Saturday Morning Music: The Velvet Underground

Lou Reed died the other day. He was 71. Back in the day (1967) his band The Velvet Underground released its debut album, which wasn't much of a hit then but is now considered one of the most influential albums of all time. Perhaps it was ahead of its time. Someone described their music as "beauty meets noise" and their songs deeply explored themes that other bands just hinted at. It's kind of funny to me that his biggest hit was Walk on the Wild Side which was upbeat and jaunty look at the what was really an underground world filled with addicts, transvestites, and hustlers.

The Velvet Underground was originally linked with Andy Warhol, who hired them as the house band for his studio The Factory and featured them in his Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia production. Warhol was their manager for a couple of years, and he designed the album cover for their first album, which featured a peel-able banana. The band fired him as their manager, though, because they felt he wasn't really working to get them gigs (which he wasn't).

Anyway, the band consisted of singer and guitarist Reed, John Cale (who plays the viola here but also guitar), Maureen (Moe) Tucker on drums, and Sterling Morrison on guitar. Cale and Reed had a pretty intense relationship and the band ended up breaking up in 1970. Reed and Cale went on to have solo careers.

In 1993, the Velvet Underground got back together for a European tour. It was meant to be a worldwide tour, but they broke up again before they got to the United States, again because of tensions between Reed and Cale. This video is from the show in Paris in June, 1993. The song is Venus in Furs, which was also the name of an 1870 "trash book" (according to Reed) by Austrian author named Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Pretty kinky stuff, actually, and this song is considered by some to be a sort of originator of the punk genre, at least in terms of the "punk look" with studded dog collars and lots of leather. Cale's dirge-like droning viola still sounds great, giving the song an slightly exotic undercurrent, and Reed's always just-a-little odd voice was still strong.

Enjoy (but not too much).


Bill Bynum said…
Interesting clip. I never listened to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. I was a hopeless drudge for a large part of my professional life, so a lot passed me by. The book "Venus In Furs" has an interesting history. The Austrian psychologist Krafft-Ebbing decided to coin the phrase "masochism" in "honor" of Sader-Masoch, who Krafft-Ebbing described as the "Poet of Masochism". Apparently, Sader-Masoch was less than pleased with the title.
Thanks, Bill. I guess not everyone would be pleased to be known as the poet of masochism. The world is an interesting place.