The Velvet Underground at the NY society for clinical psychiatry

John Cale, Welshman, and former member of seminal rock band the Velvet Underground was interviewed in the Guardian this week.

… what about the night Andy Warhol got the Velvet Underground to play a convention of psychiatrists at Delominco’s steak house? The psychiatrists were appalled. “That was revenge – Lou’s revenge,” Cale says, “and I was all for it.” As a teenager, Reed had been given electric shock treatment to “cure” him of homosexuality. “Lou and I were going to put out a record with his psychiatrist’s letter on one side and my arrest record* on the other,”

The Velvet Underground were a band formed in the mid-1960s by Lou Reed and John Cale together with Mo Tucker and Stirling Morrison.  Although their lifespan was brief they combined the energy of rock with the sonic adverturism of the avant-garde.   Pop artist Andy Warhol was their manager and their first album famously featured a large yellow banana sticker and the instructions ‘peel slowly and see’.  Andy Warhol had been invited to speak at the annual banquet of the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry and he decided to take the the band along with him as ‘a kind of community action-underground-look-at-your-self-film project’

The psychiatrists who turned out in droves for the dinner, were there to be entertained – but also, in a way, to study Andy. “Creativity and the artist have always held a fascination for the serous student of human behavior,” said Dr. Robert Campbell, the program chairman. “And we’re fascinated by the mass communications activities of Warhol and his group.

“I suppose you could call this gathering a spontaneous eruption of the id,” said Dr. Alfred Lilienthal. “Warhol’s message is one of super-reality,” said another, “a repetition of the concrete quite akin to the L.S.D. experience.” “Why are they exposing us to these nuts?” a third asked. “But don’t quote me.” source

I really wish I could have been there.

The second the main course was served, the Velvets started to blast and Nico started to wail. Gerard and Edie jumped up on the stage and started dancing, and the doors flew open and Jonas Mekas and Barbara Rubin with her crew of people with camera and bright lights came storming into the room and rushing over to all the psychiatrists asking them things like:

What does her vagina feel like?
Is his penis big enough? Do you eat her out?
Why are you getting embarrassed? You’re a psychiatrist; you’re not supposed to get embarrassed…. source

The New York Times reported on the event the next day under the heading, ‘Shock Treatment for Psychiatrists’

Excerpt of the performance

Addendum 17 May 2009:

I found a further account of this in the book Women’s Experimental Cinema by Robin Blaetz.  She’s talking about Barbara Rubin, an underground film maker and a player in Warhol’s factory:

On January 13 1966, Warhol was invited to be the evening’s entertainment at the NY society for Clinical Psychiatry’s forty thir- annual dinner, held at Delmonico’s Hotel. Bursting into the room with a camera, as the Velvet Underground acoustically tortured the guests and Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick performed the ‘whip dance’ in the background, Rubin taunted the attending psychiatrists. Casting blinding lights in their faces, Rubin hurled derogatory questions at the esteemed members of the medical profession, including: ‘What does her vagina feel like? Is his penis big enough? Do you eat her out? As the horrified guests began to leave Rubin continued her interrogation: ‘Why are you getting embarrassed? You’re a psychiatrist; you’re not supposed to get embarrassed. The following day the NY Times reported on the event; their chosen headline, ‘Shock treatment for psychiatrists’, reveals the extent to which Rubin’s guerrilla tactics had inverted the sanctioned relationship between patient and doctor expert and amateur.

Addendum 18 May 2009: Mindhacks has featured this also

*Cale had been previously arrested for possessing chemical substances.

4 Responses to “The Velvet Underground at the NY society for clinical psychiatry”

  1. Neuroskeptic says:

    When they say “electric shock treatment” do you know if they mean ECT or shock aversion therapy? Two rather different things…

  2. Frontier Psychiatrist says:

    A quick trawl of the web seems to support the notion that LR had ECT. Here’s a quote from a biography (via this website)

    “Lou’s conservative parents, Sidney and Toby Reed, sent their (17-year-old) son to a psychiatrist, requesting that he cure Lou of his homosexual feelings and alarming mood swings. . . . Lou suffered through eight weeks of shock treatments haunted by the fear that in an attempt to obliterate the abnormal from his personality, his parents had destroyed him”

  3. [...] Here’s what happened: On January 13 1966, Warhol was invited to be the evening’s entertainment at the NY society for Clinical Psychiatry’s forty thir- annual dinner, held at Delmonico’s Hotel. Bursting into the room with a camera, as the Velvet Underground acoustically tortured the guests and Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick performed the ‘whip dance’ in the background, Rubin taunted the attending psychiatrists. Casting blinding lights in their faces, Rubin hurled derogatory questions at the esteemed members of the medical profession, including: ‘What does her vagina feel like? Is his penis big enough? Do you eat her out? As the horrified guests began to leave Rubin continued her interrogation: ‘Why are you getting embarrassed? You’re a psychiatrist; you’re not supposed to get embarrassed. The following day the NY Times reported on the event; their chosen headline, ‘Shock treatment for psychiatrists’, reveals the extent to which Rubin’s guerrilla tactics had inverted the sanctioned relationship between patient and doctor expert and amateur. [...]

  4. [...] Here’s what happened: On January 13 1966, Warhol was invited to be the evening’s entertainment at the NY society for Clinical Psychiatry’s forty thir- annual dinner, held at Delmonico’s Hotel. Bursting into the room with a camera, as the Velvet Underground acoustically tortured the guests and Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick performed the ‘whip dance’ in the background, Rubin taunted the attending psychiatrists. Casting blinding lights in their faces, Rubin hurled derogatory questions at the esteemed members of the medical profession, including: ‘What does her vagina feel like? Is his penis big enough? Do you eat her out? As the horrified guests began to leave Rubin continued her interrogation: ‘Why are you getting embarrassed? You’re a psychiatrist; you’re not supposed to get embarrassed. The following day the NY Times reported on the event; their chosen headline, ‘Shock treatment for psychiatrists’, reveals the extent to which Rubin’s guerrilla tactics had inverted the sanctioned relationship between patient and doctor expert and amateur. [...]

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