For the second time this year, I went to Paris last weekend. This time to see the Velvet Underground Exhibition at the Philharmonie de Paris. After hearing a praising review on Deutschlandradio Kultur I was extremely curious to see whether the exhibition delivered what was promised. I can say, I was not disappointed! It combines all of my great passions: the Beat Generation (Alan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac), Andy Warhol and the Factory years, the New York City Punk movement of the 60s and 70s and, of course, the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. It was such a great experience to finally have all of these themes converge in one space! Being greeted by a recital of Ginsberg's America poem at the entrance, things got even better in the following show rooms.
The exhibition allows the visitor to dive into a multi-media experience including videos, audio recordings, wall texts, vitrines, installations and, most importantly, a hang out space where one can lie down and watch video clips taken in Warhol's Factory, while listening to Velvet Underground songs and interview bites. A lot of factual information about Lou Reed's, John Cale's and Nico's biographies is set in relation to insights into the environment in which the Velvet Underground members met and the creative atmosphere in New York at that time. Even though the review I heard on the radio had emphasized that the show was less about the band's collaboration with Warhol and focused more on the time before and after his brief involvement, as a Warhol enthusiast, I was happy to find that the largest exhibition room was nevertheless entirely dedicated to the Factory years. For example, photos of the Velvets and Nico were combined with a video that Warhol shot during a Velvet Underground performance in Boston. The video, which was only discovered in 2006 and which shows the audience dancing in front of the stage, was screened next to a section on Candy Darling, one of Warhol's beautiful superstars, who, amongst others, inspired the lyrics of Lou Reed's famous song Walk on the Wild Side.
After leaving the exhibition, I once again ended up buying some souvenirs at the gift shop. In this case, my purchase was truly a matter of the heart though. Almost hidden in the corner of the book shelf, I discovered the Best of Punk Magazine catalogue.This book, to me,is a real gem in so many ways and I feel like I should explain why:
When I was growing up a book titled Please Kill Me was really important to me. As an uncensored oral history of punk, it already does what the exhibition in Paris picked up on: it draws the connections between the early US punk movement (think Ramones, Patti Smith, Dead Boys, New York Dolls, etc.), Warhol's marginal involvement in it and the beat writers, like Ginsberg and Burroughs, who not only influenced the music but who also were regulars at Warhol's factory. This book really made me fall in love with the the punk music of the 60s and 70s and it also fed my obsession with Warhol, which had already started when I was a teenager.
I have read Please Kill Me about 10 times and even though my copy is really ragged by now, I keep lending it to people who I hope will appreciate it as much as I do. The author, Legs McNeil, was one of the founding members of Punk Magazine and I remember spotting him in the crowd when I was at the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash in New York City, in 2012. At the time, however, I was too chicken to actually ask him to sign my copy, a mistake I would regret and not make again if I had a second chance.
Anyhow, what is so great about me buying the Punk Magazine collection is that, so far, I had only been able to find excerpts of the single issues online and never actually looked for hard copies on sale. I knew that some of the magazine covers were really cool, for example the cover of the first issue with a comic drawing of Lou Reed of which I also happen to have a T-Shirt, and I knew that Andy Warhol was featured in some of the photo comics (as a mad scientist who gets eaten by a monster, how cool is that?!?!) but now I can actually browse through all of the issues (well at least the best of them) for as long and as much as I want and I will always have a wonderful reminder of the great time I had at the Velvet Underground exhibition in Paris.