31 Days of spooky, day 10: The Gift by The Velvet Underground

Every day until Halloween, we'll post a spooky song to celebrate the annual thinning of the veil between this world and the next

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In the annals of spooky alt-rock story songs, none tell a story quite as clearly and coherently as The Gift by The Velvet Underground. The Gift is a short story written by Lou Reed, and recited by a deadpan John Cale, with his stately Welsh accent, over an exhilarating freeform jam.

On the original stereo mix, the story can be heard from the left speaker, while the music comes from the right.

The story concerns Waldo Jeffers, a lovesick young man from Locust, Pennsylvania (a real place, believe it or not,) in a long-distance relationship with his college girlfriend, Marsha Bronson of Wisconsin. As Waldo grows increasingly more paranoid about Marsha's faithfulness, he hits upon a plan to mail himself to her, as he cannot afford to fly.

The Gift by The Velvet Underground is brutal

He packs himself up in a large box, with air holes, water, and snacks. But unfortunately he'd made the package too secure, and when Marsha is unable to open it, her roommate comes to the rescue with a sheet metal cutter, which she plunges into the package, "through the masking tape, through the cardboard, through the cushioning and right through the center of Waldo Jeffers' head..."

"...which split slightly and caused little rhythmic arcs of red to pulsate gently in the morning sun."

There is nothing like hearing "The Gift" for the first time. That final line lands like a punchline to a joke. You laugh, simply because you have no idea what other reaction could be appropriate. Its laugh-out-loud funny, though it's too dark to qualify as an actual joke, as those usually involve a bit of levity.

Trust me, I haven't just spoiled it for you, because it's John Cale's melodramatic deadpan delivery that really lands the punchline. Simply knowing how the story ends doesn't prepare you for his telling of it.

Well, that and the sound effect of poor Waldo's head splitting open. That sound effect was achieved by Lou Reed either stabbing a canteloupe, or smashing it with a wrench, at the suggestion of Frank Zappa.

The Velvet Underground are often thought of as being maudlin and serious. But when the song credits read "Lou Reed – electric guitar, cantaloupe" the whole endeavour seems downright Pythonesque.

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