#316: The Velvet Underground, "The Velvet Underground" (1969)

“Turn the faucet to the left ‘til it’s the temperature you want it,” I say. Fran looks so much smaller now.

I put on The Velvet Underground on my iPod; it’s soft, like a lullaby.

Today was too much. Lullabies are good. Fran gets in the shower and I sit on the ground next to the tub.

        1. “Candy Says”

I tell her, “Take a deep breath. Okay, think all the bad things now and get them out of your head. It’s okay to be angry.”

She sighs and says, “I guess I’ll just get the big one out of the way: Adam hates me because it’s easy. Hates me because it’s easy! And then he blames me for being dramatic and emotional, God, when he’s the one who’s asking my friends to stop hanging out with me? When he’s talking about me behind my back? What did I ever do to him that was so bad? God, fuck this, I don’t need this shit in my life. He promised he’d always be there for me. He promised he’d never say anything bad about me and he would never be like Henry.”

I let my head lean on the wall. “Okay, okay, do not think about this. This is something you’re just not going to deal with and it’ll be fine.”

Her shadow’s sitting on the floor of the tub, “I hope it’s fine.”

I say, “It’s going to be fine. Tell me more thingsother things.”

“Marty told me I was a good person today; he said I would find love again. But then Marty told me he thought about drinking bleach tonight, and, God, why does anybody ever want love when everybody’s so depressed because of it.”

She pauses. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget Henry saying he just didn’t think of me as ‘somebody who could be loved.’ How does somebody bounce back from that?”

I don’t know what to say so I just sit there while she starts to cry. And then the song is ending and I say, “Okay, Fran, the song is ending. You got everything out and you are going to relax now, okay? You have to relax.”

        2. “What Goes On”

The song switches and I say, “Okay, tell me anything about anything other than boys.”

“This soap smells good.”

“Good start to the positive thinking!”

“Why don’t cucumbers actually smell like this? Ah, it’s cucumber-lime. I wonder if I could get a cucumber to smell like this with genetic engineering or something. Or I could just rub a lime on the sides of a cucumber. That’d be easier LOL. This is a long song.”

She’s standing up now, her shadow’s rubbing the soap over her body; the bathroom smells like cucumber-lime and it’s hot in here.

        3. “Some Kinda Love”

“I’m going to smell so cucumber-y. This is going to be great. Is this still the same “What Goes On” song? Wait. It’s not. Ah, fuck this song. Fuck love! Right?”

“Right,” I say, “fuck love.” I change the song for her.

        4. “Pale Blue Eyes”

“Deep breath, Fran,” I say when I see her sitting on the tub’s floor again. “Grab the shampoo, okay? Isn’t this song better?” She nods and I ask, “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that I feel like a robot. Pick up the shampoo. Put the shampoo on my hair. Rub-a-dub-dub.” She giggles, “God that was a stupid thing to say, but being stupid is kind of fun. I don’t actually feel like a robot. I don’t know.”

“Deep breath.”

“Why do all these songs sound the same?” The shadow of her hair starts to form bubbles. Her body’s so thin. “Macy, I don’t like this song,” she says, and I skip to the next one.

        5. “Jesus”

“My mom told me that she listened to the Velvet Underground after all of her breakups and it always made her feel better,” Fran says, but now she’s sitting again. I don’t know what happened to her when she started dating Adam but he really took something out of her. I guess that’s what good guys can do to girls in pain. And then she felt guilty for breaking up with him and I had to check her into the hospital. God, I was so scared. I thought she’d actually killed herself.

Today’s her first day home; she told me to stay with her, to help her. I snake my hand around the shower curtain and her hand meets mine. We sit there for a little while and I ask her what she’s thinking about again. “I like this song,” she says. “Mom said it helped her. All I have to do is forget about today and forget about yesterday and forget about the last year. My mom said something about these songs helping her lose track of time or something.”

“Okay, well, the best way to lose time is to stop thinking. Let’s not think together, okay?”

Her shadow’s head nods.

        6. “Beginning to See the Light”

Fran gets up as the song changes. “Oh, this one is so upbeat! It’s like my head involuntarily bobs. I feel like I’m on some 70s talk show!” And I imagine the old Fran surrounded by bright yellow and pink flowers, sitting across from Johnny Carson:

             Interviewer: We would like to welcome Miss Fran Lune onto the stage!

             Fran: Hi everybody!

              [The Crowd goes wild]

Fran: Oh, stop it!

Interviewer: So, Fran, tell me: are you beginning to see the light?

Fran: Oh, stop it, you! Of course I am! And that light is the Velvet Underground! I mean, c’mon, these young men are so talented. And so cute too; I could just eat them all up!

Interviewer: Oh no, boys! Did you hear that?! You got yourself another fan.

Fran, as each member of the band comes up to kiss her hand: Enchante.

But that would be pre-Adam Fran, the traditional girl-next-door whom everybody

involuntarily liked.

        7. “I’m Set Free”

“Another good song! That’s the way to think about all this, really. I am set free. No more drama, no more intense emotions, no more late night phone calls. I am free and Adam is free and I am still me and I am okay! His loss! I bet the Velvet Underground would love me. I bet they would fight over me. I am a hoot. I am a catch. I am so tired. Why do all of these songs sound the same?” Fran says. I stay quiet, waiting for her to crash.

        8. “That’s the Story of my Life”

“Oh, it’s like that One Direction song! Let’s play that song instead!”

I get up and switch over to One Direction.

        Interlude: “Story of my Life”

Fran sings so loudly to this song. Nothing else happens; she just sings.

        9. “Murder Mystery”

“Oh man, Macy, that was so fun. I didn’t think at all!”

I smile, “Good! But I think it’s back to the Velvet Underground now. Do you want me to change it back to pop?”

She doesn’t reply. I think she’s listening to the music.

A few minutes pass, and then Fran rushes her words: “I wonder what would happen if I died. What would people do? I guess people would be sad. When would they get back to their lives? What about my exes? The relationships that ended badlyhow would those guys feel?” I wait for her to finish. “God I wonder if I’d ever actually get so desperate as to do it,” she says.

It feels like all the blood rushes away from my head. God, what if she tries again? What if I had to take her back to the hospital? I stand up. “Are you okay in there, Fran? I’m not afraid to get in the shower with you if I have to.”

She ignores me. “I would want white roses at my funeral. With a mahogany-colored coffin. And I’d want that bitch Josie from work to be there and think about how she treated me, and I’d want her to cry. And I’d want Henry to read about it in the obituaries and have, like, a mental break down and regret telling me I couldn’t be loved.”

I wait to see if she has anything else to say.

She mutters, “I don’t think dying any other way would have the same effect.”

“You have to relax,” I say, leaning against the bathroom door, “or I’m coming in there.”

        10. “After Hours”

“Okay, it’s time to relax,” I say, more for myself than for her. “Breathe in, breathe out.”

All the people are dancing and they’re having such fun. I wish it could happen to me, too, Velvet Underground.

But if you close the door, I’d never have to see the day again.

By the end of the song, Fran and I are sitting back to back, the tub separating us.

—Nicole Efford