Monday, October 28, 2013


We'll phrase in the hypothetical and make it fiction. They were Los Angeles college students open to everything the world had to offer in the late 1960s. They prided themselves on their knowledge of music outside the purview of pop culture touchstones, alternative then being known as Underground, and their freewheeling mixed gender adventures, although the latter posed a problem right after the Manson family murders.  The Hotel Del Coronado staff, disturbed at the sight of two hippie-looking gals accompanying one guy pursued them around the premises. Selfsame alleged murderous hippies remembered all the cliches of chase films, split up, ran in separate directions and eluded them. All they had wanted to do was see the famous Del Coronado Hotel, star of "Some Like It Hot" and inspiration for the original illustrations of the Emerald City in the first Wizard of Oz book, in person. So it was not entirely abnormal for them to try psychedelics to augment their spirit of adventuring.

This time was different. According to one, she woke up in Arizona, meaning that all three of them must have completed all the mundane protocols of getting to a major airport hub, purchasing tickets, getting on a commercial airliner and flying to a destination unknown to two of the three. When awakened, she had a baby Rottweiler puppy identified as "Bear" lying atop to her infinite delight, and her girlfriend, the more wholesome looking of the two was yelping at the top of her lungs, "Suck suck sucking on my dingdong...I'm searching for my know he couldn't hit it sideways...he aims it at the sailor...who just got in from Carolina...oh no you shouldn't do that...doncha know you'll stain the carpet...whip it on me Jim, whip it on me Jim!" 

Rottweiler puppy cradler's admiration for the more wholesome of the two instantly skyrocketed. She was of course singing choice excerpts from "Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground, from their 1968 White Light White Heat Lp. This made them all part of a knowing elite of true wild music afficionados, those of the 58,476 original buyers of the first V.U. Lp (according to accounting of their record label Verve, a subsidiary of MGM) and perhaps less for second Lp White Light White Heat.  "Sister Ray" had chordal and rhythmic similarities to Eddie Harris' "Listen Here," an improbable jazz crossover hit of the same era, but there the similarities ended. It was seventeen minutes of pounding, celebratory, improvisational rocknoise showcasing some weird, proto-rap/singsongy, debauched tale of gay heroin users who veered even farther out in their trips than did the commercial airline travellers on acid. 

"Sister Ray" and the canon of the Velvet Underground--ah, the soundtrack of everyone of a certain age's misspent youth. Context is everything in the business of ground-breaking. The Velvets incapsulated the power of minimalism done right, the shock of the new.  Why was Hokusai praised when his "Wave" print is just a cartoon? Why was Chuck Berry praised when he didn't even use a big band? Why was Monet praised when it's just mushyslushy lack of attention to realistic minutiae? Why does the three chord fury of four young musicians of otherwise disparate pedigrees droning about narcotics and deviance with guitars, drums, violas, organ and bass from the mid-1960s still resonate? It just inexplicably does, like the most timeless of all great art.

 "Sister Ray" was composed by John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed. This last songwriter's ongoing music career lasted for the next 48 years (as did the classically trained Cale's, and drummer Tucker's. Morrison returned to academia.)  He resigned himself to the acceptance of being a working cult hero with its eventual attendant popularity. He'd found happiness married to avant garde musician Laurie Anderson, but had a liver transplant this last May.  As he wrote in his song Street Hassle "it's called bad luck." Lou Reed died today Oct. 27, 2013.

The following is offered from the nonfictional me, published Feb. 8, 1973, a maelstrom of turgid pretentiousness, which is everything Lou Reed was not. But it did show I cared. 


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