Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Powell's Review: "All Yesterdays' Parties"

There is a review of the new book about Velvet Underground at (why not buy a book while you're there?). Here it is:

Nowadays all the little rock bands in downtown New York want to sound like the Velvet Underground. But way back in 1965, Lou Reed and John Cale and Sterling Morrison were the strange unknowns, sharing an unheated apartment on Ludlow Street next to the unheated apartment of a drummer who wouldn't take money for performing. All Yesterdays' Parties, a collection of writings on the Velvet Underground from their first performances in 1966 until Reed left the group in 1971, gives a sense of the band before they were imitation-worthy legends. There is the first bemused, Andy Warhol-related coverage in the New York Times, which described the Velvets' sound as "a combination of rock 'n' roll and Egyptian belly-dance music." There are the irritated reviews of Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which combined the Velvets with Nico, a light show, and the whip dance of Factory regular Gerard Malanga ("most of the audience… was bored—and on the verge of heat prostration"). And, soon enough, there are the worshipful pieces in the counterculture press, most of which agree that the Velvet Underground were smarter, darker, and more musically bold than any of their pop contemporaries.

All Yesterdays' Parties (edited and with an introduction by Clinton Heylin, the author of biographies of Dylan and Van Morrison), can be repetitive, and some of the contemporary coverage has, already, the watered-down sound of hearsay. But taken together, these pieces give a far more spirited (and more geeked out) account of the group than any traditional history could. Plus, they encourage you to imagine how, once upon a time, "Lou Reed, hand on hip, hand waving, head nodding with a little sneer, [made] Jagger look like Val Doonican."
I don't know why that have to stick it to Val Doonican like that.

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