Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Busy Suckin On A Ding Dong, Jim: The Velvet Underground- Sweet Sister Ray
Is "Sister Ray" the most incredible song of the sixties? Or-- to hell with it-- the most incredible song in the history of rock "n" roll?
To speak in hyperbole when discussing "Sister Ray" only makes sense. It is a fearsome God-Monster of a song, one that has taken many terrible and awesome forms. This bootleg is infamous for having three of those many mutant live versions of the song. But it also boasts the shadowy, mythical "Sweet Sister Ray," a 40-minute, rarely performed (and even more rarely recorded) spiritual lead-in to what was often a terrifically long opus itself.
When playing live, the band was able to take what felt like a punishing, ecstatic eternity at 17 minutes on vinyl, and stretch it out indefinitely-- opening up to long passages of interplay between Reed's flipouts and Sterling Morrison's visionary, understated improvisations, or just chugging along with a brutal motorik rhythm. Experimenting at the outer limits of feedback and volume, pushing the primitive simplicity of the drums to the point of ritual oblivion, reciting Last Exit To Brooklyn/Naked Lunch-reminiscent lyrics in a literary deadpan that implied Reed's underlying droll gallows humor-- and doing it for upwards of 40 amphetamine-fueled feverish minutes... hellfire and damn it where can I get every recorded version of this song?
Well, there are three here: one nicely recorded, with a tangled, angular performance from the guitars; one played with a marvelous maximum of feedback and distortion; and one with a somewhat low recording quality that is good but pretty typical. The best versions, for my money, can be found on the excellent 3-disc set, The Quine Tapes, a mess of recordings made by the teenage Robert Quine. There are three long renditions of "Sister Ray" on The Quine Tapes and they are easily among my favorites, so you should get that stuff if you haven't got it. Everyone, get The Quine Tapes!
As for "Sweet Sister Ray," it doesn't quite live up to the main feature, to be honest, but it's pretty insistently interesting. It might well bore you at first, but by the time it's over, you realize it's already gotten into your blood.