In 1968 I got the Velvet Underground to play at a mandatory student assembly at my high school in Beverly Hills, California. Nick Gillespie of Reason asked me about it a few years ago–the account is at the end of this interview.
A couple of amendations: 1) I don’t think I would have described the Velvets’ songs as “truthful,’ not that they aren’t. Must be mistranscribed. 2) There was only one VU member who could have been called a “jerk.” Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and Doug Yule were very nice. Lou Reed claimed early on in the discussion that his music was based on a 13 tone Tibetan scale, or something like that, and it went downhill from there. Admittedly, he was mildly provoked by the school psychiatrist; 3) They played “Pale Blue Eyes” and “I Can’t Stand It.” During lunch hour they played “Heroin” and “Sister Ray.” Steve Wasserman was disciplined for getting up and dancing. 4) In order to get the assembly approved by the school authorities I had to write up a little page-long pitch, which if I remember right described their songs as the “expression of apocalyptic nihilism.” It must be hilarious now. I should try to find it. For some reason, they approved the assembly, after the Velvets’ manager Stephen Sesnick assured the Girls’ Vice Principal that there were no drug references in any of their songs. 5) Why did they do it? My impression was that Sesnick wanted to connect with “the kids.” 6) Years later, I’m told, Lou Reed denied this event ever happened.
In 1968, which seemed like a miserable year for obvious reasons, the local FM rock station played “Sister Ray” on New Year’s Eve. I still think it is one of the more amazing recordings ever made and a powerful work of art. It is so dark and driving that it invariably cheers me up. The words (at least as reprinted by Reed) aren’t as dirty as you’d think, though that partly depends on what “licking up her pigpen” means.
The sound resonated in Czechoslovakia, with important consequences.
Update: Photo here, on page 210 [thanks to alert reader S.S.] Left to right: me, Dr. Morgenstern (school psychiatrist), Mr. Smart (music teacher); Lou Reed, Walter Parkes (student), Maureen Tucker, Doug Yule, Sterling Morrison.