From Velvet to Whisky

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All Yesterday's Parties: The Velvet Underground in Print: 1966-1971 (Da Capo) Probably the funniest thing about the release of All Yesterday's Parties -- a collection of writings on the Velvet Underground culled from both mainstream and alternative media from 1966-1971 -- is how much, and how vocally, lead Velvet Lou Reed hates rock criticism of any sort. In 1969, he told Open City interviewer Ramblin' Jim Martin that "since most critics know nothing about the music, all reviews suck," and the years have not dulled his ire. In the May issue of Mojo, he suggested to rock writer Sylvie Simmons that she "probably [has] no talent in any musical area but you like music, so you went into it by doing this."

Ironically, the perpetually confounding Velvets are a favorite of the rock press for setting a template for hip that still stands 40 years after its formation. Their sinister, often overtly hostile songs totally disregarded the climate of blooming psychedelia, and their forays into progressive, experimental art-rock sound current today.

The writing in this collection shows that even during the band's active years, its significance was apparent, if difficult to explain. The 40-odd articles, interviews, reviews and press releases that make up this collection don't provide any unprecedented insight into the meaning of the Velvet Underground, other than illustrating that reactions to the group were never lukewarm. One sputteringly indignant New York Times review in 1966 called the band "ridiculous, outrageous and painful." Two years later, Crawdaddy called it "the most vital and significant group in the world today."

Editor Clinton Heylin's selections in All Yesterday's Parties document the evolution of the underground rock press from near-nonexistence in 1966, when the Velvets were covered as a player in Andy Warhol's theater of peculiarity by mainstream art and film critics. By the early '70s, now-iconic music publications like Creem, Crawdaddy and early Rolling Stone ran stories lauding the Velvets as harbingers of a much-desired cultural apocalypse.

A great deal of the writing represented here is the kind of dated, rambling, cosmic freak-out hyperbole that doesn't stand up anymore, an exception being Lester Bangs' 1971 eulogy for the band, from Rolling Stone. The thread of general confusion that runs through most of the writing probably pleases Reed very much, in terms of his feelings about rock criticism in general. Some compared the band to Creedence Clearwater Revival, and one critic reviewed Velvet Underground in conjunction with Dylan's Nashville Skyline. As a time capsule for the nascence of the alternative music media, though, All Yesterday's Parties is tops. -- Alison Fensterstock Straight Whisky: A Living History of Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll (Bonus) In this world of public-relations people, handlers, and hype, it is hard to know what to believe and what is a promo campaign. The Whisky a Go-Go and its companion establishments, the Rainbow Room and the Roxy Theatre, were at the center of myths, hype and the zeitgeist of Hollywood and Los Angeles for decades. Eric Quisling and Austin Williams' Straight Whisky is a history of those years when everyone from the Doors, David Bowie and Led Zeppelin to Cheech & Chong and the Germs stomped heavily through the doors of each.

The book details many of the antics that make rock 'n' roll so attractive and anarchic, and what is amazing is how consistently entertaining rockers pushing the boundaries of society, chemistry, decadence, good taste and insanity can be. Whether it is the riots of 1960s Sunset Strip, the Doors performing "The End" with its oedipal screams of madness, Charles Manson getting kicked out of the Whiskey several weeks before his Tate-LaBianca killing rampage in 1969, or performances of The Rocky Horror Show, the stories are interesting without being so over-the-top that they strain even a fanatic's credulity. The Whisky was ground zero for rock 'n' roll for a long time and it is refreshing and important to hear that, while some of the subjects really were as crazy as we've heard, they were also human beings with very real issues.

One of the most poignant stories in the book is that of manager Mario Maglieri spending an evening in 1982 with a very high John Belushi. Mario kept telling Belushi to get his act together, or at least eat something. Belushi kept saying that he would -- before he stumbled off into the night. The next day, Maglieri read of Belushi's death from an overdose and later heard that the only contents of his stomach were the remnants of the Rainbow's famed lentil soup.

Tales like this, or Guns n' Roses' Axl Rose getting pick-pocketed by groupies while they were performing unnatural acts upon him can really hit hard and bring the subjects back to a level that we who do not live in the Land of No Brown M&Ms can understand without taking away from their achievements. In these days of deification for the worst of reasons -- Paris Hilton is the queen of this parade -- Quisling and Williams' Straight Whisky reminds us that heroes are real people, adding a needed layer of sense to our celebrity culture. -- David Kunian


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