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Velvet Underground & the Grateful Dead

Kanada Kev

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Really interesting article on the Velvet Underground and a pretty wild accounting of how they both overlapped each other in their histories;


It is this contention of untimeliness that I’m most curious to dispute. It’s not clear to me that, following Witts’s own clues and leads, it doesn’t make more sense to freshen our perception of the Velvets by putting them back into their own time, but to ignore geography and direct influence and place them precisely where they aren’t supposed to belong – in, say, California. Suppose one connects them, following chronologies rather than personal histories, to a part of the California scene they are held to oppose, but with which they share an uncannily similar history.

I’m thinking of the Grateful Dead. In the musical-historical imagination – with its New York v. California, but especially its punk v. hippie oppositions – the Dead ought to be the exact antithesis of the Velvet Underground. I can testify to the vehemence of this, again, from my own juvenile experience. By my teen years I had somehow wound up in a punk rock milieu, on one side of one of those yawning divides of style by which teenagers define themselves. We wore T-shirts of the White Light/White Heat album cover, which could not have existed when the album was originally released. Mere mention of liking the Grateful Dead was grounds for ostracism. In the punk rock schema, the Velvets were Papa (and Mama) punks, while the Dead were Papa hippies – and punks hate hippies.

Yet when you look at the state of both bands at their contemporaneous founding moments in 1965-66, you find that the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead started out, in an odd way, as basically the same band. In fact, both bands started with the same name in 1965: the Warlocks. And both were quickly taken up by other cultural movements and artists from other genres to furnish ‘house bands’ for collective projects. On the West Coast, Ken Kesey hired the Dead to provide music for his acid tests (part of a post-Beat San Francisco world that included the washed-up Neal Cassady, muse of Kerouac’s On the Road).

follow link to read the rest.

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