Lou Reed tribute highlights links between Velvet Underground and Velvet Revolution

Lou Reed, photo: Man Alive!, CC BY-SA 2.0

US musician Lou Reed, who died in October, is set to be remembered at a special tribute concert at Prague’s Archa Theatre on Wednesday featuring local acts such as the Plastic People of the Universe. Entitled “From the Velvet Underground to the Velvet Revolution”, the event also marks the second anniversary of the death of Czech president Václav Havel, who was a friend of Reed’s.

Lou Reed,  photo: Man Alive!,  CC BY-SA 2.0
One the eve of the show, I spoke to one of the organisers, Jan Macháček of the Velvet Underground Revival Band, who are also performing.

“In Prague and the Czech Republic generally probably there is, I would say, an unusually huge concentration of Lou Reed fans who were really mourning his loss enormously.

“Lou Reed’s last concert in Prague in July 2011 was at Archa Theatre and also the premiere of Václav Havel’s theatre play called Odcházení, Leaving, was at Archa. So this will be a good occasion to sort of remember both of them.”

Why do you think the Lou Reed’s music and the music of the Velvet Underground was so popular here in the Czech Republic?

“It’s hard to tell, but it really has a long history. Even in 1968 and ’67 there were people coming back to the country with the ‘Banana’ LP, and there were a lot of them.

Václav Havel,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“Among them was also, by the way, Václav Havel himself. He bought the Velvet Underground’s ‘Banana’ LP in New York when he was visiting in 1968. So he was among the first to bring this LP, this record, back to Czechoslovakia.

“Also there is one clear connection, which is that the Plastic People of the Universe started to play by doing cover music: The Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, The Fugs, Captain Beefheart and others… but they really enjoyed above all the Velvet Underground’s music.

“Everyone knows the history of the band – that they were imprisoned in 1976 and that that inspired the foundation and writing of Charter 77. So there are all these connections that aren’t all related to music.

“There is something also which is besides the music – the connection to the underground, dissent, and maybe even to politics and revolutionary politics later on.”

You played with Lou Reed and you knew Mr. Havel and you, I’m sure, saw them together. What kind of relationship did they have?

Jan Macháček,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki
“They really liked each other, I’m sure. It is known about Václav Havel that he really enjoyed being friends with a lot of artists and even celebrities.

“On the other hand, for Lou Reed he really appreciated… he considered himself, besides being a famous musician who influenced a lot of bands and artists, a writer and a great American poet. And Václav Havel was, I would say, the only writer of global format who treated Lou Reed like he wanted to be treated.”