Sunday, March 05, 2006

A dissonant domestic scene: Kieran doing his homework on the dinner table while "Heroin" plays in the background.

(And come to think of it, "Venus In Furs" was the reason we decided not to call him Severin)

A chap called Jeremy Gilbert wrote an interesting essay on the VU's noise as androgynous--‘White Light/ White Heat; Jouissance Beyond Gender in the Velvet Underground’ (in Andrew Blake ed. Living Through Pop. Routledge, July 1999)--during the course of which he mentioned the Velvets as a significant ommission from The Sex Revolts. He was right, although you could say we had it covered, implicitly, with the stuff on MBV.

They're an odd one, for me, the Velvet Underground. Love the recorded artifacts, but for some reason would never describe myself as a "Velvets fan"--something about that cluster of New York/"cool"/Warhol holds me back from loving the group (the "what they're about" factor).

But yeah, now I come to think of it, I can't recall ever expending an ounce of thought on the subject of The Velvet Underground. Not going to start now, not really, but here's a couple of half-formed notions.

1/ listening to how thin and underproduced and tatty the first album sounds, even by Sixties standards, it struck me: this is the beginning of "indie" isn't it? the beginning of failure and deficiency and a certain shaky quality fetishised as positives? Not by the group (I'm sure they wanted to sell by the truckload) but by their worshippers. That mid-Eighties idea of perfect pop or "pure pop" as something other than what actually is in the hit parade, it starts with the VU. Up until the VU, the best bands of the era, the most innovative and important ones, were also the biggest selling ones: Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Byrds, Hendrix etc. Quality and quantity of units shifted go hand in hand. Velvet Underground (and also Love) are where the idea of the genius/visionary spurned by the mainstream record-buying public originates, along with the defensive fantasy of "this is the true pop music, not that garbage in the charts". They're the first instances where that argument is even tenable to make (c.f. John's Children, who I adore, but I can totally see why they didn't make it to Who-level). Later comes Big Star, perfect pop that splits the difference between Beatles and Velvets but barely manages to touch the ankles of ELO and Supertramp... and so we have the foundations of indie-rock/alt-rock, the perfect fit between idolising Pop's "losers" and the slacker-style advocacy of noble failure as life outcome(replacements etc etc).

2/ Strange to think that the VU are the grand-daddy's of both "indie" and glam (via their effect on bowie/roxy/eno). Think about the gulf between Japan covering "All Tomorrow's Parties" and that whole other strand of VU-love (Jesus & Mary Chain, Galaxie 500, Spacemen 3, Sonic Youth etc). Weird!

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