In anticipation of the upcoming box set of The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition—which drops December 10th—the kind folks at the Universal Music Group have given Dangerous Minds readers a taste of what is to come. They even let me choose the track, “I’m Not A Young Man Anymore,” and it’s a stunner.
The three-disc, 30-track set includes both the original stereo and mono mixes of the album, alternate versions and unreleased outtakes, including John Cale’s final studio sessions with the band. The set’s centerpiece, though, is the official release of their complete show at The Gymnasium in New York, recorded on April 30, 1967. The Gymnasium performance was bootlegged in 2008, but this was transferred from John Cale’s personal copy. The White Light/White Heat box set comes housed in a 56-page hardbound book and was developed in full cooperation with both Lou Reed and John Cale.
Reed would have been a 25-year-old in 1967 when he wrote “I’m Not A Young Man Anymore.” WHY this song was never officially recorded, well, is a mystery for the ages. If there was a an hour-long version of this song, I’d put it on a loop 24-7. Was its sole outing the Gymnasium gig? I’ve got shitloads of VU bootlegs and I’m unaware of it appearing on any other set list. Go figure!
The Gymnasium was located in the East 70s and was originally a Czechoslovakian health and social club. The gym equipment was actually left in the club. A teenaged Chris Stein, later of Blondie, played at the space with his own band and remembers seeing The Velvet Underground there:
It was pretty late at night by the time we got out of the subway in Manhattan and headed toward the Gymnasium. Walking down the block with our guitars we actually saw some people coming down the street and they said, “Oh, are you guys the band, because we’ve been waiting there all night and we couldn’t take it anymore, we left because they never showed up.” So we said, “Yeah, we’re the band.” We went inside and there was hardly anyone there. Somebody said Andy was supposed to be there, but he was off in the shadows with his entourage, we never saw him. We hung around for a little while and they played records, then we headed up for the stage. It was a big echoey place, we had absolutely no conception of playing a place like this whatsoever, but Maureen Tucker said we could use their equipment. So we plugged into their amps and the amps were all cranked up superloud…. The only song I remember doing was “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover.” We must have done a few more, but I remember sitting down after a while because the whole thing had gotten me pretty discouraged. Then somebody came over and said, “Oh Andy likes you, he thinks you’re great.” We must have played five or six songs then we just gave up. By that time the rest of The Velvets had arrived. After a while they started to play and they were like awesomely powerful. I had never expected to experience anything like that before…. I was really disappointed that they didn’t have Nico, because we thought she was the lead singer, but I distinctly remember the violin and their doing “Venus in Furs” because a couple of people in dark outfits got up and started doing a slow dance with a chain in between them…. There were maybe thirty people there. It was very late, but it was a memorable experience….
It seems likely that Stein might be describing the very show (no Nico here) contained on the box set. The complete and utter lack of applause might also be because of the small number of people Stein recalls being there. It was 45 years ago, so who knows?
When Reed died recently, Rolling Stone asked Thurston Moore for a memory of the rocker, and he referenced “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore.”
I was at South by Southwest in 2008, playing at a Lou Reed appreciation concert. I’d just heard “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore,” which had just surfaced on a Velvet Underground bootleg. It was this powerful song I’d never heard before. Before we went on, I was talking to Lou and told him about it and he said, “How the hell do you know about that song?” I said, “It just surfaced on a bootleg on the Internet.” I said I thought it would be a good song to play since I just turned 50. And when I said that, he looked at me, half smiled and embraced me. It was wonderful and completely unexpected.
Below, have a listen to “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore.” I’m totally in love with this song. This groove don’t quit. Turn it up loud enough so that it hits you like a fucking freight train.