Friday, April 06, 2018

Boston, '68

I am reading Anthony DeCurtis' biography of Lou Reed, and mostly enjoying it. Other biographers (quite understandably) tend to get hung up on Reed's notorious cruel streak — easy material, really. DeCurtis doesn't skirt around it, but places a greater investment in the artist's journey — a POV I can appreciate.

Still, there are moments when DeCurtis's “from-here-to-there” narrative is just a bit too light on the details or analysis — a bit superficial, finally. One example:
That the Velvets spent so much time in Boston and essentially stopped playing in New York was, at least in part, a result of [band manager Steve] Sesnick's strategy. No doubt Reed perceived New York as Warhol's turf. Performing there regularly would make it much more difficult to move out of his sphere of influence. Some speculated that the Velvets were angry that New York radio didn't play their debut album, which doesn't make much sense since almost no stations played it. It's not unusual for a band, once it has achieved a certain stature, as the Velvets had with The Velvet Underground And Nico, to limit its exposure in its hometown and concentrate on building a national following. But that strategy makes much more sense for regional bands than it does for one from New York; if you have an enthusiastic following there, you pretty much already are a national band. Pulling back a bit from the New York scene may have been a smart move temporarily, but as the sixties were drawing to a close, some people were beginning to think of the Velvets as a Boston band. By any measure, that was a step backward.
This “clangs” for me, somewhat. My impression from interviews is that at this particular moment Reed did not object in the least to the Velvets being considered a “Boston band.” He was making a break from Warhol, sure — and letting the band take on a Boston reputation would surely have been a thumb in Warhol's eye. But at this point in his life Reed was compelled to be near the centre of whatever scene there was — surely there was a Boston scene, no?

We don't get evidence of such from DeCurtis' telling (“By any measure . . . a step backward”).

Fortunately we have Ryan H. Walsh to fill in this particular oversight. Walsh's Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 is getting a great deal of prestige coverage right now, for which I'm grateful. Walsh apparently eschews the one-artist's-journey-to-and-through-an-album narrative to focus on, ahem, the Boston scene of '68. I've gone ahead and gambled the stamp on Walsh's book. So far I've only read the index — and I am already gratified. In a book “about” Van Morrison, Lou Reed figures prominently in at least 15 pages.

More to follow.

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