November 28, Westford, MA: I know the Velvet Underground in many contexts. When I was a teenager, I remember seeing the iconic big banana on a boxed set in a glass cabinet in my favorite record store. I don’t recall why (maybe because I hate bananas) but I wrote it off as silly music. Something I would never get into. The Velvet Underground turned out to be another of those many abject lessons in just how wrong I’d been in my youthful assumptions.
I suspect Dominic was the first to introduce me to the Velvet Underground; it’s with him that I have my first and strongest memory. One night, in his big boat of a Cadillac with the red leather seats, he put on “Sister Ray” and I put on my seat belt and we drove madcap to the ocean under the streetlights of Adams Boulevard for seventeen straight minutes.
Starting with that experience of “Sister Ray”, the Velvet Underground has always been a driving soundtrack for me. Particularly the self-titled Velvet Underground and Loaded, with their country-infused-rolling-rock. “Some Kinda Love” and “Beginning to See the Light” are my hands on the wheel. And always “Sister Ray” is my foot on the accelerator. It’s three o’ clock in the morning deep in West Texas, fighting desperately to stay awake and make New Mexico by dawn. It’s careening down the steep grade of Interstate 10 into Los Angeles County from the east, lightly tapping the gas when momentum itself isn’t enough.
There’s so much more to the Velvet Underground than that, of course. “Heroin” is such an incredible masterpiece of a song. And “Sweet Jane” is possibly the best song of all time. Which is always the thought you have in mind as you slide into “Rock n Roll”, which is a close competitor for the title. I love the Mo Tucker-voiced “After Hours” and “I’m Sticking With You”. Even the Nico classics and the little bit of John Cale that sneaks in from time to time. The whole of the discography is incredible. And more incredible are the directly derivative works that spin from those handful of albums: John Cale’s “Paris 1919″ and the Modern Lovers and Jonathan Richman and of course, Lou Reed’s Transformer.
But it will always be two hands on the wheel and a foot on the gas for me and the Velvet Underground. A car pointed west and “Sister Ray” at full blast. “Oh man, I haven’t got the time-time.” I’ve always got seventeen minutes for you, Velvet Underground.
Maybe you should go buy that funny Velvet Underground boxed set with the fuzzy Warhol banana.