Interestingly enough, my first exposure to The Velvet Underground was through Joe Harvard. In the bar formerly known as O’Toole’s, in the Asbury Park convention hall on the boardwalk, which is now a Mexican restaurant, I sat back and listened to Joe Harvard and Mallory Massara sing Femme Fatale together, to my ear’s enjoyment. The onstage chemistry they had, the great sound of Massara’s voice and those lyrics…! I eventually came to learn that song was from the album The Velvet Underground and Nico (their début album), saw Joe’s book (of the same title) on his wares table and knew I had to learn more…and more I did.
The Velvet Underground and Nico by Joe Harvard is part of the Continuum Books 33 and 1/3 series. It is a great biographical piece where Harvard outlines the early history of The Velvet Underground, the key players, the first album and then their demise. Harvard brings an intense energy to this read, making the small 147 page book a true page turner. In comparison to other books about music or musicians, Harvard’s book on The Velvet Underground is very accessible and has a high level of readability. Where in the case of autobiographical “band books”, there is a certain level of self memorializing and heavy emphasis on romanticizing one’s image or life. Books about bands by writers on the other hand, usually fall short on the inner musical workings and perpetuate already existing myths. Harvard does neither.
Right in the introduction Harvard lays his cards on the table “… unlike some authors in the series, I’m not writing about a record that instantly and fundamentally changed my life, but one that I was affected by tangentially, sychronistically, coincidentally, from a hundred directions before I ever heard it.” Harvard talks candidly about his influences, who coincidentally were influenced by The Velvet Underground. “I’m not a critic…” Harvard explains in the Author’s Note, “I’m a musician, and this is not an attempt to ‘explain’ the Velvet Underground, or their first and definitive album.” This unique, twice-removed, position Harvard was in while writing The Velvet Underground and Nico gave him both the musical knowledge and also the emotional detachment to make his book full of facts, not full of overt interpretation and deliver educated commentary about the music itself, objectively. The parallels he draws on musicians and The Velvet Underground, who influenced them and who they influenced, come from his vast lexicon of music and music theory.
Harvard talks about the music scene in the late 1960’s and The Velvet Underground’s involvement, from a musical but also a journalistic point of view. He occasionally breaks form, bringing a refreshing first person point of view onto the page, giving the work wisps of good ole’ American Gonzo reporting. But also while writing this title, Harvard goes at the task in a very “Woodward and Bernstein” fashion, digging up the facts, bringing evidence to the table and supplying the reader with citations. Harvard points out in the Author’s Note “…most books on rock music avoid footnotes and even bibliographies, it’s difficult to trace many quotes back to their original source….” Not Harvard’s rock music book: his title is full of a whopping 136 citations, from 40 sources, two of which were telephone interviews he conducted with Norman Dolph and Jonathan Richman. The man did his homework!
If you are a fan of music from the late 60’s (which is generally used to define that whole era), rock music, music history, history in general then Harvard’s title The Velvet Underground and Nico about the album is for you…and I failed to mention, if you are a fan of The Velvet Underground, you might want to give this book a look through as well….You will not be disappointed.
The Velvet Underground and Nico by Joe Harvard is published by Continuum Books and is available on Amazon.com.
About the author:
John Petrolino is the author of two collections of poetry; Galleria and CongoLights. Petrolino’s work has been featured in The Idiom Magazine, Eviscerator Heaven, The Bradstock Journal, Write On!! Magazette, The Working Tools Magazine, The Storm Generation Magazine, The New Jersey Freemason, WestWard Quarterly and on poetryvlog.com, identitytheory.com and wordriot.org with work forthcoming in Rock Candy, The Istanbul Literary Review, Exit 13, Hot Tea Cold Water, The Sandstorm Gallery and Lips. John was also featured on the newly released World Spirit film Greenwich Village. John continues to work on his poetry and other works while aboard ship, traveling or at home. Be sure to visit him on the web at www.johnpetrolino.com.