The Velvet Underground
Though The Velvet Underground existed for less than three years with its original members, it is considered to be not just the ‘ultimate New York band’ but also the most influential group ever. Artists who have acknowledged such influence include David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, Joy Division and Nirvana.
Witts places the band and its genesis in the cultural context of Manhattan’s beatnik bohemianism, its radical artistic environment, and the city’s negative reaction to California’s ‘Hippie’ counterculture. Lou Reed’s song factory background is also considered, while his Primitives (1964-5) and Velvet Underground songs (1965-70) are examined within the stylistic context of rock music. The band’s sound world is likewise considered in this light. John Cale’s experimental contribution is assessed, especially his work for LaMonte Young (The Theatre of Eternal Music) and what he carried from that experience into the Velvet’s sound.
The visual artist Andy Warhol became the band’s manager and producer in 1965. He placed his ‘superstar’ Nico in the line-up (which already included a female drummer). The radical nature of the group’s Warhol period performances are examined, together with those aspects related to issues of gender, sexuality and drugs culture by which the Warhol Factory scene was identified, and contemplated in Reed’s songs.
Witts examines the musical influences of the Velvets on punk, post-punk and subsequent rock movements, culminating in the group’s reunion of 1993. He also indexes the variety of media constructions that the group endured through the years and how these affected Cale, Nico and Reed and their attempts to establish solo careers.
Published: Sep 1, 2006
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|The band||Richard Witts|
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|Death and Transfiguration||Richard Witts|
|Bibliography of The Velvet Underground||Richard Witts|
'...they are not an easy act to place in the history of popular music. Nor it is easy to identify the band as a unit, since members came and went."The Velvet Underground", Witt says outright, "has always been a bit of a mess." These liabilities are all somehow turned to strengths in Witt's little marvel of a book. I began with suspicion, but it won me over completely: it is careful, funny, refreshing, usefully revisionist about the Velvets, and a corrective to all sorts of illnesses in the genre. ...he manages to defamiliarise the band and its career, while communicating all the necessary information. This is the true double task of the pop critic-historian, and Witts goes to creative, sometimes even comic lengths to accomplish it.'
Mark Greif, London Review of Books
'Academic books on popular subjects can be impenetrable balderdash but this one isn't. The general reader ... should be pretty satisfied. Above all it sends you back to the music.'
Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian