This blog’s been going for a little over a year and a half now and after 48 posts, we have finally arrived at the advent of the Velvet Underground. That moves us into a new phase and there will be a bit of a hiatus while I do some research.
Recently I walked into Pegasus Books in Berkeley and there on the shelf was a brand-new Lou Reed biography, King of New York by Will Hermes. My first reaction, I must admit, was to sigh — not another one. But I guess I’ll have to get it; the excerpt in the Times was great, and I’d hate to miss something.
Also by way of preparation, I got myself a copy of the 1963 paperback that supplied the band name. Just the cover of this thing is a piece of work:
The title page says this:
HE MAY BE THE MAN NEXT DOOR
…she may be the woman who sits beside you in church. Every-day people, leading every-day lives. You know them well. You’d say “Impossible!” if you were told that they also inhabit another world, one so ugly and evil that its existence must be a carefully guarded secret.
This is the “velvet underground,” where every possible sexual depravity is practiced. It is the nightmare meeting-place of the sado-masochist, the wife/husband swappers and the seekers after unspeakable pornography… to mention only a few.
On these pages, the full facts are revealed. You will be astounded by the numbers of participants involved. But most of all you will be stunned by their identities. You know them so well… the man next door… the nice lady down the street….
Legend has it that Reed and Cale happened across a copy of The Velvet Underground that Tony Conrad — John Cale roommate and ex-Primitive — had picked up off the street. (There is some dispute over whether this is exactly how it went down, but, you know… print the legend.) They knew a good band name when they saw it.
According to Anthony DeCurtis’s Lou Reed: A Life:
The title appealed to the band because the term “underground” was already being used to describe the experimental film scene taking shape in downtown New York…. That Reed, who actually read the book, was fascinated, both personally and as a songwriter, with what would at the time have been termed sexual deviance only made the reference, obscure as it would have been to most people, all the more fitting.
Given all that, I have to at least start The Velvet Underground; how could I not? Whether I’ll finish it who knows. I’ll report back in when the time is ripe.