Friday, September 18, 2009

sterling undermined

I watched helplessly from the window as my wife hurtled on down the street with our small reserve of tobacco. She was too far away to stake a decent headshot,
so I gently laid down the telescopic .22 rifle and retreated to the kitchen to forage through some leftovers in the dustbin.

She was headed for the underground on the corner of Bridge Street and Norfolk Street. Before she even got there she began to resemble just another ant.

A couple of comments under yesterday's post on Mo Diddley got me to thinking about Holmes Sterling Morrison Jr., and how his extraordinary contribution to proto-punk and avant-garde guitar noodling is almost uniformly overlooked.
It did not help his case any that the Velvet Underground featured two guitarists from the very start, or that he is scarcely credited with playing his hand in the shaping of the group's early material; a shared writing credit on "European Son" from the first LP - thoroughly rehabilitated in collaboration with Dean Wareham and Sean Eden - and three more on "White Light/White Heat", including the superlative "Sister Ray". Nothing on their third outing with Doug Yule taking over from J
ohn Cale, and zero on 1970's "Loaded".

I suspect a good many VU aficionados unwittingly confuse Morrison's parts with Reed's, and that is a genuine pity. Sterling's woefully low profile as a solo recording artist after Lou's decision to go it alone and "Walk on the Wild Side" has done little in those intervening years to rectify the confusion. Outwith guest guitar on a couple of tracks from Luna's 1994 outing - a band formed by songwriter, Dean Wareham out of the ashes of Galaxie 5000 and the Feelies - and more of the same on Maureen Tucker's fourth solo release, "Dogs Under Stress", from the same year, Sterling Morrison instead chose to return to those academic studies formerly abandoned; obtaining a P.h.D. in Medieval Studies from the University of Texas, Austin, only to turn his back on an academic career in favour of skippering a tug boat operating out of Houston.

His well documented excursions as a guitarist, then - beyond the Velvets briefly reforming between 1992 and 1993 - were largely confined to the local live circuit in and around Austin, and some fairly intensive touring as a key member of Tucker's road band. Mostly, Sterling Morrison appears to have been content to disengage from the machine before it truly became all consuming.

A man stepping in and out of the underground at will. On or off the leash.

vu, circa 1965: featuring drummer, angus maclise,
replaced by mo tucker before recording their debut album.

Oh. And my wife ? It seems she carefully divided that tobacco stash, after all.
One half left neatly folded for me in a polythene sleeve next to the coffee pot; kettle; black. Imagine my guilt. I really ought to learn to rein in these misplaced homicidal urges before I shoot myself in the foot, or worse.


Written by Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison.
Nico: vocals;
Lou Reed: guitar; Sterling Morrison: guitar;
Recorded at Mayfair Sound Studios, NYC,
April 4th, 1967.
Produced by Tom Wilson.


Written by Dean Wareham.
Recorded at Right Track Studios, NYC.
Produced by Luna and Victor Von Vugt.
Guitar by Sterling Morrison.

NICO: CHELSEA GIRLS from "Chelsea Girl" LP (MGM) 1967 (US)

LUNA: FRIENDLY ADVICE from "Bewitched" LP (Elektra) 1994 (US)
LUNA: GREAT JONES STREET from "Bewitched" LP (Elektra) 1994 (US)


MikeB in NYC said...

Thanks for this Ib - the Luna tracks are new to me, didn't know of the guest spot.

Previous comment not meant to knock Lou (I'm a fan, saw the Berlin show in Brooklyn a while back and hope to finally digitize my copy of Take No Prisoners this week) but to argue that the business and critical establishment's focus on him ignored all the factors which created the VU sound, esp. on the first two and most influential releases.

ib said...

Cheers, Mike B.


The Luna tracks are wholly new to me, too. I only found out about Sterling's guest involvement when I started doing a little digging to unearth material recorded outwith the VU. Not much of it to be found, sadly.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that the industry has exploited Lou as an iconic cash cow to be milked until the tits run dry; this predates even the demise of the VU, and to what extent Lou himself is responsible to that end is open to conjecture.

It seems absurd that Mo Tucker was compelled to hold down a dead-end job in Wal-Mart in order to support her family. The VU albums might not have 'shifted much product' at the time of their release, but that was certainly far from the case by the time "Playin' Possum" was recorded and self-financed. That somebody was making a royal mint from the VU catalogue is beyond dispute.

It sure as hell was not Tucker or Morrison. Probably not even Cale.

Nazz Nomad said...

Dean Wareham wrote a decent book revolving around his touring with Galaxie 500 and Luna- I think it's called Black Postcards.
And didn't you just get married? WTF with the Wm Burroughs fantasy?

ib said...

That Burroughs thang is merely my sick sense of humour, Nazz. I don't actually own a .22 rifle, telescopic sight or otherwise. Sheesh. Credit me with some common sense, why don'cha.

Just making light of my propensity to get stressed when there is no tobacco product within reach.

I didn't know about the Black Postcards book, so that's another thing to add to my list... Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

just got back an hour or so ago, just read nazz's comment of course ib is a total 'fantasist' WTF indeed....
love u.x

ib said...

...And the moral of the story is: never leave your blogger account open or password unprotected.

Löst Jimmy said...

Totally unrelated to the unfolding thread here - i.e. fantasist tower block assassins. I have to thank you ib for your 'Striker' nostalgia today, I had really forgotten how fiddly that pitch barrier was. Still in 'Striker' there was no room for overpaid, prima-donnas just good old fashioned football albeit in a plastic world.

Have a good weekend brother

Mondo said...

Have you heard The Wolfmen's version of Not A Young Man Anymore killer. Even got the thumbs up from Lou...

Denier said...

Ah, that demon tobacco! Good post here, ib. Luna were one of my favorite bands, although I caught on to them late (Days of Our Nights) and then went back through the catalog. Bewitched has a lot to recommend it as well.

ib said...


I knew nothing at all on Luna previously, although I was well aware of Galaxie 5000.

The demon weed - in the truest sense - is a filthy addiction. 'Nough said.

Löst Jimmy:

The pitch-barrier was rudely jettisoned by all but the hardiest kids, I recall. If knots were you're bag - and the most I could manage at that age was a slipknot - then it presented an occasion, I suppose, to show off great skills of patience. After my first attempt on opening the box it never again saw the light of day.


Thanks for the lead, there. Unusual for Lou to be so courteous.