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December 06, 1989 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1989-12-06

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PPage 8 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, December 6, 1989

Ve vets

Lou Reed and John Cale rest on their laurels

THE first collaboration between
John Cale and Lou Reed was, quite
simply, a landmark in the history of
rock. The Velvet Underground from
1965-68 played music so daringly
innovative, so boldly honest that
time still hasn't caught up with
Their music spoke of a reality
that nobody was willing to admit ex-
isted. Compared to their twisted,

sado-masochistic view of the world
the hallucinatory Utopian fantasies
of the Sgt. Pepper generation seemed
almost quaint to middle America
The Velvets' world consisted of self
destruction, contempt, urban blight
and heroin, not flower power, cele
bration, free love, and LSD.
'Reed and Cale didn't glorify their
aItrnative to the blissfully ignoran
counterculture, though. They jus
p;esented it as nakedly real as the
musical form could possibly allow
them. The Velvet Underground was
"the first band to completely unify
'Words and music into a cohesive
"rk. At their best, they disregarded
'thy notion of hooks or melody to
come up with music that has been
rtmed both "documentary realism'


to imagine that Reed or Cale have a
sentimental bone in their bodies, but
in Songs for 'Drella they oozed with
nostalgic longing. This tender re-
membrance and admiration for
Warhol's ideas caused the song-cycle
to be over-conceptualized beyond the
point of pretentiousness.
This new-found lofty aesthetic
aim had Reed and Cale attempting a
literary songwriting style. They
abandoned any rhythmic connection
between lyrics and music in songs
like "That's the Trouble With Clas-
sicists" and "Open House" ("It's a
Czechoslovakian custom that my
mother taught to me"). Obviously,
it's nearly impossible to depict
highly intellectual concepts like
Warhol's in a rock form, but their
collective solution was nearly as ab-
surd as Reed's attempt on New York
("Descartes through Hegel/ Belief is
never sure").
Like the Velvet Underground, the
music for Songs for 'Drella was at
least consistent with their ideas.
Cale's viola was as saccharine as one
might hear at an eight year old's
recital. For the most part though,
Cale played piano. When he wasn't
trying to create a Steve Reich2style
minimalism, Cale's piano playing
might have passed for a high schol
music teacher playing the theme to
"It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie
Brown." Reed's guitar work was
mostly two chords, but when he did
solo it was typical of the ersatz ex-
perimentalism that has characterized
his solo work.
Symptomatic of the contempo-
rary music scene, Reed and Cale
have produced a work that shoots for
the lowest common denominator
possible. Musically vapid and emo-
tionally void, Songs for 'Drella
stands as a testament to the spiritual
numbness of the '80s. This collabo-
ration should have been the most
important musical event since
Never Mind the Bollocks. Instead,
it was a ghastly parade of lame ideas
that brings the decade to a fitting

Lou Reed may think he looks cool in this promo shot for his New York
album, but he doesn't realize that he's lost his magic touch. Maybe it's
because he got off drugs.

Sweet-voiced Sugar Minott sings for a crowd of adoring fans.
Sugar Minott: Sex,
Roots and audiotape
IF your main exposure to reggae is the U-Club, you could be forgiven
for thinking that there isn't much in the music beyond Bob Marley's Le-
gend. A disinclination in America to listen to anything else has meant
that singers-of the caliber of Sugar Minott have been largely overlooked.
Minott balances the macho posturing of Lover's Rock with a rootsier
dancehall style; between songs boasting of his prowess as a "lurver,"
tunes such as "Dreadlocks Chalice" and "Blessed Be The Tithes" on his
latest album Ghetto Child (Heartbeat Records) reveal Minott's Rastafar-
ian background in Kingston, Jamaica.
Minott began his solo recording career at producer Clement
"Coxsone" Dodd's legendary Studio One label (where Lee "Scratch" Perry
also got his first break). It was here that he honed his singing craft, de-
veloping the honeyed style and unique phrasing for which he's famous.
Like Sam Cooke, Minott can make a syllable last for what seems like
sweet eternity. He can also sing with the angst-ridden desperation of Lit-
tle Willie John and the erotic charge of Marvin Gaye. The overused term
"soulful" definitely applies to Minott.
A modicum of success at home led him to move to Britain in an ef-
fort to be more widely heard. Reggae actually started to move significant
units in Britain during the mid-'70s, gaining momentum during the punk
explosion in 1977. Minott took advantage of this, eventually scoring a
big hit with "Good Thing Going."
But since 1980 he's been back in Jamaica, recording with some of the
island's finest session musicians. The fact that he's worked with people
of the pedigree of Sly & Robbie, the Roots Radics band (as well as Bri-
tish contenders Aswad) shows the high esteem in which Sugar Minott is
held within the reggae world. From a rub-a-dub dancehall stylee through
sensi-inspired mysticism to tuff roots militancy, Minott's voice speaks
of the wide spectrum of Jamaican experience.
SUGAR MINOTT plays at the Blind Pig tonight, with opening act
ONYX. Tickets are $12 at the door. Showtime is 11 p.m.

212 -




4 '

and "consciousness raising." The re-
sult of this experimentation was
rock at its furthest imaginable
reaches - dark, chilling, chaotic,
depraved, and brutal. It was the aural
equivalent of watching static on TV
with a nasty hangover.
Any sense of a preachy morality
was rejected to show the true essence
of human nature. There was no
"Lucy in the Sky" for Reed and
Cale; youthful and exuberant dreams
of transcendence through sex and
drugs didn't exist in their world. For
most of Reed's characters, sex was
nothing beyond a cheap sensual ex-
perience; love could not be found,
only misogyny: "You see her walk-
ing on down the street/ Look at all
the friends you're gonna meet/ Ah,
you better hit her." Contrary to the
popular trend of thinly veiled drug
glorifications, Reed's lyrics were
anything but disguised paeans.
"When the heroin is in my blood/
And the blood is in my head/ Thank
God that I'm good as dead/ And
thank your God that I'm not aware,"

Reed sings in the bone-chilling
"Heroin." These lyrics, combined
with discomforting and nauseating
distorted electric guitar and viola
nervous breakdowns by Reed and
Cale, create a portrait so frighten-
ingly exact that it renders drug use
obsolete to the listener.
Despite a complete lack of artis-
tic intentions, the Velvets gathered
around Andy Warhol's Plastic Ex-
ploding Inevitable in 1965. Sadly, it
was Warhol's death in 1988 that
brought Reed and Cale together for
their second collaboration, Songs for
'Drella - A Fiction, that was per-
formed at New York's Next Wave
Festival last weekend.
This 15 song-cycle attempted to
eulogize the life of one of the most
important figures of the 20th cen-
tury. Starting from his youth in
Pittsburgh ("Smalltown") to his
death ("It's Me"), Songs for 'Drella
was a brief summation of Warhol's
life, but not much else.
Given their past work, it's hard

t~-, 4


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-Mass meeting for auditions for
the University School of Music's
Threepenny Opera will be Wednes-
day, Dec. 13. at 11:30 a.m. in the
Power Center Rehearsal Room. Au-
dition dates will be January 26-28.
More info will be available at the
-Auditions for the RC Player's
production of Chekhov's The Three
Sisters tonight and tomorrow night
6-11 p.m. in Room 2528 Frieze
Building. Sign up in the Green
Room, 1505 Frieze. Please bring a
short prepared monologue. Perfor-
mance dates: March 15-18 in the RC
Auditions and Opportunities runs
Wednesdays in the Daily Arts page.
If you have items for the column,
call 763-0379.

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