The Velvet Underground Played At My High School • Hookist
  • Over his 30+ year career, award-winning cinematographer and music aficionado, Tony Janelli, has worked with the best of the best.  He is a long-time collaborator with such iconic directors as Jonathan Demme and Martin Scorsese, having worked on such red-letter films as “Philadelphia”, “Silence of the Lambs”, and “New York Stories”, as well as Scorsese’s Rolling Stones documentary, “Shine A Light”, Demme’s Neil Young concert film, “Heart of Gold”, and his Robyn Hitchcock concert film, “Storefront Hitchcock”, where Hookist co-founder, Meredith Collins was one of Tony’s twenty-or-so assistants! When not filming, Tony is Head of Cinematography at NYU’s prestigious Tisch Graduate School of Film.

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    Tony Janelli:  The Velvet Underground Played at My High School

    I am currently in production of an animated short film with the working title, The Velvet Underground Played My High School. This animated short will look back at a show I attended during my sophomore year in high school.

    As a 10th grader sitting in the 3rd row, this was one of the first concerts I had ever been to. It was also the first time I witnessed booing, shock, horror, and bewilderment in a public setting. I’ve always enjoyed telling my story of seeing The Velvet Underground at their – in some minds – disastrous first public performance… so we’re making a short film about it!  And, yes, it will include the part about the audience storming out in disbelief!

    In describing Heroin on the Velvets’ first album, the Velvet Underground & Nico, music historian Alex Ross writes, “Three months before the release of Sgt. Pepper’s, the Velvet Underground had closed the gap between rock and the avant-garde.”

    But two years before that, in December 1965, the Velvets played their first gig together, the concert I attended in a suburban New Jersey high school auditorium, where they warmed up for a popular local band. No gap was bridged that night.

    On stage for merely 20 minutes, The Velvets performed three songs, There She Goes, Venus in Furs, and Heroin, to an audience of teenagers. And the Summit High School audience responded intensely. One member of the band recalled later, a “murmur of surprise…greeted our appearance” that “increased to a roar of disbelief as we started to play” which “swelled to a mighty howl of outrage and bewilderment…” and, literally, half the audience walked out.

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    This anomalous show crystalized a unique cultural moment: only three weeks later, Andy Warhol would see the Velvets, adopt them as The Factory’s band, and contextualize them in the avant-garde art world. They would inspire and pave the way for Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Dead Boys, the Lounge Lizards, Television, the Ramones, Patti Smith, and other performance artists (documented nowhere as thoroughly as in the archival Downtown Collection in NYU’s Fales Library).

    But that night at Summit High, there was no context for the Velvet Underground. There would be a massive cultural shift, but it wouldn’t begin for another three weeks. This film is not about the beginning of a cataclysmic storm. It is about a barely perceived drop in barometric pressure three weeks before.

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    Check out this killer dramatic teaser!

    The Velvet Underground Played At My High School  is being produced in conjunction with the Independent Filmmaker Project, which fosters the development, production and promotion of hundreds of feature and documentary films a year. IFP Fiscal Sponsorship is exclusively for creative, artistic and/or educational film, video and transmedia projects, giving filmmakers the benefit of world-class experience and reputation in the field.

    We need your support to meet our budget and let this fascinating true story be heard! Please support this pivotal moment in music history by making a tax deductible donation through the Independent Filmmaker Project at

    Contact me for questions at!


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