White Light/White Heat by The Velvet Underground


Boris Johnson is in trouble. Having announced that Monday July 19th was “Freedom Day”, he had to self isolate because of close contact with Sajid Javid, the new Health Secretary, who has tested positive for coronavirus. Johnson tried to wriggle out of his 10 day confinement by announcing that he was in a pilot scheme whereby workers didn’t need to self isolate if they tested negative. Frankly, the people in charge of the country should be allowed to go to work but this weazly set of toe rags have demonstrated such contempt for the rest of us with their “one rule for us and another rule for them” attitude, that forcing the guy that used to smash up restaurants for fun with his Bullingdon Club pals, to stay at home (with a woman that likes to see Boris Johnson naked) seems like the least that public opinion could do.

At midnight on Sunday night, all restrictions were lifted. Apart, that is, from face coverings on public transport in some cities. Oh yes, and in most big supermarkets. And there will be a requirement to self isolate if your NHS app tells you that you have been in close contact with someone who subsequently tests positive. But basically, freedom to do what you want has been restored. Good news for The Duchess Of Cornwall as she didn’t have to wear a mask when visiting Exeter Cathedral along with the heir to the throne because, as The Daily Telegraph reported, she is reported to dislike wearing a mask. Of course, most of us love wearing a mask but, fair enough, if she dislikes it, she should be free to infect as many people as she wants. It’s a free country isn’t it?

The list of Johnson U-Turns is too large to list here but the latest one has caused me to pause for thought. On “Freedom Day”, he announced that anyone entering a nightclub from September 30th would have to provide evidence of a vaccination. This new rule could also apply to football matches. Apparently, 3 million people aged under 30 have not had their first jab.

What do I think of that? In so many ways, this is a good thing. Firstly, I believe that vaccinations are a good thing. Maybe, the anti-vax brigade will inherit the Earth after the rest of us die due to the unforeseen side effects of the jab, but I doubt it. So, encouraging people to become inoculated and saying that you don’t have to do this but you are not free to infect others, is a good thing. I’m very conflicted about mixing with other people at the moment. Part of me doesn’t want to go inside a pub, get on a train or go to a crowded sporting event. The other part of me thinks that it’s perfectly safe (or 95% safe) because of my double dose. I want to meet Rob in London but do I want to get in a crowded train and mingle in crowded pubs? I’m protected so maybe it’ll be fine but I’ve recently spoken to two people with long COVID and that sounds ghastly. So, yes. I’m pleased that our Prime Minister is encouraging everyone to get vaccinated because it may make me feel safer and give me more “freedom” to do the things I like.

The other reason that I was pleased to hear Johnson’s statement on Monday is because it is yet another demonstration of his complete incompetence and inability to run a country. What we need as a nation is strong, clear, evidence-based guidance and what we are getting is weak, muddled, impetuosity. Which may possibly mean that the end of this nightmare Premiership is now slightly nearer.

On the BBC News on Monday evening, there was film of a nightclub which had opened at one minute past midnight on “Freedom Day”.

I do sometimes give an impression of being an old curmudgeon but I genuinely do believe that it is a good thing for people of all ages to have fun. Whilst I would like to be 20 years old again, I don’t resent young people and I feel very sorry that they have had to spend 6% of their lives coping with the pandemic whilst I have only had to deal with it for 2% of my life. Nevertheless, I was appalled to see this demonstration of recklessness and I sincerely hope (but, frankly, can’t believe) that nobody gets seriously ill or even dies due to lockdown restrictions being lifted by a slew of Tory politicians who, let’s be honest, despise the majority of people who live in the U.K.

Of course, when I was 20 years old and at University, I went to music clubs four nights a week. The only thing is that a club in 1974 wasn’t quite the same as it is now. For starters, everything finished by 10:30 or 11:00 whereas these days, that’s early. Secondly, folk club on a Monday night, didn’t have quite the same atmosphere. Forty groovy hippy-wannabees singing “The Circle Game” wouldn’t be quite so popular in 2021. On the other hand, “Stomp” on a Friday evening, with such great dance tunes as “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and “Brown Sugar” would definitely be a retro success. Live music was often on Saturday evenings and I saw some brilliant acts including Richard & Linda Thompson, Caravan, John Martyn and Curved Air. Most peculiar of all was “Head” every Wednesday evening in which such dance tunes as “Midnight Rambler” by The Rolling Stones, “The End” by The Doors and “Sister Ray” by The Velvet Underground ensured that nobody actually danced but anyone not too stoned to move, simply freaked out.

The Velvet Underground’s first album sold poorly and the group fired Andy Warhol who had been a big supporter but had also foisted Nico upon them. Although she gave a magical allure to several tracks, the band (Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Mo Tucker) felt that they wanted to move towards a more improvised, noisy and atonal sound and so they parted ways with Nico, whilst maintaining a close musical relationship (John Cale produced three of her solo albums, “The Marble Index”, “Desertshore” and “The End”). John Cale called “White Light/White Heat” a “rabid” album. I’ve just looked up the meaning of the word “rabid” and one definition is “expressing unreasonable feelings”. Which brings us back nicely to Boris Johnson. But I digress. This part of the post is about the music and not how the manifestation of a sick mind can influence a generation. Hang on….

The title track, “White Light/White Heat” was written about the sensation caused when injecting methamphetamine and the distorted one note bass outro (brilliantly reconstructed in Half Man Half Biscuit’s, “Look Dad No Tunes” which contains the lines “When we don’t feel well let’s, Put on some Velvets”) was designed to sound like the throbbing, ear-ringing effects that the drug user experiences during the first rush of injection. Despite how this sounds, it’s a very exciting and enjoyable track, even for a drug innocent like myself.

The Gift” is utterly brilliant. In the right channel you can hear The Velvet Underground play an eight minute instrumental piece with lots of guitar feedback. In the left channel, John Cale recites a gruesome short story about unrequited love which results in our hero having an axe embedded in his skull by the object of his desires. It’s as grotesque, fascinating and compelling as it sounds.

A recent article in the Guardian listed the Top 20 Velvet Underground songs and “Lady Godiva’s Operation” was not mentioned. Obviously, it’s all subjective, but I regard it as one of the most unsettling pieces of music ever recorded and is, therefore, essential listening. The vocals are shared between John Cale and Lou Reed and the lyrics concern an operation which goes horribly wrong when Lady Godiva, the patient, wakes up in the middle of a surgical procedure. At this point John Cale’s spookily calm delivery contrasts sharply with Lou Reed’s vicious spoken lines. “The patient, it seems, is not so well sleeping. The screams echo up the hall“.

Here She Comes Now” is either about a female orgasm, LSD or a guitar. At two minutes long, it was originally intended to be sung by Nico until she left the band. UNCUT described it as a soothing mantra that served as “a brief moment of balm amongst the blistering noise, a guttering light in the churning darkness”.

Side Two opens with the blistering “I Heard her Call My Name” and, to my mind, is the best of all Velvet Underground songs with a snarling vocal from Lou Reed, sensational guitar playing, ear piercing feedback and maniacal drumming.

Which brings us back to the Head disco on a Wednesday night at Royal Holloway College at which “Sister Ray” would be played towards the end. Every week without fail. It is 17 minutes long and starts with a great riff which, towards the end of the song starts to tire slightly as the distorted feedback takes over. It was recorded in one take – there’s no bass as John Cale plays a wild organ that’s completely out of control. According to Lou Reed, the story is about some drag queens who take some soldiers back to their home, shoot up on heroin, engage in an orgy and then kill one of them. If that’s not grim enough, try to imagine me “dancing” to this at 10:00 on a Wednesday evening at “Head”, having had six pints of Guinness (at 14p a pint), oblivious to my 9:00 lecture of Mathematical Modelling the following day and making an unforgettable impression on the crowded dance floor.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

2 thoughts on “White Light/White Heat by The Velvet Underground

  1. My favourite Velvet record. Loved it for 50 years. I was incredibly impressed at the time that a Welsh musician could end up in such an iconic American group.

    Liked by 1 person

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