Picture it: You’re a steady couple in Detroit, it’s the mid-‘60s and you’re hip sort of people, and you get a chance for Andy Warhol, Nico, and the Velvet Underground to participate in your nuptials, making it the world’s first-ever “mod wedding.” What could be better?
This actually happened. The date of the wedding was November 20, 1966, and it was one of the concluding events of a three-day festival held in Detroit called the Carnaby Street Fun Festival, at which the Velvet Underground and the Yardbirds played. The lucky couple were named Gary Norris and Randi Rossi.
In 2011 some ephemera from this event I would love to get a look at were auctioned off at Christie’s, including a five-page “press release” called Pop Goes the Wedding, and an invitation to, ahem, “The Nation’s First Mod Wedding to Unite Two Typical Mod Teenagers in the Bonds of Holy Matrimony.”
In a bio of Al Abrams, the noted promoter who dreamt up the Carnaby Street Fun Fair as well as the idea of having a wedding of this type, it states that Norris and Rossi were not the first couple selected for the event: “The pair earned the chance to exchange their vows in the highly publicized ceremony after the original couple, who had won the wedding competition on the popular Detroit radio station WKNR, had to withdraw.“
Here’s Steven Watson in Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties discussing how the event came about:
Perhaps the most conspicuous of [the band’s] Sixties events was a Detroit fair called the Carnaby Street Fun Festival. … As a centerpiece, a Motown publicist [almost certainly Abrams] thought up the idea of a Mod Wedding. Since Andy Warhol was “the father of Pop Art,” he became the perfect choice to play the father of the bride. A columnist for The Detroit News dug up a couple to get married—a twenty-five-year-old clothing salesman and his nineteen-year-old, unemployed go-go dancer girlfriend. While Gary Norris and Randi Rossi were married before a crowd of forty-five hundred, the Velvet Underground played “Here Comes the Bride,” and a roadie pounded on a car with a sledgehammer. After the ceremony Andy signed some Campbell’s Soup cans and threw them into the crowd, and he and the bride cut the six-foot cake with a sword. “It would be in better taste if you had those people throwing up on each other,” Dick Clark told the event’s organizer.
Reaction at the time had more than its share of eye-rolling disgust. This account by Linda La Marre appeared in The Detroit News the next day; in addition to being pretty well written, it achieves a mocking, derisive tone I’ve seldom encountered in a news story before. The article can be found in Clinton Heylin’s essential compendium All Yesterdays’ Parties: The Velvet Underground in Print, 1966-1971.
“Mother’s Mod Lament”
by Linda La Marre
The Detroit News, November 21, 1966
Holy matrimony was replaced by unholy pandemonium in what was billed as a wedding yesterday at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
It was a marriage in the Mod Tradition. The country’s first. And let’s hope it’s not what’s happening, baby.
Wearing a white minigown, eight inches over her knees and white, thigh-high boots, Randy Rossi, 18, became the bride of clothing salesman Gary Norris, 25, amid a melange of simultaneous “happenings.”
Andy Warhol, of soup can painting fame and the “father of Pop art,” arrived from New York to give away the bride. With him came his rock & roll group, the Velvet Underground, vocalist Nico, and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Warhol’s gaudy lighting effects.
Some 4,500 shaggy-haired wedding guests swarmed the arena for the prenuptial rituals. Electronic devices screamed, guitars and drums throbbed and a fiddle added to the din as ppurple and orange lights splashed dots and squares across the stage.
“Hey, we’re really witnessing something, it’s history, history!” a young girl shouted.
Huddled on the sidelines were the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Rossi of Mt. Clemens, the bridegroom’s mother, Mrs. Thelma Norris, of Taylor, his sister and brother-in-law, the Robert Wionceks, of Dearborn.
“It’s not the kind of wedding we had planned for our daughter,” Mrs. Rossi said, as eerie screeches emitted from the stage.
“He’s old enough to know his own mind,” Mrs. Norris added, while Nico, clad in a lavender pantsuit, cupped the mike in both hands and began moaning some song.
After an eternity of noise, a black Rolls-Royce with the bridal couple slowly backed into the arena. The pair wisely chose to stay inside the car a few moments.
Warhol’s psychedelic sounds, which seek to create the same illusion as mind-expanding drugs, succeeded.
Gerard [Malanga], the whip dancer, slithered and spun across the darkened stage. Another member of the cast hopped atop a wrecked DeSoto, bashing it with a sledge hammer.
“If I take to love, will I find you gone,” groaned Nico. Warhol ascended the platform, paint bucket and catsup bottles in hand. Contents of both containers were carefully applied to a girl wearing a white paper dress throughout the proceedings.
The bride smiled as she marched up the platform steps. The bridegroom wore a gray checked, Beatle-type suit, black boots, green and white flowered tie. He looked sober.
The couple volunteered for the Mod wedding, which concluded the three-day Carnaby Street Fun Festival. Their reward, a free honeymoon in New York and screen test with Warhol.
After giving away the bride Warhol sat serenely upon a box of tomato soup, autographing cans. A color film of Nico’s face flickered on and off the back curtains as she read a few appropriate, but indistinguishable sentences from a yellow book.
Another member of the cast paraded with a five-foot Baby Ruth candy bar balloon, Warhol’s gift to the newlyweds.
My favorite bit in there is La Marre’s description of the music: “Nico, clad in a lavender pantsuit, cupped the mike in both hands and began moaning some song…..”
This online forum on VU supplies a detail that nobody else I consulted had. La Marre reports that Warhol gave the bride away, but on this forum, a user named “taxine” asserts that Nico officiated the wedding. I’m not sure if she did or didn’t, but the photo taxine supplied seems to bear it out. The quality could be a little better, but this sure as heckfire looks to me like Warhol giving the bride away while Nico officiates:
Rob Jovanovic’s Seeing the Light: Inside the Velvet Underground furnishes an illuminating quotation from Moe Tucker that clarifies the identity of the man with the sledgehammer: “That was lunacy. ... We were playing but [Paul] Cézanne was recruited to beat the hell out of a car with a sledge hammer, during the ceremony and during our set. I don’t know what the significance was!”
Jovanovic suggests that the Yardbirds also played the wedding and covered “I’m Waiting for the Man.” The Yardbirds did play all three days of the Carnaby Street Fun Festival, but nobody else mentions the detail of the Yardbirds playing the wedding—I think what actually happened is that the Yardbirds played the festival and during at least one of their sets (six sets, two per day) they played “I’m Waiting for the Man,” but they weren’t playing the wedding and didn’t cover the song at the wedding per se. At least that’s the impression this chronology gives.
Here are a few more pics, including a great action shot of Cézanne destroying the car with a sledgehammer.