The Velvet Underground is supposed to have changed rock music forever. Although I’m fairly certain that “changed rock music forever” or even just “changed rock music” actually means nothing. Basically all anyone has ever done is change rock music. That’s all rock music is: Pretending to change rock music over and over. Therefore, saying “The Velvet Underground changed rock music forever” is the same as saying “The Velvet Underground did nothing”.
There’s a lot of talk about how influential the Velvet Underground is, and it’s easy to believe if all you listen to is tone-deaf German models doing impressions of Henry Kissinger’s opening remarks at a leather convention while a guy who will never have any rhythm plays G on a guitar. I know what you’re gonna tell me and without even repeating the question I’ll ask: Do you think anybody else could have figured out how not to play guitar while wearing sunglasses? And don’t give me that Andy Warhol “the scam is a work of art” jazz. Have you sat through Empire? How about Sleep? How about Andy Warhol’s Dracula?
Andy Warhol is terrible, but Lou Reed is the worst. Lou Reed is dumber than a goldfish, and in the sixties, he was fooled into thinking he was smart by mean smart people. Maybe as a joke?
Alternately, Andy Warhol wasn’t actually smart either. I knew a girl like that in high school. She was so dumb it came full-circle and counted as original thought. And because we are obviously becoming more stupid as time progresses, most people were also fooled into thinking Lou Reed was smart until Lulu came around. This despite countless examples of his inability to outwit a dog. For instance: Metal Machine Music.
Ooooooooh, he really stuck it to RCA by making an awful record that zealous music geeks have managed to keep in print. But his earlier awful records had actual terrible songs on them.
The greatest question throughout time has been: Why weren’t the Velvets bigger? Was society just not ready for a 7 minute song with no memorable melody about Heroin? How about a 17 minute song with 2 notes about a transvestite heroin dealer? No takers? How about in 1994? How about in 2012?
Well, that explains what’s going on nowadays. But why didn’t the public of the great days of yore go for easier Velvets songs, like Sweet Jane or Rock N’ Roll? The answer is simple: Lou Reed’s vocals. If a flaccid penis had vocal chords, it would sing like Lou Reed. Even as far back as when Nico was in the band, he was still the worst singer in the Velvet Underground.
It’s like every time he says “She’s a femme fatale” he’s thinking “I can do it, I can disappoint Andy Warhol. I know I can do it”, and I think he’s supporting that goal by imagining Warhol getting a handjob from Robert Rauschenberg. Try it. You can’t imagine anything that disappointing. That’s Lou Reed’s inspiration for the performance linked to above.
Maybe I’m being too harsh on Lou Reed and Nico. But the other Velvets are such easy prey. For instance, you know you’re in some kind of trouble when you played rhythm guitar in a band that changed everything about all of rock music (for all time) like the Velvet Underground and nobody remembers your name despite it being Sterling Morrison.
So without the Velvet Underground, what would we have? Rock critics (the most useless job ever invented, and I include myself in that equation) will tell you that we would never have had indie rock without them. What they really mean is we would never have had total snooze-fests like the Dandy Warhols or the Jesus and Mary Chain doing piles of heroin and playing 2 chords then making their vocals sound like a phone in an echo chamber to mask the fact that they can’t sing. That’s the Velvets legacy in a nutshell: Iambic pentameter about speed and heroin is cool; no melody whatsoever is cool; nothing memorable or catchy musically at all is cool. And once you agree to those terms, you automatically know more about music than everybody else. With that knowledge, you can start a terrible band (for example, Deerhunter) or you can lecture anyone who only owns one record about how great your taste in music is (for example, “Have you heard of Deerhunter?”)
Saying bands changed rock music forever is ridiculous, because it really hasn’t been around for very long overall. It was essentially a toddler whenever this major change occurred. It’s like saying puberty changed your life forever, or that birds are hatched from eggs. We would hardly consider these observations. But the second it involves a striped t-shirt and sunglasses, we’re all awestruck. Therefore, the Velvet Underground’s influence on rock music is that if they had never existed, we certainly would never have to hear about how brilliant and influential to modern music they are over and over; which is roughly the same as hearing Nico sing, which is not as bad as hearing Lou Reed sing, which would be the worst if it weren’t so hilarious that at least 3 record labels have thought that maybe it was a great idea to pay for him to sing.
Fans of the Doors, Beatles guys, people who own Bob Marley posters, anyone who says “Led Zep”, loving the Velvet Underground is exactly the same. The only difference between the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Tea Party is that you figure out the Doors are terrible when you’re 13. This should have laid to rest any notion of the Velvet Underground being cool:
Unfortunately, Unskinny Bop was #3 on the charts that year, and we were so distracted that a lot of lesser tragedies managed to slip through the cracks.