21 October 2008

Velvet Underground / Band Names from Books

Michael Leigh. THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. Macfadden Books, New York, 1963.

Current Selling Prices
$40-$80 /£30-£40

The legend is that Andy Warhol found this lurid paperback on the streets of New York (in the gutter) and named the great rock band after it. It is not especially scarce as the net has now revealed; 10 years ago you could get $100 for a nice first, now you shouldn't have to pay half that. The book is prurient sexploitation trash about the kinky underside of American life--the text on the cover reads 'Here is an incredible book. It will shock and amaze you...as a documentary on the sexual corruption of our age, it is a must for every thinking adult.' There is a follow up book from 1968 'The Velvet Underground Revisited'. It is more scarce than the original but worth no more. The book was also republished in 1967 in the United Kingdom under the confusing title 'Bizarre Sex Underground.' Wikipedia appears to give the definitive story:
'...Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison's friend, filmmaker Tony Conrad, found a copy lying in the street. Morrison has reported the group liked the name, considering it evocative of "underground cinema," and fitting, due to Reed's already having written "Venus In Furs", inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's book of the same name, dealing with sadomasochism.'

What other bands took their names from books? AEROSMITH is said to come from one of its members having read or possessed Sinclair Lewis's 1925 novel 'Arrowsmith'. The name of Ted Nugent's band AMBOY DUKES is taken from the title of a 1940's book about street gangs by Irving Shulman. THE BLACK CROWES - was originally named after 'Johnny Crow's Garden' by Leslie Brooke a children's book published first in 1903. DIVINE COMEDY comes from Dante's great work (the group STYX's name is also Dante inspired).

THE DOORS comes from Huxley's book 'The Doors of Perception' which comes from William Blake '(If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is...') GENESIS comes from a book in the Bible. It is said there are some kids who think it's the other way round. MOTT THE HOOPLE comes from a 1966 novel of the same name by Willard Manus (about a circus freak--the book was re-issued with an inappropriate rock and roll cover.) THE SOFT MACHINE is from William Burrough's 1961 novel. Burroughs also inspired the name STEELY DAN-- a giant steam-powered dildo in 'Naked Lunch'. STEPPENWOLF took their name from Herman Hesse's backpacker classic. SUPERTRAMP comes from the excellent 'Autobiography of A Supertramp' by W.H. Davies, a writing tramp rescued from obscurity by George Bernard Shaw. The metal group URIAH HEEP comes from the nasty piece of work of that name in 'David Copperfield' by Charles Dickens.

There are a bunch of bands whose names were inspired by Tolkien, the only one that comes to mind right now is MARILLION from his least good book 'THE SILMARILLION' (known in publishing circles as 'The SellaMillion.') A rather forgotten 60s band was called H. P. LOVECRAFT and his non existent book The Necronomicon inspired various metal bands I am told...


Jan said...

Just a quick note to tell you how I've been enjoying your blog these last few months.


Nathan Roberts said...

Many metal / hardcore bands derive their names from literature.. here are two that I know off the top of my head:

"As I Lay Dying" after the William Faulkner novel.

"Shai Hulud" after the sandworms in Frank Herbert's "DUNE"

Bookride said...

Thanks Jan--you have a cool site there, worthy of eyeballing from time to time and thanks for that Nathan - 'As I Lay Dying' is an odd name for a band--rather in the line of "And you shall know them by the trail of the Dead ...' or some such. Rock on. Nigel

Anonymous said...

Another example are The Fall, who take their name from the novel by Albert Camus - and who in their very early days were called The Outsiders, but there were already a couple of bands by that name.

Anonymous said...

The Guardian seems, coincidentally or otherwise, and I have to say my money is on otherwise, has just published a piece all but identical to this at:

I've registered my suspicions at the Grauniad Online.