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“The Velvet Underground: A Brief Compendium of Allusion both Literary and Intra-Cultural, Subject and Object”

Have you ever noticed how da** ALLUSIVE The Velvet Underground were? Sure, this might be a stupid question. If you’re like me, you’ve read Jeremy Reed’s (yes that really is his name, apparently, and he doubles as a British poet) excellent Waiting for the Man: The Life and Career of Lou Reed [1] so you know the singer was an English major at Syracuse turned typist, who idolized Delmore Schwartz. From the song “Some Kinda Love,” which as far as I know is original diction, of course, we get the pairing “Like a dirty French novel / Combines the absurd with the vulgar”, hence further obviating an affinity in the artist for literature, and then also of course the “Between thought and expression” line from a personal favorite pairing “Between though and expression / Lies a lifetime” made it onto the title for a “Lou Reed anthology,” which of course, though not transitive unto another entity per se, does mark the albeit significant transformation from an artistic realm to a commercial one: the lyrics reformulated from simple musical compliment to commodity definition. [2]
They would steal seemingly to their hearts content: they stole the song title “What Goes on” from the Beatles and “Run Run Run” from The Who, and then of course crafted the simple, da**-near-un-google-able label of “Heroin” for what many is probably their defining ode. But then, it seems that for every one of these, there’s a festival named “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (often shortened to “ATP”), named after the stunning track in the middle of The Velvet Underground & Nico. Indeed, it’s almost as if they’d right from the start envisioned the age of Internet searches, and the advantage in domineering certain words, or phrases, in the English language for proprietary purposes.
The White Light/White Heat album tends to be kind of short on such canonizations, save for maybe the reference by the character playing Lester Bangs in Almost Famous: “Gimme some ‘White Light/White Heat’! Iggy Pop!” And obviously, although this particular titled track does make for pretty raucous pub fare, particularly if you can’t hear Reed’s uncharacteristically simplistic vocal but rather the just the incessant song structure turns and bass fuzz, this cinematic reference comes across as more the championing of an incredible title than it does a due musical reference.
In what is arguably Nirvana’s best song, “Lithium,” Kurt Cobain claims that “Sunday morning is every day / For all I care and I’m not scared”, calling to mind then of course the first song on The Velvets’ first album, “Sunday Morning.” Now, there also happens to be a Wallace Stevens poem “Sunday Morning,” which strikingly enough was dubbed by Yvor Winters as “The greatest American poem of the twentienth century” (it offers a certain high-culture appeal in contrast with “The Road Not Taken”’s brusque commonness). Indeed, the Stevens work veers toward the dogmatic, routinely referencing “Jove” and “divinity”; whereas, as we know (and love), Reed’s work is about as human as it gets: wrong and memorable and so real it didn’t even make my “Mellow Lou Reed Mix,” despite that it could soundtrack a catnap, or a cat’s nap. At the end of the day, the question is slightly begged as to whether Cobain means Stevens or Reed, but slightly at best. Though both poets shed a negative tinge on, hew a negative connotation of, the term “Sunday morning,” Cobain was a well-known Velvets head, having covered “Here She Comes Now” seeing it inundate the With the Lights out boxed set. It is my postulate, then, that Cobain means to scoff at the notion that he could ever do something regrettable (the Velvets ode portrays a hungover morning, as Reed explains in stage banter on 1969: The Velvet Underground Live), hence positioning this “Lithium” attendance in the same class of pure rock-lyrical allusion as we get with John Fogerty making reference to a “brown-eyed handsome man,” the title of a Chuck Berry song, in his anthemic “Centerfield.”
“Femme Fatale” is of course an ostensible archetype pointed back to “dirty French novels” and “Venus in Furs” references the novelistic sadomasochism of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. A couple of torpid numbers ballast Nico’s side b and frankly I’m afraid to even look up what “The Black Angel’s Death Song” means, what with all this death we’ve been witnessing in America, although I did upon last listen to this song finally realize that it in fact contains no conventional percussion whatsoever, just the sound of a glass breaking I believe, exact to the one on “European Son,” more or less.
Now, things of which this very glass breaking might be symbolic theoretically abound, but one could be the broken “heart” of the equally literary Valerie Solanas, feminist scribe behind the SCUM Manifesto (“SCUM” being an acronym for “society for cutting up men”) and eventual shooter (but not slayer) of Velvet Underground producer and sagacious scenester Andy Warhol. Here we have just another ridiculous instance of the Velvets work flooding into the world of literature and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the songs where in the allusion is strongest, such as “Sunday Morning” and “Venus in Furs,” are likewise among the band’s very most musically effective. True, this trend is not tautological: “New Age,” “I’m Set Free” and “Candy Says,” among others, are simply great songs with no references and which nobody has ever referenced, wherein, then, sadness and death are then thematic to an increased extent.
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[1] Now, of course, the fictional, short-story type plotline of the song “I’m Waiting for the Man” has become so immortalized in its own right: all the imagery such as his dealer’s “big straw hat” and the brownstone’s “three flights of stairs” are like Alice in wonderland to the devout fan of indie rock.
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[2] The Velvet Underground found itself copiously metabolized by the recent “Mellow Lou Reed Mix” I made: 1). “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (2.) “I’ll Be Your Mirror” (3.) “Here She Comes Now” (4.) “Candy Says” (5.) “What Goes on” (6.) “Some Kinda Love” (7.) “Pale Blue Eyes” (8.) “Jesus” (9.) “I’m Set Free” (10.) “That’s the Story of My Life” (11.) “After Hours” (12.) “Who Loves the Sun” (13.) “Lisa Says” (14.) “Walk on the Wild Side” (15.) “Satellite of Love” (16.) “Caroline Says II” (17.) “Coney Island Baby” (18.) “Halloween Parade” (19.) “Endless Cycle” (20.) “Last Great American Whale”

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