Arts and Culture

The Velvet Underground: How we Remember the Dead

Memoir-turned-film Prozac Nation shows the story of Elizabeth Wurtzel during her college days, a girl clinically depressed, and perpetually obsessed with Lou Reed. The book is based on Wurtzel’s real experiences, and as I write my review on the Velvet Underground documentary, I can’t help but think of an article Wurtzel wrote as a freshman at Harvard. In the article, written in 1985, she makes the compelling argument that Lou Reed should be dead:

“We all know that Jimi Hendrix is the greatest guitarist who ever lived (and died), that Janis Joplin cornered the market on blues, and we dare not challenge their legends. Weren’t we all taught not to speak badly of the dead, since they’re not around to defend themselves? Instead, we let their sacrosanct memories be grappled with and protected by biographers, former lovers and marketing geniuses of all types. And the faces of the long gone past gain the mystique of the unknown—what if they had lived on?” she wrote.

Lou Reed, the lead songwriter and guitarist for the band, has been dead for about eight years now.

Todd Haynes’ 2021 documentary, The Velvet Underground is ominous, angsty, and under-explained, but then again, that was the band. A lot of typical documentary technicalities are missing from Haynes’ film, but it plays to his advantage. Haynes doesn’t give you the facts and that is OK.

Brian Eno, a famous producer, once said, ​​“Not many people bought Velvet Underground LPs, but those who did, started a band.” Haynes sets out to give the viewer a unique experience, one that could maybe inspire you to start a band. He understands that we live in an era where you can deep dive into anything. In 15 minutes I could tell you where Lou Reed was born and the mundane details of his life.

Haynes creative use of limited archival footage somehow captures The Velvet Underground in a way that I think the critical college Elizabeth Wurtzel would approve of. If you want sacrosanct memories of Lou Reed, don’t bother, but If you would like to be inspired to seize that passion project laying in the corner, go see The Velvet Underground in theaters or on Apple TV.