The Velvet Underground thought the Dead were sexist and homophobic and probably imperialist and definitely goofy. Most of the thing can be understood nearly instantly by realizing that the VU was made up of over-educated New Yorkers, with all the connotation that “over-educated New Yorker” entails. Yeah, I went there.
Were the Dead homophobic? I’ve never read any stories about them acting untoward. Although–and I always thought it was odd for a band from San Francisco–there were never any stories about the Dead vis-a-vis gaiety at all.
From September of ’79 to March of ’83, Billy invoked the ancient rite of Prima Nocte over the backstage area, but luckily for all involved, Billy usually just wanted a rubdown and a tugger. And he would always share his coke: Billy was good like that.
The Dead were kind of hairy and macho. Sure, they had Donna in the group, but she was really just Keith’s old lady that Bobby was banging. She was incidental. No one ever made a mix tape called Donna Jams, nor has anyone ever sold a bumper sticker with a clever Donna-inspired pun.
“Who’s your favorite member of the Dead? Garcia? Phil?”
“No, man, it’s the chick who looks like Sacheen Littlefeather who caterwauls nine or ten times a show. She’s all the Dead I need!”
They did employ more women than most rock outfits of the time, and in creative positions: Candace Brightman and Betty Canter come to mind.
Apparently, the Dead had appeared on the same bill as the Velvet Underground and, of course, both bands brought their entire scenes with them and it turned into a full-fledged hip-off. The VU sat there in their leathers and sniffed condescendingly at the hairy baboons from San Francisco. (It was probably condescending: there was an enormous amount of sniffing going on.) Instant utter hatred.
Which is not surprising: a good hate requires a bit of reflection. Who can hate something alien properly? To truly hate, we need to recognize ourself in the person, place, or thing that has so struck our ire. Both bands played songs for 45 minutes while deliberately declining to make eye contact with anyone in the room. Both had a weird rich benefactor, a pretentious bass player, and a drummer with a vagina.
(That’s right: Mickey has a vagina. In the womb, he ate his twin sister and the ‘gina just showed up on his shoulder. It is fully-functioning and Mickey introduces it into love-making by asking if his partners would like to go to “ninth base.”)
The story also might be colored by the fact that, at the time, both bands were made up of raging drug addicts. The VU, notably, preferred to intravenously self-administer amphetamines constantly. Literally constantly: if they were not actively shooting up, they were helping you look for the money that they had stolen from you. The Velvet Underground liked to stay up for six days straight turning tricks and accusing each other of things. The Velvet Underground were just the worst fucking people in the world.
So, I’m not taking their word for it.
ADDENDUM: Rereading this post, I am ashamed to see that I have not linked to the essay that inspired it. My apologies to the author and to people in general and also ducks.