Perry Whitford's Reviews > From The Velvets To The Voidoids

From The Velvets To The Voidoids by Clinton Heylin
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really liked it
Read 2 times. Last read March 2, 2004 to March 3, 2004.

A breakneck history of some of my favourite American bands such as The Velvet Underground, MC5, The Stooges, Blondie, Television and The Patti Smith Group. With just a few detours through Detroit, Cleveland and the odd jaunt over to California, this is essentially a New York story, born in various basement and loft dives in the Bowery and eventually focused around the legendary (but inappropriately named) Country Bluegrass and Blues Club, or CBGBs.
Heylin distinguishes American punk as older than and completely unrelated to British punk, all stemming back to the avant garde sound assault of the Velvets, its musicians owing as much to free form jazz as they did to glam and the garage rock bands of the 60s. As such, its a more intellectual and graceful form of punk than the transatlantic kind, though bands like The New York Dolls and The Ramones could certainly made as crude racket as The Sex Pistols.

The principle bands featured here are so thrilling, yet so different from each other in both sound and aesthetic that for me the premise of this history simply couldn't fail. That said, having previously read some of Helyin's Dylan books and found his obnoxious journalistic style a real turn off at times, I was a little wary of the writer.
Thank Iggy then that this book is largely composed of first-hand testimony from the musicians themselves and that Heylin is silent throughout, instead calling on plenty of quotes from some of his betters who were right there in the mosh pit at the time, such as the incomparable Lester Bangs.

Heylin focusses much less on the recordings -though most of the seminal ones get a mention and there is an excellent Discography at the end- to draw most of the attention on the scene itself, the people and places, the camaraderie and rivalry that led to so many band members jumping ship from one act to another. In this way Heylin brilliantly succeeds in bringing those times back to life in a fresh and exciting way.
I am guessing that he had to sit through a lot revisionism from his aging cast of interviewees, but if so he edited most of them out, sticking instead to the comments true to history, which keeps the linear narrative hurtling along.This also allows him to tell the story of some of the great forgotten bands (Electric Eels, Mirrors etc)

A personal gripe however- for all the CBGB stuff, there is very little on Mink Deville. Shame.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 2, 2004 – Started Reading
March 3, 2004 – Finished Reading
August 8, 2013 – Shelved

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