“The moral of the tale is this: whoever allows himself to be whipped, deserves to be whipped.” – Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
The 1960s might seem like the dawn of liberation, but in truth, times were still somewhat conservative. When the Velvet Underground emerged amid the New York underground singing about heroin, prostitution, and sado-masochism, it fated them to remain subterranean, no matter how influential they would prove after the fact.
As a band, they followed the artistic tradition of pushing the boundaries of sensibilities in such a way that they couldn’t rightfully be celebrated in their day. There are more than a few examples of this feat in literature, which Lou Reed no doubt encountered when he was rubbing shoulders with an artistic bunch at university.
One of these literary iconoclasts was the Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. It says a lot about the man that the term masochism (meaning: the tendency to derive sexual gratification from one’s own pain or humiliation, or the enjoyment of an activity that appears to be painful or tedious) is derived from his name.
Goodreads defines Sacher-Masoch’s career output as a “utopian thinker who espoused socialist and humanist ideals in his fiction and non-fiction.” His gritty and abrasive but nevertheless grounded prose proved influential on Lou Reed, but none more so than his 1870 novel Venus In Furs.
The official blurb for the controversial novel reads: “If you’ve ever been curious about where the term “masochism” comes from, you will find it laden in the pages of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s masterpiece, Venus in Furs, for whom the term was named.”
Continuing: “Drawn in part from his own life experiences, Sacher-Masoch’s novel develops an eroticism unlike any other. The book’s protagonist, Severin, is so infatuated and obsessed with the object of his desire, Wanda, that he asks to be her slave. Although hesitant at first, Wanda’s treatment of Severin becomes more and more depraved, fuelling Severin’s own desires for cruelty.”
Lou Reed and his bandmate John Cale were inspired to match the sultry tone of the book with their own sonic equivalent. Scoring the lyrics of “Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather,” with the haunting repetition of Cale’s darkly screeching viola and Reed’s droning guitar. The result is a dark transposition of the novel, that proved that the old musical cliché of calling something “ahead of its time” has more than a grain of truth to it.