John Cale at the Cafe Biazrre - photo: Adam Ritchie
Fear Is A Man's Best Friend - John Cale

Timeline: 1965

With the Primitives

The Primitives

Cale goes on tour with The Primitives to promote Lou Reed's offbeat dance craze The Ostrich. He doesn't perform on the actual recording.

"When I first met Lou Reed at the beginning of 1965, he was a 22-year old songwriter at Pickwick Records in Long Island City, and I was a 22-year old avant-garde musician in La Monte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music. We were introduced by a Pickwick producer, Terry Phillips, who thought I was a pop musician because I had long hair. He asked me, Tony Conrad and a friend, the sculptor Walter de Maria, to form a band with Lou called the Primitives. Phillips wanted to publicize a song had written and recorded in a back room and Pickwick has released as a single, 'The Ostrich', by a fictious band, the Primitives."
With the Primitives

TV show American Bandstand needed a band, so:

"The pop programme American Bandstand wanted them to perform this on TV, so Phillips was forced to put out an appropriate-looking band together. We thought it would be fun, and as a lark spent a couple of weekends playing the TV show and a few other East Coast gigs. Even though the record bombed, the experience of being in a rock band, however ersatz, gave Lou and me the opportunity to connect."
Ludlow Street appartments

Living with Lou

Cale and Reed start sharing a flat on 56 Ludlow Street on the Lower Lower East Side. It was a rough place. From Victor Bockris' Lou Reed biography:

"The whole place was sparsely furnished with mattresses on the floor, and orange crates that served as furniture and firewood. Bare light bulbs lit the dark rooms, paint and plaster chipped from the woodwork and walls. There was no heat or hot water and the landlord collected the $30 rent with a gun. When it got cold, they often sat hunched over instruments with carpets wrapped around their shoulders. When the toilet stopped up, they picked up the shit and threw it out the window. For sustenance, they cooked a big pot of porridge and made humongous vegetable pancakes, eating the slop day and night as if it were fuel."

Busking takes care of the rent. They form a group with guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Angus MacLise. MacLise lives in the same building. His apartment actually has heating. They call themselves The Warlocks and The Falling Spikes. Cale taped a lot of the rehearsals. Some of it is included on the Peel Slowly and See boxset.

At 56 Ludlow Street - 2013/08/01

He returned to the building in January 8, 2013 for an interview with Marc Myers of the Wall Street Journal:

"Our apartment was a railroad flat—a long room running from the windows in the front to a small bedroom and a bathroom in the back. I slept on a mattress, under the windowsill in the front overlooking Ludlow. We burned crates and furniture in the fireplace to keep warm. There was no heat in the winter other than the gas stove."

Recording with Conrad and MacLise

Records with Angus MacClise and Tony Conrad. Foru of these experiments are released in 2003 on the Angus MacLise 2CD The Cloud Doctrine: Trance #1, Trance #2, Two Speed Trance, and Four Speed Trance. Cale plays guitar, viola and keyboards.

Why Don't You Smile Now

The first Cale/Reed collaboration is committed to vinyl: Why Don't You Smile Now, also credited to Terry Philips and Jerry Vance, is released as a single by the All-Night Workers.

A cover of this track was released on the five track 12 inch ep MoeJadKateBarry by Maureen Tucker, Jad Fair, Kate Messer and Barry Stock in 1987.

the book

A name is born

When Angus MacLise finds a copy of The Velvet Underground by Michael Leigh in the Times Square subway station, the group finally has a name.

According to Sterling Morrison, it is a really boring novel about wife swapping in the suburbs.

Venus In Furs movie

Short movie directed by Piero Heliczer. Features Cale, MacLise, Reed and others.

It is aired on New Year's Eve on Walter Cronkite's CBS program.

Marianne Faithfull demo

Cale travels to London, hoping to interest singer Marianne Faithfull for the demo recordings made in the Ludlow Street appartment. She is not impressed.

All is not in vain. Cale returns with a fresh stack of just released UK 45s, including Anyway Anyhow Anywhere by The Who, on eof the frist singles featuring feedback.

Myddle Class

First Velvets gig

On December 11th The Velvet Underground are booked by journalist Al Aronowitz to play their first official gig - they are paid $ 75.00 - at the Summit High school, Summit, New Jersey. They are the opening act for the Myddle Class. Also on the bill were The Forty Fingers as co-support.

Angus MacLise can't cope with the idea that this is a scheduled set:

"You mean we start when they tell us to start and we have to end when they tell us to? I can't work that way."

He quits. Enter Maureen Tucker on percussion.

The Velvets opened their short set with There She Goes Again. Also included Venus In Furs and Heroin. The audience was far from ready.

"On our first gig, we were so loud and horrifying to the highchool audience that the majority of them, teachers, students and parents, fled screaming out of the room. The Myddle Class were really pissed off when we came off stage. I tried to apologize to the lead singer, but secretly I was exhilirated. Once we had started I was sure nobody xould stop us because we knew exacgtly what we were doing, and we were good at it. About that I had no doubt."

Sterling Morrison about this gig:

"At Summit we opened with "There She Goes Again", then played "Venus In Furs", and ended with "Heroin". The murmur of surprise that greeted our appearance as the curtain went up increased to a roar of disbelief once we started to play "Venus", and swelled to a mighty howl of outrage and bewilderment by the end of "Heroin". Al Aronowitz observed that we seemed to have an oddly stimulating and polarizing effect on audiences."
At The Cafe Bizarre © Adam Ritchie

Cafe Bizarre

In December the Velvets enjoy a short lived residency at the Cafe Bizarre in Greenwich Village, New York. Maureen Tucker plays tambourine - drums were to loud according to the owner, They get fired after playing the Black Angels Death Song. But they get lucky: Andy Warhol asks them to join his upcoming multimedia extravaganza Up-Tight.

"Before Andy left with his floating tribe of ragamuffin gypsies, he invited us to the Factory. There was something he wanted to talk to us about. In exchange for 25% of whatever money we made he would manage us, buy us new instruments and equipment, and get us gigs and a recording contract. The second day we went there, he sprang his first surpise on us. He wanted Nico to front the band."

© 1999- Hans Werksman