THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: The Velvet Underground

24 09 2016

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“If I could make the world as pure and strange as what I see,
I’d put you in the mirror,
I put in front of me.”

When I first started writing about music, I seemed to have one band on my mind all the time- The Velvet Underground, and it’s pretty obvious. They’ve been a band I have always fallen back on. A band that I listen to pretty much every single day. And if I’m not listening to them, I’m listening to Lou Reed. I think one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done was not go see him when he played back home, on the Isle of Man. Add that to a list of my poor decisions. I’ve made some good ones. I’ve made more good than bad. The Velvet Underground have always felt like a band that I couldn’t believe existed. What I mean by this is, I find it hard to believe a band so great could ever have been around. What on earth did we ever do to deserve such a perfect band?

I like to go through old records and write about them, there’s no reason behind it and sometimes I find it easier to do this than write about a current band. A few years ago I went and wrote about every single record by The Cure. Every single one. It was partly down to me not being able to sleep/scared to go to sleep and having nothing to do, but also because I love The Cure. I’ve covered The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed a lot, but I’ve never written about their 1969 self-titled release. It’s a Saturday night, I have a migraine that’s slowly fading- what else is there to do?

This record is my favourite by them. It always has been and if I ever sat down and listed my favourite records of all time, I am fairly sure that this would be in my top 5, probably top 3. I remember for a long time I was obsessed with playing Pale Blue Eyes. The person that it reminded me of didn’t have pale blue eyes. She’s got beautiful green eyes. But you find meaning wherever you can. It was a song I couldn’t listen to for a time, but then it all fixed and I was back to being obsessed with the song again. If I could sing and I was in a band, I’d cover this at every show. The lyrics are the kind I wish I could write, but nothing I or anyone else does can come close to it. It’s sad. Utterly sad but so beautiful.

Candy Says is another that holds a wealth of sadness, but the sadness it mixed with vulnerability. It’s a song that no matter what, I’ve always been able to relate to.  Regardless of how I am feeling, it’s just been a song that I’ve always gone back to and found a home in. it just says everything I probably don’t have the guts to say. I’ve always had a place reserved for this line, “What do you think I’d see if I could walk away from me?”  Nothing really matters when you listen to this song, or the whole record really.

This is a record that I have always played in order. What I usually do is play something in order the first few times, then after that it’s in whatever order I feel like. With this record I’ve always had to play it in the exact order from start to finish. There’s no reason behind it, but it doesn’t feel right I suppose, to play it any other way. It doesn’t just sum up my ideas of New York, but it sums up how I feel about music and what I look for in a record. I want something that has sort of smutty yet clever lyrics, something that’ll make me think, something that will be some form of escape and encouragement. A record that just takes me up and away. There’s no comedown from this record, and that’s why it is easily one of the greatest records of all time. It’s got this thing about it that I mentioned about The Velvet Underground in general, like you can’t believe something like this actually exists and you can hold this piece of perfection in your hands and have it echoing in your ears whenever you wish.

I don’t think there will ever come a time where Lou’s words aren’t important to me, and with this record I fell more in love with his song writing and his captivating way with words. I have no idea how much thought he ever put into how he put words together, but he always made it seem so effortless. They’re the ones that tower about the rest like Nick Cave, Patti Smith, and Morrissey. They’re the ones I’ve always gone to and will always go to. I don’t know how well this record was received when it came out and I’ve never really paid any attention to what anyone thinks of it now, but I just know that for me, it’s my favourite record by the band. I love how gentle it is and how tender the lyrics are. I’m Set Free is one of those songs you play when everything seems a bit uneasy and you have no idea what you’re supposed to do. It has this instant ethereal build up to it, and you can feel your heart race as it builds and builds. It’s a song that will make everything make more sense. It’s a solution to any problem. I’ll always advocate listening to The Velvet Underground as a solution to all problems.

Some records just stay with you. You may not remember when you first heard it, but the feeling you first got is always there. Every single time you go back to it is like hearing the band for the first time. I’ve always felt that way about The Velvet Underground. It’s a feeling that hits you in the stomach, takes over your mind and owns your heart.





THE VELVET UNDERGROUND-Loaded.

25 03 2014

 

“Oh, I do believe
If you don’t like things you leave
For some place you’ve never gone before.”

 

All I want to do is listen to Lou Reed. All I want to do is listen to him so much it stops his death being true. A stranger’s death should not do this to me or anyone. But it has, and if I could make sense of why my brain is thinking this way and transporting it down to my heart, then I’d be really thankful of that. I’d like some understanding, but I know I’m not going to get anywhere with it. So all I can do is listen to his voice in any way that I can. Just to take in his words and to get some understanding from it all.

The past few days I’ve gone back to listening to Loaded. I always thought their first record was the one I adored the most, I really thought I had made a solid decision for once. But hey, I was wrong. I’m alright with that.

For me, Loaded is something else. There’s something about that record which is stronger than the others. Maybe it is stronger because there is no way you can tell that this band were once influenced by Andy Warhol. Sure the songs are more accessible than the likes of Heroin or Venus In Furs (but don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like those songs, or VU in general.) Loaded is full of songs that make you move in the most sassy way possible. Lou’s voice just makes you strut in the most flamboyant way possible. He embraced everything that is deemed as “weird” but on Loaded it seems more tame. For some, this may be shying away from all the Velvets were, but you must remember that they were a band that were ahead of their time. No one has ever come close to what they did, and still manage to do even though….well, you know.

Who Loves The Sun is a heartbreaking but beautiful sang by Doug Yule. Nothing matters once you’ve had your heart ripped out. No other songs sums it up more than Who Loves The Sun. However for me, the song that really does it for me is Rock & Roll. Rock & Roll sums up perfectly what it is like to fall in love with a song, and to then fall for the band behind it. It conjures up memories of falling in love with your favourite band(s) all over again as you listen to it. When I hear it, I just think about staring at that poster of Lou Reed and of Nick Cave on my uncle’s bedroom wall when I was about 3 or 4. I remember being in awe of them both, little did I know what would happen about 10 years later. I always think “Her life was saved by Rock & Roll” to be one of the most accurate lyrics ever written. I guess it’s probably because I feel it was written for me, I’m sure others feel exactly the same when they hear it.

I adore Lou’s vocals on this record. When he goes high and love on Cool It Down, and does something really gnarly with his voice on it. I think this just shows how brilliant he was as a vocalist. Sometimes he sounded bored on some songs, and that’s what lured you in. You wanted to see it all like he did, but obviously for the most part his voice just took you over with how sincere it was. His lyrics are a guide for life, and on Loaded it shows just how to have fun and to embrace every little thing that you can.

Loaded is a record that is pretty much taking over my mind at the moment. It’s the only thing I want to constantly listen to, and you know it has the greatest love song on it, right? I Found A Reason is a hopeful love song- especially if you’re hopeless like myself. I just love everything about it. I love the innocence to it, and in some respects you can say this about a few songs Lou Reed wrote (both with the Velvets and solo.) His innocent and vulnerable way with words just showcases how much of a genius he was, and his words are what he will always be remembered for. I Found A Reason is that one song that just captures everything love is. It doesn’t have to be in a romantic sense, if you don’t want it to be. It can be about finding a friend that finally gets you. Or maybe the whole song is a few minutes of irony, who knows.  But dear reader, if you happen to find a friend who really gets you. Like really fucking gets you, and doesn’t mind that 3am phone call when your brain won’t turn off- then please hold onto them. Even if you have a weak grip. They will probably turn out to be the best pal you ever had, and you went about everything in the wrong way. Because that is what you do.

Loaded is a proper Rock & Roll record. They’ve got the riffs that make you wish you could play the guitar, they’ve got the songs that just move you- in body and mind. It’s a fantastic record that I still think isn’t given as much attention as it rightfully needs. I’m all for people saying that the Velvets first record was a stroke of genius, because it really is. But the thing is with Loaded, it is a record full of hidden beautiful moments that you pick up on when you have it playing over and over. I don’t know if it is actually possible to pick a favourite record by them and to stick with it. Maybe next week I’ll go back to declaring their self-titled record as their best work, but that just shows how brilliant The Velvet Underground were. Every record sounds different and is a step up from the last.

For me, I’ll always regard Lou and Mo Tucker to be two of the best at what they did..do..did. I’m not sure what tense to use anymore because the past tense just doesn’t sit right with me. Mo’s relaxed (yet furious when needed) drumming really fits with Lou’s soothing voice. If it was just those two making music, I still have every bit of confidence that they would have been the best band ever. When you listen to the music they made with each other, you can hear how they brought out the best in each other.

If you’ve got this far, I hope it makes you go and play Loaded in full. It’s just a romantic and perfect record. It is timeless and the lyrics are full of beauty. I just really miss Lou.





THE VELVET UNDERGROUND- The Velvet Underground.

15 03 2014

 

“If I could make the world as pure
And strange as what I see
I’d put you in a mirror
I’d put in front of me.”

 

There are some records that, regardless of how many years pass since it was first release will always sound new every single time you play them. The records that do this are the ones that will tower above anything else you expose your ears to. They are the records that have a significant part in your life and are etched upon your heart like nothing else. They are the records that have led you down a road to self discovery and aided with your self-loathing ways. One of the records that I regard this highly is 45 years old. I think it was yesterday or today that 45 years ago that The Velvet Underground released their third record, and in my mind it is the best thing the band ever did.

The record opens with the heartbreaking and relatable Candy Says (about Candy Darling.)  Candy Says is one of those songs that truly delves into self-disgust and being really uncomfortable in your own skin. Regardless of age, it is something anyone can relate to. What I’ve always loved about Lou Reed’s lyrics is the way he crafts his words in an old-fashioned, romantic poetic way. There will never ever be anyone else like him. As I listen to the songs on this record, I cannot help but miss him. I know I never knew him, and maybe this makes me stupidly weird, but not much has felt right since he died. I can’t explain what it is, but maybe someone else who loves Lou/Velvet Underground as much as I do will understand. Maybe they have the words to describe it, because I really don’t. Hand on heart, I firmly believe “What do you think I’d see, if I could walk away from me” to be one of the most beautiful lyrics of all time. It is fragile and hits you right in the sacred part of your heart. It’s the kind of lyric you’d want to have tattooed on you, as a reminder.

Whenever I mention The Velvet Underground I always end up talking about Pale Blue Eyes. There is just something about that song that rips your heart out. It can make you ache and can break you; but it is so beautiful. It’s a song that once did that to me, but I learnt very quickly to stop associating people with songs I love. I remember once speaking to someone I still hold quite dear to me about this song, and they got it. I’ve never met anyone else who understood how I felt about that song. You treasure those moments. Pale Blue Eyes has been covered quite a few times, but I think the only ones who have ever covered this song and really conveyed the meaning of it fully (and any song by The Velvet Underground) has to be The Kills, who are obviously influenced by them but not in a ripping off kind of way. Of course, you’ve got to mention how brilliantly messed up The Murder Mystery is. I never know what’s going on in that song, but when I listen to it through headphones it is like something is taking over. It’s mighty strange and fits perfectly on this record.

Sure their debut record was one of the best things to have ever happened to music, and let’s be honest no one is ever going to do for music what Lou Reed did; but their third record is one of the finer things in life. If this was their debut record, they probably would have caused more of a scene than they already did. This record is a just a body of dark poetry; words you wish you could write. Words you wish you had written.

The Velvet Underground’s third record is my favourite record because of how delicate it is lyrically. With their debut record, some of the sound is quite harsh but the one thing that has always been constant (and in his solo work) is that tone in Lou Reed’s voice. He has this way of singing about horrifically dark topics (if you listen to Heroin and you don’t feel the need to cry, then something is up with you) but at the same time really soothing your soul with his voice. His voice was one of a kind, and of course so was he. It’s really tough writing about him in past tense. It still doesn’t feel right.

I went through a phase some time ago of listening to Heroin followed by I’m Set Free. I just felt like those two songs had to played one after another. I have no idea what my mind was up to and why I decided to do it, but I did it. I guess it made me appreciate the songs more and in a different way. The way Lou’s lyrics really touch you are truly evident in those two songs. Play them one after each other, hopefully you’ll get what I mean.

The Velvet Underground made music that has influenced so many bands. Lou Reed’s solo work has obviously done the same. Anyone who loves both has probably tried to write something similar to them. I have, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Of course nothing I’ve written has come close to it, not even a fraction. If anything, Lou Reed (and others) told me to write from the heart. It is easy to write all this down about his music and his words. I can take my time with it. But I probably would struggle to physically talk about the music because it just does something that is beyond expression.

In another 45 years I hope I am still listening to this record and feeling this way. Some bands, some records just stay with you throughout your life. They don’t go, they become something you really cannot do without. The Velvet Underground are a band I have taken walks by myself to, just to figure shit out. I’ll never figure anything out, and I’m okay with that. I’ll probably always feel a little uncomfortable in my skin, but I’m okay with that. The darker and things that are classed weird by others will always appeal to me, Lou Reed taught me that that’s okay. It’s really fucking okay to not be like everyone else. It’s okay to feel a little awkward in yourself and to want to shut off for a while. Lose yourself in a book, in a record. When it’s over, you’ll find whatever it is you were looking for.

Lou Reed taught me more than any teacher could. The things they don’t tell you about or prepare you for, he taught me it all. Music heals, music teaches. Just listen to this record. Play I’m Set Free so loud and with your eyes closed. If you want to cry, then cry. Just cry. It doesn’t matter. The record oozes freedom from others and from your mind. You won’t always be trapped.