Monday, May 07, 2007

The Velvet Underground (1994)

I was probably in 8th or 9th grade when I first heard "Sweet Jane" while at that famous Martin Drive hangout, the Ciccone's house. Mike was two years older than I, but his taste was way ahead of the curve for someone his age. He and Chip Elsasser were the two older kids in the neighborhood who always had the best record collections. In fact, along with Johnny Kranik, Chip was another indirect influence on my penchant for creating lists and ranking music. Near the end of one summer, Chip declared Abacab his "album of the summer," and that last summer the Eagles Live had reigned supreme.

I had never heard of The Velvet Underground the first time I heard Mike mention the name of the band. I wouldn't really check them out until many years later. Once again, it was during the Albany days, and Scott owned a copy of their self-titled third album, and later purchased The Velvet Underground & Nico. Scott also introduced me to the legend that the latter, the Velvets' debut, only sold about 600 copies, but everyone who purchased it went on to form a band. He also made some questionable comparison between VU and The Doors, which had nothing to do with the fact (rumor?) Nico had once had a fling with Jim Morrison.

It was also while living with Scott in Albany that I mastered the fine art of falling asleep to music to drown out noise from my surroundings. In our mid to late-20's, and certainly not as young as we used to be, Scott was considerably better than I was at staying out until 3am but still getting up at 7 to get ready for work. The Velvets' first and third albums seemed likely candidates...fairly mellow and without major fluctuations in the volume of the songs...that is, until "The Black Angel's Death Song" and "The Murder Mystery," the second to last songs on these albums, respectively. It took me quite a few times before I realized these noisy and somewhat disturbing (to wake up to) songs had a more adverse effect on my ability to sleep than Scott's boots stomping around on our hardwood floors.

More importantly, it was The Velvet Underground's sonic experimentation that opened my ears to discovering there are bands out there who are a bit of an acquired taste, but worth the patience it takes to really appreciate what's going on. That said, my favorite album of theirs', Loaded, is probably their most conventional and certainly their most commercially successful. Still, even their most avant-garde material retained a solid song structure that I've always considered a major criterion in everything I listen to, no matter what the genre.

Although the post-Lou Reed and John Cale version of The Velvet Underground he belonged to is not generally considered to be an official VU lineup, Walter Powers, is a former co-worker of my friend Macee's. Apparently, in recent years, Walter has become a big fan of my year-end compilations and has even stolen one of them from her. Well, actually he borrowed and failed to return it, but I prefer to believe that a (sort-of) former Velvet Underground bassist is actually (kind of) a fan of mine.

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