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3.25-VENUS IN FURS (Velvet Underground)

Velvet Underground

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Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather
Whiplash girlchild in the dark.
Comes in bells, your servant, don't forsake him-
Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart.

Downy sins of streetlight fancies
Chase the costumes she shall wear.
Ermine furs adorn the imperious
Severin, Severin awaits you there.

     I am tired, I am weary.
     I could sleep for a thousand years.
     A thousand dreams that would awake me--
     Different colors made of tears.

Kiss the boot of shiny, shiny leather
Shiny leather in the dark.
Tongue of thongs, the belt that does await you
Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart.

Severin, Severin, speak so slightly.
Severin, down on your bended knee.
Taste the whip, in love not given lightly--
Taste the whip, now plead for me.

     [Chorus]

[Repeat 1st verse with improvisation 3rd line]


Venus in Furs is titled after a novella of the same name written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, reputedly the best known of his works. Severin, a character in the book, famously observes that woman, as nature has created her, and as man at present is educating her, is man's enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work. The sado-masochistic theme of the lyrics to Venus in Furs is partially responsible for the suppression of the Velvet Underground in the media, which at the time was actively censoring songs from airplay that were thought to glorify sex and drugs .

In the first decade of the sexual liberation movement, during the 1960s, women had an image problem, playing either traditional subservient roles in pop and soul music (or like Licorice McKehnie and Rose Simpson in psychedelia), or cast beyond the reach of men’s sexual attentions in one way or another. Nico, Grace, and Dorothy all fell well within the role of Sacher-Masoch’s “Venus in Furs”. Janis Joplin inverted the estrangement, and was usually pleading urgently for a man to love her. It wasn’t until the 1970s, especially with Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, that women found their own self-assured voice in pop music independent of the reflection that men cast upon them. And it was the seventies that began to give America its first anthems to sexual liberation: Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman (#1 December 1972) for females; Diana Ross’ I’m Coming Out (#5 August 1980) for Gay men; and Sister Sledge’s We are Family (#2 June 1979) for Gay women.

The sexplay demonstrated by the Venus in Furs lyrics is explicit without mentioning sexual organs, and seems to suspend judgment on an expression of sexuality that American culture roundly condemned until the 1960s. The perversity of feeling that one might be cured by punishment (cured of what?) is stated, and the partner's thrill in being pleaded for. But these are stated from within the characters, not through an observer, and so are justifications rather than condemnations. Outside of the drone sound, accentuated with a viola, the only psychedelic element of Venus in Furs is in the chorus which links sleeping for a thousand years with dreaming a thousand awakening dreams, thereby interweaving "realities". S&M was relatively new lyric territory for pop music; at this point, I think that only the Doors song The End, with its desire for Oedipal murder (similarly in a theatrical setting) had explored American taboo. These songs were far more erotically adventuresome than the recently censored Let's Spend the Night Together by the Rolling Stones. An amoral erotic side of psychedelic lyrics (outside of Dylan's homoerotic innuendos in Ballad of the Thin Man) only began to be revealed in early 1967.

"[John] Cale's viola was used on several of the album's songs, notably Venus in Furs and Heroin. The viola used guitar and mandolin strings, and when played loudly, Cale would often liken its sound to that of an airplane engine. Cale's viola technique usually involved drones, or single notes sustained over long periods of time. He would, however, vary his attack, speed, or even add other notes on top to make the note have a different tone while maintaining the same pitch." [Clinton Heylin, ed (2005), All Yesterday's Parties: The Velvet Underground in Print 1966-1971]

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