Songs to the Siren

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The Gift

The Velvet Underground

30th January 1968🇺🇸 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

The first of two “spoken word” songs, this is the tale of Waldo Jeffers, who misses his girlfriend Marsha after she returns home when school ends. He decides to post himself in a box to see her.

It doesn’t end well for Waldo. “That schmuck.”

This record is old skool ’60s “stereo”. Sounds aren’t spread around the sound field - rather, you have the whole band playing a bass/drums/guitar instrumental panned extreme right, while John Cale narrates a story panned left.

The first Velvet Underground LP, while being quite revolutionary at the time, has influenced so many acts that it kinda sounds pretty conventional now. It took a long time to reach a wide audience, but it was accessible enough that, once enough people heard it, it became popular, and widely copied.

The second album is considerably less accessible. Side 2 is the noisy I Heard Her Call My Name (a track that’s basically the template for acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain), and the rambling Sister Ray, while a large chunk of side 1 is taken up by this track, The Gift.

In some ways I prefer White Light/White Heat to the début “The Velvet Underground and Nico”. The first record is the one that inspired thousands of bands and produced a shed load of cover versions, but WL/WH has an edge that still sounds pretty contemporary in parts, 50+ years on.

In “The Gift”, Waldo wants to meet his now-remote girlfriend, and he found that the only way he could afford it was to pack himself in a box and send himself through the post. Marsha received the package, and declared “Oh God, it’s from Waldo, that schmuck!”

She has trouble opening the package, but finds a large sheet metal cutter. After a struggle, she (and I quote):

“plunged the long blade through the middle of the package, through the masking tape, through the cardboard, through the cushioning and (thud) right through the centre of Waldo Jeffers’ head, which split slightly, and caused little rhythmic arcs of red to pulsate gently in the morning sun.”