A celebration of the Velvet Underground’s enduring influence and a serviceable retelling of its story, though with little in the way of original reporting, illumination or attribution of source material for quotes.
Having previously churned out musical biographies on artists ranging from cult favorites (Perfect Sound Forever: The Story of Pavement, 2004) to those with more mainstream celebrity (George Michael, 2009), Jovanovic focuses here on the band that “managed to produce what is now described as the most influential record of rock history, The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967).” This is the sort of provocative assessment that pulls its punches, leaving readers to guess whose verdict this is (the author’s?) or how much of a consensus it represents. Similarly: “There can be a strong argument put forward for Lou Reed being the single most important person in American rock over the last four decades.” Again, the author doesn’t say whether he is in fact making that argument. To the contrary, Jovanovic often minimizes Reed’s importance, attributing the band’s splintering to his autocratic power grab—along with divide-and-conquer management, lack of record-company support and failure to achieve any commercial success. Of the original members, only drummer Moe Tucker talked with the author, though he does a good job of showing what each of the four members contributed to the early dynamic and how the creative tension between Reed and multi-instrumentalist John Cale in particular contributed something crucial, a quality lost after Reed forced Cale from the band. For those who want to know why some consider the band’s subsequent two studio albums as essential as—if not better than—the first two, or explore in more depth the artistry of Reed, Cale and the Velvets, the bibliography lists dozens of books from which the author drew, some more substantial than this.
Better than a clip job, but still hit and run.