Given the number of books published since Beyond the Velvet Underground, it is little wonder that this one feels thin and rather underwhelming. For coGiven the number of books published since Beyond the Velvet Underground, it is little wonder that this one feels thin and rather underwhelming. For contemporary readers, this is not the book we read first about the Velvets, and everything in this book is elsewhere. So it feels pretty uninformative.
Part of the problem is that it is an oral history, similar to Bockris' Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story, yet smaller than Bockris' book and without a centralizing thesis. Oral histories obviously have the charm of direct quotes from the people involved. But the limitations are also rather apparent: why should we believe anything these people have to say? With contradictions and falsities so apparent, what is the point? Well, the lies say something too, as do the misconceptions and changing attitudes and positions. All of that can be fun. Thompson is having some fun with some of these quotes (my favorite from John Cale: "I'm not going to produce the Squeeze album. I'm growing sideburns."). But Thompson's approach also lacks a strong narrative drive. His patchwork is informative, but fairly sterile. Given his approach, it is almost to his advantage that the book is so short (you can easily read it in one or two sittings). But the shortness also works against it because there's so much he could have, should have added.
In its time, I think this would have been a reasonable introduction to the Velvets. Though to neglect the post-Velvets lives of Moe and Sterling just seems an obnoxious disservice to vital components to the VU's success. But that and it's other problems aside, this book would have been helpful. Unfortunately, it hasn't aged well....more
Very nice book. The extensive quotes from interviews and other sources are really interesting and work well in this context. This is not designed as aVery nice book. The extensive quotes from interviews and other sources are really interesting and work well in this context. This is not designed as a comprehensive account of The Velvets, but it is a very rich slice of the story. The photographs are really great, giving an additional personality and account to this fascinating group and the people around them.
The framing argument about everyone making everyone up-tight and that the success of the band and the E.P.I. came through these tensions and conflicts might seem a bit forced, but is also a very interesting and rather provocative assertion. Sterling Morrison's intro suggests the up-tightness might be played a bit heavy, at the detriment of the sheer fun of being in the Velvet Underground. This intro, however, generates its own tension between the book, its subject and readers - up-tightness continues. Also, there is quite a bit of evidence within the albums to support this claim, particularly in the first two. "Sister Ray" excels to a great degree because doing the song in one take meant each member fought for prominence in the song. Conflict has often bred remarkable artistic achievements, though it doesn't breed band longevity for obvious reasons.
This is a fine entry point to the history of The Velvet Underground. Its lacking in its discussion of the post-Cale work, which kind of does a disservice to everyone involved in those records. But it remains an informative, accessible and short introduction to an important band whose work remains fascinating, challenging and rewarding. ...more
Regardless of whether you like the book or not, whether you consider it Thompson's best or not, this is an important work in American literature, (GonRegardless of whether you like the book or not, whether you consider it Thompson's best or not, this is an important work in American literature, (Gonzo) journalism, and, perhaps more peculiarly, the literature of the American West. The drug culture stuff is wildly funny, terrifying, and informative, capturing the zeitgeist of the early 1970s in much of its horrendous complexity. There is no question of the immense impact of drugs during this period, but what seems more important is Thompson's criticism of the American Dream and the corruption pervasive throughout American culture.
This novel is not a corruption of the American Dream; it is "the American Dream in action" (11), in all its sordid forms. It is also like a modern Western, not only for being located in the West, but in the quest for ideals often embodied in the mythic lure of the West and the Frontier. Many of the same impulses that drove early Americans to reject European ideals and to strike out for the Frontier, to carve a place for themselves in the "New World", are found in this book, yet they're ideals that don't know where to go after the Frontier has been closed and the "last and greatest 'Indian War'" (Richard Slotkin's The Fatal Environment, xi) of Vietnam is now clearly a giant nightmare, as is the failed counterculture of the 60s. America itself has become confused and trapped in a world grown smaller and more crowded, where expansion and unlimited freedom (at other people's expense) is much more difficult to achieve -- where did that expansion really get us in the first place?
Thompson is both profoundly incisive and brutally irresponsible in the same breath. He leaves no one innocent and no one unharmed. Tonally, Fear and Loathing is hilariously unhinged in the first half, but then becomes more strained and uncomfortable in the second half. I laughed and laughed at Duke and Gonzo's drug-fueled scams and antics that leave only a trail of destruction. But in the second half, the stakes seem to be raised with Lucy and the waitress of the North Vegas diner. Where I was amused by Duke and Gonzo offending uptight, high-end tourists and authority types, their treatment of Lucy and the waitress was much harder to stomach. These are terrible men, doing terrible things, in a world gone terrible. Duke asks, "But who was the Hero of this filthy drama" (122)? No one is. Like Sergio Leone's Dollar's trilogy, or the reference to Shakespeare's Othello that motivated Duke's question, Fear and Loathing doesn't believe in heroes -- those cowboys are long gone, leaving me to wonder if they had ever existed at all. The novel more savagely and perhaps more complicatedly channels the anxiety in Ray Bradbury's story "--And the Moon be Still as Bright" from The Martian Chronicles: "I hate this feeling of thinking I'm doing right when I'm not really certain I am. Who are we, anyway? The majority? . . . The majority is always holy, is it not? . . . Never wrong for one little insignificant tiny moment, is it? Never ever wrong in ten million years? . . . What is this majority and who are in it? And what do they think and how did they get that way and will they ever change and how the devil did I get caught in this rotten majority? I don't feel comfortable. Is it claustrophobia, fear of crowds, or common sense? Can one man be right, while all the world thinks they are right? Let's not think about it. Let's crawl around and act exciting and pull the trigger. There, and there!" (95) This is what's frightening and poignant about being "just another freak in the Freak Kingdom" (Thompson 83). We've lost our way, becoming monsters "just sick enough to be totally confident" (204).
Fear and Loathing remains important because it remains relevant. Thompson's anarchic method might be cruel, but he told us it would be, and that hardly discredits his point. The quest for the American Dream is a waste of time, because we're still living it, in all its horrific reality. How we get out of this quandary is anyone's guess. Thompson didn't seem to have an answer, or at least wasn't very forthcoming with it. But he lays out the problem pretty potently and profoundly. Perhaps that in itself is a sign of improvement. Or maybe it only further indicates just how far down the rabbit hole we've all gone. ...more
The Autobiography of Malcolm X was pretty great. A very fascinating self-portrait of a man who I still think is largely misunderstood and painted withThe Autobiography of Malcolm X was pretty great. A very fascinating self-portrait of a man who I still think is largely misunderstood and painted with over-generalized brushstrokes. If anything this autobiography shows a man who stood for what he believed, regardless if anyone else agreed with him or not. Consequently, this caused him to revise his position on race issues and Islam, break away from the Nation of Islam, and pursue a new course that had abandoned his racist opinions and rhetoric that first propelled him into the national spotlight. It seems to me that the direction he was headed was a good one and had he not been assassinated I think he would have accomplished some remarkable and positive things. His murder was a real tragedy.
Some quotes I especially liked:
"Right now, in every big city ghetto, tens of thousands of yesterday's and today's school dropouts are keeping body and soul together by some form of hustling in the same way I did."
"America is subsidizing what is left of the prestige and strength of the once mighty Britain. The sun has set forever on that monocled, pith-helmeted resident colonialist, sipping tea with his delicate lady in the non-white colonies being systematically robbed of every valuable resource. Britain's superfluous royalty and nobility now exist by charging tourists to inspect the once baronial castles, and by selling memoirs, perfumes, autographs, titles, and even themselves."
“Children have a lesson adults should learn, not to be ashamed of failing, but to get up and try again. Most of us adult are so afraid, so cautious, so ‘safe,’ and therefore so shrinking and rigid and afraid that it is why so many humans fail. Most middle-aged adults have resigned themselves to failure.”
"To speculate about dying doesn't disturb me as it might some people. I never have felt that I would live to become an old man. Even before I was a Muslim - when I was a hustler in the ghetto jungle, and then a criminal in prison, it always stayed on my mind that I would die a violent death. In fact, it runs in my family. My father and most of his brothers died by violence - my father because of what he believed in. To come right down to it, if I take the kind of things in which I believe, then add to that the kind of temperament that I have, plus the one hundred percent dedication I have to whatever I believe in - these are ingredients which make it just about impossible for me to die of old age."...more
A Holocaust story. Hmm. . . not my favorite thing. I had trouble getting into them before spending time in Germany, and I have an even more difficultA Holocaust story. Hmm. . . not my favorite thing. I had trouble getting into them before spending time in Germany, and I have an even more difficult time now. Anne Frank, however, being what it is - a true account - should be read and accounted for. It's different in that it spends little time talking about the 'evil Germans' and more time addressing other, more interesting issues. Anne is a young girl and her written diary is a wonderful document and window into the life of a girl growing up in hiding and isolation. My bias towards Holocaust books probably influences my 3 star rating, but along with that is the tedious, monotony of the middle part of the story. Granted, life for Anne & co. had to have been monotonous and dull much of the time, so the diary captures the reality of their situation really well. But that doesn't make me love reading it. ...more