The Velvets To The Voidoids
Clinton Heylin (Helter Skelter)
First published by Penguin in 1993, this engaging & informative history tells you all you’ll ever need to know about the birth of American Punk Rock. Clinton Heylin is one of the UK’s leading rock’n’roll biographers as well as one of the world’s experts on Old School Punk Rock - & this compelling volume has long been considered recommended reading by advanced students of the subject. Endorsed by such luminaries as Richard Hell, Lenny Kaye, Greil Marcus, Peter Buck, Lee Ranaldo & Rob Younger, Heylin’s credentials are impeccable.
The word ‘seminal’ often gets bandied about erroneously but “VToV” is genuinely worthy of the term. Tracing the emergence of the Velvets from the Warhol art scene, via The MC5 & The Stooges Heylin tracks the development of US Punk past The Modern Lovers, Suicide & The New York Dolls as they collide into Television & the birth of NYC Punk.
Constructed from hours of original interviews - & told mostly in the artist’s own words - “VToV” extracts insight from every key player on the scene. No stone is left unturned in the continual quest for accuracy. Whatever you may think you know already Heylin will put you right on the rest.
“No other book or account I’ve encountered succeeded so well in accurately bringing the period to life. It lifted me back in time” - Richard Hell
“This is a great story, & before Heylin no one saw it whole” Greil Marcus
“For a brief period it seemed possible that the American punk bands could have the same effervescent effect that British punk outfits had on their own country’s pop scene. From The Velvets To The Voidoids is about that promise, in the brief period when everything seemed possible & the only limit was ambition.” Clinton Heylin
Jean Encoule recently caught up with Clinton Heylin to quiz him about the timely re-issue of “Velvets To The Voidoids” this is what he had to say:
trakMARX - Pushing the perameters back slightly, to begin with - & strictly for fun - who do you consider to be the true progenitors of The Velvet
CH: I don't. Hence the reason the book begins with Lester Bangs' famous line, 'Modern music begins with the Velvets...' There is no straight line one can draw that takes Rock music from its genesis to these guys (+ gal).
trakMARX - Was Greil Marcus being entirely serious citing the Cathars in this role?
CH: Who knows with Greil. After all, the man thinks there is a neat line between Harmonica Frank and Sly Stone; and Dock Boggs and Bob Dylan. In such a universe, everything refracts/nothing reflects.
trakMARX - How relevant do you consider the influence of the French Symbolists, the Dada Movement or the Situationists on what became New York Punk Rock?
CH: The French symbolists clearly influenced the likes of Hell, Verlaine and Patti. The Dadaists did not invent the absurd; nor did the Situationists invent aesthetic anarchy. Not a lot of influence that I can see.
trakMARX - & Dr Feelgood?
CH: Not to be underestimated. And lest one forgets, the Feelgoods' first NY gigs were at the Bottom Line, headlining over The Ramones. Which is more than the Ramones can say they did on their first UK gig.
trakMARX - What was more important to the young Punks of NYC - art or angst?
CH: Angst. Always.
trakMARX - Who was more important to The Velvets - Warhol, Reed - or Cale?
CH: I'd refer any interested party (sic) to the introduction I just wrote to a collection of contemporary (underline) articles about the VU, All Yesterdays' Parties (Da Capo), if they want the short (ie 25 page) answer to that.
trakMARX - The Velvets - post Cale - were just an average rock n pop group with a big mouthed singer. Did The VU 'say all there was to say' with their first two LPs?
CH: Again, see said intro. But, no, the Velvets post-Cale were still the most cutting edge live rock band in the world at the time, qv. 1969 and The Quine Tapes. Nuff said.
trakMARX - If The Velvets founded art rock - what did the MC5 found?
CH: The indie scene? After all, they said everything they needed to say on their first three singles (Ouch, that hurt guess I walked right into that one, huh? Encoule). The Elektra stuff is an afterthought - just as say Beefheart's post-Safe As Milk stuff was (I heard that Kris Needs).
trakMARX - Did the MC5 win or loose the 'politics in music' debate - in your eyes?
CH: There is no debate in my mind. Music does not change the world. And anyone who thinks it does, should read what Dylan said about The Times They Are A Changin' the week he wrote it (Behind The Shades Take Two p126). Live8? Do me a favour. Care to name the number of bands with a genuine Punk attitude who played at any of these concerts (No, thank God Encoule)?
trakMARX - Were The Stooges the first TRUE Punk Rock group?
CH: Nope. Punk has never been simply about the neanderthal and the nihilistic. Again, Bangs said it best, in an article called The Roots of Punk Part 3 - but I don't have the reference in front of me. Sorry.
trakMARX - If Punk is an attitude - surely this is where we copped it from?
CH: Well, if punk is an attitude reflected in music, style and stance, I think you'll find it came from Elvis. And Iggy would be the first to agree.
trakMARX - Would The Modern Lovers have existed without The Stooges?
CH: Richman would certainly put the Velvets at the top of his tree of influences, rather than the Stooges (see graph in that Da Capo intro.).
trakMARX - How important do you consider the Modern Lovers Kim Fowley sessions to be in the grand scheme of things?
CH: About as important as 'The Ostrich' 45. Fowley was never a good producer; and there was never any chance of that material satisfying Warners.
trakMARX - Suicide were the first group to actively use the word 'Punk' to describe their sound - yet they didn't really feature on the scene until 1977. Who do you see as being the most realistic appropriator of the term?
CH: Television were the first punk band - for a million reasons. But people confuse the band that released Marquee Moon with the band that invented punk. Next book I'll set 'em straight once and for all.
trakMARX - No New York Dolls - No Sex Pistols. Fair comment?
CH: Nope (Doh Encoule). The key Pistols influences they wore on their sleeves: the Small Faces, the Who. The Dolls celebrated ineptitude and lacked a work ethic. The Pistols were in a different league, as a live act, as pop-smiths, and for sheer charisma. Much as I love the Dolls, I always think they teetered on the brink of parody at times.
trakMARX - How did Malcolm manage to fit Richard Hell's haircut, ripped t-shirt & Johnny Thunders guitar sound into one suitcase on his return to London following his failed 'haberdasher' interface with the Dolls?
CH: Good. I like that. And how exactly did Ian Dury find out about the Hell look two weeks after the first Television gig (Look, I’m not being funny, but I do the questions if you don’t mind. Anyway, your question is more interesting than mine - & we still don’t know the answer to yours Encoule)?
trakMARX - If Patti Smith was 'the mummy' - who was 'the daddy' of the NYC scene?
CH: The key figure must be Hell - who was the only one to straddle the great divide of art and attitude.
trakMARX - Blondie - long time 'jokes' of the NYC fraternity eventually out sold all the detractors put together. A. Certain. Irony?
CH: Not really. Patti achieved the more important commercial success, with Horses cracking the Top Forty, I believe - a landmark in so many ways. Pop success rarely equates with influence or Import. The band who never quite got it were The Ramones, who spent aeons imagining that the reason their records didn't sell was unrelated to their patent lack of commerciality. I'd love to see the real sales figures for those guys, because I suspect that their entire canon probably hasn't sold more than the first Pistols and Clash albums put together. Their influence is overstated - as I state unequivocally in the new chapter I've added to Velvets to Voidoids. What they said needed to be said, but James Joyce only wrote Ulysees once, y'dig? Their post-debut 'career' was a travesty of all that punk, New York-style, should (and did) stand for.
trakMARX - How important to the linear development of US Punk Rock were the shapes concurrently thrown in Cleveland?
CH: Cleveland and Akron threw up more interesting and challenging music than the whole west coast scenes, for all the recent revisonist nostalgia expended on their behalf. The sheer 'off-beatness' of the best of this stuff was a powerful antidote to the course of Punk elsewhere Stateside; and was certainly the true antecedent of so much so-called 'post-punk' (awful term).
trakMARX - You've moved publisher for this revamp of "The Velvets To The Voidoids" - what was the story behind the move & what additions have you made to the book?
CH: Simple enough. Penguin were prepared to put the book back in print, but I asked them if I could do it myself. They agreed; and I was able to find two editors, one American, one British, who were fans of the original, and were willing to do a new edition. Funnily enough, I had three UK editors approach me within a couple of weeks about putting the book back in print - I guess that $200 copy on Amazon really did the trick. The book is essentially the same as the original, save that the photos are largely new (simply because dealing with Roberta Bayley once was bad enough, twice was out of the question); and there is a new, twenty-page provocative postlude, in the true punk spirit; and a completely revised discography, as the original one would have been worse than useless in today's annual CD-revamp smorgasbord world.
trakMARX - We understand you're currently working on a follow up to VtoV that will trace the development of Punk Rock via the UK explosion of 1976, via US Hardcore all the way to Kobain & the Grungers. Do you have a title? And when can we expect to be able to read it?
CH: The book is called Babylon's Burning - From Punk To Grunge, and it is due to be published November 26, 2006 (Penguin in UK, Grove/Canongate in US), ie 30th anniversary of the release of Anarchy. I'm almost finished with the interviews for this new volume, which essentially takes up the story with the Pistols et al., and then leaps over the pond as 'post-punk' begins to spread its tentacles. Also, I finally get an excuse to write about the hugely important Australian originators of Punk - Birdman and the Saints. So, another big book I'm afraid, but with a somewhat more musical sweep than the Savage school of sociology. The chronology will be firmly nailed down, as per; for the first time, methinks. As to the relative importance I assign to the Punk Players, your readers will just have to wait and see who gets placed where.....
Jean Encoule tMx 20 07/05