inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #26 of 150: Ed Ward (captward) Thu 28 May 09 02:09
    
On overloading the board while recording, I've always thought that's
what makes "What Goes On" as exciting as it is. There are instrumental
interludes with the organ just blasting away, and it produces overtones
which I think may be due to waves in the room where the recording was
made. When the album was reissued on CD, though, those overtones
vanished, and I thought I'd imagined them. But the box set includes two
mixes of the album, and on one of them (I forget which one and don't
have the box handy) you can hear the overtones. I wonder if this was
intentional or not. 
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #27 of 150: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 28 May 09 05:09
    
Richie, that's weird - somehow I was certain I'd read the '69
recording was done here. I wouldn't know the difference from the album,
of course. I did read the piece in the book about the Vulcan
appearance, and I was thinking an interview with Kruppa would've been a
great addition, especially given his relationship with Sterling
Morrison. I kick myself because in all the years Morrison was at UT, I
never made an effort to meet him.

I had the coffin poster on my wall for years, and probably still have
it in a box somewhere.  It's black and white in the book, but the
original had a purple border and was just weird. I think my wife
eventually convinced me to take it down.

When Loaded came out, we wore the grooves down. I thought it was the
greatest album ever.

Ed: that's weird about the mix switch on the CD. I notice that the
copy with the organ is referred to as the "closet mix." I found a
reference to that on Wikipedia:

<quote>Sterling Morrison thought Reed's mix had a small, closed in,
cramped sound. With the music so muted, the phrase "Closet Mix" was
coined by Morrison, who said, "We did the third album deliberately as
anti-production. It sounds like it was done in a closet – it's flat,
and that's the way we wanted it. The songs are all very quiet and it's
kind of insane. I like the album." Overall, the songs on Reed's mix of
the album sound different from the Valentin Mix in that the vocals are
brought to the foreground, as opposed to the more "even" mix of
Valentin's version. Drums and percussion on the Closet Mix are
generally panned to one stereo channel only (typical of many other
1960's rock recordings.) On the Valentin mix drums are usually placed
in the center.<end quote>

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Velvet_Underground_(album)
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #28 of 150: What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Thu 28 May 09 07:04
    
That overly intense sound on "What Goes On" is perfect complement to
the song's frenetic urgency. It could be a meandering ballad, but it
isn't, and it's a whole different song cranked too loud and to the edge
of fast.

*Very* interesting about Yule and Reed being the two in charge during
the Loaded sessions. That starts to make me think more charitably of
Yule's "takeover" of the Velvet Underground "brand" after Lou split. To
what extent do you see that music -- post-Lou, as Yule's band -- as
continuous with the four albums we've been talking about?
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #29 of 150: outside the law and honest (tbessoir) Thu 28 May 09 07:36
    
Some background: I got into the Velvets after "Walk on the Wild Side" came
out as a single in 1972. I was in high school and already knew who Andy
Warhol was. I tracked down a used copy of the banana album is a Greenwich
Village record store. I was hooked, bought the other VU records and any
solo work by its members that I could find. In the 70's I went to see Lou
Reed and John Cale as often as possible. In 1978 I started taking
photographs, mostly of musicians. I got to meet Cale through his manager
Jane Friedman of Wartoke Concern. Through Jane and John I got to meet Nico
when she made her comeback playing at CBGB's. I have a large collection of 
bootleg LPs, CDs and tapes.


The Texas portion of the 1969: VU Live record was recorded at a club
called The End of Cole Avenue over two nights. The album was made from a
mixed down tape given to the band. The complete sets were released on two
different bootlegs (both double CDs): "Live at End Cole Ave" and "The
First Night." These bootlegs are from the original tape source, not the
mixed down tape given to the band.


Richie, I really enjoyed the book. What a phenomenal research job you did.
And it is very readable.

Did you get to interview any of the band members? I know that in the late 
70's Cale was pretty tired of talking about the VU. Although he had been 
out of the band for a decade that is what fans always seemed to want to 
talk about when coming back stage after a show.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #30 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 28 May 09 08:47
    
First bumbaugh's question about the post-Lou Velvets: I don't find the
Velvet Underground's limited output from the time Yule led the band
(late August 1970 to mid-1973) continuous with their previous work.
Some might find this harsh, but I find this version -- versions really,
since they went through several lineups, Yule being the only constant
-- the Velvet Underground in name only.

When Reed was with them, the VU, I hasten to emphasize, *were* a band,
not just Reed's backing group. That's true of the two years after Yule
replaced Cale too, I think, though some critics think otherwise. But
Reed's singing, guitar work, and especially his songs, were ultimately
the group's greatest assets. After he left, the material -- mostly
written by Yule -- just wasn't either too similar or on remotely the
same level. Doug Yule himself doesn't like "Squeeze," the 1972 Velvet
Underground album (not issued in the US) on which he's actually the
only member of the band to play.

For these reasons, the coverage in the book of the post-Reed
early-'70s lineups is considerably less in-depth than the pre-1971
coverage. That era just isn't that interesting, and the publisher and I
agreed there wasn't a need to be as completist in that section.

But the unimpressive nature of the post-Reed VU shouldn't obscure a
point I made earlier: Doug Yule *was* an important member of the group
in the two years after he replaced Cale, though some accounts dismiss
him as an unimaginative fill-in. He was a very good
multi-instrumentalist -- that's him on organ on "What Goes On" -- a
good backup harmony vocalist, and occasionally a good lead vocalist
(especially on "Candy Says"). He also worked better within the more
straightforward if still edgy rock the band and Reed's songs were
moving toward, in my opinion, than Cale would have. His contributions
are unfairly overlooked. It doesn't bug him personally, but I found it
disgraceful his name wasn't even mentioned in the two UK television
documentaries on the VU. And although he wasn't inducted into the Rock
& Roll Hall of Fame when the VU made it in 1996, he actually plays on
more of their released recordings (not even counting the post-Reed
lineup releases) than Cale does.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #31 of 150: The Highly Overrated (joeyx) Thu 28 May 09 08:53
    

I'm coming in late to this conversation, but am really looking
forward to picking up your book, Richie.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #32 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 28 May 09 08:57
    
My biggest regret about the book is that, even though I did a great
deal of research and about 100 interviews, I was only able to interview
two band members: Doug Yule and his brother, Billy Yule (the Velvets'
temporary drummer for two months in the summer of 1970 when Maureen
Tucker was pregnant). Reed and Cale did not respond to interview
requests, though someone representing Cale gave me the impression at
one point that I could talk to him. Maureen Tucker responded positively
to my first interview request, and indicated she'd still do it after I
followed up after a couple months of not getting one, but never did do
one.

Still, I did find a great deal of archive quotes from Reed, Cale,
Tucker, and Sterling Morrison (who died in 1995), quite a few from
vintage articles that haven't been reprinted. Also, in addition to
talking to quite a few people with interesting passing associations
with the group, I interviewed a few people as close to the group's
inner circle as you could get without being in the band, like Sterling
Morrison's widow; original drummer Angus MacLise's widow (Angus died
thirty years ago); and Paul Morrissey, who really was the band's
manager in most conventional senses from early 1966 to mid-1967, though
Warhol (officially the co-manager with Morrissey) is usually said to
be the group's manager at this point.

To be technical, I did interview one of the guys who played in the
Velvet Underground in the early 1970s post-Reed (Rob Norris, who played
with them on a brief late 1972 tour). Actually our talk was more about
his experiences as a young fan of the band in the mid-to-late 1960s.
He actually saw the first appearance at which they were billed as the
Velvet Underground, on December 11, 1965 at Summit High School in New
Jersey.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #33 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 28 May 09 09:29
    
Here are a couple clarifications about the two different mixes of the
third Velvet Underground album, since these have been mentioned in a
couple posts:

The Velvet Underground box set (at least the one VU box set that got
wide attention), "Peel Slowly and See," actually includes only the
"closet mix" of the third album. The "regular mix," for lack of a
better term, is still the one you hear if you get the album as a
standalone CD.

I know some audiofiles feel more strongly about this than I do, but
actually I don't feel the two different mixes make for remarkably
different audio experiences for the average listener. The notable
exception is "Some Kinda Love," for which entirely different takes are
used; the one on the regular mix has a hoarser vocal and two guitars.
Also the bass on "Afterhours" is much more audible on the regular mix;
on the closet mix, it's almost inaudible.

For those of you reading this who might not be big VU collectors and
unfamiliar with these subtleties, it's worth stressing that these mix
variations are far from the more interesting or notable things about
their third album. What's far more important is that it's a great
record with (mostly) great songs that show the group going into a
shockingly quiet, sometimes almost folk-rockish direction, and Lou Reed
brilliantly developing the more compassionate, melodic, and romantic
sides of his songwriting.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #34 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 28 May 09 09:37
    
There seems to be a fair amount of interest in the Velvet
Underground's fall 1969 Texas shows, so a couple other clarifications
about those:

The entirety of the October 18 and October 19, 1969 shows at The End
of Cole Ave. in Dallas have been bootlegged, and those tapes are
described in detail in the book. But the Dallas material that shows up
on "1969 Velvet Underground Live" was only taken from the October 19,
1969 show. The October 18 show has notably inferior sound quality,
especially in the vocal department. Also, most of the material on "1969
Velvet Underground Live" was recorded at the Matrix in San Francisco
in November 1969; only "I'm Waiting for the Man," "Pale Blue Eyes,"
"I'll Be Your Mirror," and "Femme Fatale" (as well as the spoken intro
to "Some Kinda Love") are from Dallas. Four other songs from the Dallas
show show up on a couple obscure import CD compilations.

Sterling Morrison did say in a 1986 interview for Spanish television
that there were some good recordings made of one of the Austin shows at
the Vulcan. These don't seem to have circulated, however, and possibly
Morrison was actually thinking of the Dallas recordings.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #35 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 28 May 09 09:45
    
Ed's note about "What Goes On" brings to mind an interesting story
about the recording of that track. The guitar solo has a hypnotic,
almost bagpipe-like quality.  Doug Yule told me that was achieved by
basically overlaying several Lou Reed solos at once, saying, "Lou has a
tremendous sense of melody. He played three or four solos for that,
and they were remarkably similar, simply because he had sort of a basic
roadmap for a melody he wanted to play in his head, and he stuck to
it."

Because Lou Reed's abilities as a guitarist don't get quite all the
attention they merit, it's worth pointing out that his playing on the
"1969 Velvet Underground Live" version of "What Goes On" is some of the
greatest, most mesmerizing rhythm guitar ever recorded. Also Doug
Yule's organ work on that live version is an amazing searing swirl.
Some collectors/experts just assumed that must have been recorded with
the Cale lineup earlier than 1969, feeling that only Cale could have
played the organ that demonically. It's another illustration of how
Yule's talents and contributions to the group were severely underrated.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #36 of 150: What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Thu 28 May 09 10:26
    
I remember reading an interview years ago in which Reed was asked what he'd
most like to be, and he responded, "A great rhythm guitarist."
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #37 of 150: Angus MacDonald (angus) Thu 28 May 09 10:41
    

        I'm enjoying the book tremendously [Bruce & Dana, thanks for
alerting me to this discussion]. Like the Velvets' body of work, it's a
marvelous gift to humanity.
        The "trainspotting research" aspect is not a problem, since this
kind of exhaustive reference needs that in order to balance a half-century
of rumor and legend.
        Especially glad to read the clarifications of the ostensible
VU/Zappa animosity, and how Verve's allocation of resources was driven
more by accident and incompetence than by sinister calculation.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #38 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 28 May 09 11:02
    
That Mothers/VU rivalry always mystified me. I don't think there's
ever going to be a way of getting to the bottom of it. For those
readers unfamiliar with this, various members of the Velvets put down
the Mothers and especially Frank Zappa numerous times in interviews.
They also charged or insinuated that the Mothers and/or their
management had conspired to delay the release of the VU's first album
so that their own  first album, "Freak Out," could come out first (both
bands were on Verve Records and produced by Tom Wilson).

There are a couple problems with this theory that I felt obligated to
point out in the name of responsible research. First, "Freak Out" was
completed (in March 1966) before the VU's first album was recorded, and
released (in June 1966) at a point where the VU's first album had yet
to be finished. Yes, the VU's first album was already done in June
except for "Sunday Morning" (done in fall 1966). But it simply seems
like "Freak Out" was recorded and ready for release much earlier. My
educated guess, too, is that Tom Wilson wanted to test the market with
a couple of VU singles (two came out in 1966, featuring four tracks
from the first album) prominently featuring Nico before committing to
an album release. Plus there were probably delays associated with
manufacturing the banana album sleeve, with its gatefold design and
peel-off banana.

A bigger interesting surprise to me was finding this quote from Frank
Zappa himself about the banana album in the October 1967 issue of "Jazz
& Pop": "I liked that album. I think that Tom Wilson deserves a lot of
credit for making that album, because it's folk music. It's electric
folk music, in the sense that what they're saying comes right out of
their environment." So Zappa actually liked the Velvets, something
which seems to be overlooked by accounts suggesting he and Reed
couldn't stand each other's music.

The whole rivalry seems to have gotten out of hand because Zappa and
the VU didn't get along when they shared some bills in California in
May 1966. Zappa apparently might have made a putdown remark about the
VU onstage, seriously or in jest, that sparked the whole thing. Someone
who booked the Velvets suggested to me that the VU might have been a
little envious of the Mothers' musical abilities, which might have been
superior (in conventional terms) to those of the VU in 1966.

What I don't think the Velvets fully understood is that they weren't
gaining any points with their fans by putting down the Mothers -- not
just for the supposed conspiracy against the release of their first
album, but also putting down the Mothers musically in very strong
terms. A lot of VU fans (myself among them) *like* the early Mothers of
Invention, and vice versa. Both groups were extremely adventurous and
boundary-breaking in different ways. And the Mothers certainly weren't
commercial sellouts. Just because you like the Velvet Underground
shouldn't preclude you from being a big Mothers fan too.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #39 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 28 May 09 11:19
    
Another rumor sometimes reported as fact that didn't hold up for me
was that the Velvets were thrown off MGM in that label's infamous purge
of supposedly drug-related acts. That might seem logical given Velvets
songs like "Heroin" and "Sister Ray" and MGM's move toward wholesome
acts like the Osmonds. But in fact Lou Reed himself later told Creem
that he didn't think that was the case, and that the main reason was
that the Velvets actually wanted to leave MGM on their own (which they
did in early 1970, signing with Atlantic). Also the MGM "purge"
supposedly instigated by the label's Mike Curb wasn't widely reported
until much later in 1970, by which time the Velvets had been off MGM
for a while and recorded "Loaded" for Atlantic.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #40 of 150: What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Thu 28 May 09 13:08
    
Among the many small things I learned from your book: The Velvet Underground
performed at a benefit for The Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

The West Coast tour of the summer of 1968 sounds just great. I liked Ken
Barnes' comment on the interplay of the musicians, which is something
underappreciated about the band and which reinforces your earlier emphasis,
Richie, that this had always been a band, rather than a singer/backing
group.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #41 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 28 May 09 13:33
    
I bet the West Coast tour in the summer of 1968 was the best time to
see the Cale lineup (actually the final version of the Cale lineup, to
be specific, which was the quartet of Reed, Cale, Morrison, and
Tucker). By then the four of them had been playing together
two-and-a-half years, and Cale was likely becoming a lot more adept at
playing rock than he'd been at the beginning, when most of his
background was in classical and avant-garde music.

If there were any good-quality live recordings from that tour,
however, they haven't yet surfaced. A tragic tale (for VU collectors at
any rate) recounted in the book is how a four-track tape of one of
their shows with Quicksilver Messenger Service in San Diego in early
July 1968 was made. Sterling Morrison said it was great, and included
asong called "Sweet Rock and Roll" the Velvets never put on their
records (which Lester Bangs, who was there, wrote about ecstatically in
one of his pieces on the Velvets). But Morrison said the tape was
stolen that very night, within seconds after it had been played at a
party the same night of the concert.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #42 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 28 May 09 13:46
    
Following up on the note about the Merce Cunningham benefit the
Velvets played, they sure did play some strange concerts. Among the
weirdest:

Summit High School Auditorium, Summit, New Jersey, December 11, 1965:
Their first concert where they were billed as the Velvet Underground,
right after Maureen Tucker joined. They played three songs—"There She
Goes Again," "Venus in Furs," and "Heroin"—to an almost wholly
uncomprehending and unappreciative audience of adolescents. "The band
just emptied that auditorium," Sterling Morrison's wife Martha told me.

Delmonico's Hotel, New York, Annual Dinner of the New York Society for
Clinical Psychiatry, January 13, 1966: Their first gig after hooking
up with Warhol, playing "Heroin" with a film of a torture scene with a
man tied to a chair. In front of the movie danced a real, whip-wielding
guy, Gerard Malanga. The group's friend Barbara Rubin filmed the
psychiatrists, at the same time confronting the 350-strong audience
with embarrassing questions about their personal sexual behavior.

Playboy Club, Chicago, late June-early July 1966: Verified by a photo
of the event in the fall 1966 issue of Playboy's VIP magazine showing
Morrison, John Cale, and Gerard Malanga onstage performing for several
dancers, costumed Playboy bunnies prominently among them. 

Michigan State Fair Coliseum, Detroit, November 20, 1966: As part of
"the world's first mod wedding happening," the Velvet Underground
played traditional wedding songs sung by Nico. The newlywed mod couple 
received a screen test for Underground Movies from Warhol during their
honeymoon trip to New York City. Warhol himself gave away the bride,
after which he sat on a box of tomato soup autographing cans.

Lincoln Center, New York, November 13, 1967: A fundraising benefit for
public television station Channel 13 (WNET) at Lincoln Center in
Manhattan, and one of their only three known gigs (all low-profile) in
New York between spring 1967 and summer 1970. The program printed a
menu listing "Relish Bowl, Blanquette de Veau a l'Ancienne Rice Pilaff,
Glazed Baby Carrots with Chives, Cucumber & Cherry Tomato Salad with
Dill, Fresh Fruit Bowl, Assorted Cheese Tray with Biscuits, Petits
Fours, Demi Tasse, Champagne, [and] Cognac" as the evening's
refreshments. Women's Wear Daily confirmed the next day that "tables
were set up around the dance floor but when Andy Warhol's Velvet
Underground rock group started tuning up, the guests chickened out, and
a more sedate band took the stand."

Beverly Hills High School, Late October-November 1968: Though the
exact date hasn't been pinned down, we have proof it takes place, the
damning evidence being a photo in the Beverly Hills High School 1968-69
yearbook of the band sitting amiably onstage with what look like
various school officials and students. They were booked as a result of
votes from hardcore VU fans in the student body.

The Kinetic Playground, Chicago, April 25-27, 1969: For the second and
last time, the Velvet Underground shared a bill with their ultimate
antithesis in attitude, the Grateful Dead. According to Doug Yule's
recollection in the fall/winter 1994 edition of the fanzine The Velvet
Underground, "That show the Dead opened for us, we opened for them the
next night so that no one could say they were the openers. As you know,
the Grateful Dead play very long sets and they were supposed to only
play for an hour. We were up in the dressing room and they're playing
for an hour and a half and, hour and 45 minutes. So the next day when
we were opening for them, Lou says, 'Huh, watch this.' And we proceeded
to play a very long set. We did 'Sister Ray' for like an hour and then
a whole other show." 

Hilltop Pop Festival, Rindge, New Hampshire, August 2, 1969: The
Velvet Underground headlining an actual rock festival the same month as
Woodstock, even getting billed over Van Morrison, the only other
famous performer on the bill. It was a benefit to -- of all things --
buy the town of Mason, New Hampshire a new fire engine.

Honorable mention: Though these took place in early 1971 after Lou
Reed left the band, somehow the band still billed as the Velvet
Underground -- with Doug Yule, Sterling Morrison, and Moe Tucker still
aboard -- ended up playing New England ski lodges. At least they got
free passes for the ski lifts. "I was kind of aghast that [manager
Steve Sesnick] had them playing ski lodges, but it was really fun, and
of course it was beautiful," Martha Morrison told me. "We all learned
to ski."
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #43 of 150: John A. Morris (johnmorris) Thu 28 May 09 18:17
    
I was a roadie for the Charlatans and a friend of the incredible Lynne
Hughes when Travis T Hipp's Rawhide Realities attempted to push into
that rivalry between the VU and the Dead. I thought we were pretty cute
but we never really stepped up to it. Oh, heady days.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #44 of 150: What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Fri 29 May 09 19:37
    
I had not known that "Sunday Morning" was forced on the group. I guess that
means it isn't to be understood ironically. (Although, had Nico sung it as
apparently intended....)

What other songs turned up surprises, Richie?
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #45 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 29 May 09 20:59
    
It might be better to say that "Sunday Morning" wasn't so much forced
on the group -- I think they would have recorded it whether or not
producer Tom Wilson wanted to make it a single and add it to the first
album. I think it was more a case of Wilson wanting a single featuring
Nico at a point where the group considered the first album completed
and were impatiently waiting for its release. I don't think they or
Reed were reluctant to record the song per se; what Paul Morrissey
emphasized in his interview with me, however, was that Reed was *very*
opposed to Nico singing it.

Morrissey put down the song quite mercilessly in his interview,
calling it "a terrible song. It was kind of a Simon & Garfunkel doo-dee
doo-dee thing." I have to say I disagree quite strongly with that
opinion. I think it's a great song, and does much to add to the balance
of the first album, setting off the more scabrous songs like "Heroin"
and "I'm Waiting for the Man."

Also I don't think Lou Reed meant it ironically. Like some other
Velvets songs (like "Femme Fatale," about Edie Sedgwick), it was
specifically instigated by a suggestion by Andy Warhol, who asked Lou
if he could write a song about paranoia. Hence the line, according to a
1972 Reed interview, "Watch out, the world's behind you." He said, " I
figure that's the ultimate paranoid statement, that you're being
watched all the time. When actually no one gives a damn."

More on some songs that turned up surprises with the next post.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #46 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 29 May 09 21:17
    
I already talked about how finding out that "White Light/White Heat"
was partly inspired by occult writings by Alice Bailey was one of the
most interesting and illuminating surprises in writing the book.
Another was that, according to filmmaker Rosalind Stevenson, "All
Tomorrow's Parties" (Andy Warhol's favorite VU song) was written for
use in the soundtrack to her film "Deux Voix," starring Elektrah Lobel,
who played with Reed and Cale briefly in a band called the Falling
Spikes around 1965.

One prominent Velvet Underground song that always puzzled me very
much, though I like it a lot, is "Jesus," from their third album. Its
humble reverential Christian religious tone just doesn't seem like
something Reed would write, or at least believe. He's Jewish, for one
thing, but of more importance, he just didn't write anything else with
that kind of religiously devout flavor with the Velvets. Part of the
mystery was solved for me when I found an obscure 1971 interview where
he explained that his songs are "all supposed to be little plays. I
would see myself as the lead part because I'm a ham, so I would give
myself the lead singer role and I would write myself out this dialogue,
then I would play different characters. You notice they all have
characters which are completely different. And so people used to say
'that must be you' or 'THAT must be you,' but they couldn't figure out
how I could be the same person because the people in the songs were
different, sometimes they would be opposite. For instance you'd have
'Heroin' and then you'd have the opposite with 'Jesus.'" So it's at
least to some degree a character he's taking on when he writes/sings
"Jesus," probably not a reflection of any short-lived zeal for
Christianity.

"Train Round the Bend," one of their more minor songs to be honest
(off "Loaded"), was the source of some amusing contradictory
speculations. Doug Yule once said when introducing the song at one of
the final post-Reed VU gigs that it was about the Long Island Railroad
(five Velvets, by the way, grew up in Long Island: Reed, Morrison,
Tucker, and both Yules). Steve Nelson, who often booked the band in
Massachusetts, strongly differed, and said it was about the VU playing
Western Massachusetts shows for him -- for which they had to take a
train for New York -- and pining to go back to the big city.

"After Hours" is usually thought of as one of the more minor VU songs,
but hearing live tapes from late 1969, it's interesting to hear how
heartily it was applauded by the audience. That was mostly because it
gave fans their only chance to hear Maureen Tucker sing. It was kind of
like a lower-level version of the Ringo Starr phenomenon, where
Beatlemania audiences would scream their lungs out when Paul McCartney
introduced the one song that Ringo sang per Beatles show.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #47 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 29 May 09 21:29
    
One big surprise for me that didn't relate to a specific song, but
certainly related strongly to the material, was finding how Reed viewed
each of the VU's albums (especially the first three) as something like
chapters in a book that should be heard in sequence. That sounds like
something he might have said once or twice because it made a good
soundbite, or only said many years later in retrospect. But he said
this in interviews a number of times, going back to the late 1960s. He
even said in one obscure early-'70s interview that he wished MGM would
have issued all three albums together -- not something that would have
been commercially practical for a band like the Velvets, but you can
see how his point is valid if you leave the economics aside.

I think this explains, to some degree, the radical shifts in tone
between the three albums, and especially between the second and third
albums. To generalize, "White Light/White Heat" is one of the most
aggressive and noisiest albums of its time; "The Velvet Underground,"
which followed just a year later, is unbelievably *quiet*. Each of the
records *could* have been more balanced; some gentle melodic songs Reed
had already written before "White Light/White Heat" were left off that
album, and some noisier harder-rocking things had been written by the
time of "The Velvet Underground" but were not used on that LP. But Reed
said, again more than once, that "White Light/White Heat" was kind of
designed to be the most ferocious extreme experience possible,
deliberately sequenced so that the most outrageous cut ("Sister Ray")
was last. "The Velvet Underground," in his view, was how characters
such as the ones he wrote about in "Sister Ray" kind of came out of the
other side of that experience into something more introspective and
subdued, as you couldn't take the kind of lifestyle narrated in "Sister
Ray" any further without imploding.

He also emphasized that within the separate LPs, the songs were also
deliberately sequenced to tell a story of sorts, even if it wasn't as
obvious a concept album as something like "Tommy." Of the third album,
for instance, he said in a November 1969 radio interview:

"It’s not just arbitrary,. They’re all supposed to complement the
preceding song. Like on the third album, ‘Candy Says’ had this person
asking all these questions, and then ‘What Goes On’ kind of asked like
one specific one, and then ‘Some Kind Of Love’ and ‘Pale Blue Eyes’
explicated some of it. It just went on and on and on. That’s why the
first side closed with ‘Jesus,’ and then the second side was ‘Beginning
To See The Light.’ And then it went all the way to like ‘That’s The
Story Of My Life,’ which like summed up the whole thing. And then after
you got that far and figured it had everything
solved, then you hit ‘The Murder Mystery,’ which is like the next step
past it.”
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #48 of 150: What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Sat 30 May 09 03:33
    
Takimg the albums as chapters makes mote sense of "Jesus," too. It only
comes *after* "Heroin," "Sister Ray," and so on.

What would have been next, if Lou had stayed?
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #49 of 150: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 30 May 09 07:37
    
Richie, considering the question of Reed's departure, you say "one
wonders why [he] didn't simply replace Doug Yule (as Tucker has already
sugested), fire Sesnick, and continue The Velvet Underground with
Morrison and Tucker." Just reading about the state of things preceding
his departure, I'm thinking he was depressed and couldn't imagine any
scenario that would work for him... that it was more about his state of
mind and the state of his emotions. Logic wouldn't apply. 
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #50 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 30 May 09 08:35
    
In retrospect, it's hard to imagine the Velvets hanging together for
another album with Reed, at least as long as the manager with whom he
was having problems (Steve Sesnick) was on the scene. As I said
earlier, I do think "Loaded" had a much better chance of being the
commercial success they hoped for had Lou Reed stuck around and toured
with the VU after its release. As several comments by band members have
indicated,"Loaded" was definitely recorded and produced with the
mindset of each track being a potential hit, or at least something that
would pick up a lot of FM airplay. If that had worked and "Loaded" had
made the Top Forty of the album charts, that in turn might have given
Reed second thoughts about starting a solo career, at least for a
while. But it might have also stirred unwelcome pressures to become yet
*more* commercial to sustain that success, which Reed could well have
been resistant to.

But had they stayed together for one more record, Reed *did* already
have at least an album's worth of good songs written by the time he
left in mid-1970. Many of these showed up on his early solo albums; in
fact his first album, 1972's "Lou Reed," is almost *all* VU leftovers.

So let's say Sesnick was fired, Reed stayed on after "Loaded"'s
release, and that album *was* the commercial breakthrough, in at least
the modest way, that it was intended. The next album's track list could
have gone something like this:

"We're Gonna Have a Good Time Together"
"Lisa Says"
"Satellite of Love"
"I Can't Stand It"
"Andy's Chest"
"Stephanie Says" (or "Caroline Says," as it morphed into by the time
of Reed's "Berlin")
"She's My Best Friend"
"Wild Child"
"Sweet Bonnie Brown"/"It's Just Too Much"
"Over You"
"Ride into the Sun"
"Ocean"

That's not the greatest of albums, but it's a pretty good one. Maureen
Tucker would have been back in the lineup, which itself might have
been a good thing for the sound of the record, though it's doubtful the
band would have gone back to the relative pre-"Loaded" rawness.

In a way the CD of a live Reed solo show from December 26, 1972
("American Poet") might be a rough approximation of what the Velvets
would have been playing. Half the songs had been released by the VU,
and some of the others had been recorded and/or performed (though not
released) by the VU when Reed was in the lineup; mixed in were other
highlights of Reed's early '70s solo albums, like "Vicious," "Walk on
the Wild Side," and "Berlin." His backup band (not including any
ex-Velvets) was still playing in a fairly rough'n'ready style. It's a
recommended CD if you're a VU/Reed fan and haven't yet heard it.

Had this alternate scenario played it, though, bear in mind that we
wouldn't have had the good solo records Reed made in the early 1970s. I
don't like "Lou Reed" (the album) much, but "Transformer" and
"Berlin," both of which have some VU leftovers, are both very
worthwhile and likely gave Reed the chance to do some work in a
different style than he could have as part of the Velvet Underground.
  

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