ALL YESTERDAY’S PARTIES
The Beatles can’t do it, The Doors can’t do it, but THE VELVET UNDERGROUND can, and have. Tom Lappin questions the wisdom of the Velvets’ reunion, and suggests they might be best remembered frozen in
n the most freakish symptom of the mass retrophilia permeating all aspects of popular music, The Velvet Underground perform at Edinburgh Playhouse on 1 and 2 June. The most innovative, inﬂuential and nihilistic (and that was just their dress sense) rock band in history have chosen to make their first appearance in the UK in the guise of three greying guys in their ﬁfties backed up by a 48-year-old housewife and mother on drums. It’s the sort of event Douglas Coupland, guru of the twentysomethings would describe as Legislated Nostalgia — forcing a body of people to have memories they don’t actually possess. It’s either extremely funny in a poignant and ironic sort of way or a particularly pathetic case of menopausal hipsters trying to claw back a bit of the cash they were cheated out of at the time. Which?
Lou Reed: ‘OK, so i was skint. 60-minute song cycles about cancer don’t exactly set the cash register ringin’ but I knew the Euros are suckers for a touch of nihilistic art-rock, so I got the band together again.’
Sterling Morrison: ‘Hell, anything beats doing the Gulf of Mexico ferry trip again, and Lou promised he’d give me some of the takings this time . . .’
Mo Tucker: ‘Well the kids were all grown up,
time — spring 1967 to be precise...
‘The Velvet Underground were two parts perverted sex, three parts substance abuse with a healthy dash of atonal art- nolse and a smidgeon oi subversive sweetness. Not the sort of thing you can dish up with any confidence when you’re a couple of years away from the slippers and zimmer frame . . .’
and l’ve always wanted to see Paris, and let’s face it, no one else could get that crappy drum sound could they . . ?’
John Cale: ‘Well it was either this or back down the pit . . .’
Well OK that’s not what they said, but real explanations of the reunion are fairly thin on the ground. Reed says ‘Every 25 years or so, John Cale and I do a project or two. It’s also a good way to get Sterling off his tugboat in Texas!’ Tucker offers less than expansively. ‘We’ve found out how much fun it is to play together again and thought, why not?’ Cale says ‘Lou’s turning up his guitar and wailing again’, with the implicit suggestion that the last 23 years were all a bad dream.
What’s so unnerving about the reunion is that it seems the utter antithesis of what The Velvet
Underground were all about. If we’re going to be constantly fed the leftovers of the 605, let’s at least get the recipe right. And The Velvet Underground were two parts perverted sex, three parts substance abuse with a healthy dash of atonal art-noise and a smidgeon of subversive sweetness. Not the sort of thing you can dish up with any confidence when you’re a couple of years away from the slippers and zimmer frame . . .
(Dissolve to 1967)
People didn’t appreciate it at the time, but The Velvet Underground’s debut album, released in March of that year was to prove a significant watershed in the way people approached popular music (and to be substantially more inﬂuential than an overrated confection released by a Scouse four-piece the same year).
From the peel-off banana on the cover to the final fading screech of ‘European Son’, the Velvets’ first LP was to prove the blueprint for the future of white boy rock. although it sold about 40 copies at the time and took the best part of a decade to seep out into the subculture.
Lou Reed, a literature graduate turned bubblegum pop writer, Sterling Morrison, Reed’s old college chum with a greater aptitude for Chaucer than Chuck Berry, John Cale. a Welsh classical music scholar with a Celtic
5 The List 21 May—3 June l993