There's only one album saved to my phone, for emergencies... like when the internet isn't working. It had to be an album that I could listen to over and over again. Like a faithful spouse, undeterred by clandestine affairs, it's the one I always go back to. I may have eyes that wander, but I am a loyal lover. The Velvet Underground & Nico, I will always come back to you.
I remember the first time I heard it. I had no clue what I was hearing, but I was already starting to feel a little strange. I was 15 and getting stoned in a basement with my friend's older brother and his friends. I had smoked before, but this was the first time I was getting stoned... like properly stoned. The parents were out of town, and there were about ten of us lying around on worn-out sofas and dusty rugs, listening to the Banana Album on vinyl [Ed note: Are young people calling the self-titled the "Banana Album" now? I'm so out of touch *sigh*].
It was when "Venus in Furs" played that I burst out, unable to contain myself, "What is this?" I spoke it with a fervor that made everyone laugh. My mind was blown and would never be the same.
That had, perhaps, been one of the best nights of my short life thus far. Not even The House-Sitter, who we had thought was out for the night, coming downstairs could ruing the evening. We all scattered and hid like little rodents, crouched and squeezed with a few others in a space behind a dresser as big as a crawl-hole. "Run Run Run" playing on the record player. And at that moment, the thing that posed the greatest threat to my safety was the outburst of my suppressed giggles.
"Are there people down here?" The House-Sitter asked.
My friend and her brother standing dumb, "Here? No way! Just us."
"Are you smoking marijuana?" A break between songs and total silence.
"What? Us? Nope. Must be a skunk outside."
And with that we lost it, our resistance worn down; one of us in the crawl-hole came unhinged and that was enough to unhinge the rest of us and let the giggles prevail! But saved we were by the sounds of "All Tomorrow's Parties" breaking the silence and drowning us out. She didn't hear us. Suspicious but with no proof, The House-Sitter went back upstairs. Sure, we all got into trouble later, but I wouldn't change a thing. That was my first rock and roll experience, and that was it, I was in love.
All senior year of high school, "Sunday Morning" would set the tone for my days. It was the morning alarm that would jerk me from my dreams and get me up for school. That was also when I read Denis Johnson's collection of short stories, Jesus' Son, for the first time. That collection completely changed my understanding of what literature can do. That collection made me want to be a writer. It made me want to live in such a way that I would have stories to tell. The name of Johnson's collection is taken from "Heroin," "When I'm rushing on my run/And I feel just like Jesus' son."
There's a lot of myth surrounding the Velvet Underground, especially the early days -- about the role of Andy Warhol, always lurking somewhere in the background. It's said that "Femme Fatale" was commissioned by Warhol to be written about Edie Sedgwick.
In a rare interview with Nico, she's sitting in a bar, smoking a cigarette and talking candidly about her past with the Velvet Underground and that culture of heroin creeping like a dark shadow over the dimly lit venues they played in downtown Manhattan in the late 1960's. She said it right when she said "I'm amongst the few that are still alive." Nico is a legend in her own right. She has one of the most distinct and haunting voices in musical history. Her stage presence enraptures. There were a lot of strange circumstances to her life, which is perhaps why she didn't go on to have the phenomenal solo career that she probably should have. In the interview she says, "My only regret is that I was born a woman instead of a man."
Post-Velvet Underground, in 1974, she played an infamous show with Tangerine Dream in a cathedral in Reims, France. A show so packed and so rowdy, including people urinating in the cathedral, that future performances at the cathedral were prohibited.
I believe that perhaps the most beautiful song in existence is "I'll be your Mirror." A few years after the basement incident, I spent a summer in California bumming around. I met a man with long hair and a violin, a nomad like a 19th century romantic. He was always singing that song. One night we were lying on a under a clear sky, listening to this song. Staring into each others eyes for a time suspended in time and space. He asked, shyly, "Can I hold your hand?" I smiled, in the background Nico sang, "Because I see you," and that was it, I was a goner.
I could go on and on but that is it, I will leave you with this, because, "I am tired, I am weary. I could sleep for a thousand years."
[Ed. Note: For those who are interested in what's still to come for our The Time Capsule series, check out our list below. We won't have a full month's list of releases because we're starting with a new intern team in a couple weeks but be on the lookout for announcements of future releases.]
5/7/2015 - Since I Left You by The Avalanches - Don Saas
5/14/2015 - Energy by Operation Ivy - Jason Greenspan
5/21/2015 - The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me by Brand New - Don Saas