The Independent JANUARY 24, 1997 - by Brian Eno


Seven-minute version of White Light/White Heat on CD, with case designed by Eno

The Velvet Underground was the band that decided me on becoming a rock musician, because they offered the prospect of creating some unity between the ideas that I'd been interested in from avant-garde music and the visceral excitement of rock music. There's no viscera in avant-garde stuff. The other thing was what they chose not to write songs about: love and relationships of that kind. I'd always been fed up with that, and I still am; it still forms ninety-six per cent of pop lyrics - it's just sheer laziness, sheer lack of imagination.

White Light/White Heat is not actually my favourite song. But if you had to name one Velvet Underground song, probably that would be the one people would name. I'm playing some kind of a game in making the song: what I've done is reverse something that Lou Reed does. He sings the verses and then throws away the choruses - they're sort of throw-away scat choruses and you can't understand what he's saying at all. I've tried to decode what he was saying there, which is close to nonsense actually, and I've arranged them so that they are sung by a choir. So these things that were almost incoherent become very clear and with very precise diction and timing.

In fact there's a message in that, funnily enough. I say: I first heard White Light/White Heat on the radio, it was a Saturday, it was probably the John Peel show, it was early 1968. And then it says, and I thought and breaks into another song that I wrote, which is like a piece of gospel, where I say Upon this rock I shall build my church. And I keep saying that. And then it says: The whole album took one day to record - that was one day in New York, in autumn 1967. I just spent almost that long trying to hear what Lou Reed was saying in the choruses.

The point is that it took The Velvet Underground almost no time to do. But the amount of listening time that thing has received from me and all the other people who have listened to it consolidates it into something much, much bigger than it was ever made as.

The song is sold with a CD cover I designed; it's the only copy in existence but it is to be sold with full exploitation rights. That means if somebody buys it they can release it; just like with an ordinary record, whoever releases it can take the profits that a record company would take, which are for the sales of the actual object itself, but as always, they pay a royalty to the artist. And these will go to War Child. What a sucker, eh - it will probably be my only hit ever.

Musical Milestones will be auctioned at a dinner in aid of War Child on Tuesday, February 4. Tickets, priced £120, are available from 0171-727 8656. The works will be on show to the public from Thursday, January 30 to Monday, February 4 at the Lichfield Studios, 133 Oxford Gardens, London W10, from 10am to 5pm; and from Thursday, February 6 to Sunday, February 16, 10am to 7pm, at The Economist, 25 St James Street, London SW1.