Notebook for Night Owls: Velvet Nineveh
April 14, 1966
Andy Warhol’s new discotheque seems to be an attempt to instill permanence into a private joke. Presided over by the Velvet Underground, and decorated with colored lights, slides and films, it occupies a long mirrored room atop the Polski Dom on St. Mark’s Place, and has the air of a dancing party out of “The Masque of the Red Death.” Most discotheques seem to have been constructed around Sartre’s famous principle that hell is other people, but Warhol, being an innovator, has gone further than other entrepreneurs. He has so arranged his discotheque that his patrons tend to feel, after five minutes in the place, that they have wandered into some evangelist’s vision of Nineveh and that perhaps it is time to mend their ways.
The room is, of course, very dark, and it is streaked with reddish light. The Velvet Underground, consisting of three guitarists, two dancers, and a pretty girl named Nico who sings a little, disport themselves for most of the evening on a raised stage against a back projection of films and slides. Since the musicians in the group, although loud, are comparatively unskilled, the patron’s attention is mainly focused on Gerard Malanga, who dances continuously, in a style which combines feverishness and languor, in front of the band. He wears leather pants and a tee-shirt imprinted with a picture of Marlon Brando, and he is occasionally partnered by a girl named Ingrid Superstar. But the real star of the show is a strobe beamed upon the audience but usually kept focused on Malanga. When he dances inside the strobe beam Malanga shimmers as if he were in a St. Vitus attack.
Halfway through their set Gerard Malanga and Ingrid Superstar pick up a couple of coiled leather whips and, while the musicians play a song of which the only distinguishable line is “Whip your mistress till you reach his heart,” they do a sadomasochistic ballet which ends with Malanga kneeling with his head against Ingrid Superstar’s thighs while she pantomimes whipping him. This piece seems to impress the audience profoundly. All the dancers on the floor stop to watch (all except one couple who appear to be part of the show and who continue all night to dance a sort of ritualistic Watusi), and a few people whisper to their partners that poor Malanga needs a rest. Then the group swings into a fast number, complete with whistles and sirens, the lights begin to flicker wildly, half the audience covers its ears, and Malanga dances off the stage to recover from his exertions.
It was at this point, on the night I was there, that a thin dark girl in a blue pants suit seized her escort and announced to him that she was going immediately to church. Her partner, who was dressed like Lord Byron in a flowing ruffled shirt, pointed out quite sensibly that since it was past midnight she might be better off going to bed, but the girl said that the weight of her sins had grown so heavy upon her that she could not rest another minute without confessing them. Several people in her vicinity nodded approvingly. ♦