Do you guys have any idea how great Lou Reed sometimes was?


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“Just a perfect day – you made me forget myself.
I thought I was someone else – someone good.”

I suppose I always felt, as a profoundly disturbed individual, that life was too short for songs that didn’t somehow stick the knife in and twist it.  That is, life was just the right length for the songs of  Lou Reed – Lou who died at 71 today.

I know, I know “you’re going to reap just what you sow” – St Paul’s letter to the Galatians 6:7 – you’re gonna say this blog has been getting way too biblical lately.  How about shaking things up with a little “I Wanna Be Black – wanna have natural rhythm and shoot out 20 feet of jissom – and fuck up the Jews – I don’t wanna be a fucked-up middle-class college student any more!  I just wanna own a stable of foxy little whores, yeah yeah, I wanna be black…”  Well here’s that:

I can’t put my finger on what it was about how he sang.  Sinatra taught a generation of men a new way to be cool, as did Elvis.  Lou pulled off making it sound cool to just be a regular guy talking or singing.  Once I recorded a sort of parody of “Walk on the Wild Side” – long story – and I told the engineer “I think I’d sound more like Lou if I used no reverb.”  And he agreed:  “Lou never uses ‘verb.”  That’s what it is, he just sounded naked and plain – King Lear’s “unacommodated man” – and made it sound really cool. 

In the seminal “Heroin” – which it’s best to listen to without thinking about the drug at all – I always felt he redefined, for all of us, the word “I” – the first person pronoun.  Listen to it each time it comes up, it’s the existential sound of a person continually defining and rediscovering himself – glottal stop and all… 

(Oh and the psychopathic viola playing of John Cale, right around after Lou sings “I really don’t care any more about all you jimjims in this town, and all the politicians making crazy sounds, and everybody putting everybody else down, and all the dead bodies piled up in mounds…”  As the critic Ellen Willis called it, the “most caring song ever written about not caring.”)

Beethoven is most commonly remembered for his stern and gloomy minor-key works – the Moonlight and Pathetique Sonatas, the 5th and 9th Symphony – which I always thought was wrong, since  the bulk of his oeuvre is actually jolly.  Same with Lou, there is so much joie de vivre, love of life, in songs like the expansively structured “Lisa Says” (on a night like this…)  *lotsa wonderful photos in this video too…

Yeah, at some point, like around now, this post just devolves into a collection of MY FAVORITE Lou Reed songs.  And you won’t hear Sweet Jane or Walk on the Wild Side because you can hear those anywhere.  But check out these beautiful pieces of music – this is called “All Through the Night”, from his last great album that I know of (“The Bells,” 1979) It seems to be accompanied by the sound of a dinner party where you can hear Lou babbling on (“He aged, but he didn’t age gracefully”) and the very emotional song contains lines like “With a daytime of sin and a nighttime of hell everyone’s gonna look for a bell to ring…” and “Christmas comes only once a year, why can’t anybody shed just one tear for things that don’t happen…”  It just works.  It’s a party and poignant.

Sometimes the music and the words are just so perfectly – as the skateboarders say – TORN BACK.  This here is some fucked up shit.  LEAVE ME ALONE.  “Everybody’s gonna try to tell you what to do….”

We cannot not include the early S&M classic “Venus in Furs” – it is just such a beautiful and immortal piece of music.  “I am tired, I am weary, I could sleep for a thousand years….”   Although I would feel  better if there weren’t a little kid in this video…

More joie de vivre.   There’s practically a genre Lou created, where each verse features a different trippy character he runs into on the street.  This song’s an example.  And if we’re still on a biblical note … these are the sort of people Jesus liked to hang out with, he probably would have written songs like Lou Reed.  WILD CHILD…

More sick, torn-back stuff … this from the great “Street Hassle” album of 1978.  Gimmie Some Good Times – it starts with one track of Lou singing Sweet Jane while the other track of Lou calls the first Lou Reed a “fucking faggot.”   “Gimmie gimmie gimmie some good times, gimmie gimmie gimmie some pain … no matter how ugly you are, you know to me it all looks the same…”

Something beautiful now … from the very beginning of the Velvet Underground, their haunting ballad “Sunday Morning,” written by Lou and the eccentric psycho John Cale…

I want to end with “City Lights” from “The Bells.”  This was Lou’s tribute to Charlie Chaplin, and for now we’ll use it also as a tribute to Lou himself.  If you lot think you have any better songs of Lou’s you wanna stick up in the comments – well, maybe you do!  Go for it…  What a guy.  He was special to me.  He made me think I could sing, myself.  Maybe that’s to his discredit.


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.