NEW YORK, NY—The classic track “Heroin” was played in its entirety as the audience sat in darkness, while waiting for the evening’s guests to take the stage. Inside the Stephen A. Schwartzman Building at the New York Public Library, there sat a tiny turntable—the needle blazing into the beginning of side two of an unforgettable album. Rolling Stone’s David Fricke stood off to the right, while waiting for Lou Reed, Mo Tucker, and Doug Yule—essentially The Velvet Underground—to take to the stage alongside him. In what was to be an evening filled with energy, insight, and laughter, the seminal journalist engaged the seminal band in a discussion on a range of subjects—from how they made the avant-garde so exceptional, to how they changed pop music —which had the audience hanging on every word, until the last one was spoken.
This unprecedented gathering came together over the release of a new visual collection, The Velvet Underground: New York Art (Rizzoli Publishing). Though it’s been over 40 years since they first played a show together, the Velvets as people still spill over with unmatched moxie and splendor. Lou Reed is every bit as intense as the day is long, and Mo Tucker is girlish and charming—though I suspect if they had put a drum kit in front of her right then and there, she’d lay down a beat so primal it would make the halls of the Schartzman Building tumble down into rubble. For Doug Yule’s part, it’s hard to be the man who had to step into John Cale’s shoes, but he answered David Fricke’s questions in a voice that still sounds as tender today as it did when he recorded his vocals for “Candy Says,” and he spoke of his time as a member of the VU with the deepest regard and fondness.
Whether listening to him impersonate Andy Warhol when recollecting his days inside the Factory, or laughing along as he took the piss out of everyone from journalists, to music industry types, to even other bands, Lou Reed is still hardcore. At the end of the day, he’s a man that has given his life up as an offering to the higher power that is music. “I’m just the songwriter,” is what he told the audience on this evening, but judging by the many, many people who have had their lives changed by his songs, Lou Reed is someone who has left his fingerprint on our future—and it is clear to me that the Velvets are the proof that the future is now. As Mo Tucker explained in response to a question asked by a member of the audience, the VU could absolutely exist today as a new band coming up in NYC, because they are who they are as people, and that could never change about them. No one ever told them to wear all black, or to wear cool sunglasses. That’s just who they were, and that’s who you can be, too, if that’s just who you are.
In his introduction, David Fricke told the audience that “Heroin” was the song that made him want to dedicate his life to music. I was able to chat with David for a few moments after the evening had concluded, and clearly, this opportunity was a moment of great importance for him. When he spoke, he delivered his words with the passion of a true fan. If I have but one regret, it’s that only now does it occur to me that I should have asked if the VU vinyl that ushered in the evening had come straight from David’s very own record collection. But myself being truly inspired by the entire event, I told him that I hoped to one day have the same opportunity that he’d just had. In a response that was just as humble and kind as the man himself, he said to me, “You will. Listen, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody.” And I hope he’s right, because moments like these can only produce memories that will last a lifetime, all of which are a part of sharing in the greatness that is music.