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Andy Warhol’s groundbreaking multiscreen film The Chelsea Girls, which featured Nico, became an underground hit in 1966, the same year she joined the Velvet Underground; she later enlisted Jackson Browne to help with her solo debut, Chelsea Girls.


Robert Heide Goes to Work at the Factory


By 1965, Edie Sedgwick had become the Factory’s newest superstar, though she soon began clashing with Ronald Tavel. Her first two nonspeaking roles were in Horse and Vinyl, followed by Poor Little Rich Girl, Kitchen, and several others. After she refused to play a role in what she called “Tavel’s perversities,” Andy turned to Robert Heide and asked, “Would you like to be the Factory playwright to replace Ronnie?” Sure, why not? he thought, since he was already hanging around the scene. During his brief stint as a Factory playwright, Heide wrote The Death of Lupe Vélez. The film’s title was shortened to Lupe, and it starred Sedgwick as Mexican actress Lupe Vélez, who commits suicide and comes back from the dead. “This was the last film that Edie made with Andy, because she couldn’t memorize lines,” Heide recalled, “so it was basically an improvisational Andy Warhol take on the script. And after that, Andy just wanted everybody to talk in front of the camera with no script.” Heide was likely hired because Warhol had seen The Bed at Caffe Cino several times, and he created a film version of the play. (When the playwright approached Warhol to give a blurb for its Cino run, he said, “Well, just say whatever you want, that’ll be fine.”) That footage of The Bed was incorporated into his multiscreen film The Chelsea Girls, an underground hit in 1966 that featured a new addition to the Factory’s stable of superstars: Nico, who joined the Velvet Underground the same year.

From Chapter 10 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore

The Exploding Plastic Inevitable


In April 1966, the Velvet Underground began their residency playing with Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable at the Dom, where Factory newcomer Mary Woronov joined in. “Gerard Malanga felt we would be center stage and liven things up,” Woronov said. “So he brought me on with the black leather suit and a whip, and we worked out a dance with a sort of S&M kind of theme.” Their routines were supposed to be dark and theatrical, but they sometimes veered into goofier realms. “For ‘Waiting for the Man,’ I would lift weights,” Woronov said. “For ‘Heroin,’ Gerard would run around with a plastic needle that was two feet long and shoot up. It was sort of an act, to music.” Meanwhile, the Velvet Underground unleashed sheets of sound as Warhol slipped colored gelatin slides over film projector lenses or just stood on the balcony, observing the crowded scene. One night he saw “a small, muscular blond kid make a ballet leap that practically spanned the dance floor.” Warhol promptly went downstairs and met the young man, Eric Emerson, whose good looks and magnetic personality secured him a spot in several Warhol films. He was cast alongside Nico and Woronov in The Chelsea Girls and appeared in Lonesome Cowboys, San Diego Surf, and Heat.

From Chapter 15 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore

Nico Meets Jackson Browne at Max’s


Jim Fouratt recalled that all the macho painter guys drank at the bar in front while Andy Warhol and his entourage hung out in the back, where the artist sat at the precise spot where he could observe everything. “This beautiful boy, an absolutely, a stunningly beautiful California boy shows up at the bar,” Fouratt said of the time that he, Nico, and Warhol first saw singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. “And we all go, ‘Ahhh.’ ” Warhol, the master passive-aggressive manipulator, asked “Who is that?”—prompting Factory scenester Andrea “Whips” Feldman to jump up from the table to find out. “Word comes back, ‘He’s a singer from California, he’s seventeen. Would you like to meet him?’ ” Fouratt said. “And Nico goes, ‘Mine. Mine.’ She’s already staked him out. Jackson Browne comes back and he’s beautiful, he’s California, he’s sunlight. You know, this is New York, where everyone’s in black—in red lighting, from the neon in the back room—and he invites all of us to come hear him perform the next night.” Browne was playing at the Dom, the bar on St. Mark’s Place where Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia shows had been staged. After Nico left the Velvet Underground in 1967 to pursue a solo career, she enlisted him to accompany her on guitar. Three of Browne’s songs appeared on Nico’s solo debut, Chelsea Girls, including his classic “These Days.”

From Chapter 18 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore