Reflect What You Are

I wish I was everything he is reflected right back, but I am the antithesis of all that he is.

He is light, and he is beauty.

All those Halloween pieces of work I made? They were just bits of fun. Meaningless guff! He’s not the devil, or DraKERRla, a fallen angel, or any of that nonsense.

Not an angel fallen – but one with wings to fly. Heaven sent.

Light in the dark.

Air.

Sunshine.

Beauty.

Intelligence.

An inspiration.

Pure joy.

A smile. A laugh. The sun. Radiating beauty….everywhere. But especially in my dark heart.

VU Too

From the makers of Uncut magazine – a WHOLE 124 page special edition on the Velvet Underground, and their individual members. I have only taken a quick glance through it so far – but it looks pretty extensive…and dare I say possibly more insightful than the documentary?

I am still finding myself aghast that with every “Top 10/20 Films Of 2021” list I see, the VU documentary doggedly gets placed ahead of The Sparks Brothers film. The mind boggles!

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying the doc was shite. I’m just saying it wasn’t as good as The Sparks Brothers and in my list of top films for this year, there ain’t no way on earth I am putting the VU doc above The Sparks Brothers doc. No way, no how!

Of course, already the highlight of the whole magazine, before I have even read it, is a piece by Jonathan Richman. The love keeps blossoming, yes! Oh, yes.

Review – The Velvet Underground (Documentary by Todd Haynes)

I think this documentary ended up posing more questions than it answered. 

Firstly, it doesn’t sugarcoat the notion of Lou Reed being….well…actually perhaps they DO sugarcoat it. Because what became obvious was that to label Reed “troubled” is somewhat of an understatement. I actually started to wonder how anyone managed to work with him. Certainly John Cale was finding it difficult towards the end of his part in the Velvet Underground story “if you were nice to him, he only treated you worse”.

The one thing I’d say to Jim after seeing this film is when you say you’re not worthy of tying Lou Reed’s bootlaces – you do yourself a MASSIVE disservice, Jim Kerr. You really do! 

The film starts with a quote from Baudelaire – “Music fathoms the sky.” That immediately had me thinking of Jim for in the New Gold Dream tour program, he’s given the name “Kid Baudelaire” in brackets. Attributed from Adam Sweeting? A nickname the rest of the guys give him? Who knows?

A Warhol film image of Lou Reed appears fairly early on. Just that straight-at-the-lens, nowhere-to-hide portrait shot, the camera rolling for several minutes. A childhood that didn’t sound overly loving, but they talk to his sister Merrill and she makes the counter argument of it being easy to pin all of Lou’s troubles on his childhood and upbringing. 

Several minutes later we move on to a similar half of the screen moving image portrait of John Cale. This is how little I admit to knowing about The Velvet Underground and its individual members – I hear John Cale speak and….he sounds like he usually sounds….with a New York twang. And then, he speaks again and sounds WELSH! Like, a proper Valley boy-o! 

I know! I should know better than this. I should be more knowledgeable. A lot of the time I do feel incredibly ignorant about a lot of things. 

A lot of the film centred towards PRE-VU. Lou and John and how they got into music the way they did, their influences, and how they met and formed The Primitives. 

All of that I found good. Sterling Morrison remains a mystery. Moe Tucker seems a very lovely woman. Doug Yule seemed a very fitting replacement for John Cale. 

It flowed well up to the point we got to when Warhol became involved and Nico joined the group. Then, for me, the documentary became a bit…rushed. It spent a lot of time on the preamble but then not much time on the Velvet Underground itself, once a modicum of success came.

Also, whenever they played Venus In Furs, it was DEAFENING! Venus In Furs was ssooo much louder than anything else within the audio, other Velvet songs, people speaking, etc, etc. It was a real wallop to the ears.

I kind of came away a bit…unfulfilled by the experience. I wanted more and something different. I probably wanted to learn more about Lou Reed than I did. I certainly wanted to learn more about the band than I felt I did. 

What I did learn though (or had confirmed to me) is:

  • The Velvet Underground are definitely punk. They are the TRUE pioneers of punk. Forget the “avant garde” schtick, although that does apply too. They’re punk.
  • John Cale is Welsh (I know! Lol).
  • Lou Reed was a douche canoe (at least at that time) and I honestly don’t know how anyone worked with him.
  • Delmore Schwartz was a massive influence on Reed.
  • Jonathan Richman is a sweetheart, and just about the only person to say something nice about Lou. And it explained why The Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner is ssooo much like Rock ‘n’ Roll to me. (Though it is meant to be a homage to Sister Ray – shows you how familiar I am with Sister Ray!)
  • Nico was a drifter. Lost, trying to find purpose in her life.
  • Warhol gave us “celebrity” and fame for fame’s sake. He’d love Love Island and Big Brother, and probably Gogglebox too.
  • Without Warhol no one outside of NYC would have heard of VU.

So, last night, in bed. Wanting to listen to some music to help me drift off to sleep, did I choose the “Banana Album”? Or White Light/White Heat? Or The Velvet Underground (aka album three)? Or Loaded? 

Nope!

I chose to listen to The Modern Lovers – the original set of recordings from 1972 that were finally released in 1976. 

And to paraphrase words from Roadrunner “I’m in love with Jonathan Richman”. We could all do with keeping that childlike wonder. Oh, man. Even in the documentary – you just want to reach in through the screen and hug him!

In summary of the Velvet Underground documentary. Did I enjoy it? To a degree. Did I find it insightful? Again, to a degree. Did I enjoy it as much as the previous music documentary I saw (The Sparks Brothers)? Naw.

If I was to give it a mark out of 10 – where the Sparks Brothers doc gets a firm 10/10. The Velvet Underground documentary gets a 7/10. The best bits were the interviews with John Cale, Moe Tucker, Jonathan Richman and Mary Woronov. 

It wasn’t quite what I had hoped for or anticipated. For one I didn’t expect to come out of a Velvet Underground documentary thinking “Aawww, Jonathan Richman – he’s sssooo sweet!” Lol

Can I recommend it? I guess. If you’re a REAL diehard Velvets fan, it probably isn’t going to give you much more of an insight in all honesty. Novices interested in the band and the period and wanting to know more…you might learn some stuff, but for me personally, it didn’t completely fill the remit.

And so, I shall leave you with this, influence of an influence that leads to an influence. And I love a fade-in!

Punk – A Dirty Word?

Over the past week, I feel the word “punk” has been sullied by a couple of people. One retrospectively. Let me explain:

In a previous post here on the blog, I talked about a letter that John Foxx had shared on his FB page. The letter was from David Bowie to Tony Visconti of a shopping list of new singles and albums DB was keen to get his hands on. Within it he talked about punk and flippantly used the words “pink, peak poak, pan” and then said “Oh, yes. PUNK” in brackets referring to the shop that Visconti may find the records that were on said shopping list. I felt DB’s flippancy was about the stupid labels and pigeonholes we place upon things – but I could be wrong? Perhaps by this time for Bowie “punk” was indeed a dirty word?

The other has been in recent days. A fan on SMOG talking about the influence punk had on early Simple Minds. He seemed to talk about it with much disdain. Saying stuff like “thank God you guys moved away from punk.” I didn’t get involved in it because, well…to each their own what they think about particular genres of music. I thought their ideas and opinions were rather misguided but…it’s not my place to educate anyone on anything. He ruffled enough feathers to even have Jim himself (? It’s a bone of contention, actually. I was led to believe by a certain source that this account *is* genuinely Jim but…I dunno. Who knows? I’m trying to get myself away from all this “hanging on his every word and feeling like my life isn’t worth living if he doesn’t speak to me” bullshit that I keep cycling through endlessly and doing my own fucking head in with!) reply to him.

The guy followed it up with a further post about the hypothesis of what/where/how things would have panned out for SM had they stuck with punk. This was when I came in on things.

For one, punk started much earlier than its deemed apex in 1977. I definitely hear and feel and get a sense of punk from Velvet Underground recordings. Listen to the album with Nico – the Warhol banana covered one. Where is the maestro musicianship on that? Tell me! No one plays THAT well on it. Lou Reed is not exactly the best singer in the world. Nico does that kind of – and there is an actual German word for this that eludes me right now – “speak singing” she does. The only one that sounds like he tries to hold a note when singing is John Cale. The Velvet Underground is DEFINITELY punk. In its truest context. That the music, the story, the telling of the tale is MORE important than the musicianship. Or that…it’s okay not to be perfect, if the message is conveyed right.

Because, Lou might not be the best singer in the world – but he’s a poet and a realist and an orator for the time. And, a damn incredible songwriter. A filter. A channel for the message to be projected through.

Likewise, Nico may not have the voice of an angel, as such – but she certainly conveys emotion and she makes you take notice.

The Stooges were formed in the late sixties. Iggy Pop by much touted definition is deemed the “Godfather of punk.”

The New York Dolls were punk. Well, perhaps straddled punk with aspects of glam. I mean, nobody ever sees Slade as glam in terms of their musical output compared to their wardrobe. Well, for me it’s the same with New York Dolls. To me they are 100% punk. They just didn’t dress punk.

The Ramones – punk all the way. But there is sssoooo much rockabilly in their sound too. Listen to Rock n’ Roll High School, FFS. It’s far more 50s throwback rockabilly to my ears than what the UK brings forward as punk.

And as I said to Philip – there is so much more to the word “punk” than a strict musical styling. It’s a culture. A mindset. An ethos. An attitude. A banner. A proclamation.

And there’s also one of its earlier exponents too! MC5 – Kick Out The Jams! Released in 1969, my friends. NINETEEN SIXTY NINE!

When I saw Alice Cooper last year, they were on the bill of support acts as (as they are called these days) MC50. They still have it.

Punk, as a word that became a touchstone, is ssooo much more than music. Look at all that it gave to a generation of the UK as a result! An attitude, a mindset that said “I have creativity inside of me. I don’t need a fine arts degree to be told I am good at this. I’ll get ahead and make my own way!” It gave the working classes freedom to believe they could express their creativity and pursue a future in the arts without – one: feeling they needed a financial foundation – because frankly – there was NOTHING to lose and two: that they should suppress what they feel they want to express due to their background.

Vivienne Westwood is punk.
John Cooper Clarke is punk.
Smash Hits magazine is punk.
Postcard Records is punk.
Factory Records is punk.
The Hacienda is (was) punk.

Anything that you can think of…not just in music…all if it that comes out from the late 1970s, it’s all rooted in that punk spirit.

As Jim said in his reply to Philip: “without the punk ethic we would never have begun and evolved into Simple Minds. That is a fact!”

Punk was a gateway to so much more.

Photo by the wonderful Laurie Evans

Is it a dirty word? It seems to be for Philip. Why? I’m not quite sure. I just don’t think he sees the fluidity in the word itself. To him, I am guessing “punk” is this awful style of music that he doesn’t like very much and that’s that.

Oh, but it is ssssooomuch more than that! It is all of the above! And – it is Simple Minds! Even their name is rooted in punk. Yes, it may have come from a David Bowie song but…just listen to it. Really take in what the name sounds like.

I’m not sure I have put this post across as I wanted to. SOMEONE came along throwing a spanner in the works this morning – distracting me with a post just as I was getting my brain cogs in motion and piecing together this post – making bullet points to it and giving myself a bit of dictation on my phone so I would stick with how I wanted this post to go.

Oh, well. He can disturb and distract me whenever he likes! I shouldn’t be bloody complaining that he distracted me now, should I? Geez! Lol. Cry out for the man’s attention and then when I got something from him, I’m there saying “Fuck off, Jim! I’m busy. Do you mind, pal?!” Lol. Hilarious!

And hey, I just remembered – I’M “Punk”! Lol. This silly nickname my brother David gave me many moons ago. When he wanted to antagonise me. Wind me up. He’d call me “punk”. With a kind of spit of disdain he’d say it to me. “Go away, punk”, when I was annoying him. Lol. Oh, god I loved him! ❤️

Nico’s Last Decade – Mojo Magazine Article

A wonderful piece about a great chanteuse…