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