Seeing the Light: Inside the Velvet Underground
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With exclusive new interviews from the band, this is a captivating account of one of the most influential groups in rock history.
Brian Eno famously said "the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band." Perhaps no other musicians can claim such limited chart success and so enduring a musical legacy as The Velvet Underground. Artists including David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Roxy Music, Nirvana, U2, R.E.M., and even dissident Czech playwright and eventual president Václav Havel have cited the Velvets as a major influence.
Seeing the Light presents the untold story of the band. Formed by the mercurial Lou Reed and classically trained Welshman John Cale in the mid-1960s, the band first gained notoriety after being adopted by Andy Warhol. Warhol's patronage allowed the group to chart unexplored regions of rock 'n' roll, producing unforgettable and unsettling music that veered from droning, avant-garde experimentalism to folk-infused pop, offering taboo-busting tales of drug addiction, prostitution, and sexual deviance. Creative tensions and frustrated ambition eventually saw both Cale and Reed leave the band, to its ignominious end.
In the decades since, The Velvet Underground's music has attained classic status, revered alongside The Beatles and The Beach Boys as one of the sources of modern pop. With exclusive new interviews from members Moe Tucker and Doug Yule, as well as the widow of their bandmate Sterling Morrison, journalist Rob Jovanovic peels back the mystique of one of the most important bands in rock history.
used to open and close his show with this African music and it was always the same song. Every time I’d catch it, I’d say, “Oh man, this is great!” But he never said who it was. It was really frustrating. One night he mentioned it for some reason: “That was Olatunji ‘Drums of Passion’.” So I ran out and got it the next day. In 1962, I was in the High School library when an announcement came over. “Anyone who would like to sell candy to help pay for an African drummer named Olatunji to come to
“You motherfuckers! I hope you bomb!”’ The band reciprocated the animosity and ended their set with a raucous ‘fuck you’ to Graham. At the end of ‘European Son’ the three guitarists put down their instruments to create a cacophonous wall of feedback and set about battering Moe Tucker’s drum kit. John Cale was a little over-enthusiastic and sent a cymbal spiralling into Lou Reed’s forehead. Graham was irate with this sacriligious behaviour and rushed backstage to confront the band. As he entered
us x thousand dollars for the stay.’ ‘There was a time when we just travelled weekends,’ recalled Doug Yule. ‘The limousine would come pick you up at your apartment, take you to the airport; you’d fly somewhere for the weekend and play a couple of nights and then come back.’ The band were part of a constantly touring circus of bands crisscrossing the country. They played with The Holy Modal Rounders, The Fugs, The Grateful Dead, The MC5 and The Byrds, among others. Initially the travelling that
total darkness with his head in his hands. He seemed inconsolable. Reed told her it was over: he was leaving the band and that night had been his last show. Tucker was understandably surprised and tried to talk him out of it, whatever was wrong could surely be worked out? But no, he’d made his decision and it was final. He was going back to Long Island to live with his parents that night and he wouldn’t be back. Reed later said that out of the whole 10 weeks at Max’s he only really enjoyed the
about it in the paper,’ said Yule. ‘It doesn’t affect my life, or my monthly pay cheque. I thought about it a lot, and I denied it a lot. My wife would say, “How do you feel about it?” And I would say, “I don’t care.” I would have liked to have been asked to come. It’s kind of like someone saying, “You didn’t really count.” And I know that’s not true, but it feels that way. I thought about it and even wrote a screenplay about it. I don’t know without being asked, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve