Lou ReedThis is Part 2 of the "Lou Reed, Memorable Lyrics" anthology.
For Part 1,
(Part 1 includes a short biography of Lou and an introduction to his career.)
29 – Cascading slowly, he lifted her wholly and boldly (from “ Street Hassle”)
“Street Hassle” was Lou’s attempt to write a rock opera. But if this is opera, it sure aint “The Magic Flute” by Mozart, and it aint even “Tommy” by The Who.
Wolfgang, The Who, Lou
Then again, Mozart was apparently a radical and a rascal (1700s vintage), and the members of The Who were mod rebels (early ‘60s vintage), so maybe there is reason to compare this album to such precursors.
When “Street Hassle” was first released, various critics proclaimed that it was good, but “not a masterpiece.” Even decades later, that verdict was repeated.
Yes, a masterpiece
At the same time, however, it has been referred to as “most audacious,” “deeply moving,” “powerful,” and “compelling.”
Hmmm. If you ask me, that sounds like it is most likely a masterpiece. The music is dark but infectious; the lyrics are visceral, unsettling, and evocative; the story is captivating; and the story-telling is mesmerizing.
And if there’s one album that you can judge by its cover, this might be it.
“Street Hassle,” Lou Reed …
30 – They can never find a voice (from “Street Hassle”)This disquieting quote has always been one of my favorites of Lou’s lyrics. The fact that they are spoken as opposed to sung makes them even more affecting.
The casual rhymes, along with Lou’s trademark dispassionate delivery, seem to be leading to some relatively decent ending or at least some neutral insight. But then, the music essentially stops, and Lou’s vocals continue. He bluntly tells us that such a situation is not good. In fact, it’s bad, and if you happen to be one of those people, you have “bad luck.”
Find your voice
That’s all. The music starts up again, and Lou moves on to the next verse. But the listener cannot forget the ringing indictment in this verse.
Find your own voice. Good luck.
“Street Hassle,” Lou Reed …
31 – Took the rings from my fingers (from “Street Hassle”)
Near the end of this 11-minute opera, the story turns sad, and Lou’s lyrics turn plaintive. The poet of the New York underworld starts crooning about lost love, and how he has lost even the symbols of love.
Love aint coming back
He pleads for his love to remain, telling her how much he needs her and imploring her to stay.
Conclusion. “Street Hassle” is undoubtedly one of Lou Reed’s masterpieces.
(As this ad proclaimed when the album was released, it’s actually “A stunning incandescent triumph. A masterpiece.”)
“Street Hassle,” Lou Reed …
32 – Baby, we were born to … (from “Street Hassle”)
For those of you unfamiliar with Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 breakthrough hit, the powerful and magnificent “Born to Run,” Springsteen repeats the phrase “Tramps like us, baby, we were born to run” several times throughout that song, in dramatic delivery.
Torch of glory
In “Born to Run,” Springsteen had shone a torch of glory on the gloomy world of American youth. The kids may have screwed up, but they can run away, run onwards, hopefully to a better life.
Sorrow and heartbreak
Three years later, on “Street Hassle,” Lou had Bruce mutter a few lines of spoken verse. In Lou’s song, there is no glory; only sadness, sorrow, pain, and heartbreak. Not to mention meaningless sex and death.
Unlike in “Born to Run,” there is no running from the bleak reality, there is no escape. As expressed in “Street Hassle,” these “tramps” have nowhere to run, and will have to “pay” for their screw-ups.
“Street Hassle,” Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen …
33 – To me, it all looks the same (from “Gimme Some Good Times”)
More words of wisdom from our guru. As ever, Lou’s view is objective, impassive, and honest. Whether good or evil, happy or sad, dark or light, it makes no difference. All he wants to do is continue to experience life.
Honestly, it’s all the same – life
Whether beauty or beast, pleasure or pain, it does not matter to the poet / the mystic. To him,“It all looks the same.” It all looks like life.
“Gimme Some Good Times,” Lou Reed …
34 – Don’t wanna be a fucked up middle-class college student (from “I Wanna Be Black”)As with most of his songs, this is not the voice of Lou. It’s the voice of a character that Lou created – a white, middle-class college student who has no desire or interest in remaining normal.
Something more, something else
He wants something more in his life, he wants something else. In fact, he wants to become something else. He wants to change his entire socio-cultural identity.
Of course, that’s impossible. The only realm in which such a drastic and world-shattering change is possible is the fictional world of Lou’s creation.
“I Wanna Be Black,” Lou Reed …
35 – The best lack all conviction (from “Live, Take No Prisoners”)I still remember the first time I heard this quote. I was studying journalism at junior college, and several of my classmates and I were getting bored of reporting on mundane events for the student newspaper. Instead, we wanted to study literature – prose, poetry, fiction, essays – masterpieces penned by esteemed modern authors and poets such as William Butler Yeats.
Rock’n’Roll as poetry
And here was Lou Reed, drifting out of the shadows of NYC rock’n’roll, and strolling boldly into a ray of light emanating from one of Yeats’ finest poems. It not only introduced us to some of Yeats’ best poetry, it also made us rethink Reed and appreciate him more.
Within a year, we had all dropped out of the journalism program. For what it’s worth, we moved on to immerse ourselves in subjects that would hopefully fill us with “passionate intensity.”
36 – Getting a “B+” from ... the Village Voice (from “Live, Take No Prisoners”)
Robert Christgau, the music critic for The Village Voice, wrote album reviews in the form of brief “capsule reviews,” which ended with Christgau giving each album a grade – A, B, C, or so – as if the artist were still a pupil in elementary school.
During the 1970s, he generally gave Lou’s studio albums grades of B or C. Not that it mattered. For Lou, it was not school. It was work.
Lou often stated how Andy Warhol had encouraged him to work, and how Warhol even reprimanded him for not working enough and for not writing more songs.
- [Andy would say,] “How many songs did you write?”
- [Lou] I’d written zero. I’d lie and say “10.”
- [Andy would say,] “You won’t be young forever. You should have written 15. It’s work.”
Given Lou’s constant and prodigious output over the course of his career, it’s clear that Warhol instilled a work ethic in Lou. He kept working, kept creating, kept composing, and kept performing.
“Lou Reed Talks and Talks and Talks,” Lou Reed … @ 5:00
37 – No attitude (from “Live, Take No Prisoners”)
Great quote. But in fact, Lou had plenty of attitude – either with a cigarette or without a cigarette.
(As a point of interest, later in this rambling monologue, Lou said that he had "enough attitude to kill every person in Jersey." I'm not sure if he needed a cigarette for that.)
38 – You can wipe my ass (from “Live, Take No Prisoners”)
39 – My problems (from “Live, Take No Prisoners”)
Back in the day, we actually found Lou’s problems very interesting.
Problems are trivial
In fact, when Lou goes into his long rambles and rants on this live album, his monologues become more interesting than the songs he performs. Virtually everything he talks about (whether it’s his problems or his success or his failures or whatever) is intriguing and quite fascinating.
But of course, his problems are interesting only to us listeners – or (should I say) his fans. Those trivial problems were probably of little interest to Lou, who was more concerned with art and music and work and creativity.
“Lou Reed Talks and Talks and Talks,” Lou Reed … @ 5:40
40 – Nobody reads you (from “Live, Take No Prisoners”)
A backhanded compliment is one thing, but to be able to deliver a backhanded insult takes special verbal skill.
Lou talks and talks and talks
In response to a heckler, Lou ad-libbed this statement during the session that became the album “Live, Take No Prisoners,” in 1978. By that time, Lou’s reputation was pretty much established and intact, so he was free to do whatever he wished. And during these sessions recorded at the New York club The Bottom Line, he wanted to rant and ramble freely.
Lou talks and mocks and rambles and retorts and criticizes and praises
At the time the album was released, it was said that it was going to be called “Lou Reed Talks and Talks and Talks.” Because for much of this double album, that’s all he does. Talk, mock, ramble, criticize, praise, and talk some more.
Lou shuts someone up
It’s mostly a long, wide-ranging monologue, but at times, he engages members of the audience. Or disposes of them with comments such as this perfectly phrased backhanded insult.
41 – Do Lou Reed (from “Live, Take No Prisoners”)
Lest we forget, the artist “Lou Reed” was only one facet of the human being Lou Reed.
Of course, much of the real Lou shines through his lyrics. But Lou the writer was a superb creator of characters, and had a superb ability to express the thoughts, moods, and feelings of those characters.
Lou portrayed some of those characters through the first-person singular “I.” In most cases, that “I” is a fictional character. He might be similar to Lou, and he may have problems and predilections similar to those of Lou, but he is not necessarily Lou.
At the most, he’s only a portrayal of Lou. A unique and inimitable portrayal.
42 – All is ordered and all is grace (from “Think It Over”)On this beautiful and soothing track, Lou sounded more optimistic than he had in years.
Think about this.
“Think It Over” features a few simple lines about a couple, in love and in bed, on a blissful morning. He proposes to her, and asks her to “think it over.” But she realizes that their life, their world, might not be the ideal.
Imagine something else
Think about "here and now"
Then she realizes exactly what he’s proposing. Regardless of whatever experience the distant future might hold, and regardless of whatever adventure some “faraway place” might offer, he’s offering to love her and care for her – here and now. That’s enough to make her “think it over.”
“Think It Over,” Lou Reed …
43 – Some friend died of something you can’t pronounce (from “Turn To Me”)
The 1984 album “New Sensations” was the most upbeat Lou Reed album in years. Not only did Lou evince warmth and positivity, but his songs transmitted those optimistic vibes to the listeners.
In this track, he begins by relating some horrible situations, such as when your body is deteriorating or your loved ones are disappearing. But he’s quick to remind us that, ultimately, you will always be loved, and you will always have support.
Let’s hope that we all have someone to turn to.
“Turn To Me,” Lou Reed …
44 – The principles of a timeless muse (from “New Sensations”)
After close to 20 years of focusing on many of the darker aspects of life, the album “New Sensations” showed a much more positive Lou.
Good work. Improved attitude.
With its celebrations of various finer aspects of life and its affirmations of the good that people can do, it was the most upbeat and cheerful Lou Reed album in years – if not ever. At the same time, the subject matter and the poetry were as profound and significant as any of his gloomier, more solemn material.
Many of the reviews of the album were quite favorable. In fact, it got an “A” in The Village Voice from Robert Christgau. (See “Christgau” in Lou Lyric #36 above)
“New Sensations,” Lou Reed …
45 – A blissful moment to fly (from “Fly Into The Sun”)
After the First World War, WB Yeats wrote an almost perfect poem called “The Second Coming.” It’s essentially an apocalyptic vision of war and other horrors of modernity. It concluded with the now-famous lines,
- And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
More than a half century later, Lou wrote the above lines. One can almost hear the echo of Yeats’ poem. But Lou transcends the apocalyptic vision.
Find your bliss
Even though civilization may be collapsing, and even though mankind might soon be cremated in a nuclear conflagration, Lou sees it as a blissful moment. It might mean the end of life as we know it, but it might also mean the beginning of a transcendent life of pure spirit, as we “fly into the sun.”
“Fly Into The Sun,” Lou Reed …
“Fly Into The Sun,” (Lou Reed) cover version by LAHillbilly …
46 – Another politician with his pants down (from “Strawman”)
That short lyric by Lou says it all.
‘Nuff said. No further comment.
“Strawman,” Lou Reed …
47 – No stars in the New York sky (from “Open House”)
The song “Open House” is from the album “Songs for Drella,” which featured a song cycle that Lou and John Cale wrote about their late mentor Andy Warhol. It’s a quiet, melancholy track.
This voice speaking in these lyrics is Andy’s. He invites his friends over to his home for tea. He talks about his background, his mother, his cats, his home, his work, and, finally, the universe with its moon and stars.
A Home for Everybody
Then he remembers that New York City is its own universe, with its own stars. And he realizes that creating art is like having a totally “open house” – open to everybody and everything.
It’s grand, but frightening, just like life in New York is can be so frightening. Frightening but grand.
“Open House,” Lou Reed …
48 – Teach them about sunsets (from “Teach the Gifted Children”)
We’ve come a long way since “Venus in Furs” and “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Songs of experience, songs of innocence
After decades in which Lou wrote primarily “songs of experience,” the older (and maybe wiser) Lou started composing more and more “songs of innocence.” This track is a prime example. The same insights and knowledge that made his earlier songs so achingly beautiful are evident here, but now they are sung through a more mature and wise voice. And from a slightly different perspective.
Keep it simple, keep it wonderful
To explore city life and to indulge in all its delights and pleasures is a grand experience. But once we have experienced such things, we should also remember the simple joys of life and nature. Sentiments like love and mercy, and pleasures such as viewing sunsets and seeing the soft light of the moon on a warm, still night.
In fact, the kind of joys we might experience during a “walk on the quiet side.” The kind of joys that we would want a child to experience.
“Teach the Gifted Children,” Lou Reed …
49 – Make your freedom mine (from “Style It Takes”)
How to produce fine art, and produce a great artist …
Here again we have the voice of Andy Warhol, presented through Lou’s poetry. For the supreme pop artist, what is necessary is style. Andy had the style it takes to not only produce great art, but to make himself into a great artist.
… at an art-making factory
Apart from needing style, Andy also realized that money was necessary. He did not want to live the life of a starving artist. If he could latch onto someone that had the money to support his artistic ventures, that would give him the freedom to create art. That’s a simple fact of life.
He even named his NYC studio “The Factory” – that is, a place to manufacture saleable goods. Well, actually … saleable art.
Oh, and speaking of “style,” this song is truly a stylistically beautiful piece, both lyrically and musically. Well worth a listen or two.
“Style It Takes,” Lou Reed and John Cale …
50 – Looking for some pill, the liquor is gone (from “Waves of Fear”)
This sounds remarkably like the Lou of the 1960s and early 1970s.
Fear in hell
Or, more accurately, it looks like a wiser man depicting a character living on the sordid underside of New York City in those years. In a later verse of “Waves of Fear,” the character says “I know where I must be, I must be in hell.”
We know that Lou was working, creating music, performing his music. So, clearly, the wasted, paranoid junkie in this song was just another of his characters.
Just a character
As Lou said, “It’s just one character. … I have various tangent manifestations of the same character.”
“Waves of Fear,” Lou Reed …
51 – A new scar over my heart (from “Ecstacy”)
This is from the title track to Lou’s 18th solo album, on which Lou wrote about his personal relationships and his marriages.
Solitude, with entertainment
In this final verse of the song, the protagonist plans to go out for the evening, alone. Which is a good thing. He’ll relax, on his own, maybe with a bit of decent live music in the background.
Although he’s going out alone this evening, he admits that he does not want to always be alone. Separating from his lover would leave him with a deep emotional scar.
Memories, of ecstasy
But Lou realizes that, as the old adage goes, “It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” Furthermore, he knows that simply having the opportunity to experience love is enough to generate ecstasy.
“Ecstasy,” Lou Reed …
52 – A graduate of Warhol University (from “Speech”)
Lou said this just a few months before he passed away in 2013.
Rock’n’roll for idiots
Way back in 1975, in the liner notes for Metal Machine Music, he had been quite pessimistic about his chosen art form. He had stated that perhaps rock’n’roll would never be infused with “the intelligence that once inhabited novels or films.”
Over the years, however, it seems he became more optimistic. As time passed, he apparently realized the power of rock’n’roll, which was essentially a voice of the people.
Music for the people
He realized that, if nothing else, rock music had the power to express certain truths found on the streets, in our homes, and in the various haunts where we go about our lives.
Given his intelligent and very literate contributions to the field of rock’n’roll, his optimism was wholly justified. And thanks to his contributions, we can read the above quote and nod our heads in full agreement.
“Quote during Interview,” Lou Reed (@ 4:08) …
53 – What the US does is criminal (from “Interview”)
Impressive. Here, we have the poet of the streets, the godfather of punk speaking out in favor of social justice.
Impressive and inspiring.
“Quote during Interview,” Lou Reed... (@ 4:50, but watch the entire interview) …
54 – It’s called “growing” (from “Interview”)
In certain ways, Lou Reed was seen as the classic rock star, living a life of decadence and debauchery, creating avant-garde art, and even having a Top-40 hit.
Living, experiencing, creating, and doing what’s natural …
But in many other ways, he was much more than that. A poet, a writer, an artist living his life and experiencing his world, and creating fine art to capture the magnificent experience of life in the world.
… It’s called “growing”
All the while, he was primarily a human being, experiencing existence and doing what all living beings do, and what all sentient beings can do with even grander results. “Growing.”
“Quote during Interview,” Lou Reed
... (@ 1:40) …
Coincidentally, just a few months ago, a fellow Steemer (the talented and creative @hanggggbeeee) expressed a similar thought. In her short but excellent bilingual post, she concluded with the pithy and pointed statement “It is called growth.”
You can read her timeless wisdom here.
55 – Dig my grave with a silver spade (from “See that My Grave Is Kept Clean”)
Evocative and touchingThis is a Lou’s excellent cover version of the classic blues song by Blind Lemon Jefferson, “See that My Grave Is Kept Clean.” Not only is the title evocative and touching, but the lyrics are among the best of all blues songs.
Now that Lou is gone, it’s particularly moving to hear him sing this song with such passion.
Clean and pristine
I believe posterity will ensure that his grave is kept clean.
“See that my Grave is Kept Clean,” (Blind Lemon Jefferson) covered by Lou Reed …
Images sourced from Google Images