(Note: This video link only has the first 8 minutes of the song. There’s 9 more…)
I was on my way home from work today, and thanks to Artscape (if you’re from Baltimore you know what I’m talking about) I got stuck in traffic for over a half hour with little less than a quarter mile to go. Several streets were blocked off, and cars were stuck in the intersection as the lights changed from green to red several times over. It was clear that I wasn’t going anywhere for awhile.
To pass the time, I decided to see how many times I would be able to listen to The Velvet Underground’s 17 minute noise opus “Sister Ray” before I got home. (For the record, I got through it once all the way through and about 8 minutes the second time around for a total of 25 minutes to drive a quarter of a mile.) I
“Sister Ray” might be the most polarizing song to ever be recorded. There are those that think it is a work of genius (I fall into this category) and those that think it utter crap (most people I know fall into that category.) There’s no in between for “Sister Ray”: it’s 17 minutes of noise. There’s barely a structure to the song at all – it’s essentially avant-garde jazz played extremely loud. Lou Reed leads the song with his feed-back fueled guitar playing, but it’s really John Cale who drives the song with his distorted organ playing. Most songs that go on for 17 minutes usually contain ebb and flow. But “Sister Ray” never lets up – it’s just has varying degrees of noise. Somewhere beneath it all, is a song about drug use, homosexuality, transvestism, and an orgy. Even without all of the noise, “Sister Ray” would still be remarkably depraved and polarizing. This is even more remarkable considering it was recorded in 1968.
“Sister Ray” definitely isn’t a song to listen to all the time. But it certainly helps when you’re trying to pass the time – and it might also make you feel a little bit cooler.