Night Music: The Velvet Underground, “Sister Ray”

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 8.39.51 AMI was driving back from Spring Training in Arizona to LA in March of 1991. I had a rental car out of San Francisco that I’d put a rather lot of miles on (my buddy Jack and I had toured down by the Salton Sea and entered Arizona in the south, at Yuma, where the Padres trained back then).

Jack had flown back from Phoenix and a couple days later, after exploring some archeological and historical sites around Phoenix, I drove back on the turnpike. At one point I ran into a fantastic sandstorm that stippled the car’s paint nicely, and when that was in the rear view I blew up into the pass and at the highest elevations hit blinding snow that landed me in the warmth and safety of a motel for the night.

In the morning I decided to forego a trip into Joshua Tree and headed off into the San Berdoo valley, finally entering LA in the afternoon, with the goal of seeing the show at LACMA of Hitler’s Decadent Degenerate Art. This was modern and intellectual art, Expressionist and avant garde art that Hitler and Goerring thought didn’t reflect the values of the Third Reich. Gloriously it didn’t.

It was a beautiful day and I had the radio turned up and the traffic was moving in mid-afternoon, and heading into the heart of city “Sister Ray” came on the radio. It has that fantastic sound of shoe box drums, and a creaky old circus organ, but more rhythms and noise and propulsion than you can count, and a lovely melodicism that defies all the shabbiness of the recording. It was perfect on the radio exactly because its 15 minutes couldn’t possible be radio friendly.

Sister Ray ushered me off onto Melrose or Wilshire or whatever and around the Tar Pits until I found a parking spot, at which I settled in and just closed my eyes, laid back and rode the song to the end. Put coins in the meter and walked around the holes of black goo, looking for a palette cleanser. Found it sort of, but the residue was eternal. It was a beautiful day.

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