While beyond obscure in their brief time together, the late sixties/early seventies band The Velvet Underground has become almost legendary since their albums started getting re-released in the mid-eighties. You can now find deluxe CD box sets of some of their albums, such as a six CD version of their debut, The Velvet Underground and Nico. It’s not surprising, then, that a number of biographies have come out on The Velvet Underground, such as Rob Jovanovic’s Seeing the Light: Inside The Velvet Underground.
Jovanovic’s book spends most of its time on the band as a whole. He moves through the biographies of individual members quickly rather than getting bogged down discussing band members’ great grandfathers. This appealed to me as many biographies take 100 pages to even start to sniff the lives of their main subjects. The Velvet Underground was together from roughly 1965 to 1970 and, unlike other bands such as The Rolling Stones and The Beatles that were successful while they were together, The Velvet Undergrounds did not have constant media coverage. Despite this potential lack of sources, Jovanovic dishes out a lot of good information about the band’s albums and live shows. It also helps that for a period the band was managed by Andy Warhol, although their split with him was far from amicable.
Seeing the Light also doesn’t paint the best picture of Lou Reed, the group’s best known member. He comes off as a control freak and paranoid, but the book also investigates Reed’s innovations in song writing, particularly in terms of taking on edgy material such as drugs. Reed’s gift for melody and writing catchy material, most notably the classic Velvet Underground song “Sweet Jane,” is also explored.
If you’re a fan of The Velvet Underground or just know a few songs but would like to further explore their career, I highly recommend Seeing the Light.