Damn. That’s all I got. One of the greats.
It was back in the early or maybe mid- 1980s when the Velvet Underground albums were reissued for the first time since their original release in the very late 60s and 1970. I’m not certain but I think I read about this momentous news in Rolling Stone and that it was a really big deal, that all the real music aficionados had been holding on to almost totally played out originals for 15 years or more. But they were coming. And soon.
Before that I don’t think I’d ever heard of them. So I made a point to see if they had them at Rhino Records, in Claremont, California, the real alt record store near where I lived. Not yet, but soon. I saved my money and bought each one. This was when I was maybe 14, 15, or 16 years of age. I don’t remember. My vinyls are long since lost into the labyrinth of my undergraduate university storage system along with the electric guitar I tried to make sense of some of the songs with. But they were, as I’m sure they were for many of you, a complete revelation.
It wasn’t just that the music was spectacular – a mix of acidy punk, folk, singy-songy songs and endless explorations that in some cases even I found impenetrable – but that they were completely unexpected, as though you’d discovered that Exile on Main Street had actually been released in 1942 as opposed to 1972. They had songs like White Light/White Heat or I’m Waiting for the Man or Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, the last of which I’m not even sure I can describe in genre terms, though a bit easier to make sense of as a product of the mid-late 60s. But ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ was really released in 1967? Or even more that ‘White Light/White Heat’ was recorded in 1967. Really? It just seemed too amazing to believe. Where did this stuff come from?
It reminds me now of the way that Robert Johnson’s recordings basically weren’t available anywhere until 1961 or 1962 when they were resurrected and released by John Hammond, despite the fact that Johnson had died in 1938. (If you’ve got a digital copy of Dylan’s Chronicles Vol.1, search it for ‘Hammond’ ‘Robert Johnson’ … amazing vignette.)
This music is now, happily, ubiquitous. So I don’t think there’s any point telling anyone to pick them up – or download them, as we do now. But it was all a revelation for me as a teenager 30 years ago, maybe even more so because it was like find a hidden treasure that nobody else – at least not much of anybody in my high school set seemed to know about.
Lou Reed, one of the greats. Rest in peace or maybe more like rest in acid chords.
[We’re discussing Lou Reed now in this thread at The Hive (sub.req.)]