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Tony Conrad, Lou Reed and John Cale’s apartment

Tony Conrad, Lou Reed and John Cale’s apartment

56 Ludlow St, New York, NY 10002

PLACE TYPE
Residence

Tony Conrad opened his apartment on 56 Ludlow Street to fellow Theater of Eternal Music musician John Cale, who was eventually joined by another roommate, Lou Reed; several early Velvet Underground demos were recorded at this apartment.

Stories

The Primitives at Pickwick Records

People

When John Cale moved to New York City, Lou Reed was working his nine-to-five job at Pickwick Records writing knockoff pop songs to be sold at department stores. When asked if he felt any cognitive dissonance writing the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” by night while holding down a day job crafting commercial fare, Reed pointed out that Warhol also supported his unorthodox art with paid commercial work. “So I didn’t see that as schizophrenic at all,” he said. “I just had a job as a songwriter. I mean, a real hack job. They’d come in with a subject, and we’d write. Which I still kind of like to this day.” Not long after Cale moved into Tony Conrad’s Lower East Side apartment at 56 Ludlow Street, the two artists met Reed after he recorded a garage-rock novelty single, “The Ostrich,” under the name the Primitives. This dance song contained a one-note burst of guitar noise that anticipated the Velvet Underground’s minimalist approach (“That’s rock ’n’ roll,” Reed said of that musical moment, “keep it simple”). Pickwick quickly moved to assemble a live band that could promote this potential hit in early 1965 and, because Cale and Conrad had long hair, they were buttonholed at a party by two sleazy company men from the record label. Cale, Conrad, and their Theatre of Eternal Music collaborator Angus MacLise took a leap of faith and formed a pickup band with Reed for a short promotional tour, which included appearances at a supermarket, high school, and local television dance show. The Primitives padded their short sets with inflammatory soon-to-be-Velvet Underground classics like “Venus in Furs” and “Heroin,” which went over poorly.

From Chapter 11 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


The Velvet Underground Surfaces

People

After “The Ostrich” fizzled on the charts, the four musicians in the Primitives formed the Warlocks. (This name was also being used by a San Francisco band who, upon hearing about the existence of this New York group, renamed themselves the Grateful Dead.) Lou Reed’s group, which now included his college friend Sterling Morrison on guitar, changed their name after Tony Conrad stumbled across a sensationalistic paperback book about S&M titled The Velvet Underground. “We thought it was a good name,” said Morrison, “because it had underground in it and [because we] were playing for underground films, we considered ourselves part of the underground film community. We had no real connection to rock and roll as far as we were concerned.” After Conrad left the group, the classic Velvet Underground lineup was rounded out by drummer Maureen “Moe” Tucker, who replaced MacLise after he quit. Reed was a friend of Maureen’s brother, Jim Tucker, and they cofounded a mimeo poetry zine, Lonely Woman Quarterly, while the two attended Syracuse University.

From Chapter 11 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore