How to Listen to The Velvet Underground


Come gather 'round, chilluns, wherever you roam; cause Tom's about to dispense some of his vast store of wisdom to you all.

That's right, take a seat everyone. You! The hottie in the back there. Come sit in the front row. Okay . . . are we all settled in? Good. Because someday, years and years from now, I guarantee you'll want to thank me for this.

You see, I'm now about to tell you how to listen to The Velvet Underground.

Now I can hear some of you saying, "What is he on this afternoon? Cheez, all you do is put one of their CDs in the player, press 'Play', and your ears do the rest. What's so friggin' complex about that, Tom?" Well, on the surface you'd have a point if you spoke so impertinently, but you wouldn't get anything out of it listening to them that way, you little know-it-alls. It's all about the right kind of conditions, the proper environment and atmosphere. A friend of mine once wrote about how he used to listen to their first album lying out in the sun in his backyard. I practically threw up when I read that. Jesus, he might as well have listened to the thing with the sound turned all the way down for all the good it did him. No, more than any other group of musical artists I can think of (anyone says 'Kraftwerk' and I'll boot you the hell out of here; exile you over to Green CineDaily . . . or, God help us, 'a_film_by'; which would be beyond cruel), The Velvet Underground has to be experienced under specific conditions, one or two of them environmental in nature, for the prospective listener to truly become as one with their music.

1) Start at the Beginning.

I mean that. Don't go mucking about by starting your exploration with "Sister Ray" or "O Sweet Nuthin" on your first go-round or you're gonna miss something crucial right off the bat. Begin with track one, "Sunday Morning" . . . as exquisite an expression of coming down from the rigors of a truly wild and hellacious night with a blasted psyche as has ever been rendered . . . on "The Velvet Underground & Nico" (yes, yes, yes; that's the one with the Warhol cover and everything) and listen all the way through in one sitting. That won't be too hard because if ever there was an album I found difficult to pull myself away from, no matter how many times I'd already listened to it, it was that. I won't go so far as to say there's something wrong with you if you don't feel the same gravity holding you down . . . well, maybe I would, but I wouldn't say it out loud. I do believe that only a waterhead could listen to "All Tomorrow's Parties" or "I'll Be Your Mirror" (a song that makes me damn near weep whenever I hear it . . . just try and call me a pussy, I dare you!!) and go looking for that bag of Doritos you know you had around here somewhere. After you've done that, move onto the next album . . . and the next . . . and the next. Though it's one of the great tragedies of Western Art that there weren't more 'next's for the Velvet Underground.

2) Do It in the Wee Small Hours.

That's right. None of this one in the afternoon bull or unwinding with it during the cocktail hour. If you wanna listen to something during those hours there's always Josh Groban, and you're welcome to him. The best, most optimal time to listen to Velvet Underground recordings is between 3 and 6 AM. Why, you ask? Because, geniuses, it's when virtually everyone on earth is somehow farther away from you than any other time of day. This is intended to facilitate the essential one-on-one nature of the relationship between their music and the individual listener. Lou Reed, long after the Velvet Underground had touched comparatively few lives so very very profoundly, said "You think, yeah, why would anyone buy despondency? But in those days, I thought there was a certain kind of aloneness going on and I felt I wasn't the only one feeling that". It's virtually a Scientific principle: The impact of The Velvet Underground lessens in direct proportion to the number of people listening to a single recording at any one time. When I became a Velvet Underground fanatic in my late teens I would play their LPs (that's right children, this was back when recordings were issued on 12 inch vinyl discs. We used to call them LPs in those days) for friends, and even on those occasions when one of them reacted favorably, I could detect there was something missing from their appreciation. I know what it is now: The music wasn't connecting with them the way it should have, the way it could have if it had been able to reach into their souls as single cell individuals. All the best art speaks to us directly and, by that very principle, it underscores our fundamental isolation. So if you're one of those people who's kidded themselves successfully into believing they're not alone in this life when it comes down to cases, then the only way you're going to have an outside shot at blasting through the layers of your own self-deception which will prevent you from truly appreciating what The Velvet Underground had to offer is to listen to their music during that time of night when one's personal illusions are at their most hollow.

3) Make Sure You're Drunk or Stoned or Both.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not recommending you be inebriated to the point of losing consciousness; not at all. That's counter-productive as hell. In fact, it's best if you were at the height of your disorientation some hours before listening. You should be just drunk enough to feel your dislocation and yet also feel everything that was pleasant about it slipping away from you slowly. But don't get the idea that I'm making this suggestion out of the same mindset that caused people in the 60s to listen to dogshit like The Grateful Dead after having dropped acid. No siree. The Velvet Underground was never that kind of band; catering to the escapist impulses of an audience subconsciously buying into mass-market, corporeal counter-culture. When Lou Reed wrote about drugs he wasn't mining it for its potential to shock a so-called establishment that has never been worth shocking; not once did he depersonalize the matter like that. No, he wrote about their joys and their horrors both. Songs like "Heroin", as with every other song he wrote for the Velvets regardless of their ostensible subject, were about lived human experience. In point of fact, in an epoch where it seemed as though an alternate American culture had become one gigantic pose, the Velvet Underground simply refused to be a part of it. Their committment to musical and lyrical honesty may have caused them to pay dearly in terms of bleak sales figures, but it produced music that hasn't aged a second and earned them the undying respect of the only people who count: Those who listen to music with both ears, an open mind and a heart filled with the agony only real love can give birth to. You have to be longing for something genuine in this world to touch you if you want to experience the Velvet Underground to the very marrow of your soul; which is precisely what their music will do. Coming down from being drunk or stoned leaves one quite open for such longings of the spirit.

I can hear the recess bell ringing. Be back here in your seats afterwards.

Class dismissed.

28 comments:

swac said...

Okay...it's 3:10 a.m....I've had more than a few screwdrivers at a local rock bar where the waitresses are forced to wear bustiers (I placed my orders while discretely looking elsewhere), and I've fought off the annoying advances of irritating women in their late '40s while trying to enjoy some delightfully noisy basement bands. I think the time is right (and I have no VU on CD...vinyl only for this feller). Although I'm thinking I'd like to put on White Light White Heat, but seeing as it is, in fact, Sunday Morning, it's a ripe banana for me.

Tom Sutpen said...

Wow. Out drinking after all that Dim Sum. Sounds like my kinda night on the town, Stephen. Hey, at least you got to see some womenfolk this evenin'. All I been doin' is drinkin' (Vodka, of course), writin' and listenin' to Little Jimmy Dickens. And the only woman I've seen this evening is my 80 year old neighbor.

Oh, I'm a righteous swinger these days, I am.

swac said...

I feel just like Jesus' son...and I guess that I just don't know.

And if you saw these particular womenfolk, you'd understand why I ran screaming in the opposite direction...it wasn't pretty.

Okay, time to go rushing on my run...I wish I was born 1000 years ago.

swac said...

Okay, European Son has finished its guitar freakout, and it's 4:13...off to bed after some water, tylenol and vitamin B.

Maybe when I wake up later this morning I'll put on Loaded...

monsieurblob said...

fucking pussy, next time you appear in dc++ make sure it's with the entire velvet underground mp3 collection, that is, if you have em in mp3s...

swac said...

Fuck MP3s...when I play White Light White Heat, it's an original Verve pressing with the skull and crossbones on the cover. Digital does this music no damn good.

Tom Sutpen said...

Ah. Would that it were possible to have an endless supply of vinyl presings of the Velvet Underground in store for those Winter years. Those slight cracks and pops do compliment the music beautifully. But alas, it cannot be, so I have to settle for the Velvets on CD, more's the pity.

Tom Sutpen said...

Juan wrote:

fucking pussy, next time you appear in dc++ make sure it's with the entire velvet underground mp3 collection, that is, if you have em in mp3s...

*****
How d'ast you come into our domain and call me a pussy, Senor.

I'll have you know that I not only have the entirety of the Velvets on CD, but about a dozen or so bootlegs (they never did a less-than-stirring "Heroin" live).

And as for . . . what do you call them? . . . mp3s? I have no idea what they are (and you'd do well to feign the same ignorance in a forum as public as this one, cha-cha), so I don't know what you're on about.

swac said...

Tom, I'm not sure if Senor was referring to you or me...and what the hell is "dc++"? Some sort of electrical discharge? And I have to amend my "no VU on CD" comment. I forgot that I have the deluxe two-CD set for Loaded. Pretty hard to resist, really.

But what about Do The Ostrich and Psycle Annie?

Tom Sutpen said...

Stephen wrote:

Tom, I'm not sure if Senor was referring to you or me...and what the hell is "dc++"? Some sort of electrical discharge?

*****
I think it's one of them file-sharing programs that miscreants use to share mp3s (whatever they are) and such. I wouldn't know anything about that. Juan is obviously on Crack this afternoon.

But what about Do The Ostrich and Psycle Annie?

*****
I gots them both. My favorite pre-Velvet Reed/Cale is "I've Got a Tiger in My Tank"

monsieurblob said...

YES, OBVIOUSLY!

as for public, my you two twits are in them clouds arent ya... those 2775 visits!!!...lol... that's the same 60- morons coming along 40 times in the last 6 months.... it's a bit like verhoeven with a dick

swac said...

Mr. Blobby said:

YES, OBVIOUSLY!

*****

So you are on crack then? Well, I'm glad we've cleared that one up.

Tom Sutpen said...

Juan chortled:

as for public, my you two twits are in them clouds arent ya... those 2775 visits!!!...lol... that's the same 60- morons coming along 40 times in the last 6 months.... it's a bit like verhoeven with a dick

*****
Sterling analysis as always, sparky. Though my evaluation of the visitor data tells me that we've got about 10 hardcore regular visitors all told; the rest are people who either wander in from another blog or those who follow a well-placed link.

I'm not gonna knock it, no matter who it is or how they got here.

How many regulars does your blog have, genius (and when in hell are you gonna update that thing)?

Tom Sutpen said...

And another thing, Senor . . .

I don't get that Verhoeven with a dick business.

(gotta be some kind of "Showgirls" reference . . . you know, Jacques Rivette just loves "Showgirls")

monsieurblob said...

just did update it.. off you go check, slutpod... as for verhoeven, hell rivette was right bout that pic... but verhoeven's always been fascinated with his cock since turks fruit, spetters, fourth man etcetera... more cinephilia and less silly music

monsieurblob said...

and as for swac, kwak!

Tom Sutpen said...

Juan wrote:

just did update it.. off you go check, slutpod...

*****
Hey, you can't call me that here, you soporific Spaniard; this here's my forum (well, Stephen's too; but I'm sure he'd concur).

as for verhoeven, hell rivette was right bout that pic...

*****
You know, this is what I don't get about you high-strung kid cinephiles. If Jacques Rivette said he liked the film on Michael Bay's teeth you'd all be praising it to the skies.

but verhoeven's always been fascinated with his cock since turks fruit, spetters, fourth man etcetera...

*****
Ahem . . . the last thing we need to hear about is the quality of Paul Verhoeven's smallest fascinations.

more cinephilia and less silly music

*****
Tell you what.Go harass Wil Wheaton's blog and leave us be.

You run your blog (into the ground), Stephen and me will run ours.

I mean, if we turned this thing into a wholesale cinephilic indulgence it'd be no different from every other godwawful cinephile blog on the net. We're embracing as many areas of 20th century Pop Culture as we can fit into this blog, so get used to it!

monsieurblob said...

i meant dames in their late 40s...

monsieurblob said...

roflmao, high strung cinephiles as opposed to what? generous and kind pop cinephiles who take to warhol because he dignifies pop... looooooooolll... ah yar this fanboy rivette nonsense tripe again...look at the reasons why he liked showgirls... and as for verhoeven low thing whatever, whatever, slutpod!!!

Tom Sutpen said...

Juan asked:

roflmao, high strung cinephiles as opposed to what? generous and kind pop cinephiles who take to warhol because he dignifies pop... looooooooolll...

*****
What's wrong with Andy Warhol?

ah yar this fanboy rivette nonsense tripe again...look at the reasons why he liked showgirls...

*****
You look at them. I'm convinced Rivette is senile.

monsieurblob said...

based on?

Tom Sutpen said...

Juan asked:

based on?

*****
I assume you're asking that in reference to Jacques Rivette's senility (you seriously gotta learn to cut and paste, dude). Well, go check out an interview with him in "Senseless of Cinema" (I'd post a link, but I can't even look at that site anymore . . . hence, its disappearance from the sidebar)

monsieurblob said...

the one that got a long discussion in a film by, come off it, i've already read it... so based on?

Tom Sutpen said...

Juan stated:

the one that got a long discussion in a film by, come off it, i've already read it... so based on?

*****
Listen, anyone who says Vincente Minnelli was uninterested in performances, or that Hou Hsiao Hsien is too politically correct is senile in my book.

monsieurblob said...

that article is necessary, no genius, not brilliant, but necessary... it's full of interesting stuff about stuff we seem to forget or take for granted... there are about a hundred value judgements in that article and you've chosen what, two?... as for hsiao hsien, well anything that gets praised to the heavens by rosenbaum instantly gets under suspicion of being politically correct... and as for minelli, well we never know what we mean when we say performance... lol

monsieurblob said...

he's dead on about happy together imo and from my faint memory of mankiewicz movies about him too...

monsieurblob said...

and whats this 'juan' nonsense... i'm blob, monsieur blob...

swac said...

First name, Gelatinous.