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Sunday, 26 February 2017

Velvet Sunday

Back to the Velvets for the Sabbath. In days of yore (the late 80s) before the internet, before cds (for me at least, I didn't start buying cds until the mid/late 90s), before re-issues and bands reforming, box sets with alternate takes and full live sets, there was precious little to go off with The Velvet Underground. You had the four studio albums (if you could find them), the two live albums (Max's Kansas City and 1969), the VU and Another View albums and a book by Victor Bockris (Uptight; The Story of The Velvet Underground). These were not just records and a book, they were portals to another world. It was a world that was gone, it did not exist anymore (New York, the late 1960s). Lou Reed had a patchy solo career so there were occasional interviews but the heritage rock press did not exist either so there was a dearth of information. What you knew about the group came from Bockris' text, the handful of pictures in the book, the rumour and talk of like minded people and the songs themselves.

1968's White Light/White Heat album was their most obtuse and difficult album, a rejection of everyone who didn't buy their first album. Here She Comes Now and I Heard Her Call My Name are the closest to conventional guitar songs but wrapped and covered in feedback. The Gift was a spoken word/avant garde exploration with stereo sound. Lady Godiva's Operation had some of Lou's most transgressive lyrics.Sister Ray was a one take song, seventeen minutes of legend, covered by New Order, a story of transvestites, sailors and drug dealers. No bass guitar. Distorted organ. Heady stuff. And the title track (two versions below, from a 7" single re-issue), a statement of intent, a song about speed. This song and Sister Ray are the ones that are 'easiest' to copy when you're learning to play the guitar. Pick two chords and bash away until you're done. White heat.

White Light/White Heat 1
White Light/White Heat 2


Echorich said...

Through my work in the music photography business - and more specifically my boss/company founder Virginia, a strange parade of the 60s/70s rock and roll periphery crossed through the threshold of our company's loft space in the Flatiron District of Manhattan. On any given afternoon or early evening (non of these people were up in the morning) you might find Giorgio Gromelsky -former Stones and Yardbirds manager, the previously mentioned Nat Finkelstein, Tony Visconti and May Pang, Danny Fields and for quite a long time Victor Bockris. Bockris was quite possibly the oddest of the bunch. He spoke in a sort of stream of consciousness which I always put down to the result of his survival of the 60's NYC counter culture, but he may have just been mad. We once had an office party he attended and he made a big deal about the vegetables and dips that were served, walking around with basically an entire tray of his own. When cleaning up after the party the next day, I found dip covered bits of half eaten broccoli and carrot and celery under chairs, sofas, behind file cabinets....turning the party food into some sort of art installation. Yes, Bockris was an odd one.

Swiss Adam said...

Speechless. Again.

Echorich said...

As vivid as some of those memories are, SA, I would have given them all a pass to have been olde enough for one weekend of abandon spent at Warhol's Factory hanging out with Candy Darling, Paul Morrissey, Joe Dallessandro and Holly Woodlawn (I had some 80s interaction with Holly - she was a STAR in my mind...) back in the 60s. To have experienced that scene in living color instead of the photojournalistic black + white we are all used to would have been amazing.

JC said...

Wow....Echorich blows me away again. You ought to pen your memoirs.

Ashamed to say it, but I know very little about VU. I came to them via cover versions and never got round to buying anything as a flatmate had the records. Of course, that the day would come he went south to work and I went east hadn't occurred to me. Still only have a 'Best Of' CD sitting on the shelves.