Well, I read this book calledThe Violent Gangby Lewis Yablonski, it's this sociological book from 1959 and it has lots of great interviews with gang leaders who are fourteen year old guys talking about rumbles and whatnot. They talk about their campaigns and wars against rival groups, and it's just great because it's so reminiscent of bands and this sort-of fantasist world view that groups have, which is no matter how insignificant your group is, or unpopular, there's always someone writing in from Germany saying that you're the greatest. You know, the groups, the whole thing, they all need each other to a certain extent. By saying "unpopular", I'm not trying to be dismissive; there are a lot of great unpopular things, and most popular things are terrible. So when I say that, I'm not being cynical or mean, but it's just a fact. And part of the rock and roll idea is "Oh, the Velvet Underground." You know, they are the thing that keeps everybody going, because nobody knew that they were so great, but they were so great.
Well, that, and the idea that you can be a band, and exist, and no one likes it or appreciates it, but that 20 years later you could become somehow influential.
Right - the Stooges are also a great example of this as well.
Yes; and importantly, for a band of a certain mindset, that the goal isn't instant adoration but this elusive becoming-influential-decades-later that you can't intentionally make happen.
The problem with the whole Velvet Underground or Stooges myth is that they were actually heavily promoted industry bands. By that point, where those bands were at, you are already in the very corporate phase of rock and roll music. All of those bands were very connected, they had the New York machine working for them. And one thing you have to remember about groups is that the marketing for them is the myth of the outsider, you know? Like every Velvet Underground fan still thinks that they're an outsider because they like this band, this band that has probably sold tens of millions of records. How "outsider" is that, really? They're of the establishment but they profit from this mystique.
You talk, in your book, of groups having ideologies; people, in order to buy into a band, need to buy into an ideology, whether said ideology comes from the group itself or if someone makes one up for them. How important is this ideology to people's appreciation of music?
Well, I dunno. The ideology for groups right now seems to be about being wealthy or something; being carefree and cool. But it always changes. For a group to be successful right now, it seems that there has to be this kind of - I dunno, every phase in rock and roll seems very much motivated from outside. Like the folk movement in the late 50s, it was all about Harry Smith, he puts out his anthology and it has an enormous influence of popularizing folk music and archaeology of folk songs, gives them a reach and magic hipster element beyond what Alan Lomax did prior. And then the Nuggets thing for punk, and the Velvet Underground reissues in the 80s for college rock. And books too, a book can come out and completely change me. Like the book Please Kill Me had an enormous effect on the way people thought about rock and underground rock; that book was huge.