Monday, 28 October 2013
despite all the amputations
The Smiths were a band who, from the age of 11 to 16, meant the world to me. To this day, when I listen to 'How Soon Is Now?', I'm immediately transported back to my bedroom in my parents' house - picture this: I'm a borderline pretentious brat and I'm revising for my English Mock Exams.
There has never been and will never be a band who meant - and continue to mean - so much to me as The Smiths did then. Despite the amount of guff that Morrissey continues to spout.
However, my favourite band of all time is The Velvet Underground.
Over the course of their four officially released albums, they expanded the vocabulary of rock music - literally changing the sorts of things that rock bands could talk about, and sonically, changing the musical tools they could use to say it. From baroque art-pop to rabid bludgeoning noise to inner-city portrait chamber poetry to perfect rock-pop songs in four albums.
Plus they wrote the book on how a cool band should look.
But I think the main thing they brought to the party was, they were the first rock band to say NO.
I was talking to my wife about the story that when they first started, they had a regular gig in a New York coffee shop. The manager of the place told them that if they ever played The Black Angel's Death Song again, they would be fired on the spot.
So they did (an extended version at that). And they were.
My wife said, 'but what did the manager expect, saying that to a band?'
The thing is, before the Velvets, rock bands were grateful to be there and they said 'yes'.
I love the Beatles, but they were nice company guys you could take home to meet your mum, even with the drugs and the hair. And probably because they went to the right schools, even the Rolling Stones were viewed as naughty little boys at the height of their drugs-bust infamy.
The Velvets and Lou Reed were legendarily ungrateful, contrarian and curmudgeonly, and the POWER of young people being ungrateful and demanding the stage, saying NO as soon as F*CK YOU, led (directly and indirectly) into all the great musical genres which have followed.
And don't think that NO is necessarily a depressing or difficult word - Lou Reed and the Velvets' "no" was a positive and powerful statement of intent, it was a question as well as a rejoinder, a position of power.
An opening-up of options rather than a closing-down of negotiations.
Lou Reed has died at the age of 71. He's kind of been the poster boy for grumpy old musicians in recent years, and I still can't get my head around the album with Metallica.
But maybe that's my problem - to be his age and still be questing for a new expression of the art he saw and heard in his head - that's something we should be so lucky to aim for.
RIP Lou Reed
2 March 1942 – 27 October 2013
back to more health-related navel-gazing soon!