Monday, April 7, 2014

Lou Reed, Tribute, The DVD Collection

Lou Reed has left us. There is a lack. The summing up begins. Part of that you can experience in a three-DVD set, Tribute, The DVD Collection (Chrome Dreams 3IS042). It is a collection of three interrelated programs, running to a total of 279 minutes. The three disks are The Velvet Underground Under Review; Punk Revolution NYC, Part One 1966-1974, The Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls and the CBGB Set; and The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy & Lou 1971-73.

Watching all three together gives you a quite reasonable look at Lou and the Velvets and the early days of Reed's career, the context and impact of it all. The first DVD follows the Velvets formation, their rather erratic career and the way that what they offered differed from the psychedelic rock scene on the West Coast. The second DVD situates the Velvets in the New York punk revolution. And the third DVD focuses on the interrelationships of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, with Bowie as both catalyst to the other two creatively and in some ways too as parasitic upon and capitalizing on aspects of the other's visions.

There is so much in the three programs to digest that I will not attempt to cover it all. Several important themes emerge and the detailed discussions about it seem relevant. One of course would be how Andy Warhol's influence worked to allow and encourage the Velvets to present their music in uncompromised ways, in the raw. New York's gritty realism, its world of early gay liberation, hard drugs, dystopian variations of poverty, its emphasis on pushing lifestyle frontiers to both creative and destructive extremes, the never-steady balance between creation and self-destruction that underground New York was in part about helped in turn create Lou and the Velvet's ambiguous vision of rock-as-art.

The way the Velvets set the scene for NY's later punk underground gets plenty of attention on the second disk, and it gives you a look at some of the known AND lesser-known artists and bands in on the ground floor at the very first stages.

Volume three covers the time period after the Velvets split up, when David Bowie stepped in to help direct Lou's energy into a saleable mainstream as Bowie simultaneously benefitted himself from Reed's personal presentation and persona--and how that two-way situation was also present in the Bowie-Iggy nexus, though at least initially it did not help the Iggy-Stooges commercially as it did Reed.

There is a good deal of attention given to the success factor. The first Velvets album initially sold something like 6,000 copies. The Stooges fared similarly in the beginning. What was an underlying constant in the rock underground for a long while was the idea that the scene thrived on commercial quasi-failure. If the Velvets had created a pop smash in those first years they may have been less of a legend for it. How that relates to Andy Warhol's high art idea of small quantity production, the entrance of rock into the pop charts, the eventual disengagement with hit-factory mechanics and the rise of a separate FM rock identity could have been dealt with more as it is critical to where the Velvets fit in originally. The way it played out was that it was more conducive to legendary status to keep the following small and in-the-know, at least at first. The Velvets, Fugs, Mothers, Stooges and other bands had longevity by failing to capture the typical listener. Dylan was in part vetted by his initial underground, small local origins.

The aesthetic of rawness so important to the Velvets, the Stooges, punk and such is a theme that gets attention but could be underscored more forcefully in my opinion. That first blast of the Velvets seemed pretty crude at the time, I can remember. And that it was purposefully so was not an immediate revelation to all those seeking an underground local music.

The three DVDs worked together to make you think about the scene more than you would have otherwise. There are good interviews and insights. It's up to others to continue the discussion. This is a good start.

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