[Ed. note: In honor of John Cale’s mini-residency at BAM this week — including an all-star tribute to Nico on Wednesday and performances of his 1973 solo album, Paris, 1919 on Friday and Saturday — Flavorwire New York has embarked upon a week-long celebration of all things Velvet Underground.]
There have been few bands so closely identified with their cities of origin as the Velvet Underground and New York. The city’s landscape and denizens and general atmosphere permeate many of the band’s songs, evoking a version of NYC that’s now long gone. Still, the vestiges of 1960s New York are still to be found if you look hard enough, and as part of our ongoing VU week, we thought it’d be interesting to see what’s become of some of the locations most identified with the band. So click through to check out some of the locations on our swanky, somewhat interactive Velvet Underground map of New York.
Chelsea Hotel, 222 W 23rd St
Then: Legendary bohemian hangout where starving creative types could pay their rent in art if they asked nicely enough, home to a rich cast of drag queens, drug addicts, misfits, artists, Warhol superstars, and future celebrities (Leonard Cohen, Charles Bukowski, Bob Dylan, etc.)
Now: The same legendary bohemian hangout, so long as you don’t actually venture inside to see developer Joseph Chetrit’s tradesmen in the process of stripping the place of all its character.
Pickwick Building, 8-16 43rd Ave, Long Island City
Then: Home of Pickwick Records, where a budding young songwriter by the name of Lou Reed worked as in-house songsmith and session musician, composing songs like “You’re Driving Me Insane” and, most memorably, “The Ostrich” (above). The latter caught the attention of avant-garde-inclined Welsh immigrant John Cale, largely because Reed tuned all the strings on his guitar to D for the song.
Now: According to Google Maps, it appears to be the site of something called the New York Wine Warehouse, which sounds like our kinda warehouse.
106 W 3rd St
Then: Café Bizarre, where The Velvet Underground held an ill-fated two-week residency in 1965. The club’s owner hated “The Black Angel’s Death Song” (above) so much that he vowed to fire the band if they played it again. They responded by opening their show with it, a move that duly got them fired but also brought them to the attention of one Andy Warhol, who just happened to be in the audience that night.
Now: A bodega.
231 E 47th St.
Then: The Silver Factory, Andy Warhol’s legendary aluminum foil-clad studio, wherein he pioneered the idea of Pop Art and created an entire world centered around the industrial production of art and some industrial strength party drugs.
Now: A parking lot. Sigh. (You could also stop by the Decker Building at 33 Union Square West, where Warhol relocated once the original Factory was demolished in 1968, and where he was subsequently shot by Valerie Solanas later that year.)
213 Park Ave South
Then: Max’s Kansas City, site of the recording of the band’s valedictory contract-fulfilling live album (which was recorded with a hand-held tape recorder by Warhol superstar Brigid Polk).
Now: A Bank of America. Next door to a Starbucks. Double sigh.
Lexington Ave and 125th St.
Then: Terrifying East Harlem junction, a place where one could find shivering junkies, menacing dealers, and at least one brownstone where a certain scrawny songwriter had to negotiate three flights of stairs before getting his hands on the gear he’d missioned all the way uptown to score.
Now: Rather less terrifying East Harlem junction, although still markedly less gentrified than the western end of 125 St. — you don’t see many of the fancy folks heading uptown to Red Rooster venturing this far into Spanish Harlem.
Then: Urban wasteland of reprobates and outsiders, where you could take a walk, and never know what you were going to find.
Now: Postcard for urban renewal, where you can take a walk and find Whole Foods, a farmer’s market, and that big weird smoking clock sculpture-y thing. There’s still a rotating cast of reprobates, although they’re less visible these days.
The Delmonico Hotel, 502 Park Ave
Then: The upscale hotel that staged “Up-Tight,” the debut performance of what came to be called the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. The “happening” featured ear-bleeding music from The Velvet Underground, erotic S&M-themed dancing, and Warhol associate Barbara Rubin recording the audience’s reactions. In a genius move, the audience in question were all psychiatrists — Warhol and the band somehow managed to stage the show at a dinner for the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry, the members of which were predictably appalled.
Now: The same upscale building, although it now goes by the name of (sigh) Trump Park Avenue and has been converted to luxury condos.