The Velvet Underground


The headline in today’s Guardian is “Fury as 55m people face months in top tiers”. That’s not a fact, it’s an opinion. I agree it’s likely that restrictions for most people may last months but it’s also possible that many areas will move to the lowest tier after two weeks if the death rate from the virus falls. It’s literally true that some people are furious but it’s also true that some people are relieved. The headline could have been “Relief as 55m people face two weeks of sensible precautions”.

Donald Trump has finally conceded that he will be leaving The White House. He’s also still maintaining widespread fraud but the end of his mendacity appears to be in sight. How much carnage he can cause in the next seven weeks remains to be seen.

I am becoming more resigned to our leaders saying one thing whilst simultaneously meaning something else. There really should be subtitles to their speeches which tell the truth. “Private Eye” has a cartoon every publication called “EU phemisims” which show a press release on one hand and what they really mean underneath. For example “We will avoid an accidental No Deal” which really means “It will be entirely deliberate”.

Last weekend The Daily Mail correctly stated that 10887 people died during the 44th week of 2020. They also stated that in 2019, 10861 people died which they took to mean that worrying about COVID-19 is unnecessary. This latter figure is wrong; it should be 10164. A 7% increase on last year was incorrectly reported as a 0.2% increase on last year. Another example of saying one thing whilst meaning another.

Lou Reed tried a similar experiment with “Murder Mystery” in 1969. The song is nearly nine minutes long and features two monologues spoken simultaneously, one in the left channel and one in the right channel. I spent hours of my life turning the balance control of my Dad’s stereo to either the left or the right in order to write down the words. Lou Reed said that the idea was to say something positive and something else negative at the same time. The music is a typically great Velvet Underground drone. All four of the band are involved in speaking lines, with Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison used for the verses (with the former speaking twice as quickly as the latter) and Doug Yule and Mo Tucker performing the choruses. (They’re not really choruses – they’re different every time). It’s an interesting experiment and I love it but it probably doesn’t work as intended. However, the principle of saying two things at once seems as apposite now as it was in 1969. The rhythm of the speaking parts is similar to Blaise Bailey Finnegan’s recital of his (stolen) poem as recorded on “Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada” by Godspeed You Black Emporer.

The Velvet Underground were formed by John Cale and Lou Reed in 1964 but after their second album, “White Light/White Heat”, was released in 1968, tensions formed between them. John Cale favoured a more experimental approach (e.g. he wanted to record an album with the amplifiers under water) whereas Lou Reed wanted to write his own version of love songs. John Cale was chucked out of the band and was replaced by Doug Yule who was less confrontational and worshipped Lou Reed, even starting to resemble him physically as well as vocally.

I used to have a reel to reel tape recorder and around 1972, I taped an interview with Lou Reed which explained the story arc of “The Velvet Underground”. I have since lost the tape but I seem to recall that it went a little like this. “Candy Says” is a song which is sung by someone who is unsure of their sexuality or even their gender. It refers to Candy Darling, who was also mentioned in “Walk On The Wild Side”. Their birth name was James Slattery. “What Goes On” sets the scene for the quest for truth and happiness which is described on the rest of the album. “Some Kinda Love” describes sexual experimentation, “Pale Blue Eyes” describes an adulterous relationship and “Jesus” is about finding salvation through religion (“Help me in my weakness ‘cos I’m falling out of grace”). “I’m Beginning To See The Light” describes fulfilment (“I met myself in a dream and I want to tell you that everything was all right”). In “I’m Set Free” he is doubting how truly happy he is (“I’ve been set free to find a new illusion”). However, confusion ensues with “The Story Of My Life” when the protagonist can’t distinguish between wrong and right at which point it all goes terribly wrong with the aforementioned “Murder Mystery”. Finally “After Hours” describes someone sinking into despair whilst all around him (or her – it’s sung by Mo Tucker) is out there having fun and he wishes he could join them.

Musically, there are a lot of quieter, more subdued songs than on their first two albums. “What Goes On”, “I’m Beginning To See The Light” and “That’s The Story Of My Life” are upbeat, “Murder Mystery” is experimental and the other six songs could possibly be described as folk-rock.

Saying two things at once. This is an art that many journalists and politicians have developed through their careers. Trust Lou Reed to take it to extremes, fifty years ago.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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