There are some bands that are just meant for you, some albums that seem to be made to measure, fitted and nipped and tucked until they are a soft suit that you can fall into, they feel like a second skin. The Velvet Underground. Lou Reed. John Cale. Sterling Morrison. Mo Tucker…and later Doug Yule. It is so easy to be mean to Doug – Lou surely was, but the fact is Loaded and The Velvet Underground album of 1969 are the epitome of cool, the height of gorgeousness, closet mixes and vinyl rips. Lou’s off the wall lyrics, Doug moderating the experimental edge whilst not obliterating it, Mo’s sensitive stripped-down-drumkit percussion…it is still the Velvet Underground, but it’s the Velvets with some mellow, some fluff, with some musical and lyrical edges buffered to something less sharp, and dare I say enjoyable.
The eponymous Velvets album is a cotton wool padded, twisted lyrically, sympathetic and loving whilst still holding onto some of that noise in the backwards recordings of murder mystery, taking us into a trippy short story of backwards reverb and onto a tour of the backrooms and factory tombs of Warhol’s Factory life. Candy hates her body and all it requires in this world, while Lou’s married lover is his best friend. What Goes On in Your Mind’s jangling soupy mix brings the noisy feedback driven guitars and noise to the front, just in case you forget who you are listening to, before the cool hip surfboard twang of Some Kinda Love, Lou intoning “Put jelly on your shoulder, let us do what you fear most” wagging his finger and insisting that no kinds of love are better than others was the coolest thing I had ever heard at the age of 17, and at this other end of life, still is. The waver in Lou’s voice, the jangle of the guitars, the ambling beat: there is nothing more perfect than this. Jesus is intense as it should be, a prayer to the dying, I don’t know and I don’t much care, but lets face it there is nothing more shocking than Lou Reed singing “help me in my weakness because I’m falling out of grace.” I don’t think there has ever been an addict that hasn’t been on their knees crying for help in their moment of weakness and fear. After all, Boys and Girls, isn’t that meant to be the point of it all? Grace?
The story carries on with I’m Beginning to See the Light, “some people work very hard, but still they never get it right.” Hey Lou, that’s ok right? Lou was my compass, my guiding light, a fellow lost soul in a lost world, trying to make sense of it all. It was Lou who was telling me it was ok to be who I was, how I was. If only the rest of society hadn’t tried to put me in a box, then life might all have been all roses and Velvets albums. The trilogy of songs within the album finishes out with a frazzled croaky, raspy Lou singing about The Story of My Life, telling us that Billy (Name) had said that wrong and right were dead, and we just have to carry on anyhow, anyway, stumbling with one hand waving free into Murder Mysteries and After Hours parties with their wine glasses left out, and Mo’s sweet voice taking us to streets and closed doors and nights that never end. This whole album is a neverending ode to “I wish it could happen to me!” This is an album that knows T.S. Elliot’s fog that leads you to the overwhelming question that hangs on the lips of people visiting, and straining to hear those words from a further room. It is the big secret that you are not let into, and barely know the questions to ask to find out anyhow. The Velvet Underground is an elegy to everything you “had but couldn’t keep.” Pale Blue Eyes is about the most tender Lou Reed every got, and he doesn’t blow it. The beauty of that single song is worth the admission price of the entire album. “But it’s truly truly a sin,” sings Lou sofrtly into the microphone. Listen to Billy Name, Lou! None of it is sin, not your darling Rachel, not the boys in the backrooms or the girls you covet, not the drugs nor the parties, none of it is a sin. I remember tears falling from my eyes onto the paper I was working on, ink bleeding (yeah yeah..I am that old..I wrote dissertations in pen), crying at how my own perception of sin, my love for J and my insistence at hiding it hurt her so very badly. There’s the sin, I think now…there is the sin that people didn’t just leave us be and let us love each other, and kiss in public and hold hands and sing love songs. I love Lou Reed. Lou is my High Priest.
In later years this album became doing fifty down the highway in Oregon, dappled sunlight and the sounds of the waves crashing by the 101, my still family intact, tears running down my face as I sing “these days…these days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do.”
I’ve been out rambling, but I always return to the Velvets, to Candy and Billy Name, and Lou and Mo, before the world got meaner, smaller and harsher, before I threw a dream down a highway and lost it somewhere out there on the 101: please don’t confront me with my failures, I sing along with Nico, the track tacked onto the end of my ripped recording, I have not forgotten them.