Morrison: 'An Inspiration'

By Laura J. Toler (Poughkeepsie Journal)
Poughkeepsie Journal, September 3, 1995

Though his intellect and discourse soared above average, and he played in a world-famous band that helped set the 1960s on its ear, conceit never overcame Holmes Sterling Morrison Jr.

So said friends and relatives eulogizing the Velvet Underground lead guitarist and bassist Saturday in an hour-plus memorial service at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Poughkeepsie. Morrison, 53, who lived here his last six years, died Wednesday of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

He played from 1966-71 with the Andy Warhol-managed Velvets, then earned a doctorate in medieval studies from the University of Texas at Austin.

He captained tugboats in the Houston ship Channel.

Fellow Velvets John Cale and Maureen Tucker joined more than 100 mourners and Morrison's widow, Martha, and children, Mary Anne and Tommy, in the deeply religious hour-plus ceremony conducted by the Rev. John Brinn.

"Sterling was given the promise of eternal life from baptism," said Brinn.

"Lord, give him communion with your saints forever."

Tucker, in black pants and leather jacket, joined Catholics receiving communion.

Absent was fourth Velvet Lou Reed, in Cleveland for Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame opening ceremonies.

Dean Wareham of rock band Luna, which opened on Velvet Underground's 1993 reunion tour, praised Morrison's guitar work: "He was a stylist, very unique," yet "deeply unpretentious."

Wareham found Morrison -- who played on one track of Luna's "Bewitched" album -- equally comfortable discussing "Ray Charles, St. Thomas Aquinas, Moby Dick or Moby Grape... Sterling, you are a continuing source of inspiration to me," he said.

Intellect revered
John Craig of San Diego, who'd known Morrison since student days in Austin, spoke of his friend's recent befuddlement over a record label executive desire for him to record a solo album. The reason was obvious, Craig told him, given Morrison's guitar virtuosity. "John," Morrison responded, "why am I the only one who doesn't think that?"

Joe O'Neill of Washington, D.C., told of Morrison besting a "very obnoxious" Texas graduate student in a political discussion.

"He started going into overdrive, quoting passages from Plato's 'Republic' and Mao's 'Little Red Book,' and somehow tied that into the latest atrocities of the Nixon administration," never realizing he'd left his listener behind.

"Sterling to me exemplified that innocence, that fun of debate, and he was totally clueless about the scope of his intellect," O'Neill said.

"He had a talent for absorbing immense amounts of information and making them part of his personality."

'An interviewer's dream'
David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine, who recently wrote liner notes for Polygram's upcoming five-CD set of Velvet Underground music, "Peel Slowly And See," called Morrison "an interviewer's dream... You'd just ask him a question and he was gone, for hours."

Cale read Dylan Thomas' poem "Death Shall Have No Dominion" and called Morrison "a dear friend and collaborator over the years."

Cale praised his friend's thirst for knowledge, pride in his children and "the deeply impressive dignity he showed as he struggled" through his recent illness.

Cale's fondest memories of Morrison, always, will be of the Velvets, he said: "The days when we carried out our assault on teen-age sensibilities."

photo: Scogin Mayo

Dylan Thomas' "Death Shall Have No Dominion"


Created by Olivier Landemaine
Last modified: December 31, 1999