The Velvet Underground by Chris Roberts #bookreview

What it’s about…

Over half a century since they exploded inevitably onto New York’s underground music and art scenes, the legacy and mythology of The Velvet Underground continues to resonate and grow, as new generations embrace their enigmatic command of the darkest strain of alternative cool. Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker, with the naïve encouragement of Andy Warhol, created a world of music, words and scenes which blew up the notion of the peace-and-love sixties and tapped into a nocturnal milieu of art, literature, drugs, sex and decadence. Their albums survive as caustic classics, among the most influential records ever made.

Not only did author Chris Roberts interview the late Lou Reed three times, he was also once told, “Move – you are sitting on my coat” by the unmistakable voice of Nico, backstage at a gig. Here he recounts and celebrates the fascinating, multi-faceted story of perhaps the most mysterious and unique rock band ever to exist. A complex, contrary, clashing set of characters who came together to start fires while drawing down darkness, The Velvets’ legend will forever run run run.

What I thought…

While it’s probably an exaggeration to say The Velvet Underground changed my life, they kind of did. Before coming across The Gift while riffling through my dad’s record collection, my musical taste was very much dictated by whatever was on Top of the Pops that week (yes, I’m old!). Afterwards, I’m not sure I tuned in again. Instead of being a somewhat passive listener, I became an ardent fan – of the Velvet Underground and lots of other guitar driven bands. I started searching out music rather than waiting for it to come to me. I made friends with people who loved the same music. And gigs vs. nightclubs became my social life. This might have happened without the Velvet Underground, but I kind of doubt it.

Reading about your heroes is always a tricky business. You might find out things that you didn’t know that make you love them more. Or you might found out they are not very nice human beings, putting you off them for ever. I found out plenty about the forming of the band in The Velvet Underground, most of which I didn’t know. And I gained a real insight into what it was like in the late 60’s in New York.

Both were fascinating. I don’t think I’d realised quite how quickly the band formed and fell apart, though I knew it was tumultuous. I did know that much of this chaos was down to Lou Reed, which his laid out in the book. There is a lot of Lou in here. That makes sense but I would have liked to get to know the rest of the band a bit more.

And I think that there was plenty of space in the book to do this because it was a really easy read. I’m not downplaying the book or the author by saying that – it is a compliment – the style is effortless and Chris Roberts obviously knows his stuff. It feels like it was written by a fan, one who loved his subject matter. But because of that, I think it could have gone further into who the rest of the band were.

Instead, the focus was too much on Lou Reed. It felt like his biography, not the bands. It’s a negative but it didn’t stop me really enjoying the book. It’s left me wanting more though, not completely satisfied. 4 out of 5 stars.



Find on:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Please note: I received this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings, and opinions are my own.


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