Lou Reed, 1942–2013. A short bio.
His career started in high school, when his interest in rock’n’roll and rhythm and blues led him to form several bands. At Syracuse University, he studied under the poet Delmore Schwartz, who had a profound and lasting influence on Reed.
From simple pop to unique rock
After graduating in 1964, Lou moved to New York City (and never left). He got a job with Pickwick Records, penning simple pop tunes that would be marketed to capitalize on whatever was popular at that moment in time. One of the bands formed by the company to record one of Lou’s songs included the classically trained Welsh musician John Cale.
Reed and Cale soon formed the Velvet Underground. In mid-60s NYC, the band had little success; only a few notable “failures” – owing to their unique style, their artistic integrity, and their desire to create and play their own type of music. Fortunately, Andy Warhol heard the band, and invited them to join his Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia shows.
One of the greatest albums
In 1967, Warhol financed the recording of the Velvets first album. The album attracted little notice at the time, but within the next 5–10 years, it had a major influence on many punk-era bands in local scenes throughout the US, Canada, the UK, and beyond. It is now recognized as one of the greatest, most influential albums in rock’n’roll.
Lou left the Velvets in 1970. Over the course of his long solo career, Lou worked with David Bowie, Robert Quine, Richard Barone, Metallica and many more. While working in rock’n’roll, he continued to create music that was far beyond the traditional limits of rock’n’roll. (Listen to the albums Berlin or Metal Machine Music for evidence.)
Darkness and light
While Lou is viewed primarily as a rock’n’roll singer / songwriter / guitarist, his real strength was in writing lyrics. (In university, he had studied journalism and creative writing.) And while he is known for writing about the dark and unpleasant side of life, a perusal of his lyrics below show that he also saw the light and the beauty of life. He captured both the light and the dark, skillfully and brilliantly, in his lyrics.
Reed was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice; in 1996 as a member of the Velvet Underground, and in 2014 as a solo artist.
Lou Reed passed away on October 27, 2013, at his home in Southampton, New York.
(Note: I had listened to Lou since the mid 1970s, and, understandably, thought of him as a great rock’n’roll artist. After his death, I started to compile the following selection of some of his great lyrics. It soon became clear that Lou Reed was not only a superbly gifted singer / songwriter, he was also a master wordsmith and a true poet. Of the highest order.)
1 – All the streets you crossed not so long ago (from “Sunday Morning" )
This lyrical and evocative song was the first track on the very first Velvet Underground album. It’s so quiet, moody, and gentle that it seems to be quite out of character for Lou and the Velvets.
Too beautiful for the crowd
But in fact, it shows one of the definitive aspects of the band, and of Lou Reed. In many ways, it’s classic Lou and classic Velvet Underground; too beautiful for mass consumption.
It’s true that the Velvets played some discordant music, but that was only because some tunes called for discord, to reflect the harsh subject matter. On the other hand, some tunes called for beautiful melody. The Velvet Underground were capable of expressing both – sometimes in the same song.
"Sunday Morning,” Velvet Underground …
2 – She’s going to smile to make you frown (from “Femme Fatale”)
The tender lead vocals on this track were sung by the German chanteuse Nico, whom Andy Warhol had introduced to the Velvet Underground. It was also Warhol who had encouraged Lou to write this song about Edie Sedgwick, one of Warhol’s “superstars.”
She'll play you and break you
While the song “Femme Fatale” is sonically similar to “Sunday Morning,” its subject matter leans toward those topics that Lou became more well known for – a femme fatale from the street who will “play [the little boy] for a fool,” and “break your heart in two.”
Sounds bad. But sounds beautiful at the same time.
(Interesting note: This song is not the only rock classic written about Edie Sedgwick. Bob Dylan also knew the “Femme Fatale,” and reportedly wrote several songs about Edie or inspired by her, including “Just Like a Woman.”)
“Femme Fatale,” Velvet Underground …
3 – Taste the whip, in love not given lightly (from “Venus in Furs")
This unsettling and even haunting song has always been one of my favorite Lou Reed compositions. From the scratching sounds of the electric viola and the hypnotic, rhythmic drumming, to Lou’s throw-away vocals, the entire song moves in ways that no other music does.
Beauty or beastliness
And the lyrics show Lou at his detached, street-wise best. Watching and observing, then relating and revealing whatever he sees, be it beauty or beastliness. In this case, it just happens that what he sees are some rather beastly scenes of S&M. Beautifully rendered.
“Venus In Furs,” Velvet Underground …
4 – A thousand dreams that would awake me (from “Venus in Furs”)These melancholic lyrics appear in the same song that depicts the beautiful and haunting “beastly scenes of S&M” mentioned in the previous post.
To sleep, perchance to dream
Yet even though the protagonist “could sleep for a thousand years,” he is not resigned to weariness or eternal sleep. Quite the opposite, he realizes that sleep offers the possibility of “a thousand dreams” – dreams both sad and colorful, dreams worth waking up for.
If only we could all be so optimistic, and if only all our poets, songwriters, and pop stars could be so optimistic and profound.
“Venus In Furs,” Velvet Underground …
5 – I’m gonna try for the kingdom (from “Heroin”)
Deepak Chopra once wrote that “Addiction is basically a search for ecstasy.” In these first two lines from his hallmark song “Heroin,” Lou expresses that truism so perfectly and honestly.
Searching for ecstasy
The junkie does not know exactly what he wants or where he’s going, but he realizes that he wants ecstasy, nirvana, the kingdom. And if a narcotic can help him on his quest, it’s probably worth trying. Or is it? (See entry #6, below.)
“Heroin,” Velvet Underground …
6 – Thank God that I just don’t care (from “Heroin”)
Lou begins the song Heroin by simply stating, “I don’t know ….” He goes on to describe the experience of a junkie, ranging from his initial pleasant dreams of adventure to the sordid reality of urban decay, and eventually onwards (or downwards) to portray his own personal decay.
The perfect escape
Against a background of manic drumming and frenetic viola, Lou’s dispassionate vocals tell us that the junkie has found a way to escape from the decadence and depravity that surrounds him.
And with his body pumped full of heroin, the junkie can honestly say “I really don’t care anymore” about all the nonsense of politics and the horrors of the city. The only thing is, the reason he does not care is because he’s “as good as dead.”
Which brings Lou to the final lines of the song, where he intones several haunting echoes of the opening line. Maybe the junkie has NOT found the perfect escape from the nonsense and the horror. Maybe, there is no way out, there is no escape. Maybe, he says, “I just don’t know.”
“Heroin,” Velvet Underground …
7 – Between thought and expression (from “Some Kind of Love”)
This lyric is found in a rather obscure song on the Velvet Underground’s third album, released in 1969.
Life of a wordsmith
Twenty-three years later, in 1992, Lou used the phrase “Between Thought and Expression” as the title of his 3-disc anthology of songs from the first 20 years of his solo work. It is arguably one of the finest titles a wordsmith could give to an anthology of his work.
A lifetime of poetic inspiration and diligent work
And, arguably, a most apt title. Between the time a writer first experiences something or considers his world, and the time that we hear his words, there’s an entire world of experiences. It’s as if the writer realizes that his craft is just that – solely a craft. Life is something more, continuing after any thoughts and motivating any and all expressions.
Over the course of his career, Lou practiced this craft diligently and prodigiously. As a result, we have a complete “lifetime” of his profound, thought-provoking and evocative “thoughts and expressions.”
“Some Kind of Love,” Velvet Underground …
8 – White boy, what you doin’ uptown (from “I’m Waiting for the Man”)
The subject matter of “I’m Waiting for the Man” is classic Lou Reed. A seemingly innocent young white man goes on an urban adventure of sorts, to the heart of the city. Speaking bluntly … he goes uptown to score some drugs.
From out of town
However, when he gets uptown, the “white boy” is out of place. And without a doubt, he feels totally out of place. Particularly when the men in the uptown neighborhood start asking why he’s come there, implying that he has no reason to be there.
The protagonist in turn implies that he has good reason to be there. Just “waiting for my man” to show up, waiting for a “dear friend,” maybe to take care of a little business. And presumably, the uptown men understand and accept him.
This song ended up being one of the classic tunes by the Velvet Underground – one that was covered by a variety of musicians. David Bowie used to play it live back in the day, and since then it has been covered by Bauhaus, Echo and the Bunnymen, and even Cheap Trick.
The finest version, of course, is the original, by Lou and the Velvet Underground.
“Waiting for the Man,” Velvet Underground …
9 – Everybody’s pinned you (from “I’m Waiting for the Man”)
This is another of Lou’s classic vignettes, in one of his most memorable songs.
All eyes are on you
The white boy, uptown to score some drugs, feels the eyes of all the locals on him. He becomes a bit paranoid, and thinks that they’re watching him. As he walks along the sidewalk, as he walks up the stairs, they’re watching his every move.
All eyes turn away
But even though the white boy is out of place, even though he feels totally out of place, and even though everybody knows exactly what he is doing there, it really does not matter at all to the locals. Even though they’ve all “pinned” him as a kid who’s doing things that are maybe not proper, “nobody cares” that the white boy has come uptown. It’s only his paranoia getting the better of him.
As mentioned in the previous post, this song became a VU classic, and was covered by numerous bands, reputable and otherwise. Furthermore, the title of the song was adopted as the title of a book about drugs and rock’n’roll, by Harry Shapiro. Appropriate enough, I might add.
“Waiting for the Man,” Velvet Underground …
10 – Linger on, your pale blue eyes (from “Pale Blue Eyes”)
This bittersweet ode appeared on the Velvet Underground’s eponymous third album. It’s about an early love of Lou’s, a woman who was married to another man – a fact that, in the eyes of the enamored writer, is “truly a sin.”
Only the facts, sir
While the protagonist realizes the poignant truth that he and his love can never be together, he does not descend into maudlin self-pity, as in so many pop hits and rock’n’roll songs.
Instead, he gives us an almost surreal expression of love in a “pure and strange” world. Although the love can never become manifest, it is eternal. And that love will always be reflected in the protagonist’s vision of himself.
Only the memory
Furthermore, he will always see her pale blue eyes, lingering in his memory, in his consciousness, and in his heart.
(Note – The woman who inspired this song did not have pale blue eyes, but hazel eyes. Apparently Lou just took poetic license and changed the color to blue. That’s called euphony, and it sounds good to me.)
“Pale Blue Eyes,” Velvet Underground …
11 – Say “Hello” to never (from “After Hours”)
Even though “After Hours” is one of the Velvets’ lesser-known songs, more than a few people have said that it is one of their favorites, if not their number one favorite.
Looking from this quiet room …
It’s a quiet, gentle ditty expressing a young innocent lady’s desire to experience a day out on the town, or an evening at a party dancing and chatting with fun people. At the same time, she longs for the comfort, safety, and solitude of her own room.
Lou considered this song so “innocent and pure” that he believed his own singing would not be appropriate. Instead, he asked the Velvets’ diminutive drummer Maureen Tucker to sing it.
... It’s a grand, grand, grand world
Maureen aced it. She complemented Lou’s innocent and pure lyrics with her supremely sublime delivery. Her voice almost sounds like that of a tiny young girl, a sad little sweetheart who wonders about the grand world outside her door, and dreams about joining it.
But, in the end, she realizes that she just wants to retreat into her own isolation and be at peace.
“After Hours,” Velvet Underground …
12 – A costume fit for one who sits and cries (from “All Tomorrow’s Parties”)
This song was Andy Warhol’s favorite Velvet Underground song. And for good reason.
Although “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is a quiet, melancholy tune, it comprises several avant-garde elements – ostrich guitar, tone clusters, prepared piano – features which a non-musician such as myself cannot begin to explain or describe. Suffice to say that the music was inspired by the work of the composers LaMonte Young and Terry Riley, whom John Cale had worked with prior to joining the Velvets.
Nico’s haunting vocal delivery balances the unsettling avant-garde music, creating a sad and beautiful tale of a poor girl who will probably never be able to attend “all tomorrow’s parties.” All she can do is “cry behind the door.”
“All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Velvet Underground …
13 – I just wanna tell you, everything was alright (from “I’m Beginning to See the Light”)The line “I met myself in a dream” is a fine example of Lou’s creative insight. And while the following two lines do not sound profound, this short verse actually illustrates a wonderful outlook on life.
See the light
While life has its ups and downs, while nothing is perfect, and indeed many things are fucked up, he had a dream in which he realized that “everything was alright.” Although it was only a dream, he realizes that there must be some truth in what he dreamt. It was clearly an “Aha!” moment, and now, he’s “beginning to see the light.” He’s beginning to realize that all is well with the world.
Of course, we have all been told that before, many times, by many prophets and poets and gurus, in lands near and far, and since times long past. But we forget, and we need to be reminded over and over again.
Fortunately, a certain poet named Lou Reed lived in New York City in our time, and he often reminded us of that “everything is alright.” Like many poets, he remained relatively obscure and he was not always understood. Yet.
(Note: Lou used the term “alright” in many of his songs. He even titled one of his songs "It's Alright [The Way That You Live]." Maybe he realized that striving for perfection or waiting for things to become great were both pointless endeavors. The best we can hope for is that things will turn out alright. They often will.)
“I’m Beginning to See the Light,” Velvet Underground …
14 – If I could walk away from me (from “Candy Says”)
The song “Candy Says” is the first in a succession of similarly titled Lou songs.
(After this came “Lisa Says,” “Caroline Says,” and a second song titled “Caroline Says.” And in numerous other songs, Lou sketches a female protagonist who “says ….” various things. “Janie says …” “Joana says …”)
Fictional characters, real people
As with many of Lou’s lyrics, these songs are all fine portrayals of real people. By listening to what those ladies tell us about themselves, we discover who they are, what they are experiencing, or what they hope and dream for.
Like the art of his mentor Andy Warhol, these songs by Lou are all great portraits. But whereas Warhol illustrated the exterior of famous subjects, Lou gave us various portraits of their interiors, portraits of characters who were not famous and who were essentially ordinary people.
Lou’s lyrics show us very clearly that even the lives of ordinary people can be seen to be intriguing. It all depends on what we observe and how we observe it.
Something beyond her self
Often, these ordinary characters are like us in many ways. In this song, Candy dreams of something more, of something beyond her own life. Like us, she dreams of what life will be like when she’s a bit “older.” She dreams of what she might see if she could only “walk away from me” – if she could only transcend herself.
Of course, none of us know what we will see when and if we get beyond ourselves. But it’s always wonderful to imagine. To imagine we are a different person viewing a different world in a different way.
“Candy Says,” Velvet Underground …
15 – Every night she falls (from “Oh! Sweet Nuthin”)
The final track on the final Velvet Underground album, this track reflects the somewhat more commercial orientation of the band. It was 1970, and the band’s reputation was virtually assured. Now, the record company wanted the band to produce a hit single, and apparently the band members agreed that some popular recognition would be nice.
All hits, all the time
(In fact, the record company had asked the band for an album “loaded with hits.” The band responded by titling the album “Loaded.” Godda love the wit.)
Like the other songs on the album, “Oh! Sweet Nuthin” is almost folksy in its form. But while the song is quiet and slow, and while the words are sung in a gentle croon, Lou’s lyrics continue to reflect despair and loneliness. As for the song’s protagonist, “every day she falls in love, and every night she falls.” While each day seems to bring hope and promise, each evening takes it away.
She’s left with the bittersweet realization that she has “nothing at all.”
(Note 1: Lou had left the band by the time the “Loaded” album was released, so most of the music and vocals were performed by his replacement, Doug Yule. Still, this remains a Lou Reed song to its core.)
(Note 2: I could not find a copy of the original song on YouTube. Fortunately, there’s a great live version by Neil Young and a few others.)
“Oh, Sweet Nuthin’,” Neil Young and friends …
16 – The light on your door to show that you’re home (from “I’ll Be Your Mirror”)
Like “Pale Blue Eyes,” the song “I’ll Be Your Mirror” is a short, tender love song. With nothing more than the soft strumming of a guitar and the ringing of a tambourine in the background, Nico’s restrained vocals make the song so much more gentle.
Reflecting truth and beauty
This song was apparently inspired by Nico herself, who once came up to Lou and told him, “Oh, Lou, I’ll be your mirror.” As ever, Lou could extrapolate from that simple sentence and create a full-fledged character whose thoughts and emotions are expressed in the lyrics. Then he could add some perfectly fitting music to create a beautiful tune.
While “I’ll Be Your Mirror” is clearly a love song, its phrases and expressions are somewhat atypical of any love song. In the standard love songs since the creation of pop music, there are probably very few that come close to saying anything like “I’ll be the wind, the rain, and the sunset.”
Bad weather on a good day
Many pop songs will refer to sunrise, sunshine, and … well, more sun. Lou chose the opposite.
And there’s definitely never been another song that said anything remotely similar to “I’ll be … the light on your door to show that you’re home.” That’s because there was only one poet who could put those words together so evocatively.
“I’ll Be Your Mirror,” Velvet Underground …
17 – Often wish that they could die (from “Men of Good Fortune”)
When I first heard this song (and the entire “Berlin” album), I slowly realized that there was so much more to pop music than the latest Top 40 hits.
A disaster in the supermarket
One day when I was 14 or 15 years old, I was flipping through the bargain bin at the K-Mart down the street from my high school, when I saw the Lou Reed album “Berlin.” The price had been reduced to $2.99 or so. (When it had been released, Rolling Stone magazine had called the album “a disaster.”)
I did not buy it that day. But the next weekend, I mentioned it to my friend John, and he told me to buy it for him ASAP. I bought it, took it home, and listened to it a few times before handing it to John. The next week, I went back to K-Mart and got my own copy.
License to change lives
It was the mid-1970s. Many of the great musicians of the 60s were gone, and much of the incredible music of that time was long past. Therefore, as young teens, pretty much the only music we were hearing was the current top of the pops.
So hearing Lou’s music and lyrics was revelatory and life-changing. And it was so simple. Rhyming “die” with “die”? As far as I was taught in Literature class, that was not allowed, even if one had poetic license.
This is literature
“Berlin” was essentially a concept album, relating the story of a tragic couple whose lives are beset by loneliness and despair, not to mention drug abuse, physical abuse, child neglect, and other such sordid and decadent behavior. And the simplicity of the music and lyrics made the subjects of the songs seem stark, visceral, and real.
This was literature, and I was hooked. It was clear that I was gonna learn more from Lou Reed than from Miss Trudi Van Strudie in high school Lit class.
“Men of Good Fortune,” Lou Reed …
18 – I thought I was … someone good (from “Perfect Day”)
Just a perfect song. Simple and perfect.
I’ve always loved the lines, “You made me forget myself. I thought I was someone else, someone good.” Those lines say only a little, in elementary words. But they imply so very much.
The protagonist may believe he is not a very good person, but, in fact, he does care for others, and he obviously cares for the woman for whom he wrote this song. The sad thing is that, as Lou intones in the last lines, he’s going to lose this women, or at least alienate her.
He knows that he will get only that which he deserves, and he repeats to himself “You’re going to reap just what you sow.” But, in the end, he knows that even one day with her is a “Perfect Day.”
(Note: In 1997, the BBC featured this song in a promotional video, with a diverse line-up of great singers, each performing tiny snippets of the song. [See list of singers below.])
It was not only used as a not-so-subtle fundraiser for the BBC, but also released as a charity single for the BBC’s UK charity Children in Need. This version has sold over 1 million copies and raised over £2 million.
(Note – The version at the link below is this BBC version, of which Lou said, “I have never been more impressed with a performance of one of my songs.”)
“Perfect Day,” Lou Reed and friends (An impressive version of a simple, perfect song) …
List of singers
1. Lou Reed ... 2. Bono ... 3. Skye Edwards (Morcheeba) ... 4. David Bowie ... 5. Suzanne Vega ... 6. Elton John ... 7. Boyzone ... 8. Lesley Garret ... 9. Burning Spear ... 10. Bono ... 11. Sir Thomas Allen ... 12. Heather Small ... 13. Emmylou Haris ... 14. Tammy Wynette ... 15. Shane MacGowan ... 16. Dr. John ... 17. David Bowie ... 18. Robert Cray ... 19. Huey Morgan (Fun Loving Criminals) ... 20. Ian Broudie (The Laughing Seeds) ... 21. Gabrielle (aka Louise Gabrielle Bobb) ... 22. Dr. John ... 23. Dando (The Lemon Heads) ... 24. Emmylou Haris ... 25. Courtney Pine (playing the solo) ... 26. Brett Anderson (Suede) ... 27. (Unidentified choir) ... 28. Joan Armatrading ... 29. Laurie Anderson (Lou’s wife) ... 30. Heather Small ... 31. Tom Jones ... 32. Lou Reed
19 – Free to find a new illusion (from “I’m Set Free”)
So much of Lou Reed’s work reflects the subtle contrasts and differences between the light and the dark, the good and the bad. A woman can fall in love during the day and then fall into darkness when night comes. A man can experience a perfect day with his friend, only to realize that he will never merit her love.
Freedom … illusory and elusive
In a song entitled “I’m Set Free,” we are almost led to believe that the protagonist has finally overcome all the bad habits and escaped the sordid life.
But it’s not to be. Although he is supposedly “free,” and even though he repeats that phrase to reassure himself, he knows that he will soon be caught up in another illusion. In that sense, he’s typically human.
He might be free, but his freedom is ephemeral and elusive.
“I’m Set Free,” Velvet Underground …
20 – To always make love by proxy (from “How Do You Think It Feels”)
Much of the pop music we heard in the mid-70s was cheerful, bland, and (to borrow a phrase) “pretty vacant.” But this song, with its expressions of gloom and existential angst, was anything but cheerful.
It feels horrible
In this unsettling and haunting track from the album “Berlin,” we get a glimpse of the protagonist’s inner world. The only response to the writer’s rhetorical questions is probably “It must feel horrible.”
It looks horrifying
There’s nothing to notice … only the bleak images of the interior that Lou sketches for us in this song
"How Do You Think It Feels,” Lou Reed …
21 – Life is meant to be more than this (from “Caroline Says 2”)
It takes all kinds
Whenever I hear this gloomy song, it brings to mind 4 types of people.
- The wretched Caroline who is being physically and emotionally abused by her partner. She evokes pity.
- Her cruel partner, a heartless brute who mistreats her, with no remorse. He evokes anger and loathing.
- Lou, the artist who composed this sketch and then sang it, in his dispassionate but poignant vocal style. He evokes awe and respect.
- A mystic. That is, an unidentified Buddhist, Christian, Zen, or Sufi guru, who would probably commend Lou for his objective, impassive, and honest view of the world.
Lou views the situation in the same way the monk and the guru would view it. It’s not so bad, and it’s not so good. It’s definitely not happy but neither is it sad. It just is.
“Caroline Says 2,” Lou Reed …
22 – Wouldn’t turn around and hate it (from “Sweet Jane”)
Besides “Walk on the Wild Side” (which, since it reached the charts, doesn’t count), this is arguably Lou’s most popular song. Lou continued to play it live for years, and numerous bands covered it. And with good reason; it’s an upbeat, positive, and life-affirming song with a catchy riff.
Where’s the heart and soul?
Jack and Jane are a middle-age couple who are no longer radical. Jack’s become a banker, and Jane’s become a clerk. To all indications, they have abandoned their youthful ideals of protest, rebellion, and revolution.
They seem to have betrayed their principles and settled into a dull, middle-class lifestyle. They save their money, sit by the fireplace, and listen to classical music. From a superficial perspective, they seem to have lost their heart and soul.
Not so, says Lou.
Here’s the age and wisdom
If they had had youthful passion and had dreamt of a better world, they would never “turn around and break” their hearts or abandon their ideals. And even though they’ve grown out of their youthful rebellion, they would never “turn around and hate” their younger selves.
They’ve simply grown, aged, and matured. And for Jack and his dear wife “Sweet Jane,” life is good.
This reflects a very mature, wizened perspective. Considering that Lou was still a relatively young man (and a bit of a radical) when he penned this wisdom, it’s pretty remarkable.
“Sweet Jane,” Velvet Underground …
“Sweet Jane,” (moody, blue version) Cowboy Junkies …
23 – Hitch-hiked her way across the USA (from “Walk on the Wild Side”)Once upon a time … Oh, sorry! That’s how fairy tales start. "Walk on the Wild Side" is definitely NOT a fairy tale.
They really were on the wild side
It’s a true story about the weird and wonderful world of the Factory, Andy Warhol’s New York studio, and the many bizarre characters who populated it. It’s about those social deviants and the supposedly sordid adventures they engaged in at the Factory.
As the documentary states (@ second link below), the characters in this song were all real people. And as Lee Childers said, “The song is true. They really were on the wild side.”
Lou begins this tale by shocking us. An innocent young kid leaves home, starts hitch-hiking across the country, and then… becomes transgender. (This was back in the early 1970s, not post-millennial.)
Eyewitness and document
Holly Woodlawn was an actual person that Lou met at Andy Warhol’s Factory in the 1960s. So were Candy, Little Joe, Sugar Plum Fairy, and Jackie. Lou simply documented their stories, and set it to a smooth beat and pleasant rhythm.
It’s hard to believe that this song about deviant characters and taboo subjects became a Top 40 hit. The fact that it did is enough to bring a smile to the face of any Lou fan.
“Walk on the Wild Side,” Lou Reed …
“Walk on the Wild Side: The People who Inspired Lou Reed's Classic Song” …
24 – Hoped that intelligence would ingest rock (from “Liner notes,” Metal Machine Music)Many rock stars and pop artists would like to be known for their intelligence, insight and wit. And maybe some deserve to be. But for most, such recognition is secondary, at best. What really matters to them are catchy tunes, flashy lyrics, and the truckloads of money that come with a hit.
That is pop
While Lou began his career writing catchy tunes at the hit-making Pickwick Records, his true passion was in creating art, music, poetry, and stories. Looking back over his entire oeuvre, we see that he remained true to his ideals. All along, he strived to create “intelligent” art, the type we find in good novels and films, not in most pop or rock music.
Of course, it was not always apparent that Lou was such an authentic artist. Because he was working in the “popular” art from of rock music, he was generally viewed within the limits of the genre.
This is art
In retrospect, however, it’s very clear. His work was characterized by “the intelligence that once inhabited novels or films.”
(Note – The following link is to an mp3 version. Therefore, it does not present Metal Machine Music in all its strident aural horror.
You will not experience the incessant “aural flagellation” of the original [as Lester Bangs said]. Still, a few seconds’ listen will give you an idea of what Lou intended and accomplished.)
“Metal Machine Music,” Lou Reed …
25 – It is not meant to be (from “Liner notes,” Metal Machine Music)Metal Machine Music is certainly the most unlistenable album in the history of rock. Or maybe in the entire history of recorded music.
Not available in a record store near you
Within weeks of its release, RCA Records deleted it (that is, the company stopped producing any new copies). Consequently, it was almost impossible to find a copy, particularly in Canada, and particularly in the hinterlands where I grew up.
About 6 years after it came out, I finally found a copy, in a used record store in Toronto. (I still remember the moment when I saw it and slowly picked it out of the rack, as if it were a rare, precious gem.)
When I played it for two of my friends, one of them could not tolerate the noise, and begged me to turn it off. I did, but not soon enough for him.
Only Lou had the balls to make such a record. Give him credit for that, and for being honest about it.
“Metal Machine Music,” Lou Reed …
26 – My week … (from “Liner notes,” Metal Machine Music)A young teen sits in his room. His interest in school is flagging, his classes seem dull, uninteresting, and pointless, his grades are dipping, his love life is going nowhere, and he feels constrained by the many rules, both at school and at home.
Each day, each week, each month, time plods onward, but nothing changes. Next month will be the same, and next year will probably be the same. He sees no reason to be optimistic.
He puts aside his homework, and picks up a rock’n’roll magazine. He reads this short, simple sentence from Lou. “My week beats your year.”
Maybe next week
The teenager knows it’s true. Last year, nothing exciting or interesting happened, and he does not expect much more this year. But those words also give him a glimmer of hope. Someday, somehow, life will improve. If nothing else, it motivates him to make next week better.
“Metal Machine Music,” Lou Reed …
27 – The glory of love might see you through (from “Coney Island Baby”)This pensive song is the title track of the album, which has been called “perhaps the most romantic album of Reed’s career.”
The entire album was apparently a love song to Lou’s girlfriend at the time. Similar to the Velvet’s third album, “Coney Island Baby” has a more folksy sound than Lou’s other songs.
A higher love
The album also includes a version of the Velvet Underground track “She’s My Best Friend.” As expressed in various other tracks, the ideal love for Lou is friendship – albeit friendship of a higher order than we might normally think.
A better light to guide you
It’s a friendship where “the glory of love” shines through, where “the glory of love” casts a better light on the “funny … circus or sewer” of the city, and where “the glory of love might see you through.” He’s certain that love will see you through any bad times that you might face.
“Coney Island Baby,” Lou Reed …
28 – You find your heart … (from “Ride Sally Ride”)Apart from this line, and maybe the catchy title phrase, most of the lyrics of “Ride, Sally, Ride” are unremarkable.
The title comes from the classic R&B tune “Mustang Sally,” made famous by Wilson Pickett, and later covered in the great Alan Parker film “The Commitments.”
As for this line, the poignant irony says it all. Having such a cold heart would not be very nice.