Todd Haynes‘ brilliant new documentary film on The Velvet Underground, an iconic rock band, reminds us of how bold both music and films were not so long ago. This film doesn’t try to explain the band to us. Instead, it takes us to the same room as them, enabled by archived footage and the steady rumbling of their music.
These days it’s easy to forget how, at one point in time, even a slight change from the norm used to shake the world. But this band’s actions were not subtle in the least, as almost everything that they did was breaking the barriers.
At the Velvet’s core were Lou Reed and John Cale. Reed was an ambitious man from the Long Island suburbs. And Cale was a viola-playing avant-garde music devotee who escaped his bleak beginnings in the Welsh coal-mining region. Both of them met in the New York in 1964 and what happened next is history. Guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, a woman, soon joined them both and they started making music like no other. Having a woman drummer particularly was actually atypically innovative.
Andy Warhol, a mere spectator, was stunned when he first heard the Velvets singing their iconic song Heroin. He offered to become their manager and they became Warhol’s house band. He put them in flashy multimedia concerts and had them adopt the frigid Nordic beauty, Nico, as the band’s femme fatale. Nico’s aura, as well as her unusual look and bohemian voice, were valuable assets to the band (albeit disputed, as the film depicts).
Influence that The Velvet Underground had
The Velvets were probably obscure tastes in their days, with no single smash-hit song to their name. Their music was invasive as well as enigmatic with pulsating rhythms and Reed’s flat voice biting the words soaked in the realities of prostitution, S&M, and hard narcotics.
It took years for them to establish a name and demonstrate their might. Come after half a century, the band looks more alive than almost all of its more well-known peers.
The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.Brian Eno, music producer
This phrase quickly became a rock reviewer standard that was attached to any band whose creative impact eclipsed their monetary success.
After all, the ’60s is The Beatles‘ decade, and the band is still adored around the world for their universality and genre-spanning tunes. The Velvets‘ uncompromising music, on the other hand, has stood the test of time. It has become a foundation for future generations of musicians. The Velvet Underground’s ideals were perfectly aligned with 1970s punk, 1980s indie rock, and 1990s alternative music. They are often acknowledged as the band that inspired generations of popular artists like David Bowie, Nirvana, Talking Heads, Arctic Monkeys, the Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Sonic Youth, Galaxie 500 and U2 to name a few.
This band, which rightfully prided itself on being unlike any other, fell victim to the standard rock band cliches of ego conflicts and financial quibbles. Reed forced the other members to choose between him or Cale, grappled by his desperation to become a “rock star”. After Cale’s departure, the band replaced him with Doug Yule and continued to make music. Eventually, in 1970, they disbanded with five studio albums under their belt.
The band has left a rich legacy behind it and will continue to inspire artists for generations to come.