Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Velvet Underground: The Book Before the Band

There's something a little off about The Velvet Underground (1963), Michael Leigh's initial book on sex practices in the USA, and in the 2011 reprint. First, who is (or was) Michael Leigh? Is this a nom de plume? In the text, it's claimed that he's a journalist. The tone is a weird mix of cornball, hambone and earnestness, like episodes from the 1950s(+) series Dragnet. Is this a big joke? The 2011 foreward is signed "Candice Black" -- the name of a fictional character in Oliver Stone's W. (2008) played by reporter Anne Pressly, now deceased.

On the one hand, The Velvet Underground goes to great gleeful lengths in describing the wild sexual practices witnessed in various historical epochs and cultures, with particular emphasis on the "velvet underground" of married Americans with families, jobs and homes (the Eisenhower nuclear ideal, but in a funhouse mirror); on the other hand, it deplores (or pretends to deplore) scofflaws and the failure of autorities to crack down on them, especially those who flout "decency" laws.

Leigh illustrates how "swingers" corresponded and joined clubs around the USA, sending photos, arranging meetings and throwing key parties, in which partners swapped among each other as randomly as if they were spin-the-bottle-for-your-next-partner games. He also brings up prostitution, homosexuality, S & M, amateur pornography, erotica and co-ed college gatherings during spring breaks. All of this predates "the Sixties" and "the Swinging Sixties" in that Leigh's examples reach back into the 1950s and end, for the most part, in 1961, at the tail end of Eisenhower's and the beginning of JFK's presidency. The rumble before the quake, perhaps. It's worth noting that Andy Warhol's Silver Factory period began in 1962; Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was published in book form in 1963.

Today's Rune: Gateway.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Somehow they hit the ground between my days and my kids days and I don't know them nearly well enough.

Adorably Dead said...

Sex, my favorite topic. I used to want to be a sex/relationship therapist.

This book sounds interesting.

Charles Gramlich said...

this book is another indication about how sex is such a loaded topic and very hard for anyone to talk about openly and honestly.

jodi said...

Erik, how did I miss that whole Velvet Underground thing? But having just read 2 Patti Smith book, I am interested!