Musings + Essays

So I’m Back to the Velvet Underground.

By: Jen Shoop
Are their places that make you feel like a past version of yourself? A core version of yourself?

So I’m back to the velvet underground
Back to the floor that I love
To a room with some lace and paper flowers
Back to the gypsy that I was

These lyrics send a shiver straight down my spine every time I hear them, and I listen to them a lot. Recently, I’ve been reaching for Fleetwood Mac on my morning runs. Many of their up-tempo songs set a good rhythm for running, and the lyrics are just substantive enough that they spin me into the kind of introspection that makes quick work of four miles. The pavement is a confetti of fall leaves, and the arch of Dumbarton Tunnel on the Crescent Trail forms an inviting doorway to adventure, and somehow Stevie Nicks reminding me to “go my own way” just works.

But those gypsy lyrics in particular enthrall me.

Are their places that make you feel like a past version of yourself? A core version of yourself?

When Stevie sings about “the velvet underground,” she is referring to a tiny vintage store in San Francisco where Janis Joplin and other rock greats bought a lot of their clothing, and “the floor that I love” references a room she rented where she slept with her mattress on the floor and tacked lace curtains up over the windows. She is resurrecting a time in her life pre-Fleetwood-Mac-success, marked by thrift and aspiration and wandering.

Returning to my hometown last year has invited similar encounters. Cornerstone memories linger at specific intersections, restaurants, stretches of Connecticut Avenue. I walk into Rock Creek Park and am shuttled into memories of excursions there with my Montessori classroom. I remember cicadas, the felled tree we climbed over and around, picking what I thought was chives but was probably grass with a little boy named Daniel Powers. Little velcro sneakers stumbling over roots, tiny pigtails emerging from the hollows of a tree stump: doorways, too, to adventure. Occasionally carpooling to Montessori with the girls who lived on the street behind us — “Goils,” their dad called us, glancing back. He always made me sit in a booster seat though I never sat in one in my parents’ car, and I was too shy to protest. My mother’s burgundy Cadillac had a center seat between the driver and passenger side, and I sat there smugly free of the booster, in private insurrection. Always, on the back of remembering my mother’s car, I think of that season where our driveway was overrun by gypsy moth caterpillars, their quilted, majestic backs inching across the asphalt in regal, bobbing motion. They would hang off the branches with startling prehensility. We gathered them in shoeboxes. I was a sponge, prehensile in my own way, collecting. It only takes a run through the orange and red trees by Peirce Mill (SIC) at fall time to remember everything.

What is it about these trips to my past that feel so meaningful to me? I think, maybe, the sensation of fullness. The way that an entire universe lives inside me. Perhaps what Nicks was after: going back to the before, reconnecting with a time that was formative or pure. In interviews about “Gypsy,” she says, “there’s a part of that that era that will never be again,” and elsewhere adds: “That’s one part of me…that’s where my songs come from. ‘Going back to the velvet underground/back to the floor that I love,’ because I always put my bed on the floor. ‘To a room with some lace and paper flowers/ back to the gypsy that I was.’ And that’s San Francisco. That’s the Velvet Underground. Those are the things that I can’t give up…The clothes I wear, that doesn’t change. I love long dresses. I love velvet. I love high boots. I never change. I love the same eye make-up. I’m not a fad person. I still have everything I had then.”

I still have everything I had then. Perhaps she intended it literally, but what a gorgeous sentiment: that we don’t lose things to time, but collect them quietly inside.


+More on returning to DC.

+On running without music. (A challenge and adventure for me.)

+D.C. and the parochial wild.

Shopping Break.

+A fabulous hot pink sweater for $30. Thinking this could be a really festive look paired with black satin or velvet pants and big earrings and maybe a velvet headband too?

+Speaking of festive dressing — zomg. Damaris Bailey just launched the most gorgeous velvet and silk faille peplum top that skyrocketing to the top of my winter lust list.

+LOVE the shape/style of this $60 bag.

+Already ordered this set for my son’s Christmas pile! The first gift I’ve bought!

+There are some closeout deals at Shopbop worth a glance —





+I own a pair of VB Crosby trousers and they are SO flattering — a great, high waist, and make even short legs like mine look super long. Run TTS. Love them in the denim and in this corduroy (<<they are ON SALE)!

+Obsessed with this black velvet mini — Zara also has a fab one for under $70. I would pair with my Gucci patterned tights!

+Speaking of Zara and festive/velvet finds: this pearl and velvet necklace (!!!) and this velvet blazer! Chic chic!

+Still time to get into the Halloween spirit! These inexpensive popper bracelets would be a cute surprise to send in with your child to school / to a party, or could be a non-sweet alternative to giving out candy.

+This silky black wrap dress (under $100) reminds me of a style from Zimmermann.

+Into this knit dress — Missoni-esque.

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6 thoughts on “So I’m Back to the Velvet Underground.

  1. Hi Jen—reading this today as I am visiting the place I lived for 15 years (San Francisco, coincidentally). We moved away a year ago, while things were still largely very different because of the pandemic and the city was pretty empty. Now being back with beautiful weather and a more normal level of activity here, I’m really struggling with feeling sad and homesick! Like I can’t shake it and even during moments of having fun with old friends I am inwardly feeling grief over losing my old life. Do you get that way when visiting NYC? I wonder if it has to do with leaving during that strange time, too. Anyway, I’m trying to associate nostalgia with positive feelings like Stevie, but really struggling!

    1. Hi Julie – I completely understand and think you should give yourself grace to grieve and feel all of those feelings. I feel like in some ways the “end” of COVID felt like a screen door slamming shut on my heel. Like, it was a sudden snap and I didn’t have time to really process what was happening, and suddenly we’re through the lintel into a different era. I’m sure this is in part what you’re feeling/sensing. Just no time to process. I feel that way in a sense about my son during pandemic, less so about NYC in particular — that I lost or missed out on so much of the magic of his toddlerhood because I was just putting one foot in front of the other, trying to get to the end of the day while working from home, kids were home, husband was home, we felt trapped and alone, etc. I have been trying to think through that lately. I usually land in the same place: I can’t go back in time to recoup, but I do have today, and tomorrow, to make the most of NOW. I also look back on pictures and realize, “Hey, we did kind of do a good job. We had lots of time together, lots of adventures and activities, albeit circumscribed.” I guess I’m landing on the notion that, after mourning that time, I have refocused on celebrating what went right during that period and then putting my energy toward the present. This has been a process, though. The first step is just, like, letting yourself cry. Telling your friends. Being mopey if you need to. The social media icon “Tinx” has a funny concept of “throwing a funeral” whenever a flame/love interest/coulda-woulda-shoulda burns out. Literally spend designated time focusing on the end, and then move on. I don’t think it’s that easy with something as complicated as grieving a time of your life or a place in your life — you’re not going to just “throw a funeral and get over it.” But I like the styling of it, the intentionality behind it. Focus on missing that place/time. Let yourself feel it all.

      Finally, not sure if this is helpful, but whenever I feel “stuck” in a mood / can’t shake something, I re-read that quote by Rainer Maria Rilke:

      “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

      This feeling is not a final one. You will get through this and one day think differently about that period of your life / SF. You will!


      1. Hi Jen – just stopping by with a belated “thank you” for this very thoughtful reply. I’m sorry I didn’t get to it sooner. I read it hastily when it was first published and was struck by the “throwing a funeral” concept, which I had never heard of. But rereading tonight in a different time and place, Rilke is what I think will stick with me. Thank you, friend ❤️

  2. I love your wording about the sense of fullness!

    I think Stevie’s message is also one of anti-consumption and anti-consumerism – and the seems that what we have is enough. That corresponds with your sense of the beauty of those earlier days being about fullness.

    1. Yes, and the sense that she really “knows herself,” does not need new things / new looks / new styles to redefine who she is. Thanks for sharing this reading!


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