|Tracks...the Wild Ones|
|SIDE STORY– THE VELVET UNDERGROUND CONNECTION
I’ve just finished reading a fantastic book that I at first thought had only consequential relation to this website. I was wrong. Joe Harvard’s The Velvet Underground and Nico is part of the recently released Thirty Three and a Third series from Continuum. Each book in the series features the music on the one album of the book’s title. The authors are musicians, journalists and others who have been inspired by the music they’re writing about and who often have some connection to the artists. Others in the series include books on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, Neil Young’s Harvest and The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder. There are quite a few more.
Since you’re at this website you probably know The Velvet Underground and Nico’s author Joe Harvard and his connection to Boston’s music scene. Joe co-founded Fort Apache Studios and is closely associated with many of the groups and personalities that were a major part of Boston’s early punk/new wave scene. He is also the webmaster of The Boston Rock Storybook (www.rockinboston.com), a very comprehensive insider’s look at all things connected with that scene (besides being one of the inspirations for this site, the BRS is a valuable resource I have used more than once for research). I’ve never met Joe but I have corresponded with him over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, Lorry Doll and I left for New York at around the time Joe Harvard was making himself known in Boston, though as an under-aged fan he did manage to sneak into several Tracks shows and has written a very nice piece on the experience (http://www.rockinboston.com/tracks.htm). I wish he would have introduced himself that long time ago. Anyway, Joe’s publisher was kind enough to send me his book and others in the series to review for the Summer ‘04 issue of NEON.
Over the years, and especially when I started getting our old stuff out again just a couple years ago, DJs and journalists and fans kept mentioning they could hear a Velvet Underground feel and sound in Tracks and also in the later groups Lorry and I had. I just couldn’t see it – except on a very superficial level. Yes, all our bands were purposely dark and edgy, somewhat arty (we were, after all, artists before we were musicians) and I think we always had that New York street thing going long before we took up permanent residence here at the end of ’78. Besides, I knew who our main influences really were – a pinch of somebody here and a dollop of somebody there all adding up to our sound. But then I started reading Joe Harvard’s book and my mind and memory started clicking:
|The Velvet Underground and Nico, also known as the Banana album, became part of our combined record collection (and only VU album) when Lorry brought it with her on moving into my Buswell Street apartment in 1972. But, I distinctly remember the first time I heard it in early 1968 (about a year after its release). I wasn’t even in this country. I had been drafted, was stationed overseas and the record left a definite impression (how couldn’t it?). And although some of the more accessible songs crept up on me (as did its dark undertones), I also remember it being difficult to listen to in its entirety. Shortly after I had hooked up with her, Lorry had mentioned she had hung out with the Velvet Underground in Harvard Square. That was when she had been living with her sister when she first came to Boston in 1969. She had partied, smoked dope with the band. And now she still was friends with Ed Hood and a bunch of the gay boys that had all been a part of that scene (the Boston branch of Warhol groupies?) and that we now kept running into at Boston’s gay disco The Other Side and arty events like The New York Dolls shows, glam concerts and other places. It must have been the VU days when John Cale and Lou Reed were gone and Boston-based Doug Yule was in. But Lorry had specifically mentioned Sterling Morrison (though not Moe Tucker) and after Punk happened, she mentioned that Willie Alexander hadn’t been connected with VU back when she knew them. In truth, my perspective at that time was that Lorry’s life hadn’t started until she met me. And ego and petty jealously prevented me from delving into her past with the Velvet Underground beyond this point. But we did listen to the album quite a bit and both “Waiting for the Man” and “Heroin” were some of the first songs we started jamming on in the early 70s. Mostly because they were just so damn easy to play. We did few covers in our bands, but these two kept popping up whenever we needed more songs to fill out a night (again because they were easy to play and remember), and we wound up doing these two songs on and off for twenty years. So those were our connections to the Velvet Underground that I could see. We also saw Lou Reed perform a couple times. We thought he was great, had a few of his solo records, but I don’t think either of us would say he was an influence.
Now, Joe Harvard’s book comes out and these previously unknown (to me) tidbits emerge:
|Members of the Velvet Underground with Andy Warhol in 1967|
|Members of Tracks in 1978|
|When the Velvet Underground first start gigging they’re short of songs and do seemingly unlikely covers of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” and Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City.” Both of these songs along with the two VU songs are four of the probably ten, maybe twelve cover songs we ever did in public over the span of our career.
Moe Tucker is quoted as saying one of her first influences on drums is Charlie Watts because he always kept it so simple. Lorry and I were ecstatic when Pat O’Neill joined Tracks in 1978 because not only was he an old friend, but just as importantly, he had that simple yet elusive Watts beat down cold from playing in bands that heavily covered the Stones (who were an acknowledged influence on Tracks – and whose Keith Richards/Brian Jones two-guitar approach also apparently influenced VU).
Nico, who had a relationship with Bob Dylan prior to being forced upon the VU by Andy Warhol, broke down when she realized she wasn’t able to sing like him. The single biggest influence on my earliest attempts at songwriting was Dylan. My original vision for our then unnamed band was to have a wild and raunchy rock group like the Stones/Dolls fronted by a female Bob Dylan. Early on, Lorry had an extremely difficult and frustrating time fitting my wordy lyrics to our songs until she hit upon a formula of translating some of them into the grunts and growls that became her trademark.
Both Lou Reed and John Cale were enamored with Beat literature and poetry. In my teens, I ate up all the Kerouac, Corso and Ginsburg I could get my hands on. Not only was I turned on by it's raw passion, the romanticism of bohemian culture and its connection to the visual arts (besides bongo playing, I didn’t really relate it to music at that time), but it also motivated me to write a lengthy high school term paper on the Beat Generation which probably salvaged my hit or miss education and to my utter shock actually impressed my English teacher (who turned out to be a lot hipper than I initially gave her credit for).
The Velvet Undergroud’s “European Son” was listed as “Hooker” on their set lists because they thought its main riff sounded like a John Lee Hooker song. Lorry and I had a decisive return to our blues and folk roots in our later period and at that stage, Lorry got deeply back into Hooker both vocally and instrumentally.
The Velvet Underground’s highly unlikely first gig was at a suburban high school. Tracks highly unlikely last gig was at a suburban high school.
Nico succumbed to a brain hemorrhage. Lorry Doll succumbed to a brain hemorrhage. They were within months of the same age.
|There’s more things, similar jazz and classical interests, early rock 'n roll influences and more. So I guess all this probably means that Tracks, the Wild Ones and the Doll-Reys had a Velvet Underground vibe because we had some of the same eclectic tastes and shared some of the same influences. Then there’s these two tidbits: