tuesday, january 03, 2006
VU - The Velvet UndergroundThis is the record that changed my life.
I was well on my way to being a perfectly normal suburban American male. Go to college, get a sweetheart, get a job and the requisite 2.3 kids and set up in a bedroom community orbiting somewhere around a vague metropolitan area. It all went out the window when Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground arrived with different plans.
It has always been a point of pride with me that I discovered the Velvet Underground on my own. I was wasting a bored afternoon in the only record store in town when I came across this interesting black covered album that featured the arresting image of a VU meter pegging out on the right side. I picked it up with a couple of other records I probably no longer have and went home to discover everything I had been taught in the world had been a lie.
It was the height of tragedy that as the band fell apart, they finally achieved a level of mastery that far outstripped anything they had ever done before. The early records are important because the broke all the rules, in the later records they are creating new ones. It isn't by accident that two of the band's best known songs "Sweet Jane" and "Rock and Roll" are on the last record, Loaded. A record that was released after even Reed had left the band.
The ending of the band was notoriously messy and there was a lot of confusion with the final recordings. What the record company discovered while remastering the band's albums was the master recordings for an uncompleted "fourth" album that had been lost in the disarray. In 1985 Verve records re-released all the Velvet Underground's old albums and, as a bonus, released this compilation that included many of those ‘lost’ songs.
While a subsequent album Another View also had some gems, it wasn't as tightly edited an album and the filler is painfully obvious in several places.
VU is actually a dissertation on the whole of rock and roll. Listening to it I was able to finally understand how the music – rock and roll in particular - is supposed to fit together; how each instrument provides it's individuality to every song as well as it's proper placement in the overall structure. It's a subtle concept that took no less than the genius of Muddy Waters to discover. Here, Reed is taking it the next step forward.
In a way, providing this education has been the hallmark of Reed's career. His experiments with the Velvet Underground and beyond (even the excruciating Metal Machine Music) often define the parameters of rock and roll by showing you what lies outside the realm of convention and, eventually, even that can be subsumed into the music as well. But it doesn’t start if Reed didn't get there first.
Kurt Loder, in his odiously fawning liner notes, points out that Reed spent quite some time in the early 1960s as a record company songwriter cranking out tunes for now-forgotten bands. From this came his relationship with Cale and Morrison that eventually begat the Velvet Underground. This period of apprenticeshipe also gave Reed a sharp understanding of the mechanics of his craft - something he set out to glorify by systematically disassembling.
A critic once said the beauty of Reed's music is that everyone that listens to it tells themselves "I could have done that!" but the point is that no, you didn't and - more importantly - no, you couldn't. The three cord simplicity hides a profound turmoil that is all the more powerful because it is so controlled. The dark edges of the Velvet Underground are here and they are somehow all the more horrible when sung with the child-like vocals of Moe Tucker. Nothing about this album is simple. Its genius is in that it makes you think it is.
The love songs like "Stephanie Says" and "Lisa Says" aren't simple. The women he sings about aren't simple. They are beautiful but they are wounded, spiteful, independent, romantic... all the things that real people are rather than the hollow ideal given in most songs. There are strange absurdities like "Temptation Inside Your Heart," and "Andy's Chest" that seem like trifles at first listen but later are revealed as much more disturbing. The operatic "Ocean" seems relaxing and comforting until you realize it's most likely about suicide.
As a young man in the mid-1980s this record arrived at the perfect time. All the bands who were inspired by the originalVelvet records were coming to fruition. Not only did I get to behold the best recordings of R.E.M., The Cure, The Feelies, P.I.L., The Psychedelic Furs, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Jazz Butcher and legions of others at the peak of their power but, with this, I got the blueprint for the music that is my music. There was little choice for me at that point - I became a disk jockey, became "alternative" ten years early and forever gave up the normal life that I had been doomed to follow.
I wouldn't change a single thing.
|comment posted by: KerryAngel on august 2, 2007 @ 3:08 pm|
Absolutely! One of the greatest trajedies in my life was the day that I found out that some of my stuff had been stolen when I was out of town. The copy you gave me was in the things that were taken. ( At least the thief has good taste!) Those songs are the perfect combination of creativity, chaos, and control!
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