Saved By the Underground, and You Can Be, Too!

    I truly believe that I can save the world by making everyone listen to the Velvet Underground. Well, if not the world, then our (American) culture — at least the part of it that involves too many people listening to terrible music. Haven’t heard of the Velvet Underground? (Slash does not play guitar in the band; you’re probably thinking of Velvet Revolver, a bad but similarly named band). If the name is well-known to you, good — you have already taken the first step toward a more enlightened appreciation of music. If you found the Slash comment informative as well as (mildly) humorous, then it’s about time you were saved. To explain, I shall begin with an anecdote.

    Once, not too long ago, I listened almost exclusively to crap music. I’m talking Three Doors Down crap music. The most impressive CDs in my collection included the entire Queen discography, Tool’s Lateralus, Blink 182’s Dude Ranch and yes, even the first Nickelback album. (Note: At this point I am exempting from the discussion any empirically amazing albums passed down by my parents, i.e. Bob Dylan and the Beatles.) One day, on a whim, I purchased the Strokes’ Is This It?, based entirely on the “Last Night” music video, which included rarely seen (for me, at least) moments of badassery including, but not limited to: drinking beer during a guitar solo, running into fellow band members mid-song and saying “shit” when it wasn’t even included in the original song. Yes, I was once this innocent.

    Though it sounded completely different than anything in my collection, I dug it just fine. Reading over reviews of the album, I noticed many critics compared it to a band as yet unknown to me, the Velvet Underground. This was my gateway moment into the world of what is known as “good music.” Soon, I picked up their first album, the one with Andy Warhol’s banana on the cover and a small message: “Peel slowly and see.” I did, and was welcomed to New York City in the final days of hippiedom, where heroin was the new marijuana and the odor of stale cigarettes outstank the smell of patchouli.

    The first few listens were a bit more difficult than I was used to, but soon I finally understood what music was capable of, and began to drift away from my old collection, picking up albums by the Clash, Elvis Costello and the Smiths. I still remember when I told a longtime punker acquaintance of mine, “Hey, this Costello guy is pretty darned good,” and he threw me a look that said he had understood this since eighth grade. The Velvet Underground saved me from the dark side, and it can do the same for you.

    The Velvet Undergound’s first album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, was released in January 1967, nearly six months before the much more popular Beatles masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Unlike the impeccable orchestration of Sgt. Pepper’s, the Velvet Underground’s first album is undeniably real — no matter how well I’ve memorized it, it still surprises me. There’s a rock critic cliche that explains that only a few people listened to the Velvet Underground’s four albums, but every one of them went on to form a band of their own. At the least, the band sparks a passion for new and interesting music. The Beatles may leave me contented, but the Velvet Undergound make me want more and more music, and to find and listen to any and every excellent album ever created. They, not the Beatles (because let’s be serious, everybody likes the Beatles), are the first step into the magical world of musical enlightenment.

    We are all members of an institution of learning, but there is more to learn in college than formulas, histories and literature. Just as one should leave college knowing more about their own academic slice of the world than when they came in, one should leave UCSD as a culturally enlightened adult, not an average small-minded teenager that picks up their tastes from MTV and Blazin’ 98.9. If I can accomplish one thing in at UCSD, it is to get people hooked on good music instead of the record companies’ flavor of the month. Just as eating at tasty restaurants makes a McDonald’s quarter-pounder seem less enticing, or drinking Arrogant Bastard makes a case of Natty Ice seem pedestrian, a little bit of good music makes the terrible kind almost unbearable. And unlike the two previous examples, a good album costs just as much as a terrible one. So why the fuck should anyone waste their time and money on something inferior?

    Throughout my year as Hiatus editor, I have, on occasion, insulted Yellowcard, My Chemical Romance, 50 Cent (implicitly) and the cancer-surviving singer of Jack’s Mannequin. Meanwhile, I have endlessly paraded the musical prowess of groups like Belle and Sebastian, the Unicorns, the Fiery Furnaces and Broken Social Scene. Why? Is it because I’m a pretentious, hipster-idolizing indie twat? Perhaps — but I’d prefer to think that it’s because I care about anyone who has ever hit the play button on their CD player. There’s nothing worse to me than wasting your time listening to music that ranges from passable to absolutely boring shit, but some people do this all the time, and don’t even realize that they have a problem.

    In the spirit of this, I propose the following: I will make it easy for you. Give me your terrible music, and I will give you the best that I can muster. Like Coldplay’s X&Y? Rob Thomas? O.A.R.? Black Eyed Peas? Jack Johnson? John Mayer? My Chemical Romance? Matisyahu? Bubba Sparxxx? The Killers? Don’t waste your time with this trash. Come to the Guardian office (second floor, Student Center, above the General Store), throw out your trash (or don’t), and pick up something better. On my dollar. Seriously.

    Soon, you can be listening to some undeniably amazing albums: the Stooges’ Raw Power, A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory, Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, the Clash’s London Calling, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, the Pixies’ Doolittle, the Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow, Lee Perry and the Upsetters’ Super Ape, Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the 36 Chambers, Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, Max Romeo’s War Ina Babylon, Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, Black Star, Portishead’s Dummy, Eric B. and Rakim’s Follow the Leader, Pulp’s Different Class, the soundtrack to “The Harder They Come,” Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and, of course, The Velvet Underground and Nico. I’ve done the work for you. All you need to do now is listen.

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