridge was filmed. I'm just a kid playing guitar. I'm 21 years old and I'm just having a ball. I'm doing what I've always wanted to do. I'm with a famous band - like we'd play the Whisky and Jimi Hendrix came to see us, so that was a thrill.
It was the typical musicians life. I actually had a child, but not by anyone I was living with. There was a time when we just traveled weekends. The limousine would come pick you up at your apartment, pick up everybody else, take you to the airport; you'd fly somewhere for the weekend and play a couple of nights and then come back. No real bizarre road stories - one time the Grateful Dead were putting acid on the tabs of Coke cans and Sterling got dosed. I remember I picked up a girl that night who looked like she knew everything. She was very quiet and had this mysterious smile. Turned out she was just tripping. That show the Dead opened for us; we opened for them the next night so that that no one could say they were the openers. As you know, the Grateful Dead play very long sets and they were supposed to only play for an hour. We were up in the dressing room and they're playing for an hour and a half and, hour and 45 minutes. So the next day when we were opening for them, Lou says, "Huh, watch this". And we proceeded to play a very long set. We did Sister Ray for like an hour and then a whole other show. Lou was out to prove that he could do it. Well, I was brought up to not say "suckin on my ding dong" in public but it was Rock-n-Roll, it was 1969, and our contemporaries were people like the MC5 who were singing things like "up against the wall, motherfucker" and openly advocating violent acting out by their audiences. They begged people to tear down the walls, tear the place down. Later I heard a story about them. We became friends with them, 'cause we played with them a few times. I heard later that they were at a point in their career where their manager sat them down and said "listen guys, you can ride in a limousine and own a fast car or you can advocate revolution. What's it gonna be?" and they basically said, "we wanna ride in a limousine" and he said "fine, from now on you can't do this, and you can't do this, but you can do this, and you can say this but you can't do it, and you have to do everything I say!" And they did. And they achieved some success after that, but not much.
I recall we played with them at the Tea Party once where they played in front of us and they had this huge finish where they just were ranting at the people. John Sinclair was ranting, yelling revolution now, tear down the walls, kill the pigs and they got off and the crowd was really antsy and here comes the Velvet Underground who were the same kind of thing supposedly. I mean, that's why they put us on the same bill. It was strange. It was really unsettling because we were standing on the edge of a riot waiting to see if it was going to happen.
We walked out on stage, and everyone was kind of nervous. Charles, who did the introductions for the Tea Party, walked out and said, "here they are, you know them, the Velvet Underground". Lou walks up to the microphone, looks out at the audience and says, "I just want you to know, before we begin, that I don't agree with anything that's been said". And the crowd cheered and that was it. It was defused. He attacked things head on. He went straight in, straight for the jugular - "If you kill me, fine. If I kill you, fine. But this is what it is."
I've never taken any drugs folks (faux sincerity here).
The whole point of Rock-n-Roll is sex and drugs. Or at least it was then. A lot of the groups that were traveling had a lot of women chasing them and we had a few. It was a very chaotic period in my life and in the world.
I went to school in '65-'66 and hung out in Boston during the summer of love and I never smoked pot until I was a senior in high school when my ex boy scout leader turned me on to it. He was a mess. Two things I learned when I was a boy scout; one was to swear when I was in the boy scouts and when I was out my ex leader turned me on to pot. I've since come to question the appropriateness of a paramilitary youth organization.
I remember playing one night on a very mild hit of acid. I thought I was great. I think it was probably a little disjointed. I have played on speed a few times and can tell you that on speed all things are possible. My voice is higher on speed and I could carry notes I didn't think I'd hit and it's real you really can do it. It's just that your body is being pushed more. I've played on pot. When we did the Matrix in San Francisco out of which came a lot of those live recordings, I remember going out one night doing the first set basically straight, we always had a couple of beers, and then coming back for the second set after someone had passed a joint and literally, I kid you not, tuning for 15 minutes. And it wasn't working. This is before little tuning machines came out so you had to actually tune and we tuned forever and then played a song and then we tuned for another 5 minutes, nobody could hear.
ROCK AND ROLL
At that point in time what was happening in the music scene was twofold. people got into music because it was the coolest thing you could do was to play music. That's what was happening was Rock-n-Roll. In 1962 when the Beatles hit the coolest thing you could do was have long hair. In the late 60s for everybody I knew that was the coolest thing you could do. I quit acting school to play music because that's what was happening that was the center, the core around which the whole hippie movement seemed to grow was the music. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, that seemed like the blossom in the center of the flower. So we got into music because it was really cool. As you were in there for a while it became desirable to be really successful at that. Because that allowed you to keep doing it and allowed you to have some of those nice things that everyone said were important like BMWs, big houses, expensive equipment, new guitars.
When you're a 20 year old kid and you have one guitar and you look in the music store at these cool Les Pauls and they're $3000 you need money. The other side of it was that you wanted to be successful and the way you did that was to have a hit record. At that point that was the vehicle. Now you need a hit video or a hit album. There are people who can make a good living in music, tour and everything and not have a hit single. One of the things that Lou and Sesnick were focused in on was trying to produce a hit pop single and you can hear that in both the 3rd album and Loaded. Everybody always sort of focused in on Lou's ability to bash to be loud and vulgar or loud and grating or loud and to be assaultive or aggressive but very few people then followed through and listened to the other parts even on the first album which is a very crashing sort of, there are those couple of songs which are very melodic.
I never heard the first album, actually. I learned the songs from Lou. Same with White Light. The one time I mentioned before where I saw them at Harvard, I'm not sure if Cale was with them. The thing that really stuck in my mind was Lou, he was playing that Gretsch Country Gentleman that he had rewired inside and put repeaters and stuff in it, and I was just amazed by the amount of noise he could get out of that guitar. I don't remember John being there all I remember is that guitar. It may have been just the 3 of them. I don't remember seeing Cale that night. He could have been sick or something. When I was with them we played without Lou, without Moe, not if we could help it but it did happen. Lou was wearing black leather too and that was cool. Nobody was wearing black leather in those days in Boston, black leather pants, black leather jacket, the whole thing.
The process by which songs became learned or became part of the repertoire was Lou would come in at rehearsal, we had rehearsals on a regular basis, and he'd say I have a new song and he'd sit down and start playing it. When I was there it was often me and him doing that before everyone else was there. But other times it would be everyone together and we'd start fooling around with it and work it out and then we would invariably play it that night at the show, we'd usually rehearse when we were on tour.We'd get together in the afternoon and do a soundcheck, do a rehearsal maybe work out a new song and play it that night and then it would be part of the repertoire and then it would evolve over the next few nights. Most of the stuff that was recorded was worked out on stage. We'd rehearse it performing and then it would evolve and then we'd record it. Most of the songs found their way out one way or another. There was marginal stuff that we would fool around with, half songs which turned up later and I'd think "oh, that was that".
I remember doing Candy Says live, that's the softest thing on the album, and we recorded it exactly how we played it.
There was a lot of on stage improvisation which you can do if your rhythm section is continuous. Maureen didn't play a lot of breaks. She started the song, she played through, and then when it ended she stopped like a drum machine, and you can fool around with that, Lou could slow her down or speed her up. Maureen didn't improvise much.
On Loaded there was a big push to produce a hit single, there was that mentality, which one of these is a single, how does it sound when we cut it down to 3 1/2 minutes, so that was a major topic for the group at that point. And I think that the 3rd album to a great extent shows a lot of that in that a lot of those songs were designed as singles and if you listen to them you can hear the derivation, like this is sort of a Phil Spector-ish kind of song, or this is that type of person song.
We needed a drummer for Loaded because Maureen was pregnant. Billy was a pretty good drummer at the time so I said "do you want me to get my brother?" they said yes so he came out and played. He played live and when we were doing some album cuts for Loaded. I've always been a frustrated drummer so I play drums on some of those. The producer actually played drums on one but we cut it out. Then there was a guy from Long Island. No one knew his last name. He said it when he came in and I'm sure the people who paid him knew it, but when it was time to do the credits, no one remembered it so he just appears as 'Tommy'.
I played drums on a couple of cuts. The cuts with Billy were done after we'd been playing at Max's for a while. We went back in and redid them.
There was also a version of Ocean done during those sessions which I don't know what happened with. It may have gotten lost. I wrote a score for Ocean which was just string bass and cellos. All it was was a line of long notes, like harmonic fabric and we did a session and recorded it. I conducted it but I never heard it. It disappeared. I'd like to hear it because I was really pleased with the way the cellos fit in. They gave it this kind of watery space which I liked a lot. I was really into production at the time. I was really into writing music and was pleased that I got the chance to do that. It was dead simple but that's what it needed.
THE EVIL MANAGER
Breaking up the Velvets was all Sesnick. You can't imagine how sleazy he could be. I was like a kid thrown into the deep end of a pool and told to swim, that's what it was like for me joining the Velvet Underground. I was doing my best to keep up and play music. I wasn't really involved in the higher machinations, the psychological games which were going on until much later when I realized what had happened. Actually I was more involved in that after Lou left and after Sesnick dumped the second iteration of the band in England with no money and no equipment and just left us there to find our way back. He gave me 6 copies of Squeeze as pay. I never got any money. When you sign with ASCAP or BMI you get an advance. He not only made an arrangement with them but actually signed me and took the money.I went back years later when I was with American Flyer to sign with ASCAP and they told me I'd already signed. He'd done it. They said I'd received an advance of $500 and of course I never got it. He makes used car salesmen look like Lancelot. You at least want to control your manager he was out of control.
He used the divide and conquer mentality. You take four people who are basically insecure and very hungry for something and you feed each one what they want to hear and you keep them from talking to each other by telling them that the other people are against them and keep them isolated from the group. I would be told by him that I was better than Lou and that the others were not really my friends I should not confide in them and he did that to everybody that way your only source of information becomes him and he can tell you whatever he wants because you're not talking to other people. My brother was in a band managed by him and they sat down one night in the living room after Sesnick went to Europe and abandoned what was left of the Velvets in London with no money. They started talking, it was the first time they'd talked and started relating stories of what he'd said to them and they found this all out. His whole scam collapsed on that band because they started talking to each other. The Velvets never talked to each other. He kept them apart and we never communicated much.
My understanding of how the release of 69 Live came about is that it was started by Sesnick who had the tapes and was trying to sell them to get money for himself claiming that he owned the name and the rights to the album and somehow somebody else got involved and contacted other people in the group and basically Sesnick got done. They took the tapes and said "it's not yours" and released it. He began the process of getting the album released just trying to raise sleaze money.
He's as low as you can get He was living with a tall, statuesque blond woman, very beautiful, in a two bedroom apartment. He went somewhere and met this other girl named Penny and he married her. He came home and told the first woman I got married while I was away but don't leave, move into the other bedroom and some day well be together and she did. That's the kind of sleazy con person he was. He just played them off each other. His wholelife was like that. One big house of cards.
Moe and I were friends but I always got the feeling that Moe disapproved of everything that the rest of us were doing on some basic level. Moe was raised a catholic and she was pretty strict at the time. She always wore pants. She brought one dress with her on every tour and I remember waking up on a Sunday morning after doing a show the night before and being really bleary eyed and seeing a pair of legs go out the door and realizing that was Moe! She was going to church and I'd never seen her in a dress before. She was very consistent about that. She wouldn't swear a lot, I would say never but I seem to remember occasionally. She was very proper in a lot of ways. She didn't expect anybody else to live up to her standards but she would occasionally not allow certain behavior. You weren't supposed to get into any explicit talk about sex with Moe around. She could drink, though.
Sterling hates everything. Sterling didn't like me. I kind of came in and got tight with Lou when maybe Sterling felt he should've had more access. Sterling gave the impression he never liked anybody a lot of the time. He was kind of gruff and critical. I think he wanted to be recognized and have people say Sterling, you're wonderful. We love you which is what most people want. I remember getting a call from Sterling about 10 years ago when the group was suing Lou for back royalties and they wanted me to join them in the suit which I did, and I picked up the phone and hear this voice "Hello Douglas, this is Sterling" and I remember being so happy and ecstatic because it was Sterling and he was calling me up after all those years. It was a real kick. I remember talking with Maureen about 6 years ago in a lawyers office that was really fun too. I really miss them a lot. I miss them both and I like them. In spite of our personality quirks I had a really good time with them.
I know that he said he didn't like the way Loaded was going when it was being produced because he said I had too much weight in what was going on in the production. And I guess looking back I kind of liked that. I was having a really good time producing as well as recording. Production was a thing I really was into. I loved being in the studio. I loved putting stuff down and hearing it how it all sounded together and how it came up bigger than it started and I was really enjoying that. I always wanted to be a producer and I seemed to have a talent for it. I was pretty good at it; picking up what was missing or what wasn't working.
I think that it upset Sterling that it became the Lou/Doug kind of thing and with Maureen out he didn't have any real ally so he just stopped showing up. The album was finished after Lou was gone and Sesnick was trying to minimize Lou's contribution and maximize my contribution because he had it in his head that he would transfer Velvet Underground on to me and he could keep it. This had been his meal ticket for 4-5 years. I was a very arrogant ambitious young man. I was very critical of anyone else because of low self-esteem and fear that I wasn't adequate. Sesnick played on that. I remember him doing stuff like introducing me to someone as the next Paul McCartney. I just went for it hook line and sinker. You can't cone someone unless their greedy and I was real greedy.
Lou on the other hand has always been very distant from me, even when we were traveling together he was distant. If you go out and play pool with Maureen, you're just two people playing pool. If you play pool with Lou, you're on your best behavior. He was always kind of unpredictable so you always had to tip-toe around him. It was like having lunch with your boss. When you have lunch with your boss you don't slap him on the back "hey, you dumb motherfucker", you just don't do that. You treat him with a certain care. That how it was with Lou. I was never close to him and from what I understand, he still doesn't like me.
When he introduced me as my brother, Doug, that was just a little ego tripping, putting one over on the audience. Creating a little facade that would be a barrier. By creating a brother it would deflect some of the attention which would invariably focus on him off onto me. Lou's best talent is his ability to capitalize on whatever he does best. He doesn't have a very sweet voice. He built a guitar style based on an inability to do certain things. He took the things he could do and emphasized them and consequently people liked it. One thing about Lou is he doesn't waste his ideas in fact several of his songs made it out 2 or 3 times with different titles. he steals from himself as much as he steals from anybody. I mean, everybody steals from everybody. There's no such thing as an original song or an original sin.
Sister Ray was a reflection of what was going on at the particular time it was played, it was that kind of song. There was a lot of room in the song and it always took on the aspect of what was going on in the group at that time. If Lou was feeling angry it would be an angry version because he'd play angry. If Sterling was angry he'd just play less.
Lou was the one who was least controlled in the group. Sterling and myself and Maureen came out of backgrounds where we were very controlled. My parents were not very involved. My father was uninvolved emotionally. My mother was half there. I came home and I said "I'm in a Rock-n-Roll band" and they said "Oh, that's nice". In high school I smoked cigarettes since I was fourteen and only got yelled at once. One time when I went to the breakfast table with a pack of cigarettes in my pocket. They just weren't involved. Confrontation was not my family's strong suit. You just didn't walk up to someone and say "You're pissing me off. What are you doing this for?". That's the difference between me and Lou. Lou apparently never was afraid of that. If I was angry I'd tend to withdraw. If Sterling was angry he'd tend to withdraw. If Lou was angry he'd tend to act it out for whatever reasons. If he was angry it'd show up in the way he played. If we were angry it would show up in the way we played but we weren't as aggressive about it as he was plus he was the most forceful personality there and he was also the leader of the band and so you put all that together. He guided the improvisation, it speeded up when he wanted to speed it up and we went with him.
I remember being on stage with him during the '74 tour when he turned around and said in front of 5000 people "follow me". Oh? and he played a new song I'd never heard before, never heard it before. He did it and it worked. I mean his songs were simple enough that you could do that. They were basic, not a huge amount of chord changes and you could pick it up pretty quick and you could go with it, basic melodies that you could learn quickly and follow.
Lou's a funny guy. He called me up in late '73 or 74 and said he was doing Sally Can't Dance and they'd done all the tapes and I guess he was pissed off at his band or something and they were recording Billy and he asked if I'd play bass so I did. I have a kind of unique bass style not many people play the way I do so it was actually perfect, right up my alley, and he was thrilled. So he called me up later and said do you want to come out and play because he needed a guitar player. So we just kind of got together and started doing it. I guess I just felt safe to him at the time.He'd just come off a year as the blond nazi when they'd literally lead him on stage so stoned that he had to be walked to the mike and pray that he got through the set and lead him off again. He was just tired of doing that, I would be, it's a terrible way to live. So I was a person he knew, basically controllable, not trying to tell him what to do or anything.
That tour wasn't as dramatic as depicted. There was just one riot. There was just a little disturbance out front in Denmark. The riot was in Milan. A major riot. We never got to play. They teargassed the audience and then they wondered why they rioted. The police had rioted. The communist youth organization demanded free seats so they finally let them in and let them sit behind the band and they decided to have some fun and started throwing bottles on the stage so the music stopped and the police said oh, it's a riot and charged in through the doors and started teargassing everyone else. The communists were like a hundred people and the police teargassed 5000 people so when you teargas 5000 people they want to get out. So they had a riot of 5000 people trying to get out. Then there's that story that I stood in for Lou. That was a lie. We came out and told everyone that Lou was sick and couldn't make it and that we'd play for them and if they wanted their money back they could get it or they could come back tomorrow night. So we played a short set. People later said that I tried to impersonate Lou. I'm not that stupid.
American Flyer was started by Dennis Katz who was Lou's lawyer and then he and Lou had a parting of the way, he had a friend, Craig, who was looking to do something. He'd come out of Pure Prairie League Katz suggested to Craig's manager that because I'd just come off the tour with Lou that maybe Craig and I could do something together and when he mentioned it to his brother Steve who he thought might be the producer Steve said "oh, no I want to be in the group". Steve and I got together and started picking out songs and he picked out this song he wanted to learn Cruel Wind and he had trouble learning songs off records so he called up the writer to ask him how the song went and the writer, Eric, said he wanted to be in the band so it grew like that.
We put together 10 songs and played them live in Dennis' living room for several record company presidents and signed with the one with the biggest wallet. We did 2 albums and the group was literally tearing itself to pieces before the first album was finished with people split into 2 camps trying to get their songs on the album.Eric took over Craig who was the vocalist. Eric had the most material and we just kind of fell apart, which is a shame because there was potential there.
IF ASKED, WOULD YOU HAVE JOINED IN THE REUNION?
I thought about it and even wrote a screenplay about it, I thought about so much and I don't know without being asked but I'm pretty sure I would've said no because I have a 2 year old son and I can't imagine leaving him for several months.
I have an honest job. I have no money. I have lots of fun. I learned how to fly and became a pilot. I still have music in my head but I don't play it anymore, but I do sing it. People think i'm crazy because I sing all the time.
I took time after the VU and studied guitar with a guy from Great Neck called Joe Monk who's a fine jazz player. He's up there with the world class guitar players. I write songs all the time. If I had the option to get people together and practice 3 hours a day and put something together, sure I'd love to do that and play, but right now and for the last 20 years I've had to provide for children at one phase or another, so there just isn't time. I got together with my brother to play once a week, just play for fun, just songs we like. We went to play in a club one night for beer and pizza night or something, and it was fun we had a good time, all of our friends came it was a big party. But the music business is a business and it takes a lot of work and dedication and a lot of need. You really have to wanna be successful in the music business which is why I never did much after the Velvet Underground. I went to American Flyer and starting looking for people after that and got really discouraged. I have the music with me in my head, I just doesn't seem to be as important anymore that it get recorded, that a hundred people call me up and say that was a good song, I could just enjoy it myself. You don't have to make something into product to validate it. Some things are validated just by being thought of.
I still have strong feelings for the other members in the VU. In spite of the Seznick created conditions and the periodic animosities which grew out of that, we spent a lot of time together in strange places and strange situations.
Sterling, Maureen, and even Lou, who I will always approach cautiously, should we ever meet, have a special place in my heart. I wish them happiness and peace.
I'm married to a very intelligent woman for 4 years. We have a 2 year old son. I still have all my other children. I havn't gotten rid of them. Were involved in advocacy for home birth. There are 3 things which act as the primary causes of major childhood damage: the first is hospital birth, the second is premature day care, and the third is television. These combine to produce extremely damaged children. Most of us who are alive today in America to some extent have been damaged by those things and continue to be damaged by those things. There have been improvements towards a more human style of childbirth, but it's still regarded as a medical emergency which it's not. It was turned into a medical emergency about 50 years ago for the rich, because it was the modern way, and gradually filtered down to the poor. Like breast feeding was out because scientists had determined that mothers milk was deficient. So they manufactured formulas and we wound up with babies who got plenty of nutrients but were undernurtured because they weren't being held. Babies need contact with their mothers. In traditional American modern hospital birth, the baby is born and immediately taken away. That's the most traumatic thing you can do to a baby. They're suddenly abandoned after being in their mother for 9 months. Of course they know she(s not there. Children need to be held and loved that's how they thrive. Providing whole foods is crucial as well. That's why it's very important to support sustainable, organic farming.
Premature day care is basically abandonment because the mother takes herself away from the child after 2 or 3 months. The primary bonding that takes place between a mother and child occurs in the first year. That bonding is essential to produce a person who grows up feeling safe. Without that people grow up looking for that missing security and it almost invariably comes out as a materialistic bent. Were all looking for that big tit that we didn't get.
Most parents don't understand that when you plunk your child down in front of a television, you're destroying their imagination. You're preventing them from developing their imagination. If you can't imagine, how can you do any abstract thinking? How could you conceive of the Bill of Rights? Television can transfer information, but you're not getting interaction with other people.
To anyone I encountered during the years that I travelled with the VU, or with any of the other bands I worked with; if I was unkind, I hope you will forgive me.
The Velvet Underground was an important part of my life, but not the only part. What was happening at the same time, the context within which we moved, was called the hippie movement or 'The Generation of Love' by the media. It was a grass roots movement centered around the belief that the culture was not improving the quality of life on the planet, that, in fact, it was degrading it. The past twenty years have only proved that the movement was correct.
People tease me from time to time about being an aging hippe. I smile and say thank you. But the core values that my generation put forward as an alternative are just as appropriate today as they were during the summer of love. 'Peace, Love, and Understanding' are not funny, nor are they a waste of time. They are, however, anti-business and consequently have been ridiculed and marginalized by the media into practical non-existence.
Peace, Love, and Understanding, and stuff like that. It's simple. If you teach your children, the world will change. If you live it, they will learn it. If we don't, the whales will. Or the dolphins, or the cockroaches, or the baboons, or gorillas. But we will not be here to worry them.
I, it seems, have accepted my own challenge. I am two years into my last eighteen year 'work-in-progress'. He is doing well and amazes me every day with his capacity to learn and his ability to live life in a blazing, joyful 'now'. I am learning a lot.
I hope that all of you who are similarly involved realize that nothing is more important. Not work, not art, not money, nothing! Our children are the only means we have to change the present course of 'evolution'.
©1994 Fierce Pup Productions, courtesy of Sal Mercuri
By Olivier Landemaine