The Velvet Underground & Nico Turned Fifty

When I listened to The Velvet Underground & Nico for the first time, I was very young; almost a child. Some kid same age as me gifted the record to me because he didn't like it. As he said, he was "never going to listen to it again anyway." He must had bought it after he'd seen it cataloged on some "best of all time" list, but he hadn't quite grasped what he was getting himself into. I accepted the generosity with pleasure, I guess because by then I too had seen the album on such lists, and also because I sensed that Lou Reed was a cool figure to look up to.

I was immediately fascinated by it. Judging from the date of its release and from what I had read in the publications that wrote about it, I was mislead to expect something way more traditionally rock. To my surprise that was not the case with The Velvet Underground. Despite my young age at the time and the naïveté that came with it, I was slowly realizing that this LP's content was the quintessence of the word "alternative" when the term was being used to describe music.

When my allowance allowed me so, I added the next three Velvet Underground albums to my then small collection (it took me years to learn about the existence of Squeeze, but as it turned out when I did hear it, I hadn't missed much) and I liked them all, but I kept returning to that mighty first one.

So, I grew up with this record. Since then I've bought about five different editions of it on vinyl, CD, boxsets and whatnot. Through it, I discovered Lou Reed and John Cale, the art and persona of Andy Warhol, Nico's other albums, the New York punk scene that eventually led me to Iggy Pop, Detroit rock 'n' roll, and there was no stopping from there on.

Fast forward many years later when I was working my shift at the record store, a pimple-faced adolescent approached me, carrying a couple of CDs. On one hand there was The Velvet Underground & Nico while on the other he has holding Pyromania by Def Leppard. He shoved both of them to my face and asked in his weird, squeaky voice,

"Which one?"

Although I though the question was quite funny, I did not show how amused I was. I prompted him towards the banana and he turned around and went on to leave the Def Leppard CD back on the shelf. Then he fled straight for the cashier to buy my suggestion without saying thanks nor goodbye. I figured that the kid must have read some kind of "best ever" list too, one that must have listed both of those albums. It was before the nowadays' times of internet debauchery, so it seemed like the guy would like to work out for himself what the fuzz was about by purchasing a physical copy of the album. It was what people were still doing back then.

It felt good that incident. As I saw it, whether the kid ended up like me, a superfan of the album, or like my old friend who hated it and went on to pass it along to some other person, I had become part of the chain that spread the word about the significance of The Velvet Underground & Nico.

Come to think of it, there could be more possibilities, like him having thrown it in the the trash and letting his ten bucks go to complete waste. Still, if he did so, the loss is all his own.

The Velvet Underground & Nico turned half a century old this week.

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