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Tag Archives: Lou Reed
This is what I’ve always said about Lou Reed’s approach to rock and roll: for all of the avant-garde moments that challenge his critics and casual fans and what they could never wrap their head around is that, ultimately, he was the blue-collar rock star. Indeed, he was far more blue-collar than Springsteen and Mellancamp and the like. And this is not because he sang of making ends meet and unionizing problems. Instead, he sang exactly of the kind of environment that fit him best — the mixture that is New York, the high, and the impossibly low. And because he was the artist to do so, it’s what made him the middle class: All of his albums, from the Velvet Underground’s self-titled album to the very end, they have kind of work-man quality to them: he speaks of things no other artist is willing to discuss so frankly, but he does so in such a plain, honest, and frank voice.
But the secret of this is not in the studio albums. As a graduate of the Pickwick school of musical apery, he knew exactly where his bread was buttered. Instead, if you want ANY indication of the sort of artist Lou Reed was, you need to look to his live material. Every song, every version of “Viscous,” “Sweet Jane” and “Satellite of Love” is vaguely the same, but each time performed differently, even slightly. You can look to the simple artistry all you want in the one-chord brilliance of “Heroin,” but the beauty of Lou Reed’s music is that even he performed his songs differently, each and every fucking time. Compare the studio version, to the “Rock and Roll Animal” version, to the one he did with Metallica for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and every one of them is different because that’s the way it goes as he sings them. It is the work of a man whose interests are rock and roll in and of itself, and the avant-garde: Things can be familiar and foreign at the same time, and hell, they should be.
Lou Reed proved that rock can be primitive and artsy simultaneously. “Heroin” is a testament to that philosophy, just as much as anything from “White Light/White Heat,” or “Metal Machine Music.” Anyone looking for one or the other is looking like a fool: Lou Reed could do whatever he pleased, because he was held to no philosophy, no matter how much he studied, or how much he ignored.
Lou is rock’s everyman. Art, performance, and composition was the 9 to 5 for him. It’s the reason why New Yorkers resonated with him, just as much as it is the gritty depictions of street life, one of so many in the mid-century era of New York chock full of gritty in-your-face attitude artists. Even his most inaccessible work (Metal Machine Music) is based on the principle that it gives somebody “what they want” (you love guitar sounds? Here’s all the guitar sound you can handle). Lou Reed was simply too busy giving everybody what they wanted to bother with compromise, and that’s the lone reason why he is so loved, hated, revered, tolerated, and respected across the board — no matter who you are.
Without any kind of expectations, without anything in my slate of things-to-do, my roommate and co-writer of a potential comedy troupe/series has fostered upon me a Very Lou Reed Kinda Christmas this year. Er. . . Hanukkah, in my case.
After scouring the record shops that he and I regularly frequent, he bought a copy of White Light/White Heat behind my back, and offered it to me on the fifth night of Hanukkah. Indeed, it is missing from my collection, but it’s one I did not think I would so readily miss. I bought the album on CD, and short of one awkward car-ride listen and several attempts to reconcile the album’s extremely polarizing nature (both within itself and in criticism of the Velvet Underground’s avant-garde improvisation and their lyrical content), I haven’t really had the chance sit down with it and judge it for what it is: The 293rd entry on Rolling Stone magazine’s top 500 list of the ‘greatest albums ever made.’ For those of you playing at home, that means that (in the immediate sense), the MC5’s Kick Out the Jams is slightly worse than White Light/White Heat, which is marginally better than Bob Dylan and the Band releasing The Basement Tapes. But hey, it’s Rolling Stone, so take what you will, with many grains of salt.
After the Jump: A good reason why everyone should try heroin at least once, okay? Okay? Here we go.