La Monte Young: White Light for Velvet Underground
A bit of departure from my normal posts, but in a mood to think about art, influences, the cosmos of sound and lifetimes. One of my favorite bands has always been The Velvet Underground. The mix of NYC ‘cool’ with major innovations in what is ‘music’ for contemporary listeners, the band has always been more than ‘art house rock’ or ‘performance art’. Pivotal, influential and just plain good.
John Cale played, by all accounts, a pivotal role in not only founding but also the evolution and sound of The Velvet Underground. The use of sound as an art form, an interesting and exciting idea within itself, was something Cale continues to bring to music today. Worthy of his own post, Cale often cited La Monte Young as a major influence on how we thought about music and especially what Cale brought to The Velvet Underground in his ideas on what their sound would be (sound almost more so than music–a topic within itself too).
Photo copyright Sabine Matthes
La Monte Young, in my opinion, is truly an avant garde artist. He approached music and sound and explored realms that I don’t think anyone thought of yet alone tried to comprehend. A composer, musician, artist and perhaps even a sherpa of sound, Young led a way into opening your mind to what is ‘music’. As a jazz musician during the heyday of the 1950’s, Young was not embarassed to utilize LSD, Canabis and other mind-altering drugs to spur his imagination. By 1960 he was in New York and in the heart of the morphing art scene. He wrote music that Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol would use at their legendary but at that time so amazingly fresh and new art ‘happenings’. A fascinating man, well worth a deep dive into his life; alas this blog is allegedly more topline and into music, themes, ideas and feeling.
Along with La Monte Young, other notable influences for The Velvet Underground were John Cage, Bob Dylan and of course the free-thinking Andy Warhol. I think the mix of art, music and the blurring of these lines are something all of these people, as simply artists, added to the collective conscious or perhaps unconscious. Famed musical artist Brian Eno also cites Young’s music/philosophy/interest as a big influence on his approach to music as art.
I think that is an enjoyable side to music, the links over time of musicians on other people’s music. Sting often talks about how Bach is a huge influence on his solo work. The Velvet Underground certainly influenced a long line of musicians/groups, from The Doors, David Bowie, The Stooges, Talking Heads, U2, and many musical artists cite this band as an influence.
I have included one of Young’s tunes (‘Raga for Ravi’) as, similar to most of his music, it takes some time to not only get into but to also simply have time to spend enjoying it. This tune is a personal favorite as far as just finding time to stop, open your mind, and appreciate the cosmic influence of sound, music and feeling in life. Also included at the end is an ambient music tune by Brian Eno, perfect for trying to find some calm solace in a life of hectic, man-made schedules.