Ancient Greek Music (which sounds suspiciously like something from Look Around You)
There is a moment in the Velvet Underground’s ‘I heard her call my name’ when Lou Reed sings “I felt my mind split open”, there is a brief, terrible pause and then, John Cale, I think, kicks over a stack of metal chairs and all hell breaks loose. This is an accurate depiction of what happened to me the first time I heard this song.
Our lives are, of course, long chains of consequence defined by little more than chance: roads crossed or not crossed, doors opened or ignored, words spoken or thought only on the stairs; an aimless wander through a garden of forking paths. It is rare that you can point to a single moment say: ‘there’, ‘but for that road taken’, that was a nail on which everything else hung. Aged 16 or so I opened the door to a friend’s bedroom and heard a sound that in that moment changed everything. I felt my mind split open. I heard life call my name.
I wasn’t even sure at that first blast that what I was hearing was music, but I did know it was wonderful, amok, surprising. And important. Because this wasn’t just hearing a band. Desperate to know more about them in this pre-Internet age, I found a book by Victor Bockris in the school library. And there was a picture of Andy Warhol and Lou Reed talking to William Burroughs. Andy Warhol was an artist. William Burroughs was a writer. They had some of his books in the school library, too (it says something about my school that something as trivial as fiction was so far below them that they let the pupils choose the fiction section of the library and no one bothered to censor it) (he was on a shelf next to Philip K Dick and Kurt Vonnegut too, so I found them at the same time). Another world was opening in front of me, piece by piece, an alternative world, hidden, dark, a velvet underground.
It’s difficult now we know everything to remember what it was like before. In the old days the only music discovery software was John Peel. Alternative music was an urban myth - something that happened to a friend of a friend: books, music, film, art, these were all word of mouth, all accident and surprise. It was my friend Lars’ brother who had lent him White Light/White Heat, my friend Ben’s aunt who gave him a Tom Waits album, Ben himself who first played me the Fall. And hearing those things made me different and made me different friends. Lucy - who could do a pitch perfect Nico impression - introduced me to the Violent Femmes and Talking Heads; Simon who, DJing in a club in town, discombobulated the regulars by playing the Butthole Surfers for me to dance to (and with whom I started an inevitable band); Robert, who gave me Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore, James Joyce and David Lynch.
As I type this the radio is telling me that the Daily Mail, the voice of repressed suburbia, little Englanders , as Burroughs put it: mean, pinched, bitter, evil, is vilifying Lou Reed as a man who glamourised deadly drugs. 71, dead and still able epater la bourgeoisie. What an achievement. I would probably have always been an odd kid. I was bookish, creative, awkward. But it was opening that door that day that gave me a world where I was normal - conventional, even, boring. Opening that door made me a communist and aesthete at an all male, elite, establishment English boarding school. Opening that door made someone who hates and is hated by the Daily Mail (I work at the Guardian, of course they hate me). Opening that door revealed that desperate need for the new, the different, the unknown that as become what, for the lack of a better word, we might call my career. Opening that door made me me.
I don’t own any of Lou Reed’s solo albums. I own John Cale solo albums, even in being a Velvet Underground fan I had to be awkward. But now the radio is playing him speaking about the spirit of rock and roll, of punk rock, of the need to blow it all up, to change it all, to be awkward and different and yourself. And for opening that door, Lou Reed, thank you.
Lovely site comparing photos of Paris from 1900& 2013 - yet more evidence that Paris is little more than a Belle Époque theme park
An illuminating picture of London as a tax haven and the heart of a shadowy financial empire
Collected urban data
Designersgotoheaven.com - Rainbow Queen.