Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Velvet Underground - "I'm Not a Young Man Anymore" from the Bootleg LP Gymnasium

Velvet Underground Gymnasium LP coverThe popular understanding of The Velvet Underground is that they were an amazing band precisely because they were a band with a severe dialectic: composed of contradictions, this huge rock noise bandersnatch, half their canon constructed on a jagged foundation of withering feedback and screeching violas, still somehow capable of soft Sunday morning reflective balladry.

Well and good, but I was never much for that pale blue eyes jazz, and even if Nico had the stern ice goddess thing down, "I'll Be Your Mirror" just don't rock.

So it is indubitably the lordliness of the racket going on, when it's going on, that does it for me with the VU.

Maybe it's because their softer side fails to connect with me, however, that I have been able to recognize something that most others have not about the Velvets: they were also a whale of a motherfucking boogie band.

Witness the instrumental "Guess I'm Falling In Love" from the second outtakes collection, witness "I'm Waiting for My Man," witness that part of "European Son" before it falls apart, but most of all, witness the absolute groove monster presented here. When they wished to be, the Velvet Underground were capable of pinpointing that elusive cyclic rhythm and of then bashing the living shit out of it for as long as their song found necessary.

They were (again, when they wanted) a veritable coal-powered locomotive, wide bore pistons rising and falling, powering this freight train, chooglin' on down to Brooklyn/Queens, Mo Tucker in her disavowal of cymbals and in the way she stood up when playing, the perfect conductor, bassplayer Cale the engineer.

Just picture Maureen Tucker with a conductor's cap

Beyond the thunder of its inexorable groove, and mercifully putting aside my extended Train 'Round the Bend metaphor, what's also amazing about "I'm Not a Young Man Anymore" is that, while recorded live in April of 1967, it first saw widespread release only last year, and even then only on bootleg vinyl.

Is it better in my opinion than "Sister Ray?" I don't know. Maybe not. But it's definitely up there, top echelon stuff, cream of the crop. That a song this great from such an important band should escape notice and legal distribution for 40 years is nothing short of jawdropping.

The only thing that remotely compares is when the first Zeppelin box set came out in 1990. "Travelling Riverside Blues" had never been released after its 1969 recording, and it, too, knocked your fucking socks off. It was as good as anything Zeppelin had ever done. But its eventual release came after only a 20-year or so gap, and Atlantic Records had anchored itself firmly in the middle of the revenue stream when it did finally come out.

In terms of lost albums, Mahavishnu's Lost Trident Sessions come to mind, as do The Basement Tapes, for those inclined that way. But neither of those--or anything else I can think of--appeared after so long of a delay, or so unexpectedly.

So there's really no precedent for "I'm Not a Young Man Anymore," no reason at all given its circumstances for it to be as great as it is. Usually the stuff you'll find on bootlegs 30 or more years out is junk, yet improbably, "I'm Not a Young Man" delivers the groceries.

Some folks on the net have actually found it too improbable, suggesting that the band playing on Gymnaisum is a tribute or cover band, and that those who ponied up 35.00 on eBay for the vinyl, and those like me who are thunderstruck by "Young Man," are actually victims of a scam.

But c'mon, this is legit. Just listen: ain't no-one but the Velvets could have boogied like this.

The Velvet Underground - Gymnasium - 1 - I'm Not A Young Man Anymore.mp3

249 kbps VBR mp3, up for 6 weeks (Right click and save as target)

File under: Protopunk

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dressed in Velvet

I think your right, what makes it sound like the "real" Velvet Underground is the rhythm section and groove. Many bands over the years have tried to distill the Velvets sound and usually the rhythm is where they fall down; The Feelies got close at times and Jonathan Richman does a great parody with his song that's probably gotten closer than anyone.

As to the architect of the Velvet Underground's sonic signature consider the following; Lou Reed, John Cale, & Sterling Morrison don't sound like the Velvet Underground on the material they recorded before Maureen Tucker joined, even doing songs which they later recorded with the band for their first album. Then in their solo careers, neither Reed or Cale has ever really sounded like The Velvet Underground, much to the disappointment of fans of the group, though in recent years they both have been doing powerful live versions of songs from the first Velvet album.

The best approximation of the Velvet "sound" is on Maureen Tucker's first solo record, "Playing Possum", where she plays all the instruments herself. Moe actually was the person who remained in the band the longest continuing on a couple years, after Reed and Cale had left, playing with Doug Yule and Willie Alexander. Unfortunately, when Reed and Cale left, they took their songwriting and arranging skills as well, but I believe Moe provided the signature groove.

Take care,
Tom Wheeler