from the liner notes:
After we had finished our Lowbudget Records Monkees tribute album, the conversation amongst the participants turned to what group we should cover next. I mentioned the Velvet Underground, and the room went silent. Everyone looked at me like I was a mass-murdering pedophile.
And there's the whole problem with the Velvet Underground and their legacy.
Darkness. Despair. Grit. Seediness. Death. It didn't go over well in 1967's "Summer of Love". Neither did the lo-fi recordings (although tons of psychedelic lo-fi 45s by other bands were huge hits at the time). However, Lou Reed captured the reality of the sixties better than any "flower child" ever did. Drugs ruined or killed a lot of people. The sexual revolution meant that a lot of young women were taken advantage of by unsavory men. Even George Harrison became depressed when he visited the Haight. Instead of "beautiful people", he found a bunch of sad homeless drug addicts.
In the middle of this hippy love fest, the Velvets produced songs that spoke to the darkness of drug addiction, prostitution, sexual deviation, jobs that sucked for life and that feeling that you would never fit in anywhere. And then, as if delivering a message from an angel, they'd throw in a song celebrating true love offered by someone who knew that you were far from perfect.
Many of the VU songs were beautiful, but most people don't know that. In fact, most people don't know any of their songs except for "Sweet Jane". And Brian Eno had that great quote that although only 30,000 people bought the first VU album, every one of them formed a rock band. It was barely an exaggeration. The Velvet Underground influenced rock music deeply and widely and their records still inspire musicians today. They sure as hell inspired me.
I was turned on to Lou Reed's work in the early eighties when I bought a cut-out compilation album of his work both with and without the Velvets. That double album floored me. I copied it to cassette, and "Rock And Roll" was playing in the car the first time I laid eyes on New York City. It was four in the morning, I was on a cliff in New Jersey, and the skyline of Manhattan was laid out in front of me, lit up like a Christmas tree. To paraphrase the song, my life was saved by rock and roll, and it was all right.
Lou Reed's voice went through me like an older brother who had cornered me in the kitchen and was very quietly and firmly telling me everything that was right and wrong with my life and the world at large. He was also a poet of the first degree, writing lyrics that would have easily stood on their own if he had never picked up a guitar. I hope the listener can focus on the lyrics of this collection, since they're much easier to understand here than on the gloriously messy mixes of the Velvet's own albums.
I had already recorded three or four of these songs when I heard the news that Lou Reed had died. He was 71 years old, but it still shocked me. Lou was one of those people who had cheated death so many times that I figured he was going to live forever. It ripped my heart out and I couldn't think about anything else for the rest of the night. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who took on a very tough street-hardened FU persona. After all, he's the guy who said "My week beats your year". He took no prisoners and did not suffer fools gladly, but he still somehow came across as someone who genuinely cared about us and all the other losers in the world.
He was one of America's finest poets, up there with Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. He was one of rock and roll's worst/best singers, like Dylan or Jagger. He was an okay/great guitarist, depending on your criteria. And he was one of the coolest people that ever walked the planet. He didn't know how to sell out, even if he had wanted to.
God bless Lou Reed, and God bless the Velvet Underground.
- Tim Casey, June 2014