It’s been a while since I wrote anything but I’ve got a simple explanation! Huh! Sure I did listen to some of the newest recordings, among them the newest album by Korn (Korn III: Remember Who You Are) but, since it was a bit disappointing (very rhythmical and very much in the style of older Korn recordings, true, still not melodical enough for me and I felt like listening to a badly made musical, that you do not remember a single tune from) I won’t write about Korn.
And – since lately I haven’t been listening to new recordings soooo much but rather got back to the oldies, yes, the oldies… here they come.
After I had finished watching the latest series of Mad Men I had a huge hunger for the music of 1960s. Mainly American and British music, of course (was there any other music at that time at all? Well… maybe except Serge Gainsbourg – but still, was there and is there any other music than American and, sometimes, British music? X-D)
Coming back to my favorite tunes of the 1960s wasn’t a very big deal since I was raised on prog rock and Frank Zappa (mainly). Jimi Hendrix, the Creedence Clearwater Revival, King Crimson or the Jefferson Airplane still remain one of my favorite artists. However, this summer I somehow turned to somewhat “lighter” music, most of which was soul and funk (which mainly meant long hours of listening to James Brown and Etta James).
And then it struck me. I don’t know how, I don’t know when. I just realized I was playing the same song on and on – Venus in Furs by the Velvet Underground. And when I realized I listened to VU only, I just surrendered completely and right now I’ve been listening to the same four albums on and on every single day.
The Velvet Underground is a phenomenon on its own. It has as many followers and fans as those who openly hate the band and consider it, frankly, to be a pretty lame musical project. And, yes, perhaps musically there were better and much professional bands at the time. Still, for me the Velvet Underground is more a performance phenomenon than a musical one. Of course, I won’t argue here about the fact of how VU influenced all the other bands of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and even those who create music today. From Joy Division through the Jesus and Mary Chain even to Beck, from punk to grunge, the Velvet Underground remains one of the crucial points in history of popular music.
What strikes me when I read about the band and when I listen to their records is, of course, the influence of Andy Warhol and his Factory, the amazing lyrics of Lou Reed (who was studying literature), the imagination, inspirations and… how much this band is different from any other band of the 1960s. It’s clear to me that Jimi Hendrix or Frank Zappa are musical virtuosos and the Velvet Underground is pretty mediocre when it comes to their technical abilities. Still, it’s dark, it’s contagious, it’s inhabited by most weird characters, whores, small crooks, junkies, transvestites. Of course, much of this is because the band, at least in the beginning of their career, was strongly connected with Andy Warhol and, more or less, this is the enviroment of the famous Factory X-D However, to me the Velvet Underground seems to be kinda… Brechtian. Similar atmosphere, similar topics, weird stories, obsessive themes and similarly to the Kurt Weil/Bertold Brecht duo the Velvet Underground creates simple melodic lines which become extremely intense due to sharp and poignant lyrics. Of course, that doesn’t mean that VU means simple, pop songs and pop songs only. The Velvet Underground created much of the foundations for future genres of music such as punk, noise or even grunge. Plus, as most bands of the time, they were (at least sometimes) kinda psychedelic. Still… the weird fascination that has grown in me is mostly connected with the dark, gloomy side of the Velvet Underground. I don’t know, maybe cause I’m a Nine Inch Nails fan myself and I don’t have to mention that even NIN has much to owe to the VU?
What else has struck me is the feeling that in the world of the Vietnam War, student protesters in Berkeley, the Civil Rights Movement, drugs, Woodstock, free love and fighting against racism, sexism and all other kinds of -isms the Velvet Underground (as much as Andy Warhol and his Factory) remain… artificial. And I do not think of the negative meaning of the term. I’m thinking more of the theatrical aspect, the performance, the glam and the dark sides of being a celebrity. On one side of the stage you have Bob Dylan and Joan Baez who embody the “true” American spirit, the American freedom, the essence of its soil (with all the taste of the Frontier one can ever get in a lifetime, LOL). On the other side you’ve got someone who says: This is all fake. We are not even men or women, we are not even heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. We do drugs but we put make up on our faces and pretend to be glamorous. We’re all fake, our feelings are fake. The world is burninng? Who cares? Let’s fuck first and then get some heroin.
Of course, this is basically how I perceive the Velvet Underground and most of it is what I assume and what I imagine by listening to their music and viewing the few performances which were recorded and uploaded on youtube. You don’t have to agree with me. I do think, however, that both, Lou Reed and John Cale were completely conscious and aware of the rules of showbiz. But… let’s leave this thought for a while.
I will probably come back to this topic many more times. The Velvet Underground is a very complex phenomenon. But this won’t ever fit into one post. So, for now, let’s stick with whores, junkies, S/M, obsession, transgression and some gloomy moods – one of their best and so much different from other songs of the time; recorded in 1967. Venus in Furs.