Ultimate Feedback: The Velvet Underground as the most underrated band ever and Lou Reed as guitarist

reedin the last days among the many obituaries commemorating lou’s passing two comments stuck out as a sore thumb. they are just the top of the iceberg of a revisionistic theory more common than you would believe. the first, coming via FB from the controversial max stefani, editor of countless italian music magazines, is that the velvet underground were the most overrated band ever. The second, ailed as a gossip by an other famous italian rock critic, giancarlo trombetti, is that lou was such as inept as guitar player that he had someone to teach his own songs. Well, you can answer to that nonsense in two ways. First, using the same verbal abuse they’re infamous for. SECOND, you can show them they do not actually know what they are talking about, and that’s what TODAY i am here for.

The velvet underground have patently BEEN  the most underrated band ever. still today, 43 years after they disbanded. Largely ignored from the estabilished music press (rolling stone made a point of panning them everytime they could), pratically banned in their own hometurf, new york city, they drew consistent crowds only in the 2-3 strongholds they had on the east coast. they were pariahs, they were punks. no one wanted to touch them, commercially speaking. and this is proved by a vast literature. if you think things went differently, well, write it down, show your documentation and get it peer reviewed.

Lou reed, along with jimi hendrix, jim mcguinn and bo diddley, is the most influential rock guitarist ever. period. here an account of lou as guitarist hosted by the arch-druid julian cope on his wonderful website head heritage:

I don’t consider myself a guitarist, but since I really like to play guitar, I can consider myself a guitar player, someone who plays with the guitar, I like its sound, I like it to sound awkward, not like your typical guitar sounds, that’s why people like Keith Rowe, Sonny Sharrock, Keiji Haino and Derek Bailey are so important to me, because they saw guitar technique as just the beginning of how far the guitar sound could be taken.
Let me add one more name, Lou Reed, Lou in his time with the legendary Velvet Underground did more for changing the face of rock guitar than many others, Lou´s sound was so revolutionary, I read in an interview that Lou wanted to sound like Ornette Coleman, he wanted his guitar to sound like a free jazz sax, he overloaded the sound with volume and effects in order to make it sound like a sax, I Heard Her Call My Name is an instant classic of guitar fire, few rock n roll moments have that intensity on guitar, Lou was nearly reaching free jazz heaven from a rock n roll base.
But the Velvet underground, was more than Lou´s guitar, there was Sterling Morrison’s distinctive guitar playing, a righteous cross between jangle guitar and krautish monotony, Sterling guitar playing was nearly metronomic in the Velvets dynamics, minimal in its pyrotechnics, but vital in its propulsive rhythms, and talking about rhythms you had Maureen Tucker, known for her minimal kick-snare beats, so influential to future garage rockers, punks and hardcore crowds.
On top of that you had Lou and John Cale´s fiery duos, or duels, either way they set any place on fire, or emptied the rooms, Cale was a sound terrorist either on bass, keyboards or his insanely played viola, Cale knew exactly what he was doing, setting noise on a pop context, giving his raspy viola sound to the VU´s tender ballads or their galloping rockers.
But The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes makes little justice to the Velvet as a group, it was made by putting a recording device inside Lou´s amp, so what we got basically here is the sound of Lou´s incendiary leads, accompanied backed very far by the rest of the group, don´t dismay, as the songs sound just as you know them, except vocals and certain details are left behind (you can use it as the VU´s karaoke-tape), here you have the unique chance to listen to a guitar player who stood ahead of its time, who applied free jazz improvisational techniques on a rock format, a player who wasn’t afraid of going all the way and applied Ornette Coleman harmolodics to his guitar technique.
Lou´s guitar style was so unique, with the rock n roll fire of Chuck Berry, the perception of the guitar as a universal sound tool of Roger McGuinn and the eternal influence of the aforementioned Coleman, little understood in his own time, “noise” and “incompetent” tags added by contemporaries were simply crushed when Lou´s influence grew enormous with the passing of time, as the punks adopted the VU´s as sonic fathers in the 70s, the new wavers even adopted the Velvets as ideology source (and even The Cars´ Rick Ocasek stole Lou´s image), and the “alternative” rockers of the 90s and 00´s adopted the band as icons (just ask the Strokes or The Killers, who simply are redoing the VU´s old tight avant pop)

In case you still think Lou is and old guy irrelevant to rock today, this is the place for you to start, but if you think Lou is irrelevant, you shouldn´t be here in the first place”

Lou-Reed guitar

but judge by yourself downloading the great legendary guitar amp tapes and crackin’ it real loud….

Annunci

Tonight I Said Goodbye to a Friend

lou

Still shocked for the news of lou reed’s passing, it’s time for me to commemorate the pure genius of The last of the true innovators of the 20th century as well as picasso, le corbusier, miles davis and few others. 

I CAN’T SUM UP HOW HIS MUSIC INFLUENCED MY LIFE AND MY WORK: HIS SONGS EXPLORED ALL THE SHADES OF HUMAN LIFE, SHOWING COMPASSION AND COMPREHENSION EVEN FOR ITS LOWEST ASPECTS.

I saw him many times live, even in the cross-starred reunion of the velvet underground. The last time was in 2006 in naples: in a bold move he didn’t played the hits but boy he did play guitar in his fierce, “take no prisoners”, uncompromissory style…Wow, what a musician!

here it is an acetate version of one of his masterpiece, Berlin: different mix, different songlist, different takes.

Thank you, Lou.

The Gospel according to Sterling Morrison

In the booklet of the wondeful velvet underground bootleg box set  “caught between the twisted stars” I recently found out an interesting interview of the late great sterling morrison.

Sterling+Morrison+sterling

There’s the most significant, concise, to the point definition of r’n’r I’ve ever heard. Here’s what this blog is foundamentally about…

 Interviewer: “What do you think of current music?”

Sterling: “maybe i’m trapped by certain beliefs, but in early ’60s, you went one of two ways. Either you were a very sensitive young person, who cared about air pollution or civil rights and anti-vietnam or you were a very unsensitive young person, who didn’t care about civil rights because all the blacks he knew were playing in his band or in his audience. I was a very unsensitive young person and played very unsensitive, uncaring music. Which is Wham, bang, pow, Let’s rock out! What I expected my audience to do was tear the house down, beat me up, whatever…

In the ’60’s I was a biker type and I hung around with nasty black people and nasty white people and I played nasty white and black r’n’r music. On the other hand, you had very sensitive and responsible young people suddenly attuned to certain cosmic questions that beckon us all, and expressing these concerns through acoustic guitars, lilting harmonies and pale melodies. I hate these people”.

Interviewer: “What do you think of the future of r’n’r?”

Sterling: “Whatever’s being played in garage bands today! What does a garage band do with ELO? ELO doesn’t exist. What they do with Fleetwood Mac? Nothing!. Look a the recent issue of Rolling Stone: “You’re rocking, but did you ever sit down, jack, and listen to the lyrics?” Well, no, JacK. I never sit down and listen to the lyrics, because rock’n’roll is not sit-down-and-listen-to-the-lyrics music! why is that the Velvet Underground’s celebrated lyric-smiths never published a lyric sheet? Was that to strain to make you hear the lyrics that you could never hear? no. It’s because they were saying “Fuck you”. If you wanna listen to lyrics, then read the NY Times”  

INterviewer:  “Why do you dislike progressive music, music with a content?”

Sterling: “Anybody who needs Bob Dylan to tell him which way the wind is blowing is a serious mental defective. See, I go back. how well can you hear the words in a r’n’r song? Listen to the r’n’r records. The words are mixed so far back -they are non-important. And as musician i do my best to drown them out! If you’re going to rock music to learn something verbally rather than physically or viscerally, then you’re in a sad shape babe…. Foundamentally i hate music you can’t dance to….”

The first Velvet Underground Reunion

The 1993 V.U. reunion was a mixed affair. ill-starred from the start, mainly because of ego clashes between lou and john. Maureen and sterling stayed in between and were crushed.

The best moments were the ones where mistrust and hate among them were palpable and they tried to upstage one another. The worst the ones lou impersonated the stadium rockstar persona, unsuitable for the V.U. cult status.

Much better was the nearest-to-a-reunion gig happened 21 years before. Just lou, john, and a heroin strung-out nico. A one off show at le bataclan, paris, january 1972

uncomplete video:

here the complete audio (+rehersals)