Shiny boots of leather
Image: Salvador Dali
Venus In Furs - DeVotchKa
When I was 20 and studying in London, my roommate was this melodramatic English girl who was training to be an opera singer. We didn't have a proper stereo, just this shitty little boombox, and instead of playing the classical vocal pieces you'd expect, Clarissa would spin The Velvet Underground & Nico end on end, hour after hour til we were both flushed and limp and nodding on its desolate dusky dirges and itchy anthems to getting high. I’ll always associate "Venus In Furs" with her, even though I don't believe Clarissa actually owned a pair of shiny, shiny patent leather boots (or fur, for that matter) as part of her formidable wardrobe. No, it was more the way she slow-sashayed into a room and held her chin at a sly, knowing angle, just like Maria Schneider in Last Tango In Paris.
Maybe a couple years later, I read Sacher-Masoch’s Venus In Furs and was unimpressed--too tame and tasteful--but it conveyed me to its correlative, Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. However sophisticated you think you are (and even if you know contemporary transgressives like Dennis Cooper), Sodom greets you like an exposed electrical wire to the spine. Not pornography--though I get why some read its queasy circuit of torture and humiliation that way and can't proceed past their initial revulsion--it's really an interpretive skeleton key capable of opening a passage to everything from the nature of power to the moral vagaries of desire to the limits of art. The Velvet Underground took their name from a book on sadomasochism and were sympathique to the imaginative possibility of representations of physical and emotional extremity. This aesthetic apparatus proved very useful--defining, really (peruse the critical texts on the band).
But what's wondrous about VU is that even when you disassemble all that stuff, the songs stand as these rigorously elegant, infinitely rehabitable structures. DeVotchKa--a Denver assemblage of glam-gypsies led by a singer with a wonderfully ostentatious voice so big and reaching that I imagine it splitting continents (if not headlining Vegas)--is perfectly suited to "Venus." The band reimagines the song as a headlong, hopped-up club hit, ideal for dancing delirious in abandoned warehouses. Ecstasy rather than heroin, bright parrot-plume t-shirts rather than black turtlenecks. And instead of hobbling, stiletto fetish-wear, shoes that can carry you through the long night.
DeVotchKa's "Venus" is probably my favorite cover of 2006.
From Curse Your Little Heart (Amazon: US, UK, iTunes). DeVotchKa's Web site.