A "High" School of Music and Art

A "High" School of Music and Art by John Wilcock, in Electric Village Other, Vol. 1, No. 10, April 15 - March 01, 1966
April 1966, The Dom, 23 St. Mark's Place, East Village, New York City

Andy Warhol and his four-member pop group, The Velvet Underground, came to the Village last week, settling into the tatty, old Polish National Hall (above the Dom, on St. mark's Place) for a three week stay. A slender, white hand-painted banner streching from the balcony of the third-floor hall almost to the street was lit by winking lights diverting the young couples who had almost decided to enter the ground-floor Dom and listen to Tony Scott. Upstairs, Warhol (silver hair, shades, leather jacket) watched impassively from the balcony as about one-third of the tables in the vast hall filled up as soon as the ticket office opened. "It's a place for people who have nothing to do," he said. "They took my paintings as collateral. My pictures are collateral for everything." An ironic thought from an artist who admits that he himself doesn't even paint most of his pictures — merely signs them.

For the first part of the opening night on St. Mark's Place there was some worry about whether the bar could open or not but by half past ten it did (beer 75 cents, cokes 50 cents) and customers were carrying paper plates of 50-cent sandwiches (salami, bologna, swiss cheese) back to their red and white checkered tablecloths, anxious not to miss any of the gradually expanding action. Onstage the rear wall was still being painted while the movie "Couch" was being projected on it, givind an interesting three-dimensional effect to the film, and even if there hadn't been a stepladder in front of the "screen" it still wouldn't have been easy to follow the plot because infrequent bursts of rock and roll would burst trough the amplifiers completely drowing out the already garbled soundtrack. Occasionally a couple would get up and dance bust most people preferred to sit and watch.

A pair of other projectors up in the balcony went into action beaming two different movies onto the narrow strips of wall beside the stage. A colored spotlight onstage focused onto the mirrored ball that revolved in the ceiling sending pinpoints of light on predictable circuits around the room. A plastic globe glowed in cycles of changing pastels colors.

Somebody was watching the late news on a tiny, portable television set. "Wow!" said Andy. "Wouldn't it be great if we could have one of those on every table ?" The action was hotting up. Colored floodlights stabbed out from the corners, caressing the dancers with beams of green, orange, purple. At one point three loudspeakers were pouring out a cacophony of different sounds; three records played simultaneously. Oddly it all seems to fit. "Vinyl" was playing on the screen ("We borrowed that story from Anthony Burgess," Andy says. "Hope he doesn't mind. We wanted to buy his book but we couldn't afford it.") but it was being obscure by brightly colored slides and patterns from two slide machines operated by Jacki Casson. Slashes of red and blue, squares of black and white, rows of dancing dots covered the walls, the ceiling, the dancers. Twice during the evening were sets by the Velvet Underground, a group whose howling, throbbing beat is amplified and extented by electronic dial-twiddling. It is a sound hard to describe, even harder to duplicate, but haunting in his uniqueness. And with the Velvets come the blonde, bland, beautiful Nico, another cooler Dietrich for another coller generation.

From upfront, by the stage, the hall was a frantic fandango of action: the lights flashing on and off, the fragmented pieces of movies, the colored patterns and slides sweeping the mirrored walls, the steady white beams of balcony projectors, the Sylviane strip lighting writhing on the floor, flashing on and off like a demenented snake who's swallowed phosphorus, the foot-long flashlights of Gerard Malanga randomly stabbing the darkened hall as he danced frenetically in front of the group.

When they counted the takings they discovered that more than 400 people had paid the $2.50 to attend. Already Andy Warhol, somtime painter, has been fingerprinted for a cabaret card (which, typically, bears the picture of his assistant, Paul Morrisey). Now there is a talk of unions and agents and long-term contracts. Art has come to the discotheque and it will never be the same again.

Excerpt in:
Walden by Jonas Mekas
VU & Nico at the Dom April 1966
VU & Nico at the Dom 1966-04-00

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