Thursday, August 31, 2006

song of the week: the gift

I buy my lunch on the way into work each morning. At the start of the week I pick up salad, humous, maybe some swiss cheese, apples, crisps - all the good stuff, and then buy fresh bread each morning. It's much easier than making lunch the night before and less stressful than leaving my desk at lunch to fight with the other suits in Tescos. It also makes me look like an angelic goody two-shoes at work who's so dedicated that she couldn't possibly take a break from the office. Little do they know that the only reason I no longer go out for lunch is that I'm trying to break off my love affair with Lucky Strike and I don't wish to tempt myself with British American Tobacco by leaving the strictly non-smoking premises.

Anyway, by the time I've walked to the Sainsbury's by Brixton tube to buy lunch, I am well and truly plugged into my i-pod. However, I think it's rude not to remove at least one headphone when paying, although two shows you care.

Anyway, my song of the week is The Gift by The Velvet Underground, a Lou Reed short story, read by John Cale and set against chugging, squeaking electric guitars. It tells of the tragic love of Waldo Jeffers for Marsha Bronson, and Waldo's very sticky, spraying, bloody end.

There are some beautiful details in Lou's story, including:
- The 'Awww' when Waldo realises that Marsha 'needed him, and he wasn't there'.
- Bill's post-coital words, remembered by Marsha the morning after the night before
- the dialogue between Sheila Klein (Marsha's 'very, very best friend') and Marsha
- the fact that Waldo both mows and etches the Edelson's lawn for a dollar fifty
- Sheila's fateful words to Marsha 'Here, you do it, I'm gonna die'.

The guitar part is beautifully menacing, unabashedly heavy, and perfectly imperfect, and ends so abruptly, and yet casually when the story's over that it leaves you before you've stopped gasping or giggling, depending on your temperament.

But, for me, it's all about John Cale's voice. I'm not especially sold on Welsh accents, but John Cale's little Valley lilt with a hint of East Coast drawl is, as they say, to die for.


just words when said by anybody else, but said by John Cale, they're like chocolates.

And best of all, when Sheila Klein says 'Oh gawd, it's absolutely maudlin outside!' John Cale makes it sound like she's saying 'Oh gawd, it's absolutely modern outside!', which is a much better statement, especially when Marsha agrees that it makes her feel 'all icky!'.

So imagine my delight when, buying my lunch, I unplugged myself from my I-Pod, losing the chugging guitars for a moment, and was left with just John, telling me all about postal delivery services.

Yep, they split up the instrumental and the spoken word on the reissue. I swear my lunch tasted better that day.


At 31 August, 2006 20:16 , Blogger paddington said...

Damn right. I first heard The Gift when I was about 13 or so. I had just seen a film of their reunion gig from 1993 on which The Gift is featured.

Lou was going through his Steven Siegal phase and played with a funny little guitar with no tuning pegs; Maureen pounded these tribal sounding drums and shyly came up front to sing I'm Sticking With You; Sterling was heroically Sterling; and John Cale appeared to me to be the coolest man on the planet.

The expressions he pulled depended entirely on the instrument he was playing. On viola, he would close his eyes, furrow his brow and be transported to some otherworldy place where Lou Reed is not a complete shit. On bass, he could pretty much pass for any old boy from the valleys playing in an avant garde rock band. On keyboards, he looked deranged, pounding them with his fists and staring studiously into the middle distance. My brother watched it with me. He was baffled. I had found my group.

He sang lead on most of the old Nico songs, and of course narrated The Gift. I can believe what you say about the vocal on its own, but the backing music is pretty amazing too. You barely notice it usually, so hypnotic is John's vocal, but when you concentrate it sounds a bit like Booker T and the MGs. Until about four minutes in, when Lou starts doing scratchy things with his guitar and it goes off into the cosmos.

Whenever I write short stories, The Gift is always there in the back of my mind. It is as good example of lean, experimental writing as I have read / heard.

Do you know the stuff he did for Island Records in the 70s - Guts, Pablo Picasso, Fear, Heartbreak Hotel etc?

At 01 September, 2006 15:35 , Blogger Alexandra said...

"Inside the package, Waldo was so transfixed with
excitement that he could barely breathe. His skin
felt prickly from the heat and he could feel his heart
beating in his throat. It would be soon. Sheila
stood quite upright and walked around to the other
side of the package. Then she sank down to her knees,
grasped the cutter by both handles, took a deep breath
and plunged the long blade through the middle of the
package, through the middle of the masking tape,
through the cardboard, through the cushioning and
(thud) right through the center of Waldo Jeffers head,
which split slightly and caused little rhythmic arcs
of red to pulsate gently in the morning sun."

Indeed. I remember hearing it for the first time, on a mix tape my mother had made. As soon as it had finished I had to rewind it and listen to it again order to make sure I'd heard it properly. It was one of the first Velvet Underground songs I heard. Bizarre, but wonderful.

At 03 September, 2006 18:49 , Blogger darling vicarage said...

aw, i'm so pleased that the two people that read my blog, aside from the person i live with, enjoyed this week's choice.

paddington - please stop asking me if i know stuff - i don't know anything.

alexandra - i can't believe your mother put the gift on a mixtape for you. please go tell her how brilliant she is right away

At 04 September, 2006 11:36 , Blogger Alexandra said...

I told her how brilliant she was and she looked a little confused.

But she didn't put The Gift on the mix tape specifically for /me/. She'd put a collection of VU songs on a tape ages ago so she could listen to them on her walkman. A couple of years ago I was sorting through my mum's old cassette tapes and I came across it, thought "this looks interesting!" and that was that.

I think the first song on the tape was Venus In Furs - the song that instantly became my favourite, but I loved the whole thing and as a Christmas present that year I got The Velvet Underground & Nico. I bought the other albums, more or less in chronological order after that.

I've discovered nearly all the bands I like through my mum and dad. :)

At 04 September, 2006 14:59 , Blogger monkeytwo said...

unrelated to the topic...

i was simply saddened on reading this blog to find no mention of a very close friend.

shocked by discovery and require urgent reasoning for such behaviour.

i feel on reading my bloggers name my identity may have been given away but what else could i call my blog??? i don't do blogs... you two do!

At 05 September, 2006 22:57 , Blogger paddington said...

A lot of my musical tastes originated from my parents' record collection (it is said that I learnt to read via the lyric sheet of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours).

This might account for the wad of Genesis records that lie hidden in the darkest depths of my collection, and for the fact that Emerson Lake and Palmer's version of Jerusalem is still one of my favourite songs.

DV - I believe that you know 99.97% of everything that's in the world. And, having completed your 2-cd compilation tonight, the remaining 0.03% will be filled in while we watch the one-legged man with the slurry voice...


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