The band that I never knew: The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground (VU) is seen as one of the most influential bands of our time. But frankly, I never heard of them, and during the height of their career, the world did not ether. But that doesn’t mean that their voice was not heard. They spoke for the underground subcultures of America. The ones filled with rebellious youth, drugs, and sex. The VU represented the anti-establishment, and they where the anti-band. To many people, this band reflected themselves, and they listened, and emulated; to the point where this band helped inspire a brand new music genres like “alternative rock” and “Punk”.

There are many characteristics f the Velvet Underground that set them apart for other popular recordings of the mid 1960’s:

  • The purposely-used distortion and feedback on their albums.
  • They played loud, and the band members sometimes competed for space on the album by cranking their amps up.
  • They paired the guitar, bass, and drum with a modified viola. This created a weird drone sound that just was not present on anybody else’s album.
  • They used a drummer (Maureen Tucker) that was not a drummer. Consequently, the rhythm track was far from standard. Some songs consisted of sporadic fast and slow pulses. She played wild, and free form rhythms, that had nothing to do with the standard rhythmic backdrops of the time.
  • They used a girl drummer, which even by today’s standards is not a common occurrence.
  • They performed with dancers that appeared to be gay and transvestite. They sported whips, and leather studs. This was courtesy of their association with openly gay artist, Andy Warhol who used models like Gerard Malanga as his artistic stage props for the group. This definitely went against the very conservative views of the time.
  • The openly made songs about drugs, and do not try to hide it. This was unheard of. Most artists would use an innuendo, like singing about a “girl” and give her the characteristics of a drug.
  • They had no standard band arrangement. The role of Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Bass, and Lead Vocalist switch between the players depending on the song.

 

Like most ant-establishment bands, they were perfectly content to performing for their local audiences. It wasn’t until they met Andy Warhol, that the band found any mass popularity.  Andy Warhol has an openly gay New York Artist who loved to do experimental work with pop culture. His studio was called the Factory, and he had a vision of combining art, music, and film. The Velvet Underground became the paint for his artistic vision, and he supported, produced, and managed the group. His used them in his films, and presented them at his many art shows. He introduced the world to the Velvet Underground and was a major catalyst for their popular, and continued existence as a band. Andy Warhol was also responsible for the addition of Nico, whom the rest of the band rejected. That is why their album was billed
The Velvet Underground & Nico.”

 

Hearing all of this for their music for the first time, I found quite a few unique riffs and sonic textures that I could sample and make music out of.  I found the lyrics of some of the songs to be cryptic like a poem. I had to read the lyrics and think about them to understand them. Overall the whole history of the band was tragic. Horrifically, Lou Reed’s received electro-shock treatments in an attempt to cure his homosexuality (at the request of his parents). The constant beef between the members Lou Reed and John Cale that caused the band to breakup, there lack of recognition until the band was defunct, and the bitter taste about the band that is left in Reed’s mouth. I would expect them all to be good friends and equally proud for creating a music genre. The lyrics of the songs are tragic. He frequently talked about the badness of the word, and how he used drugs to escape them. He talked about Heroin so fondly, that he almost made it sound good to me. He lyrics said “yep, the world sucks. I can do nothing about it, but I can find heaven in my Heroin.” I’m sure that plenty people can agree with him at some point in their life, but I hope they don’t take his Heroin advice. Reading about this band was like reading a good book. I really like the “Venus in Furs” song, but I was puzzled by its meaning. I had to look it to found it that it was in reference to a book about S&M sex! The lyrics to his song are in another dimension.  There are as far out there as the bands music was. I can right another blog just discussing his lyrics. They can make a movie out of this bands story, and I think it would sell. It has all of the main ingredients, sex, drugs, forbidden lust, and tragedy.

 

I have to end this blog, but here are a few more song highlights from me:

  • European Son: Short on lyrics. Sounded like a Tea-Party Anthem. “You killed your European son, You spit on those under twenty-one, but now your blue car’s gone.” What was more intriguing was the music that followed. It was tribal. Some can say angry. There was distortion and feedback used liberally throughout the song. Both guitars and the drums were all 3 jamming out at the same time. This song was wild, and one to be studied.
  • Sunday Morning: I scratched my head on this at first, then I figured it out. It is the hangover song. Partied Saturday night, now it’s Sunday Morning. The music fit perfect.
  • Female Fatale: This song was about heiress Edie Sedgwick. This was one more example of Tragedy associated with this group. She was rich, troubled, strung out on drugs, forced into psychiatric institutions by her father, and died at 28.

 

 Update: 2/2/2015:

If you want to find out more about Andy Warhol or see a gallery of his work, goto his page on Artsy.net. Artsy’s Andy Warhol page can be found at https://www.artsy.net/artist/andy-warhol. They have spent the last 2 years building out his page to provide you with a ton of easily accessible images on a beautiful platform, up to date exhibitions, exclusive articles, and recommended artists.

Go To Reference Page

 

Share