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Thread: The Velvet Underground vs The Grateful Dead

  1. #1
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    Lightbulb The Velvet Underground vs The Grateful Dead

    Just read Charles Perry's "The Haight Ashbury" part of my ongoing research. And found this classic old skool West Coast diss:

    "But this was all taking place in San Francisco. Once in a while people wondered what could be happening along the same lines elsewhere; certainly there were good out-of-town bands such as the Spoonful and the Byrds. So when Andy Warhol's highly publicized Plastic Exploding Inevitable show came to the Fillmore Auditorium at the end of May, a number of hippies went in hopes of finding out what New York, the capitol of the avant-garde, was doing. After all, here was Warhol, an official Artist and the very father of pop art, with rock and roll and what the news magazines said was a far-out light be nothing but a self-consciously decadent rock group playing mannered paraphrase of amateurish high school rock. They sang about perversion and heroin addiction; there was a “whip dancer on the bill. The light show was nothing but ordinary stage lighting spotlights (though when the spots were flashed on the revolving mirror ball hanging from the Fillmore's ceiling, it was like being in show. What they found was the Velvet Underground, which seemed to room full of galaxies), supplemented by static Warhol movies like Sleep and Empire State Building. There were raised platforms on the dance floor so you could stand up above the crowd to see and be seen.


    So this was what was happening in New York. Heroin, perversion, vanity, stasis. No breakthroughs here, and maybe San Francisco wasn't so provincial after all. The psychedelic crowd went away relieved of the burden of keeping track of what might be going on elsewhere."

    Although I'm familiar with a few of their recordings I've never been a fan of The Grateful Dead.

    But on reflection:

    a) The audience was 100% more committed. There was something at stake.
    b) The sound system under Bob Owsley was better (this DOES mean something).
    c) The light shows were better.


    Here's some background viewing:


    especially this (contentious point but interesting point) that rap is not music (he doesn't say it's not valid! i don't think...)

  2. #2
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    You comparing them as live bands exclusively?

    a) The audience was 100% more committed. There was something at stake.

    This probably has as much to do with the bands as their respective audiences. Didn't the VU play with their backs to the audience and basically hold them in contempt? I seem to remember Cale saying they used to wear sunglasses so they didn't have to look at them. You've also got a band and audience on more or less the same drugs at a Dead show, very open, communal drugs, and a band on very closed off, isolating drugs at a VU show.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woebot View Post
    a) The audience was 100% more committed. There was something at stake.
    that's wrong. VU's audiences were smaller but way more committed, often fanatical. people like Jonathan Richman, Bob Quine, the entire Cleveland pre-punk scene (Electric Eels, Rocket From the Tombs, etc). the big difference audience-wise ca. 1967 is the Dead/SF in genl were perfectly tapped into the Summer of Love zeitgeist, esp on the West Coast, whereas VU couldn't have been more out of sync with it, musically, drugs, philosophy, everything. that tour is covered in Please Kill Me. it was a complete mismatch. the hippies just didn't get it at all, while VU/their Factory entourage held the hippies in utter contempt. VU was too outre for hippies. they were a bummer. hence the irony of free love hippies complaining about decadence + perversion, + then the sadder irony that within a year or two Haight Ashbury would itself be a wasteland of hard drug zombies, minus any of the NY scene's redeeming creativity. eventually the zeitgeist shifted and VU went on to be a massive influence on virtually every pre-punk weirdo of the early-mid 70s, and then punk itself, no wave, and so on, while the Dead outlived most of their contemporaries but retreated firmly into nichedom. the Deadhead thing really begins in the early 70s w/the advent of endless touring.

    just look at their respective legacies. VU's is basically every good/interesting white guitar band of the last 50 years. the Dead's is jam band culture + mandolins.

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    also version is right about the drugs. heroin + speed v. weed + psychedelics.

    also their avant-garde, performance art, etc side from Cale (via LM Young, via the whole Fluxus etc scene) + Warhol/Factory, which the Dead lacked

    p sure I once saw you write that rock is generally better the further it gets away from the blues. VU->Can + Neu!. the Dead->roots rock (+ mandolins)

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    jam bands and their trust fund hippie fanbases are another thing I think you really have to be American to appreciate the true awfulness of

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    Quote Originally Posted by padraig (u.s.) View Post
    that's wrong. VU's audiences were smaller but way more committed, often fanatical. people like Jonathan Richman, Bob Quine, the entire Cleveland pre-punk scene (Electric Eels, Rocket From the Tombs, etc). the big difference audience-wise ca. 1967 is the Dead/SF in genl were perfectly tapped into the Summer of Love zeitgeist, esp on the West Coast, whereas VU couldn't have been more out of sync with it, musically, drugs, philosophy, everything. that tour is covered in Please Kill Me. it was a complete mismatch. the hippies just didn't get it at all, while VU/their Factory entourage held the hippies in utter contempt. VU was too outre for hippies. they were a bummer. hence the irony of free love hippies complaining about decadence + perversion, + then the sadder irony that within a year or two Haight Ashbury would itself be a wasteland of hard drug zombies, minus any of the NY scene's redeeming creativity. eventually the zeitgeist shifted and VU went on to be a massive influence on virtually every pre-punk weirdo of the early-mid 70s, and then punk itself, no wave, and so on, while the Dead outlived most of their contemporaries but retreated firmly into nichedom. the Deadhead thing really begins in the early 70s w/the advent of endless touring.

    just look at their respective legacies. VU's is basically every good/interesting white guitar band of the last 50 years. the Dead's is jam band culture + mandolins.
    gotta admit i'm a velvets man through and through - and on the face of the SF hippy culture seems silly - HOWEVER in many ways the warhol/velvets axis was business as usual (if not more so) for society and culture. and, i guess, capitalism (if that's your thing) there are lots of things that, for all their wonkiness, were profoundly revolutionary about Haight-Ashbury.

    to clarify - perhaps it's about understanding the grateful dead not strictly as what survives as recorded music - more as a way of life and an experience.

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