Monday, October 28, 2013

My Velvet Undergrounds

I've run two websites in my life. The one I have now,, and the one I ran in high school. 

Well, the first one wasn't really a website because, at the time, the internet as we know it didn't exist. Technically I was running a Bulletin Board Service, known to us nerds as a BBS. But it was essentially a website, in the most low-fi sense of the word. It was a homemade operation, hosted on a Commodore 64 with two 512K disc drives all of which amounted to a lake of memory more shallow than you'd find in a toaster today. My friend and I ran it out of his parents' basement. It was a dial-up only world then, which means we had to buy our own phone line. We went 50/50 on the monthly payment, my half came from an after-school job at Rent-a-Flick video. We hooked the one phone line into one modem, which meant one person could log into the website at a time. 

What could one person do on a website as slim as a newsletter? A lot, it turns out. We had comment boards for music, art, literature, poetry, and, of course, hacked games. It was the pre-porn internet, everything was strange and innocent and sometimes even artsy. Hundreds visited every week. It's the place where I discovered that the only way to learn how to write is to write—constantly. I had a paper or two due every month in school but on my website I wrote something public every day. There were no graphics running interference. A 300 baud modem is so slow that all it can manage is text. When you downloaded a post the feed arrived at such a pathetic pace you could pretty much read the words as they printed themselves across the green screen.

We called the website the Velvet Underground. I owned a cassette copy of 1967's Velvet Underground and Nico with the Warhol banana cover art. I didn't yet know how deeply Lou Reed's band was woven into what I loved, but I liked them a lot and, frankly, it was a great name so we stuck with it. The next year I chose my major, art history, in part based on my love for Warhol and his connection to this music. A few years later I moved abroad to teach English and chose to live in Czechoslovakia, the home of the Velvet Revolution, named in part because Vaclav Havel smuggled Velvet Underground records into communist Prague. I listened to the Velvet Underground during all of those times and have ever since. There are early life music crushes that I return to with embarrassment, just like I do most of my early writing. The Velvet Underground is never one of them.

In America's popular music memory, the late 1960s is remembered fondly, usually a hazy late afternoon bloom of West Coast psychedelia. In my opinion that musical genre will fade to a comic footnote of history. But in one hundred years people will still listen to the Velvet Underground and they will still sound relevant, they will never grow old.

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