Sunday, December 27, 2009


if i hadn't been a reader, i wouldn't have become a music geek. i remember with extreme specificity the scribes/scrawl that got me interested in certain artists. with the who, it was an excerpt from lillian roxon's rock encyclopedia that ran in one of those scholastic magazines they gave away at school when i was in sixth grade. the move and small faces: nik cohn in rock from the beginning and john mendelsohn in rolling stone. the rationals and src: john sinclair in jazz & pop. lou reed and the velvet underground: st. lester in creem -- specifically, a dual review of uncle lou's self-titled debut solo album and the velvets' legit-bootleg live at max's kansas city.

that was my freshman year of high school, around the time my dad spent two years in germany on a fellowship and i ran wild, grew hair down to my ass, and would steal his liquor while blasting my records on the good stereo in the living room. (i have no idea where my mother was while i was doing this.) when i started working in the hipi record store in my town when i was 16, i copped both lou reed and live at max's from the used bin for about a buck a hit. max's introduced me to the fascinating world of lo-fi audience recordings, while lou's solo debut remains a fave to this day, especially the second ("wild child") side, in spite of richard robinson's thin production and the presence of musicians from yes.

i got the velvet underground and nico, accompanied by the requisite amount of shit from the older guys i worked with, who laughed at me for liking the stooges, mc5, flamin' groovies, and nuggets, while their own musical tastes ran more towards yes and dan fogelberg. to them, the velvets were "fag stuff," indicative of how reactionary and homophobic 20something "hip" guys were back in '73.

"venus and furs" and "heroin" sounded shocking, blasting out of the speakers in my mother's living room, and now they just sound classic, but the vu record that really got to me was loaded, which in some ways was their weakest (geoffrey haslam of mc5 high time fame could make anything sound cloudy; doug yule, egged on by the manager, kept overdubbing instruments; you could almost hear the wheels coming off the cart) but still had a ton of good songs besides "sweet jane" and "rock and roll": the beautiful, mysterious "new age;" "head held high," the velvets' rawkin'-est moment (in spite of the shitty lawn guyland bar band drums); "i found a reason" (i memorized the talking part, which i'd recite for donald harrison in the back of english class).

i never really got white light/white heat, partially because it was at the center of one of the worst experiences i ever had on psychedelics, in my parents' living room, winter of '73. my best bud from middle school, who'd moved upstate the summer before eighth grade, had turned me on to pot and acid and was visiting over the holidays. i decided that since we were in my house, we'd listen to music of my choosing to accompany our trip, rather than stacking up all of the doors albums (absolutely live excepted; you've got to have _some_ standards) and dark side of the moon, as was his wont. when the grinding industrial background to "the gift" started, i started getting chills and by the time cale's droning voice was into lou's narrative (about a guy who mails himself to his girlfriend and winds up dying a grisly death), i was seeing skulls on the stairs.

more to the point, i thought the groundbreaking jams on the second side were boring. i didn't get tony glover's assertion (in rolling stone) that lou was "america's most advanced lead guitarist" (pretty astute observation for a blues guy). at the time, i dug steve hunter's slick licks on mitch ryder's detroit cover of "rock and roll" and the rock and roll animal version of "sweet jane" more than anything uncle lou was laying down on wl/wh. only in the fullness of time was i able to grasp the ron asheton connection, and the fact that lou was trying to do ornette and ayler on guitar, in the same way as sonny sharrock was trying to do trane with his chaos-slide.

the third, self-titled album was my least favorite to start but wound up being the one i reach for most frequently today. i think the story about them losing their effects boxes is bunk; lou's "what goes on" solo is all fuzztone. i do think he was getting more into the craft of songwriting, shifting his concerns from the archetypal to the personal. that's the side of lou's writing that still resonates the most for me -- the human-scale one that recurs on berlin and legendary hearts and magic and loss.


Post a Comment

<< Home