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Cult Classics

Jonathan Richman’s recollection of the Velvet Underground performing at the Boston Tea Party in the late 1960s. Created for this article.

Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968, by Ryan H. Walsh. New York: Penguin Press, 2018. 368 pages.

WHEN MY FRIENDS and I started a band in 1980s Boston, we weren’t just influenced by the Velvet Underground—we studied their first three albums like a code to be cracked. (The fourth album, Loaded, served to separate true acolytes from false. Bands covering “Sweet Jane” might as well have been shouting “I don’t get it!” into the mic.)

What I didn’t know then was that our liturgical attitude toward the Velvets was rooted firmly in a local tradition. As Ryan H. Walsh points out in his excellent new book about Boston in the ’60s, Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968, the Velvet Underground played only three proper shows in New York between 1967 and 1970. But during that same period at the Boston Tea Party—a psychedelic club housed in a former Unitarian church in Boston’s South End—they

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