26 July 2016
There are these small fortuitous strokes of fate constantly thrown up by the interplay of time and life. Sudden, unexpected, unique opportunities. One such opening recently came to me in Paris. Quite by chance I discovered that the Philharmonie de Paris was holding an exhibition called The Velvet Underground New York Extravaganza.
On Bastille Day, the French national holiday, I had the time and spent nearly three quarters of an hour on the subway crossing the city to the north eastern part at La Villette.
A journey back in time to the wild years of the 1960s on the New York City art and music scene with Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico and the Velvet Underground, a group whose sound had a mysterious magical attraction for me from the first moment I heard it in 1968. It was strange and completely different from the music all other groups were producing at that time. Minimalistic, intense, droning and sensual, sometimes soft and almost tender and playful as in Sunday Morning or Satellite of Love, sometimes carried by a monotonous, mesmerizing beat that really gets under your skin as in I’m waiting for my man or Heroin.
Astonishingly, this sound in all its dynamic range is still as fresh as ever, attracting so many very young visitors in 2016. It still sounds as strange today as it first did back then. Free of zeitgeist. Immediate and fresh and as though it were coming from a different star. Familiar and at the same time freaky.
The story of how Velvet Underground came together is equally idiosyncratic – through the chance meeting in New York of two extremely different, highly gifted guys who found their lowest common denominator – that was still much bigger than most others could ever dream about – and blended their different talents in a burst of hugely productive creative energy that has few counterparts in the history of pop, rock and punk: Lou Reed from Brooklyn and John Cale from Garnant in Wales/England. Both were born in March 1942, just a few days apart.
One other figure was closely involved in the meteoric career of the band – Andy Warhol, whose New York Factory had a magnetic attraction for all the great and good creative people of the time (even Bob Dylan was a frequent guest), and who had an unerring gift for spotting major unconventional talent which he occasionally and very effectively helped on its way.
He recognized the potential of the group, introduced them to Nico, the singer whose voice has lost none of its unmistakable raw smoky quality, gave them his studios to rehearse in, promoted their first public appearances and produced their first album – that featured his famous yellow banana on the cover.
Andy Warhol is one of the most successful artists of the second half of the 20th century. But in fact he was also one of the major influencers on the whole of the art and music scene of that time. He discovered and promoted Basquiat and Velvet Underground.
The great number of videos well worth watching and listening to at the Paris exhibition includes footage of Lou Reed with John Cale at the piano at the Paris concert venue Bataclan dating from 1972: I´m waiting for my man – lascivious, laid-back, almost unreal.
When Lou Reed died on 21 October 2013 “Perfect Day” was the song that appeared in a video on YouTube as a tribute.
The question still remains what any of this has to do with OUBEY. The next posting will give the answer and talk about the links connecting OUBEY, Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys.