What could possibly connect The Velvet Underground and Simon & Garfunkel?
geoffcowgill wrote:New York group operating from roughly 1965-1970. Just like Simon & Garfunkel, today's other entry. To what extent do these two mirror each other? They seem on the surface to be complete opposites, but what brilliant doppelganger thesis can be created?
I wouldn't call them opposites--that almost gives S&G too much credit, if that reasoning makes any sense to you--but they are very different, which is an almost obvious statement except we can find one equally obvious remark to make about these two bands and also Bob Dylan, who also belongs to the same time period and place (if not mileau...well, maybe I take that back. Dylan did do a screen test for Warhol in the mid-60s.) First, through, a more general comment about something that Chomsky said in the documentary Manufacturing Consent
in which he talked about growing up in Philadelphia and NY in the 1930s. One of the things that he pointed out is that there were many different varieties of the Jewish experience in America during the Depression. You had the ultra-orthodox and then you also had totally secular, left-wing, highly politicized groups as well.
It's called the Diaspora for geographical reaons, but I think the term also fits because the variety of experience is more heterogeneous than for any other ethnic group I can think of. (In fact, I challenge anyone to come up with another ethnic group of similar size that has the same variety of positions and experiences.)
It should be obvious by now how this segues into The Velvet Underground (Lou Reed), and S&G (Simon, Garfunkel) and Bob Dylan. It's sort of silly to lump them together by virtue of the fact that all three were fronted by Jewish Americans, but the very fact that we think this is silly is significant. There is no consensus opinion on what Jewish-American rock and roll is, which, lest this seem sort of too obvious a statement, isn't something we could say about Italian-Americans or Irish-Americans. There are archetypes of what we would think is Italian-American rock and roll (Dion). These archetypes don't exist for Jewish-Americans. The types of music made by Jewish-Americans is so different as to make the label sort of ridiculous.
On one hand, you have Simon and Garfunkel. As I get older and older, I like their music less and less and less, but I do like the idea of them. I like the idea that they gave Albert Grossman an apopleptic fit because they trumped him on the idea of Peter, Paul, and Mary. I mean the way one could use acoustic music to corner the folk-rock market. If there ever was a manufactured group, a group made to tap into a specific market, it was Peter, Paul, and Mary, down to getting Noel Stookey to change his name to Peter (or was it Paul?)--this goes beyond the Monkees--Michael Nesmith didn't have to change his name to Dookie or Ezekial. And yet they were beaten by Simon and Garfunkel who were more pop, more slick and--most importantly, important for Grossman, that is--who made vastly more money.
And the other hand, you had The Velvet Underground, which were also a band set up to tap into a demographic market, which I suppose at the beginning was the inhabitants of The Factory, but which we can see with hindsight, was a vastly larger audience with totally unspecified geographic boundaries. It's difficult to say really what The Velvet Underground's influence is or how large it might be at some point in the future. It's entirely possible that Andy Warhol might become a footnote to The Velvet Underground and that the only times he is mentioned 100 years from now is "oh, that's the guy who did the cover for The Velvet Underground and Nico."