Velvet reflections

Sterling Morrison, the late guitarist for the Velvet Underground (far left), may be the most famous person I ever almost sort of knew. We both taught literature at the University of Texas at Austin but as has been the general case with this intrepid interviewer whenever I've met an idol I've really obsessively followed for years (Pete Townshend, Don DeLillo), I am reduced to pathetic adolescence, having nothing to say, knowing the answers he's given to a million questions already or not wanting to bother the oracle with my bizarrely picayune points. In fact, I deliberately flubbed my one chance to go out for drinks with Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson.

So when we met in the halls, Sterling and I talked about medieval lit (his specialty).

Later, when I'd left academia and was writing about rock music and film, I met Morrison at a party and was flattered that he remembered me and had read some things I'd written. Or so he said, I didn't inquire too closely, figuring he actually mistook me for someone else. At any rate, with both of us now feeling more at ease, having trashed the UT English department (and having had several beers), I divulged my profound interpretation of "All Tomorrow's Parties" (which mercifully, I no longer remember, but it had something to do with Cinderella and myth theory).

No go. Morrison told me the song was about an impoverished drag queen crying over the fact that he can't afford any new clothes. He'll have to make do with the same old tatty gowns -- for which he'll be thoroughly snubbed, his life is over. Hence, the title.

And, of course, to anyone paying attention, that's obviously what it's about.

So there's a new bio of the Velvet Underground, and Mike Greif has some fun with it in the London Review of Books

March 15, 2007 5:41 PM | | Comments (4)



I particularly loved the bit where Greif says that the difference between the VU's brand of psychedelia and that of the GD is that the VU actually wanted to inflict pain.

I thought the whole article was fantastic. Gave me lots to chew on that I hadn't thought about before.

I initially scoffed at the entire, ridiculous comparison between the Dead and the Velvets -- a typical Brit crit imposing an idea on indigenous American phenomenon that actually makes little sense to any young American alive at the time. (Grief isn't British, but hey, it's the LRB.) The Velvets just hated California, hated the entire hippie-love-child scene. Their black-leather-and-kink-and-downer New York cool just bombed when they played there, and the notion that the Dead with their downhome, sweet-natured, trippy, folk-bluegrass sound would have any serious overlap with the Velvet's cynical, urban-paranoia-squalor and avant-garde assault and drone seems laughable to any knowledgeable listener even today.

But it's the payoffs, the provocations, that make the comparison rewarding. I'm still thinking about some of the illuminating things Greif writes about.

Thanks for writing.

Thanks for the link to the superb article. The comparison between The Velvet Underground and The Grateful Dead is a must read for all serious fans of either band.

This is a great blog. I limit myself to only two blogs a day, and this one has just replaced TEV, at least for now. Thanks for the great commentary and personality.


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