This 'eyewitness' account of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground performing at the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry originally appeared in the New York Times on January 14, 1966. The Warhol produced 'happening' would eventually evolve into the Exploding Plastic Inevitable
The New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry survived an invasion last night by Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick and a new rock 'n' roll group called "The Velvet Underground."
"The Chic Mystique of Andy Warhol," described by an associate of the painter as "a kind of community action-underground-look-at-your-self-film project," was billed as the evening's entertainment for the psychiatry society's 43d annual dinner at Delmonico's Hotel. And until the very last minute, neither group quite believed the other would show up.
But sure enough, as the black-tied psychiatrists and their formally gowned wives began to trickle into Delmonico's lobby at 6:30, there was Andy, and in evening get-up, too - sunglasses, black tie, dinner jacket and corduroy work pants. And right there with him were some of his "factory" hands - Gerard Malanga, poet; Danny Williams, cameraman, and the "factory" foreman, Billy Linich.
The "factory" as any Warhol buff knows, is the big, sliver-lined loft where he and his coterie make their underground films and help mass-produce Andy's art.
What "The Chic Mystique" was nobody really explained. The Warhol part of the program included a showing of his underground films as background for cocktail conversation and, at dinner, a concert by the rock 'n' roll group. And Warhol and his cameramen moved among the gathering with hand-held cameras, using the psychiatrists as the cast of a forthcoming Warhol movie.
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.
Delmonico's elegant white-and-gold Colonnade and Grand Ballroom had probably never seen such a swinging scene. Edie Sedgwick, the "superstar" of Warhol's movies, was on full blast - chewing gum and sipping a martini.
There was John Cale, leader of "The Velvet Underground," in a black suit with rrhinestones on the collar. There was Nico, identified by Warhol as "a famous fashion model and now a singer," in a white slack suit with long blond hair. And there were all those psychiatrists, away from their couches but not really mingling, not letting their hair down at all.
"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."
Dr. Arthur Zitrin, director of psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital, was slightly worried. "We've had everyone appear at these annual dinners, from Paul Tillich to Warhol," he said. "I'm program chairman for next year. How the hell are we going to follow this act?"
The act really came into its own about midway through the dinner (roast beef with stringbeans and small potatoes), when "The Velvet Underground," swung into action. The high-decibel sound, aptly described by Dr. Campbell as "a short-lived torture of cacophony," was a combination of rock 'n' roll and Egyptian belly-dance music.
The evening ended with a short talk by Jonas Mekas, film director and critic. But long before that, guests had begun to stream out. The reaction of the early departees was fairly unanimous. "Put it down as decadent Dada," said one. "It was ridiculous, outrageous, painful," said Dr. Harry Weinstock. "Everything that's new doesn't necessarily have meaning. It seemed like a whole prison ward had escaped."
"You want to do something for mental health?" asked another psychiatrist. "Kill the story."