An Oral History Of Jack Benny’s Influence On The Velvet Underground

Moe Tucker (drummer): Without Jack Benny, the sound of The Velvet Underground & Nico wouldn’t be the sonic assault it was. Our parents’ generation recognized Benny as a comedian with a radio and television program who stared down audiences, deadpan, until they succumbed to fits of maniacal laughter. Behind those dead eyes? The inspiration for “Pale Blue Eyes,” I believe. Though don’t ask Lou. He won’t admit to it.

Lou Reed (guitarist/vocalist): He had to go. You know what I mean? No room for him in The Velvet Underground. Everybody wants to tell you how to run your life. His brilliant idea was that our sets needed interludes by “song and dance men” in cardigans and crewcuts. That’s what put asses in seats, he more or less said. When pigs fucking fly, I told him.

Nico (vocalist): He was a funny man. Jack Benny was. He had a funny face. With a funny pointed nose. When he walked into a room, I’d laugh. This made Lou very angry with me. As if Jack stole me away from him. I was no one’s to steal.

Moe Tucker: Very few openly give Jack Benny the credit he’s due. His atonal violin playing heavily influenced our early music. Benny can be heard playing those screeching, see-sawing string parts on “Venus in Furs.”

Lou Reed: On the recording, Jack played the viola, but (producer) Andy Warhol gave all the credit to John Cale because John fit in with the appearance of what Warhol was trying to promote for us. Did he get a raw deal? It was what it was.

John Cale: I owe a debt to Benny. Namely, my entire career.

Lou Reed: The “man” in “Waiting for My Man?” [takes a long draw off a Lucky Strike cigarette] Jack Benny. Everyone and their dog assumed the song is about me turning tricks for smack. They’re dead wrong. No. I owed Jack twenty-five dollars. For what? It’s not important. Anyway, he wasn’t about to let me forget about it. When it comes to cash, what Jack finds convenient about it, is when it’s lining his pocket, no matter it a penny, nickel, dime. Whatever. So? I made my way crosstown to pay the sorry bastard his dough as he requested. All he had to say when I got there was “You’re fifteen minutes late.” That’s why in “Waiting for My Man,” there’s twenty-six dollars in my hand ‘cos that’s how much I gave Jack. I said, “Consider this portrait of George Washington as interest, you sorry bitch.”

Nico: Lou could not stand the attention I gave Jack. It was innocent. When Jack and I fucked it was innocent. It was the best lovemaking in his entire 39 years, he promised me. He promised he would make me a bigger star than ever. I wanted to believe him. He had been on radio, television, motion pictures. It was not meant to be. I made love to his servant Rochester. Rochester’s the reason I left. Madly in love. Because Rochester knew how to please me with only a feather duster.

Lou Reed: At least he’d dress in pantyhose when the occasion arose. That ass on the cover of 1969: The Velvet Underground Live?

Jack Benny’s.

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