The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
It's been awhile, figured I'd cheat a bit and share another excerpt from my book, Jittery White Guy Music:
I was taking a filmmaking class at the time, a high school elective where we got to make Super 8 movies, with the teacher selecting a few of his favorites for a showing during the school’s biennial arts festival. I made a 5-minute stop-motion animation opus, Jell-O from Outer Space, cubes of red and green Jell-O conquering a miniature town I’d borrowed from my father’s model railroad layout, soundtracked with Pink Floyd’s creepy “Careful with That Axe, Eugene.” (It snagged an honorable mention at the film festival.)
Not surprisingly, the filmmaking class attracted an odd mix from the peripheries of the student body, from the pretentious drama kids to the jocks seeking an easy credit. (Me, I was looking for a breather from my more academically grueling classes, and I had a genuine interest in animation.) There was this one guy in class who regularly wandered in late (when he showed up at all), clad entirely in black at a time when bright pastels were emerging as MTV-driven fashion must-haves, his long, corkscrew-curled hair barely concealing a pair of Walkman headphones that he didn’t bother removing for class.
One day I got up the nerve to ask him what he was listening to.
I knew very little about the Velvet Underground or their music. Sure, I knew that they were Lou Reed’s old band, and Lou Reed was the guy who sang “Walk on the Wild Side,” the FM-radio staple that managed to draw airplay notwithstanding its transgressive (in the literal sense) tales of New York drag queens and oral sex and girls singing doo-da-doo (and, really, in 1972, how the hell did Reed get away with all that?). Maybe I’d heard “Sweet Jane” or “Rock & Roll,” but understood these late-period bids at commercial acceptability to be highly unrepresentative of their earlier, far less approachable work.
The album cover itself revealed little. Andy Warhol’s iconic banana painting on a plain white background was non-descript to a fault, certainly providing no hint of the menace I’d been assured lay within. The back was slightly more telling, the band hidden behind dark shades, a psychedelic light show flashing across their faces, though still nary a hint of the deviance the record supposedly harbored.