Lou Reed Is God, Pass It On
Way, way back -- when the world was new and I was eighteen -- this nice boy turned me on to Lou Reed. When I met him, I had only heard Walk on the Wild Side, which he found a down-right crime. And so started my introduction to Lou and the notion that perhaps he was God (well, not THE God, just A God). I turned out to be a willing convert and have loved Lou and the Velvet Underground ever since. But beyond torturing my college room mate with the 8 minute version of What Goes On and teaching my kids the words to I'm Stickin with You (cause I'm made out of glue...) I don't think I have done enough preaching from the Gospel according to Reed. So, here are some of my favorite songs, offered in the same spirit of that nice boy. If you find any of them cool, pass them on.
There are many recordings of Lou doing this one, and very decent covers to boot -- but my favorite remains the one offered on the album Loaded. Cascading, dreamy guitars give way to Lou's voice at its naughtiest. The song tells us about Jackie, Jim, Jane and occasionally Lou (as narrator), but my favorite part (wouldn't you know) is when he talks about the views of "some evil muthas"
They're gonna tell you that everything is just dirt
And women never really faint
And that villains always blink their eyes.
And that children are the only ones who blush.
And life is just to die.
This Mutha doesn't feel that way, but I love his battle cry just after, asserting:
But anyone who ever had a heart,
they wouldn't turn around and break it.
And anyone who ever played a part,
they wouldn't turn around and hate it.
Some would say that Lou's voice is not his strongest musical contribution. Could be. But this song pushes one to try and imagine a better delivery of these sweet lyrics, describing a simple but wonderful day with a person he loves. In a gentle, almost sleepy voice (as if he is recalling all of this for us as he drifts off, content and exhausted), Lou confesses, "You made me feel like someone else/ someone good."
Who Loves the Sun
First and foremost, the Velvet Underground were a New York City Band. I once read an account of their first tour to the West Coast, during the height of Flower Power, and was really amused to hear how deeply this black-leather-what-the-hell-you-lookin-at mystique went. Predictably, I suppose, they hated everything about Los Angeles and San Francisco, the "protest kids," what seemed like false cheerfulness, and --like bugs under a magnifying glass -- the SUN. Too damn much of it I guess. That is what I think of when I hear this stab at Beach Boy harmonies and bouncy delivery of lines like: "Who loves the sun? Who cares that it makes plants grow? Who cares what it does since you broke my heart?"
Hanging with an artist through their rehab experience is dicey business for a fan. Lou Reed made The Blue Mask after quitting drugs and alcohol and the result is a wide range of hits and misses, the misses ("I Love Women" for one) making even his most heart-felt supporters wince. But the hits are breath-taking, displaying the true range of Lou's talents, and perhaps the highs and lows of the experience he has just endured. The Gun is a truly chilling song, in which Lou uses his sobered voice, spar lyrics and arrangement to force his listener to feel what it is like to be in the presence of a man with a gun. Enjoyment isn't what I experience when I hear this song -- admiration for the man's artistic ability is more like it.
To me, Lisa Says (especially the version on the Velvet Underground's 1969) is the polar-opposite of The Gun in that it holds the same kind of power, but only in its vulnerability and optimism. It recalls a kind of date conversation with Lisa in which she asks for a kiss and Lou wonders, "Why am I so shy?" Deceptively simple, the song is so real in its description of human frailty, and (again) Lou's delivery drives home the heart-thumping emotion only such an encounter could provoke.
Beginning to See the Light
Lou as a Pentecostal minister. Say what? I have heard many versions of this song and am impressed by the consistency of emotion with which Lou brings it home. Lou describes his experience of "seeing the light" as a kind of cheerful and determined separation between himself and the rest of the human race's take on life, all while conjuring up a group of Little Richard-like calls and cheers between lines. But the real goods come for me at the end, when, on top of rhythm guitar hero abandon, Lou begs, "(won't somebody tell me, please!) How does it feel to be loved?"