Why The Velvet Underground hated The Doors

Composite picture of Nico, Lou Reed and Jim Morrison
(Image credit: Nico, Lou Reed: Adam Ritchie | Jim Morrison: Chris Walter)

Fans of The Doors may have been grief-stricken at the news of Jim Morrison’s death, but his detractors weren’t. Chief among them was Lou Reed, who said: “Somebody got a phone call saying Jim Morrison had died in Paris in a bathtub. And I said: ‘How fabulous, in a bathtub in Paris!’ I had no pity at all for that silly Los Angeles person.”

Ever since his early Velvet Underground days, Reed’s attitude to The Doors had been one of antipathy, symptomatic of his mistrust of the West Coast scene in general. Reed’s basic argument was that the VU were “really, really smart” and the California bands were “really, really stupid. It was purely a matter of brains.”

This animosity was most likely aggravated by the VU’s West Coast debut at The Trip, LA’s hip nightspot, in May 1966, where the Velvets were jeered. John Phillips, Mama Cass, Sonny and Cher, Ryan O’Neal and The Byrds were among those in attendance. Cher left early and was quoted in the next day’s paper as saying the VU’s music “will replace nothing, except maybe suicide”. Reviews were similarly unkind.

Also in the audience for that opening night was Jim Morrison, just starting out with The Doors. The Velvets were then part of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a multimedia show that featured dancer Gerard Malanga. The latter’s performance saw him cavorting around in leather with a whip.

Velvet Underground poster

(Image credit: Sterling Morrison collection)

Six months later The Doors went to New York and played at Ondine’s. Morrison had co-opted Malanga’s whole leather schtick. As Warhol recalled later: “[Gerard] flipped. ‘He stole my look!’ he screamed, outraged.” Today Malanga is a little more diplomatic. “Let’s say he appropriated it out of inspiration,” he says.

Warhol had been quick to spot the screen potential of Morrison. During The Doors’ East Coast visit, he invited the singer to take a lead role in a porn movie, I, A Man. According to the filmmaker, Morrison “agreed to bring a girl over and fuck her in front of the camera. But when the time came he never showed up.” Instead, Morrison sent his friend, actor Tom Baker, to appear in the role. 

Morrison had also started a short-lived and fiery affair with The Velvet Underground's ice-voiced chanteuse Nico. He upped and left one morning and returned to LA, leaving her heartbroken, but not before several peyote-enhanced trips to the desert had helped inspire the songwriting on her second solo album, The Marble Index. 

"He had a fetish for red-haired shanties, you know, Irish shanties," Nico said later. "I was so much in love with him that I made my hair red after a while. I wanted to please his taste. It was silly, wasn't it? Like a teenager." 

Morrison wasn't credited on the album.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.

With contributions from