The Velvet Underground

I remember a time before there was such thing as the Velvet Underground. It appears in my memory as a time before music, a time in my life before music was important, relevant, defining. And then, at some point when I was around nineteen, they took over my attention. The world was then divided into pre-Velvets and the contemporary world, a world in which Sweet Jane and Heroin were part of the landscape (soundscape?) There were always other groups, other music. There was Sonic Youth. They came before the VU, but were overshadowed and engulfed by their predecessors. There was (and is) Dylan, who had influenced the young Reed and has now outlived him, and whose songs (Memphis Blues Again, Visions of Johanna) were and are capable of inducing in my post-adolescent imagination something unique and hard to describe, something akin to influence. After those songs you are not the same again. They change you. The Velvets changed me. Patti Smith did, too, when I first heard Piss Factory. Marquee Moon changed me. Heart of Darkness. And all of them were indebted most to the Velvets and, perhaps less directly, Dylan. But it’s the VU I go back to, who’ve never left me. CDs, vinyl, cassettes, iPod, YouTube, streaming…I keep them close no matter where I am listening.
I remember a time when nobody I knew would listen to them. (They do now, of course.)
I miss you Lou.

How to drive psychiatrists insane

This is a Super-8 film of the Velvet Underground’s first public appearance – at a psychiatrists’ convention in NYC, circa 1966. It’s also the best version of “I’ll Be Your Mirror” I’ve ever heard: fuzzed-out and ear-splitting.

Here’s what happened:

On January 13 1966, Warhol was invited to be the evening’s entertainment at the NY society for Clinical Psychiatry’s forty thir- annual dinner, held at Delmonico’s Hotel. Bursting into the room with a camera, as the Velvet Underground acoustically tortured the guests and Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick performed the ‘whip dance’ in the background, Rubin taunted the attending psychiatrists. Casting blinding lights in their faces, Rubin hurled derogatory questions at the esteemed members of the medical profession, including: ‘What does her vagina feel like? Is his penis big enough? Do you eat her out? As the horrified guests began to leave Rubin continued her interrogation: ‘Why are you getting embarrassed? You’re a psychiatrist; you’re not supposed to get embarrassed. The following day the NY Times reported on the event; their chosen headline, ‘Shock treatment for psychiatrists’, reveals the extent to which Rubin’s guerrilla tactics had inverted the sanctioned relationship between patient and doctor expert and amateur.

Best rock and roll band, ever.

Gary Shteyngart’s new novel

I’m not allowed to reproduce this wonderfully imaginative excerpt for Gary Shteyngart’s new novel, Super Sad True Love Story. I’m going to assume by the title he’s been hanging around Jonathan Safran Foer lately.

(Here’s a teaser, though: pistachio ice cream and early Velvet Underground!)

Days of 1994

I’ve been reading about the early years of blogging and find the evolution of it fascinating. I’ve never been a techie, so I completely missed out on the 1990s and the advent of blogging. In fact, as recently as 2005, I thought it must be the stupidest thing one could possibly do with one’s time (still a constant worry of mine.) Humble pie.

So I thought I’d try an experiment; after all, that’s how blogging began: by experimenting. I’m going to write a post in the voice of my younger self; in effect, I’m going to try and put myself in the shoes of Justin, who was only two states north of me in a different university when he began his Links in January of ’94. For the record, I was living in an off-campus apartment in Richmond, VA with a friend. I was enrolled in the VCU Art School. And I was miserable as hell.

January 27, 1994*

I stayed up all night listening to the VU’s Murder Mystery with headphones, jotting down the lyrics as best as I could. I kept having to turn one headphone down to hear Lou, and the other one to hear Doug and Mo. It’s the best song ever recorded, after Sister Ray. I should get some sleep.

Missed class today. Too groggy from my all nighter. I wish J would call me. What happened?

I can’t wait to get the fuck out of this shithole. This fucking ghosttown is piled up with corpses vampires. I HATE THE SOUTH. Take me to New York, baby. That’s where I wanna be.

Shitkickers. That’s what B was telling be about his high school. He was like the only kid in his entire town who knew who Fugazi was. He says they all drank beer and listened to Bocephus. Chased him around with a shotgun for kicks. Now he’s the beer drinker. WTF? Oh, Virginia.

Yesterday I bought a copy of Coltrane’s My Favorite Things on cd. Lester mentions it in his book. Sounds like Tom Verlaine, or vice-versa. I wish Lester were here now.

No one around here knows who the goddam Stooges are! If it was recorded before 1992 they’re not interested. But now they’re stealing my ideas, tuning down their guitars and jamming like Thurston Moore. Last year they hated Sonic Youth. Now they imitate them.

I think if I moved to NYC there’d be a ton of people with my same interests.

Ripped a t-shirt so I’d look like Richard Hell. My design teacher just stared at me like, “Whut?” Bitch. I’ll burn her classroom down.

And I did just that.

*I didn’t really write much in 1994, so this is a rather ad hoc attempt at nailing my major obsessions with hindsight. Anyway, it was a trip down memory lane.