Peel Slowly And See

The Velvet Underground & Nico: Scepter Studio Sessions at the Warhol

Peel Slowly And See
yes we have no banana

Thrilled to announce that pre-orders are open for The White Label Promo Preservation Society, Volume 2, where I contributed an essay on David Johansen’s first solo album, alongside other contributors like Bebe Buell, Susan Whitall, Tammy Faye, Lenny Kaye, Peter Holsapple, Steve Wynn, and many more. Get your copy today!

I stopped in Pittsburgh on the way back from NYC to see the new exhibition at the Warhol, “The Velvet Underground & Nico: Scepter Studio Sessions.” The museum is processing Warhol’s archive and in the process unearthed these tapes and decided they should be the basis for an exhibit. I last visited the Warhol about 10 years ago so it seemed like a good reason for a stop.

You know how the Michelin stars break down? Very good, worth a detour, worth a special journey? I could not put this room of stuff anywhere on that scale. It is a room of stuff. It is a wall of photographs, a wall of bananas, Warhol screen tests, grainy difficult to watch footage from the 60s on a loop, made even harder to watch because to project it at a larger resolution means the grain is the size of a small child’s head. I would probably enjoy spending some time with these newly found tapes that “feature alternate versions and mixes of songs later issued” but it is literally impossible to do this in a large room with many, many things going on that are demanding your attention. Deciding to present alternate rough mixes in a cavernous space is an artistic decision, but it is not necessarily a good one. I appreciate that it would cause large family groups in town for the Pirates-Tigers series at neighboring PNC Park to flee shortly after entering the room and I am not against this kind of alienating approach, but it seems a curious one in this context. It also does not cater to obsessives such as myself. I know this is a group of people who liked to cause a disturbance, but this just feels like unintentionally minimalist curation that does not serve the material.

The Warhol Screen Tests play against one wall and I am jaded in that I have seen them multiple times. I watched them for a minute, thought, “Hmm, the Screen Tests,” and then walked over to the adjacent placard to confirm my assessment. There is also a wall of photographs of the Velvets in the studio as well as from their trip to perform in Los Angeles in 1966/67. They are large photographs; they are interesting to look at and if you do not know who the VU are it at least shows you that. I have seen many of them before so you may also have seen them? I liked the ones of the VU in the studio because I thought some of the captions — “Lou Reed directs John Cale in the studio” — were open to interpretation? I thought I had taken a photograph of the photo but apparently I did not. Anyway, here’s one of the ones from the trip to LA.

Mo Tucker does not get enough credit for being an early androgynous icon

There is an entire wall displaying 100 covers of that first Velvets album (yes, that one with the banana) each in different states of ap-peel (see what I did there)? This wall could have been its own installation. It was simultaneously infuriating and brilliant in equal measure, all at the same time. Like, this is 100 banana covers, all of which part of one person’s collection. It is delightful in its simplicity and in the way one could interpret the presentation as a commentary on collecting, on consumerism, on waste, on the music business, on graphic design, on the lost art of album covers (it is much different to design for 12” x 12” than it is 4.5” x 4.5”), on the LP as form factor, on the return of vinyl from intended extinction, on the simple statement of the banana, that banana, and how it represents one specific thing to a particular group of people but is just a banana to everyone else. I made a note elsewhere in the museum that the ubiquitous Campbell’s soup can is to me both still revolutionary and now incredibly comforting. It represents like minds. My almost-7-year-old friend Robin absolutely loves the soup can and she does not have any of the background associations or history that I do. I look forward to talking to her about this when she gets older.

I was also delighted to make the acquaintance of this ashtray, which was the source of the original banana. I stood there thinking, How did I not know about this?? This is not the exact ashtray Warhol worked from, but it is the same image that he chose to use on the cover. This particular ashtray came from the collection of the late Howie Pyro, of blessed memory, and he didn’t even realize what he had until 2017, when he revealed all to the website Dangerous Minds. I’m glad it has its place in the spotlight, and I’m equally glad this wasn’t something I should have known all along. It would have bothered me forever.

I now have a new collecting holy grail to pursue. Maybe someone in the Midwest has this in their garage and doesn’t even know it.

Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund has had to halt funding abortions for August because, and I quote, “shit is bad.” Their property suffered storm damage, they have an increase in need across every program, and their abortion fund budget is exhausted with only 2-3 callers. Literally any amount of money will help. I am starting a $5/month donation to them. It matters. It helps. Donate here.