Despite present appearances, the Velvet Underground weren’t always thought of as a ubiquitous progenitor and cited influence upon untold thousands of fantastic bands. The extant literature of their time supports the fact that they certainly made an impact in pushing boundaries and blowing minds, if not in selling records, yet I don’t believe it was possible to actually see their eventual and well-deserved towering stature from a lens pointed in the year 1977 toward the future.
In 1977, it was a hardy, newly-converted VU fan named Phil Milstein who had the wherewithal to channel his obsessions into creating the Velvet Underground Appreciation Society, which was effectively defined by a five-issue Velvets fanzine called What Goes On that he very infrequently published with others into the 1990s. This is the very first one, a 12-page xeroxed gem from 1978.
I was fortunate to have interviewed Mr. Milstein about the Velvet Underground Appreciation Society and his magazine in my own Dynamite Hemorrhage fanzine #3, published in 2015. You can download a PDF of it here. I’ve cherry-picked our exchanges about What Goes On and am reprinting them for your reading pleasure presently:
Was there a simple “fan club” motive for the founding of the Velvet Underground Appreciation Society in 1977, or was it truly an attempt to foster a more widespread appreciation for a band that hadn’t received anything close to its proper due?
Phil Milstein: As I was absorbing the VU’s music I began hungering to learn their story, yet I could find little information on them beyond a few table scraps. At this time there was a cauldron of fan club activity heating up, with dedicated fans conducting genuine research starting to crowd out the officially-sanctioned clubs, which were little more than promo machines. I waited eagerly for someone to get something going on the VU, but, for whatever reason, nobody did. (For the record, there was indeed some nascent fan activity taking place, primarily in England, but it was very localized and I didn’t learn of it until later.) When I noticed a new zine starting for Suzi Quatro, I was appalled that a mediocrity like her would get a fanzine before a truly worthy group like the VU. With that, I was moved to act.
I was ill-equipped to publish a magazine on a group I knew so little about, but I figured that if I did a good job information would start rolling in, and that I’d learn about them concurrently with the readers. The first issue was consequently low on serious content, but the mere fact of its existence was enough to start drawing VU fans out of the woodwork. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I began developing information — and, eventually, inside sources — just as I’d anticipated.
What was involved in the launch of the VUAS? Who were the main initial players, how did you get the word out, and were What Goes On and the Temporary Thing newsletters your primary communiques?
Phil Milstein: Recognizing that I knew so little myself about the VU, my first effort toward getting something useful going was to reach out to prominent figures in the music world who had, in some way or other, acknowledged themselves as VU fans. I recall writing, for instance, to Lester Bangs, Lenny Kaye, a musician and writer from Boston who called himself the Count, and Miriam Linna, who was then still in The Cramps. Between them they contributed articles, ideas and general support, and were instrumental in my ability to move the project forward.
The fanzine world was so active around this time that several larger publications, most notably Bomp and Goldmine, ran columns that discussed and reviewed them. Mailing addresses were invariably provided, along with the ubiquitous reminder to “include SASE”. This attention, of course, fostered further activity in its turn, and for a while it seemed that everybody and his sister had some sort of zine going. It was strong validation when Greg Shaw gave WGO an A grade in Bomp, and it led, as you’d imagine, to the arrival of a lot of SASEs.
What was the distinction between the Velvet Underground Appreciation Society and What Goes On?
Phil Milstein: What Goes On was the magazine published by the VUAS, while the VUAS was more a concept than an actual organization. There were no dues, nor even a membership list per se, and I thought of it as simply an umbrella under which I’d conduct my VU-related work. Most of its activities, in fact, were in support of projects by other people, for instance the Moe Tucker/Jonathan Richman 45 the Count put out, the And So On bootleg out of Australia,WHRB’s all-Velvets radio marathon (which provided the first-ever exposure of Robin Hough’s Boston Tea Party recordings), etc.