This latest installment of “Give them a shoutout before they’re dead” needs to have its title adjusted to “Give them a shoutout before they’re ALL dead.” The Velvet Underground – during its years when Lou Reed, “the poet of destruction” himself, was its creative heart and soul – was magnificent.
Lou Reed is dead but before all the members are gone I decided to do a shoutout to the group that DEFINED being ahead of their time. The Velvet Underground’s influence on music ran so deep it was like the proverbial “Citizen Kane Effect” – its innovations became so universally employed by others that it’s easy to forget there was a time when they WEREN’T being used.
We all know Brian Eno’s legendary line about how – though only 30,000 copies of the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album were sold – “everyone who bought a copy started a band of their own.” There are times when it seems like that wasn’t just hype. Hell, I often argue that the Prince song All The Critics Love U In New York seems inspired by the Velvet Undergound song The Black Angel’s Death Song.
Here’s the song Heroin, one of the group’s most haunting. The way Lou Reed conveys the hopelessness and obsessiveness of heroin addiction makes this the furthest thing from what it was often accused of being – a song glorifying drug use.
Hardly. Reed hammers home every unappealing aspect of enslavement to the drug while taking the listener up and down on the highs and the inevitable crashes. Even sex becomes a mere secondary (maybe even tertiary) consideration as heroin takes over.
Anybody who would listen to this song and say “I gotta try some of that!” was doomed from the minute they crawled out of the womb anyway.