Friday, February 16, 2007

Back Into Lou

I'm listening to more Lou Reed for some reason. Two weeks ago, I bought Transformer; today I bought Coney Island Baby and Rock and Roll Animal. Maybe I'm just attracted to the music he made in his prime. Maybe this is another bout of nostalgia.

I fell so heavily in love with Reed's music in college. 1978, I think it was. The record was Street Hassle. I was quite turned on a Rolling Stone review by Tom Carson which I thought was a beautiful and impassioned piece of writing, and I bought the record entirely on the strength. I wasn't disappointed at all. It was dark and brutal and deathly and angry. It was a masterpiece and I played it over and over.

I liked it so much that when I read Reed had a live album coming out, I just knew I had to have it. Boy, what a mistake. It was called Take No Prisoners, and I actually had to have my mom drive me all the way to Myrtle Beach to get it. It was a double record, so it costs more. Took it home, put it on my little Sears stereo -- and man, was it ever awful. It was a concert where Lou seemed to have arrived pissed off at everyone. Sometimes I thought he was drunk. He'd start a song, start rambling along on some story, and the band would play along until finally giving up. There was one part where he went into an extended rant on how much he hated critics, like John Rockwell from the New York Times and Robert Christgau from Village Voice.

I kept listening to the record trying to convince myself I hadn't totally wasted a lot of money and time.

Months later, I was back at my Baptist college, where a few students suddenly realized rock and roll was evil and went from room to room asking for contributions of records to be burned. I gladly donated Take No Prisoners.

Which I've regretted, a little, through the years as I fell under the spell of the Velvet Underground, which all these years later remain my quick answer for "favorite band."

As a solo artist, though, Lou strikes me as very hit or miss, and that even when he does hit, his records aren't always the kind you want to play over and over, unless you're suicidal, maybe. Take Berlin, a loose song cycle about the costs of being in love with a junkie. The last two songs are rough to sit through. In one, "The Kids," the singer watches helplessly first as his lover loses her children to the state. The final cut, "Sad Song," is a heart-breaking post-mortem of mixed feelings, where the singer 1) tries to forget this romance, and 2) wishes he had had the strenth to intercede. ("I'm gonna stop wasting my time/Somebody else would have broken both of her arms.")

There are a lot of dead girlfriends in Lou Reed's lyrics.

More, hopefully, on all this Reed business when I get around to processing whatever thought I have on the three discs.

I can say now that I am compelled to play "Satellite of Love" constantly.


Pete said...

Don't neglect "New York", which I've loved since the first time I heard it. (And if you're a manic who's in need of a downer, "Magic and Loss" always does the trick.)

RW said...

Well, tell ya the truth Pete I just wasn't all that crazy about those two. "New York" I found rather strident and preachy and a little too self-conscious, not a little like Bruce Springsteen would get on "The Rising" -- hi there, everyone, I'm the Voice of America and I'm here to tell you how you're supposed to feel. "Magic and Loss" has a grim poem on it called "Harry's Circumcision" that I play now and again, but otherwise it's a bit much to take.