Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Comparison: The Velvet Underground - Then And Now

I discovered The Velvet Underground in my freshman year of college and sucked to them for the sole reason that many people do the things they do in college; because it seems edgy and cool (I said 'seems'). Little did I know that this was not 1968 any more, and people didn't give a flying fuck about the real counter-culture and therefore The Velvet Underground. Instead they opt for the fake culture of hipsters and Che-varians. It's sad and it's happening, and it's got nothing to do with this blog.
I listened to The Velvet Underground, at first to be edgy, and later as my musical knowledge (and therefore my musical 'greatness') grew I latched onto bands and sounds like The Velvet Underground to separate myself from the other people who prided themselves as music nerds. When into an argument about my musical superiority, if I ever felt my back against a wall, with seemingly no way out, I'd drop the ol' VU, to confused looks and skeptical understandings. I had won, and that's all that mattered.

Here I am, six years later, still saying I'm a fan of The Velvet Underground, but the realization has hit me - I have not listened to a VU album in at least 4 years, if not longer. I'm as bad as those I compete against, except worse because I claim to be a fan of a band that I currently know nothing about (as far as their music is concerned, I know their history). So, in a way to rectify this, I am currently listening to their albums (The Velvet Underground And Nico right now); with any luck I'll continue this trend to the end of their discography and into Lou Reed's, and maybe even John Cale's.

The Velvet Underground is an amazingly underground band, known by few in the 60s and even less now. They are one of the forerunners of experimental/avant-garde rock, and are also important in the styles of sampling, garage rock and what would be come industrial. They played music that was seemingly ment to be un-accessible, especially in the beginning (The Velvet Underground And Nico to White Light/White Heat). They used then-unheard of styles of white noise, feedback, drone and no-tempo to create a style a decade ahead of anything else. Because of this they were never very popular, always struggling for any bit of limelight they could find. John Cale wanted more and more experimental sounds, more drone, more down-tuning, while Lou Reed - who first agreed with Cale's style - later opted for a more accessible sound, towards the end of their career (and into the solo careers of each). Many VU songs would later be re-recorded by these artists, in their own styles, to greater success then their parent band.

Anyway the reason of this post: my comparison of my understanding/liking of The Velvet Underground in 2005 to now:
In 2005 I liked The Velvet Underground most likely because of it's 'anti-sound,' wherein it is full of songs that loose tempo or meaning - something wholly new to me at the time - something that was against the norms of my parent's and friend's tastes had ever been. This sound was mine, and mine alone, forgetting of course the fact that the group broke up 13 years before my birth. I liked the group almost solely on the fact that no one else knew or like them. My own personal rebellion.
Nowadays, I have heard many bands along the same lines, a band that pushes the envelope of what is accepted, and during my lifetime. I've lived through the garage revolution, I have heard of DIY punk bands, I know of horrible death metal bands that's only hope to be noticed to so go somewhere that no one else has gone before. In short, The Velvet Underground is no longer new and improved for me. But, I still like them. Albeit in a different way, but the respect is still there. Now I have something to compare the feedback loops too. I know of other examples of drone rock and avant-garde, something I didn't have five years ago. It has given me a new and better understanding of the group.
While I am still not a huge fan of The Velvet Underground, or the garage rock movement as a whole (of which they led by a good decade or two), I have a new appreciation of the forerunners of as many bands as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin or The Beatles. It's the beginning of a network of experimental and out-of-the-box bands that have spun from a common start.

It is said (by someone) that The Velvet Underground only had 1000 fans, but that each one of them started a band. This huge amount of 'art' music and the various followings led to a musical revolution seen even to this day (I just heard of Blaak Heat Shujaa who stared out as a The Velvet Underground cover band) - so 40 years later the ripples are still directly being felt. Now that is a band worth mentioning!


Unknown said...

Hey man,
Thomas here, from Blaak Heat Shujaa. I want to thank you for mentioning us in your article, but even if the VU was part of our influences in the early days of BHS, we never were a VU cover band! Anyway, hope you like our stuff.
All the best!

The Klepto said...

Sorry man, could of swore I read an article (can't find it now of course) that said you guys did begin as such (probably a mistake on my part though).
I just got your debut album last week and It's on my list of albums to hear so I may review it here eventually.
Thanks for reading and for commenting!

Unknown said...

Right on, thanks