The Velvet Underground (book)

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First edition

The Velvet Underground is a paperback by journalist Michael Leigh that reports on paraphilia in the USA, published in September 1963.

Cover text: Here is an incredible book. It will shock and amaze you. But as a documentary on the sexual corruption of our age, it is a must for every thinking adult.

Leigh investigates "aberrant" sexual behavior between consenting adults, that is, everything other than simple intercourse conducted in privacy by a heterosexual couple, e.g., husband and wife swapping, group sex, sex orgy parties, homosexual activities, sado-masochism. The author reports on the various ways in which such practices are solicited (newspaper advertisements, clubs, etcetera), and by following these leads, manages to get into touch with many of its participants, usually through written correspondence. The book liberally treats us with quotations from this material. This is complemented with quotes from various magazines.

The author's general aim is to establish that a shift in attitude toward sexuality is taking place in society that not only allows a large cross-section of the American population to partake in such non-standard sexual practices, but also allows them to believe that what they are doing is perfectly healthy and normal. A central passage in the book is a quote/paraphrase from a 1961 article in the French Esprit magazine, which calls this liberal attitude toward sex the sexual revolution, and attributes it to the general availability of contraceptives.

The book is ambiguous in tone, posing as an objective investigative report on a social phenomenon, while being, at the same time, full of subjective language reflecting the author's seeming moral bias against the practices and attitudes observed.

The Velvet Underground was republished in 1967 in the United Kingdom under the title Bizarre Sex Underground. In 1968, the author brought out a sequel, The Velvet Underground Revisited.


The New York band The Velvet Underground, founded in 1965, was named after the book. Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison's friend, filmmaker Tony Conrad, found a copy lying in the street. Morrison has reported the group liked the name, considering it evocative of "underground cinema," and fitting, due to Reed's already having written "Venus in Furs", inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's book of the same name, dealing with sado-masochism.


  • Michael Leigh. The Velvet Underground. Macfadden Books MB 60–142, USA, 192 pp., 1963

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