Pete's Blog


This is the third and last installment in my ongoing discussion with Steve Simels about '60s cult-faves the Velvet Underground. It doesn't have that much to do with the VU per se, because I've said what I have to say on that score. But there's an issue in the background that needs airing. Some movements and periods in art have more resonance through history than others do, and this is usually because of some larger social or cultural trend behind the scenes. The plays of Shakespeare were written at a time when Elizabethan England was rising to world prominence after being, for all of recorded history to that point, a lesser country than France or Spain. Shakespeare's bravura passages show the English language emerging as the world's dominant means of communication. So, too, the symphonies of Beethoven were part of a larger social and cultural revolution that prized raw human emotion over aristocratic restraint, and saw the demise of hereditary monarchies all over Europe and the rise of progresssive ideas like the emancipation of women. Everybody should know where I'm going with this by now. Rock music was part of a larger musical/social trend in the 20th Century involving an unprecedented reconciliation of the races in American society. Rock music had a special significance to this process, because it was initiated and developed by white performers who were obviously and overtly imitating black R&B and jazz performers, even moreso than the white jazz players of previous generations. What musician would NOT want to be part of this process? I do not mean to suggest that rock musicians (like the Velvet Underground and many others) who do not reflect black sources in their work are somehow racist. I do suggest that they are lazy, emotionally shallow, and unskilled. People have been telling me since this online discussion started that Lou Reed loves jazz and I believe it. He just can't play it.

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