Brian Eno? Lou Reed? Sylvain Sylvain? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The most influential rock band of the 1960s and early 1970s was The Velvet Underground, but their path breaking sound did not achieve great commercial success. A popular quip has emerged depicting their importance:
The Velvet Underground didn’t sell many records, but everyone who bought one went out and started a band.
This statement has been ascribed to the prominent music producer Brian Eno and to the founding band member Lou Reed. On the other hand, some assert that the quotation was apocryphal. What do you think?
Quote Investigator: QI believes that the expression above evolved from a remark made by Brian Eno during an interview published in the “Los Angeles Times” in May 1982. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
“My reputation is far bigger than my sales,” he said with a laugh on the phone from his home in Manhattan. “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band! So I console myself in thinking that some things generate their rewards in second-hand ways.”
Eno mentioned a sales figure of 30,000 records. But the remark was modified during the ensuing years to heighten its humor; the sales number was often changed or omitted.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1982 May 23, Los Angeles Times, Lots of Aura, No Air Play by Kristine McKenna, Quote Page L6, Column 4, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest) ↩