john cale - The I-94 Bar
Nancy Rankin-Escovedo photo.
In 2018 Alejandro Escovedo released "The Crossing", an album based on the story of two boys, one Mexican and one Italian, travelling across the United States. “I’ve always lived along the border in California and Texas, so it’s been part of my story,” Escovedo says. But while immigration is fundamental to the evolution of modern America, in recent years it’s has become a hot political topic.
(To accentuate the point, a few hours before my interview with Escovedo, US President Donald Trump invoked emergency powers to secure the funds to continue the building of his border wall between Mexico and the United States.)
Escovedo didn’t set out to write a political album; it’s just that “whenever you talk about immigration at this time it tends to be political because of what’s going on in America”.
It seems totally ridiculous to tell you how important the Velvet Underground were. What do you think I am? The god damn professor of punk? I know there are some squares who blew in too late but if you haven’t made this particular scene by now, you won’t be reading this. Keep sucking on that caffeine free soy latte and tell me reading about music is so 20th Century.
I’m writing this review for those who want to know why they should fork out big bucks for this top shelf item, a box of four CDs. Those who drink out of jars and buy LPs ironically need not apply. For those people, it’s time to start feeding a new habit. Shave off that frigging beard. Go out and listen to these CDs, one through four. Take some drugs. Bad drugs.
So on to "The Velvet Underground" (aka The Third LP). As Velvets fans know, this is the first LP with Doug Yule replacing John Cale.
Disc One is the more usually recognised Val Valentin mix (the mix used for the 1980s reissue onwards); Disc Two is Reed’s slightly later ‘closet’ mix (the mix used for the original 1960s LP), or or Peel Slowly) and, for the first time in any broader sense, the Promotional Mono Mix (with the two shorter songs from the single).
The Val Valentin mix is the one I grew up with, as did several generations of later fans and musicians; so both mixes are obviously essential in the same box set, as is the rarely-heard promotional mono mix - it was several years became stereo became the norm, rather than mono. Curiously, the mono mix reduces the length of several songs, but adds a few bare seconds here and there.
In 2014, Discs Five and Six here were revelatory, ensuring purchase (one of the reasons I forked out). Most of these recordings were unreleased in 2014, but today, in the light of the "Matrix Tapes", surely they’re surplus to requirements.
I mean, there’s nothing wrong with these last two discs in themselves, or the order in which the songs appear here; these discs present the band doing two very different gigs; they’re at their most ferocious and their gentlest. Me, I rather enjoy the different tracking (to the "Matrix Tapes") which the Deluxe Box provides here, so I’ll be returning to these discs myself. But you shouldn’t need this box for that reason if you already have the "Matrix Tapes".
Been thinking about death a lot lately. And, imminence.
Lou Reed’s death, Bowie’s, Cohen’s … they didn’t affect me a whole lot. I was more upset when Alan Vega went, but also, Victoria Wood and Benny Hill - somehow I just figured they’d go on forever, like Cab Calloway or Ken Dodd. What these folk left behind, though…
Probably the reason Lou Reed was always reluctant to acknowledge the Velvets in his later, hugely successful careers (despite playing their songs), was that for all his success, he could not - not ever - have produced anything like the Velvets on his own; and that to some extent that reduced his creative validity, that he’d created something far more lasting and significant with other people, than anything he’d ever created with his own outfits.
Paul McCartney is said to have been obsessed with his past with The Beatles, and went out of his way to make more money than the Beatles did…
I don’t know how he does his accounting, but chunks of money do not, not now nor never, equate to cultural and social impact and influence. We still hear echoes of The Beatles today. And the Velvets, in everything from soap commercials to supermarket music.