In early 1966, Andy Warhol discovered Lou Reed and his collaborator John Cale’s band, The Velvet Underground, playing at the Café Bizarre at 106 West 3rd Street in the South Village (now replaced by an NYU law school dormitory). Taken by their unique sound, Warhol became their manager. Warhol connected them with co-vocalist Nico, who had starred in Warhol’s movie Chelsea Girls. Reed and the Velvet Underground were invited to participate in Warhol’s traveling multimedia show, The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. That famous “Warhol boost” brought the Velvet Underground into New York City’s avant-garde music world in 1966, and eventually into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 30 years later, in 1996.
As we previously noted, Reed was known for his cold stare and gaunt features; he was a cynic and a seeker who seemed to embody downtown Manhattan culture of the time. New York and the East Village of that time was a jaded city of drag queens, drug addicts, and violence, but it was also wondrous. So many of Reed’s and the VU’s songs were explorations of right and wrong and quests for transcendence. Classics such as “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Halloween Parade” exemplify this combination of world-weariness and wonder that Reed reflected back in his songs.