Future Mythologies

A Textual Journey with Maxwell Von Bismarck

Monday, September 19, 2005

999. UNDERLINE is for "Dancing Queen" by the A*Teens, ABBA Generation 1999 MCA

Because sometimes you don't need to make a point. You can just underline one that's already there. And because sometimes you need to hear it from two perspectives to know it's a great song. Or maybe you don't need to, but there's no harm in it. And because this is probably the only thing left to do to make the kitschiest song ever kitschier.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

1000. VIEW is for "Sweet Jane" - The Velvet Underground, Peel Slowly and See 1995 Polydor

I am restarting this lapsed blog with the song that started it all for me. I liked music before I heard "Sweet Jane", but I don't remember it possessing me. I spent plenty of time listening, but the obsessive seeking, wondering, thinking, was not there. I first heard of VU during Christmas break at the end of 1995. While seeking out the last week of Calvin and Hobbes, I glanced across a music review for the band. Apparently Andy Warhol (whom I adored) made history by combining this band called the Velvet Underground with this singer called Nico. By May, I had talked myself into buying the CD (not something I did very often back then). Greatest Hits, naturally. When I put it on I went straight for Sweet Jane, the song I had the most hope of liking. I had heard Bowie's version of "White Light White Heat" and it didn't bode well, but the Cowboy Junkies version of "Sweet Jane" was okay. Playing the song, track 14, was the definitive moment of my life as an aesthete. My view of the world of music changed on a hairpin.

The transition from the opening guitar strangeness to the opening lyrics "Standing on the corner, suitcase in my hand" is one of the best things that Lou Reed has ever done as a singer. By the time he got to the "Huh" at 0:34 I was transfixed. I had never sang along and danced in my bedroom to a song I had never heard before. This 25 year old song was the coolest thing in the world, it was rarefied cool.

It didn't take me long to get past that to the heart of the song. Considered in context with the rest of the Velvets' songs, "Sweet Jane" is something of a final statement. The song reflects on the career of a band who were notorious, brilliant, and ignored. They were also dark. Seedy, sordid, and too many think of them as uncompromisingly pessimistic.

This song is the compromise. It's about a view can switch on a hairpin, from the darkest most wretched melancholy to the highest elation. It doesn't have to be drug-induced, but in many cases, it is. In this song it's an ever-twisted dichotomy, where the view flips back and forth, through the eyes of corseted Jackie and sweet Jane...


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