06 January 2008

Exploding Plastic Inevitable

Currently reading All Yesterday's Parties by Clinton Heylin has put me in an indefinate Velvets sort of stupor. I find that upon mentioning The Velvet Underground to others interested, two views are usually presented - generally against or completely for them. No in-between opinions. I also find that people who are opposed to them don't exactly know too much about them, usually, which is all the more reason for me to tell you more about them (even though I somewhat have a few times before). From the Cale years to the Yule years (which was primarily post Warhol) I think you'll find the following interesting..

Warhol did have much to do with the Velvet's beginning, including them in his "show" the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (above), having them play music whilst he showed his movies (and basically, what this post is all about). I'd explain the show to you, the show with music, films, lights, dance, slides, drugs, sex, etc. myself; however, the article from Larry McCombs below (an excerpt from All Yesterday's Parties, p. 24-27 and originally Boston Broadside) describes it better firsthand than I ever could secondhand, the depiction is amazing. When McCombs refers to musicians he's alluding to The Velvet Underground. The films he mentions I imagine include Warhol's Vinyl (Andy's interpretation of Burgess' A Clockwork Orange; with Edie Sedgwick), and Eat (with Robert Indiana).

Chicago Happenings, July 1966, Larry McCombs
(@ Poor Richard's; Chicago, June 24th 1966)

It's hot, godawful, sticky, sweaty, miserable hot. The Place is jammed and there's hardly room to move. The waitress does her best, but it takes a while to get your drink and you're dying of thirst.

There's all sorts of mirrors and lights overhead, some of them rotating. Lights shining and blinking in a complex pattern, up one wall and along another. Red dots start moving through and around and among them, in a different pattern (or is it the same?)

Suddenly on the side wall there's a black and white movie, poor quality, like a badly done home movie, of a man eating. He eats slowly, savoring each bite, staring blankly off into space. He goes on eating. Music and noise begins to come from somewhere.

Now on the end wall there's another movie. People moving around - a girl? - several boys - one tall, well built blonde, lifting weights, posing, dressed in Levis and open black leather jacket with a white T-shirt underneath. He moves with a strange combination of cruelty and sensuous delight. The man on the side wall goes on eating, staring blankly at this scene once in a while. The lights continue to dance over and through the movies. The music gets louder; a voice begins to talk but you can't understand the words; there are shouts and screams occassionally.

There's a man strapped to a chair, stripped to the waist, being whipped. Are those his screams? No, they aren't in time. The man goes on eating. The girl smokes. Is she part of the whipping scene, or has she somehow slipped over from the eating movie? The music is very loud now, with a driving rock and roll beat. The muscular blonde is moving slowly about with a whip which he curls about his body.

Suddenly, he flings himself into dance, while the whipping goes on behind him. Suddenly that film moves to the top of the screen and below it appears another view of the same scene, earlier or late? The whipping is in the foreground, or is it a dance? Lights, noise, screams, - the man on the side of the wall eats slowly, fondles a cat, stares at the audience.

Various tortures, fights, dances - all mixed together, Inextricable. Lights shining unbearably bright in your eyes. Dancing lights on the wall. Nasty torturous dancing with whips and lighted matches. The man eats, watches, watches you. Louder, faster, noisier.

Suddenly the films end. The noise and music go on. Several people have appeared from somewhere. They stand in front of the screen, tuning instruments. The noise of their tuning, the electric buzzes and hums, begins to blend with the noise and music from the films. Then they gradualy take over. Behind them on the wall are movies of a girl. One, two, several views of her in different movies. Close-up, far away, they begin to zoom in and out in time with the music. Eyes, mouths, noses, she stares, blinks, licks her lips. On stage now is the cruel blonde man, with his whip, dancing with the tall masculine blonde girl in silver lame costume. The lights have become a dim blue flicker, but a flicker that goes faster and slower and pauses now and then, just as your eyes get used to each kind of flicker. Dancers on the floor, with huge strips of silver material that flash above their heads as they dance. Clean-cut, straight looking kids, working hard at dancing to the noise.

Bright green and red spotlights, the dancers silhouetted on the walls in great grimacing poses. The musicians occasionally revealed, sweating over thier instruments, grinding out a noise that has music in it somewhere. They're watching the movies, watching eachother, watching you. Too much happening - it doesn't go together. But sometimes it does - suddenly the beat of the music, the movements of the various films, the pose of the dancers, blend into something meaningful, but before your mind can grab it, it's become random and confusing again. Your head tries to sort something out, make sense of something. The noise is getting to you. You want to scream, or throw yourself about with the dancers, something, anything.

The noise builds to a climax and ends. The dancers pause. Everyone looks a bit weary. The musicians diddle around with their instruments and amplifiers. The lights and films go on. One of the musicians is a girl. Or is it?

They start again. There's an electrified violin making horrible bag pipe sounds against the noisy background. It's grating, terrible, and yet your mind latches onto that bit of tune against all the chaos. It's almost a relief.

The films are doing strange things. The blonde girl becomes a brunette - girl or boy? Showers of colored lighs suddenly burst upward from the drums with a crash of cymbals and shoot accross the ceilling and walls like a fireworks burst. The dancers on the floor are looking tired and ecstatic and bored, all at once. The music gets noisier, the voilin is frantically screaming a tune, higher and higher. On the screens, some of the views of the girl are replaced by films of the blonde boy and silver lame girl, dancing, fighting, torturing eachother with the whip. The real pair are there too, making weird shadows on the wall, the boy dancing, but writhing in torment with his hands over his head.

The music is lost in the chaos of noise. Are there children chanting or singing? The amplified violin goes higher and higher, becomes a shriek, a feedback noise, a regular dit-dah-dit of unbearable Morse code screaming above the other noise. It all builds to a tremendous climax. Then it goes on and on and on and on. You wish it would stop. The musicians build wilder and wilder. The drummer hits a shuddering beat that you feel through the floor. It's all coming to an end. But it doesn't. It goes on. The lights flash in your eyes. The noises all blend into one and your mind tries to sort out little bits of rhythm and tune. The screaming Morse message is still there, but you only hear now when you listen for it. The dancers on the floor are sweating, looking like they can't bear any more of it all. But it goes on and on. Finally it all comes to a shuddering screaming end, the music and noise die down, the films flicker out. Only the colored lights still dance accross the walls. The musicians and dancers leave., looking wilted. You sit there for a while, finally find your waitress, finally leave, it's hot. What can you say?

Now that you're brain is saturated with Warhol and The Velvets I hope you don't mind me departing with the almost all improvisional, 17-minute long Sister Ray.

MP3: Sister Ray - The Velvet Underground (YSI)

Take care,

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