Oct 29, 2013

Now Lester Bangs and Lou Reed can slug it out forever in Rock 'n' Roll Heaven (Part One)

There was a time, back in the late 80s and early 90s, when the Velvets were most certainly in my top five rock bands. But, that ship has sailed.  It sailed a long time ago.  Honestly, Lou Reed was my least favorite member of the group.  I was more a Sterling Morrison kind of guy.  Morrison was the unsung hero of the group to me.  And, I liked Mo Tucker a lot, as well.

I wonder, also, if perhaps my once passionate love for the Velvet Underground had more to do with my passion for Lester Bangs.  At that time I always carried a copy of Bangs' anthology book, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, with me wherever I went.  Bangs' battles with Reed were legendary.  As was Bangs' absolute hero worship for Reed, too.

And, there was a crummy diner, attached to a motel, north of the UT campus, on the east side of the highway that me and friends used to "eat" at all the time.  I say "eat" because it was rare that any of us actually had any money.  Most of the time we would just drink coffee and smoke there.  Forever.  Like just about every single restaurant in Austin, it was always open.  And we would spend the wee hours of the night there after parties or shows, or just because we were bored.

At this diner, they always played the same record there, over and over again:  The Velvets' third record, The Velvet Underground.  If you are not familiar with the Velvets work, their third record is their most unusual, and it is by far my favorite, even if John Cale by this time had left the group.  The eponymously titled third record was a much more somber and quiet affair.  There was nothing like Sister Ray or I Heard Her Call My Name or Heroin or Lady Godiva's Operation on it.  There was also a noticeable lack of guitar feedback or "racket" on the record.  Most of the songs were very composed and still and had a church like aura to them.  Reed and the others did feel free to include one last avant-garde art statement on the record, though:  The Murder Mystery.  Which is eight minutes of pretentious silliness, Reed and Tucker prattling on in a stream of consciousness stylee over both channels separately, while the band create a bubbling coffee pot sort of rhythm for the background.  I hate the song now (and Bangs always hated it), but it did fit snugly in to the mysterious and religious like mood they were trying to create with this record.  I imagine The Murder Mystery as kind of a The Name of Rose abbey whodunnit story.

I will always like the third record, and as much as I sort of came to despise Reed later in my life, and as I grew weary of the pretentious annoying and completely over-rated first two albums of the Velvets, that third record will always remain special in my life.  First off because of the songs.  Pale Blue Eyes, Candy Says, Some Kinda Love, What Goes On, and After Hours are all masterpieces.  And, for once, it at least seemed like Reed was showing vulnerability, and that those songs, and this album, was not a carefully orchestrated art performance (i.e. calculated con job.) I said seemed.  Reed was always a huckster to me, selling heroin and decadence and gayness and an underground street ethos to folks out there that were plenty desperate for it, even if he did not really mean it all the time.  But, for that one record, for that seeming to mean it for once, I will always be thankful to you, Lou.  Thanks.

Have fun up there with Lester, dude.  He's gonna be hassling you non-stop.

... to be continued ...


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