Lou Reed on why the Velvet Underground loved Boston, and how a Massachusetts airplane hangar almost killed him

The New York Public Library brought 

DAVID FRICKE: Looking through the book, particularly that year of 1966, some of the gigs that you ended up playing -- you look at these posters, there's one from September of 66 where you're playing the Chrysler Art Museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Which has a nice, tony sound to it. Well, about a month later you're playing a "Halloween Mod Happening" at Leicester Airport in Leicester, Massachusetts. You played in an airplane hangar. 

LOU REED:  Let me tell you what happened with that. It was an airplane hangar. And we weretuning and all of this. It's like a football field. I put a new set of strings on the guitar, so it had a long -- I hadn't cut them yet. And I'm turning over there, and suddenly Sterling said, "Don't move." I said, "What?" He said, "Don't. Move." So I didn't move. And it's like, the guitar string had hit the mike, and it wasn't grounded. And it had burnt [the string]. Straight down to the peg. And then a little later a guy from the Yardbirds did get electrocuted that way.

DAVID FRICKE: That could've been the end of the Velvet Underground very quickly. 

LOU REED: Yeah. Nobody knew anything then. 

. . . 

FRICKE: You toured a lot from 68 through 70. 

LOU REED:  We were just doing what we do. It's not like we changed it. We went out ,minus Andy, minus all those people who would go out, we did the same thing minus all that. And the jobs were very limited. Where'd we play? In Ohio and Boston. Big venues for us.

FRICKE: Actually, you played in Boston forty times between 68 and 70. You spent more time at the Boston Tea Party than you ever did in New York.

LOU REED: When Andy was out of it, that finished us for New York . . . 

FRICKE: What was it about Boston, though?

LOU REED: Boston Tea Party. That was it. Well, because they would hire us.

The Tea Party was, various Velvets have said over the years, the band's favorite place to play. That's largely the work of one guy -- Steve Nelson, the manager of the Tea Party during those years. It's worth reading his account from a couple years back of the art exhibit that spawned the book. These days, Nelson is one of the driving forces behind the Music Museum of New England. 

You can see the Tea Party sign in the upper right hand corner of the band photo that graces the back of the White Light/White Heat album cover.

DOUG YULE: They were looking with someone with long hair to dance in front of the Barbarians.

DAVID FRICKE: This was in Boston?

DOUG YULE. In Boston. The Barbarians. So my roommates and a couple of other people got dragged down there. And the Barbarians didn't show up. But we started playing with their instruments and eventually wound up in a band. And that's kind of the way I got into rock and roll.

DAVID FRICKE: And this was the Barbarians that recorded "Are You A Boy, Or Are You A Girl?" for Lorry Records. So look it up. 

DAVID FRICKE: When did you actually see the Velvets play? Did you see them in Boston? I think Sterling actually stayed with you for a while when they were up in Boston.

DOUG YULE:  In the apartment that I was staying at in River Street. The first time I saw them was at a Harvard party, and John [Cale] wasn't there that night, he was sick. it was a real dark crowded room and it was very intense, a lot of energy. it sorta changed my life because I started thinking of music totally differently at that point. . . I almost didn't go that night. Someone said, "Oh, come on, let's go to the party."

DAVID FRICKE: What was Sterling like as a roommate?

DOUG YULE:  He was great. He was very large. I remember him doing interviews in motel rooms and I'd be listening to him, just sitting on the bed.

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