Thursday, October 29, 2015


Today (10/29/15) marks the second anniversary of Lou Reed's death.  In commemoration, I give you the entirety of my tribute show from that week, and, as a bonus, I finally - finally - completed the explanatory notes I began shortly thereafter to accompany them.  Warning: some serious fucking overwriting lies ahead. But a decent turn of phrase and some insights as well, I think, if you care to plunge in and pluck them from the muck.  Somehow, I guess, that's appropriate to the subject.  Anyway, here it is:

Ever since my Lou Reed Memorial Episode went live on October 30, I've been overwhelmed by requests (total number of requests = two.  I'm easily overwhelmed) to share it with those who weren't awake at an ungodly hour in the middle of the week to listen as it aired (though if you weren't 72 hours into a bathtub crank and Johnnie Walker Red jag at that moment, how big a fan could you be anyway?).  Welll, y'know, I'm kinda not s'posed to 'n all, but what the hell, I already went over half an hour past my assigned two-hour programming slot and flagrantly broke the rule regarding the number of tracks from the same artist that can be played in a three-hour period on radio stations that stream on the Web with malice aforethought, so why not compound the flip-off to all the Jim-Jims trying to jackboot the people's music-sharing Utopia into submission?  The passing of rock music's premiere rule-breaker deserves no less.  So, here you are - the L.R.M.E. in its entirety. Take that, fascist industry lackeys!  The Man can't bust our music!  Ummm... don't tell anybody I did this, okay?

I sure hope I did the man some justice here - even a super-sized W&F can't possibly hit all the highlights of Lou's fifty-five years as a recording artist, leading to a lot of painful omissions (stop sniggering, you - that's 'omissions.' With an 'o'.) on my part.  I limited myself to one VU song per studio album (including the two roundups of previously-unreleased Velvet swatches that came out in the mid-eighties).  I avoided the half-dozen or so obvious selections from the Reed songbook, at least in their most familiar/overplayed versions.  And gosh, I just couldn't find the right place for that 29-minute alternate take of "The Original Wrapper."  So it's not nearly the works, but I believe I give you sweet taste: a representative sampling of the many flavors of Lewis Allan Reed, including a few items you won't have heard anywhere else (and often for very good reason). Secure your wrap-around shades, put jelly on your shoulder (but not too much - don't you know you'll stain the carpet), and ride into the sun on the wings of one of the greats.  Thanks, Lou.  Sha-la-la-la, man.

WOW & FLUTTER, EPISODE #000295 (OCTOBER 30, 2013)


0:00:00 - Non-hetero radio outro intro
0:00:04 - Station ID, Upcoming Events That Already Happened, Buncha Inane Yak-Yak Including An Explanation For The Song You're About To Hear
0:05:06 - Museum of Hopelessness - Game Theory (Lolita Nation, 1987)
0:05:17 - Even More Inane Yak-Yak, At Least Some Of Which Is At Least Relevant To The Subject At Hand
0:08:44 - A Brief Press Conference Snippet In Which The Subject Of The Evening's Tribute Talks About Having Something Else At Hand*
0:08:54 - We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together - The Velvet Underground (Another View, 1986; recorded 9/30/69)
0:11:48 - Andy's Chest - Lou Reed (Transformer, 1972)
0:15:02 - What Goes On (closet mix) - VU (The Velvet Underground, 1969)
0:19:36 - I'm Not a Young Man Anymore - VU (recorded live at the Gymnasium, New York City, 4/30/67)
0:26:35 - Femme Fatale - Tracey Thorn (A Distant Shore, 1982)
0:29:14 - Sweet Jane (live) - Mott the Hoople (All the Young Dudes, 1972)
0:34:15 - Kill Your Sons - Lydia Lunch & Big Sexy Noise (Big Sexy Noise EP, 2009)
0:38:26 - Halloween Parade - LR (New York, 1989)
0:42:10 - White Light/White Heat - Ralph Stanley (Lawless [motion picture soundtrack], 2012)
0:43:47 - Ode to Street Hassle - Spacemen 3 (The Perfect Prescription, 1987)**
0:47:37 - Venus in Furs - VU (The Velvet Underground & Nico, 1967)
0:52:46 - The Disc Jockey Feels Compelled To Offset The Concentrated Brilliance Of The Previous Forty Minutes With A Dollop Of Smug Blather, Possibly To Keep The Listener From Overdosing On Too Much Quality
0:59:25 - So Blue - The Jades (7" single, 1958)***
1:01:38 - The Ostrich - The Primitives (7" single, 1964)****
1:04:03 - I Heard Her Call My Name - VU (White Light/White Heat, 1968)
1:08:39 - Charley's Girl - A Drag City Supersession (Tramps, Traitors and Little Devils, 2001)
1:12:36 - Sally Can't Dance - The Andrea True Connection (White Witch, 1977)*****
1:15:33 - Walk on the Wild Side - Siri & Me (unreleased, 2013) ******
1:18:17 - You Can Go Ahead And Move On To The Next Part Now

* I honestly didn't intend for this to be the only interview/press conference excerpt of the evening - I had several more that were to be interlaced throughout the program, some of which were quite moving and revelatory.  But time constraints and the haphazard nature of programming this thing on the fly forced me to jettison all of them, leaving only this rather sophomoric quip to represent LR's uniquely contentious and often entertaining jousts with journalists.  But this dates from just a few months before he died, so if what he says here is true, well, hey, good for him.

** One of only two songs on this show neither performed nor written by LR, at least not officially; anyone familiar with the Spacemen 3 catalogue recognizes that many of their "originals" were, in point of fact, constructed largely from parts stripped from other songs, generally without attribution or overt acknowledgement thereof.  That they went out of their way in this case to cop directly to the source of the repeated five-note motif that comprises the bulk of this tune bespeaks either deep respect or fear of litigation, which amounts to the same thing.

*** The very first commercially-released recording by the then-sixteen-year-old LR, featuring King Curtis on saxophone.  Which is the sort of thing that bestows a lifetime supply of cool on a person, so much so that even writing "Disco Mystic" couldn't deplete it.

**** One of the many silly knockoff ditties penned and performed by a slightly-older LR in his post-collegiate day gig as a staff writer for Pickwick Records, which indirectly and inadvertently changed the course of popular music forever, when the band hastily cobbled together to perform this number at a series of undoubtedly low-rent public appearances in the greater New York area included a classically-trained Welsh emigre with serious avant-garde credentials and a desperate need for cash named John Cale.  But you probably knew that already, right?  Well, you should have said something before I started running off at the keyboard like a schmuck.  

***** Yeah, that's the "More, More, More" porn-star-turned-disco-diva covering the title track from LR's only Top Ten album, which is itself a rewrite of one of his Pickwick-era readymades, entitled "Sally Can't Surf."  So basically it's covered in layers of schlock. That said, it's really not bad, and far less incongruous than it seems on paper.  Now, if she had decided to cover "Animal Language" instead...

****** I put this one together, combining the audio from one YouTube video with the audio from another with a minimal amount of tweaking (mostly to keep the vocals more or less in sync with the music).  In other words, it's something I'm claiming as my own even though it consists entirely of someone else's work, work that in itself consists of someone else's work, all of it manipulated, misappropriated and several degrees removed from the genuine article.  In other other words, it may be the most Warholian version of a very Warholian song, possibly the most authentically Warholian song ever written.  By which I mean that it's clearly and inescapably about Andy Warhol, even though he doesn't appear in it at all.  And for that train of thought to make any real sense, you'd have to engage in a minimal amount of tweaking of your own.


0:00:00 - Yeah, He's Still Talking, I'm Afraid
0:03:20 - Work - Lou Reed & John Cale (Songs for Drella, 1990)
0:06:04 - Waiting for the Man - John Cale (Live at Rockpalast, 2010; rec. 3/6/83)*
0:10:22 - I'm Not - Maureen Tucker (I Spent a Week There the Other Night, 1991)**
0:17:07 - Waves of Fear - LR (The Blue Mask, 1982)***
0:21:01 - Here She Comes Now - Cabaret Voltaire (Extended Play EP, 1978)
0:26:00 - Lou Reed Calls In - Leonard Pierce & William Ham (Leonard Pierce's Petardcast, episode #11, 2011)****
0:35:28 - I'll Be Your Mirror - Rainy Day (Susanna Hoffs et al) (Rainy Day, 1984)
0:37:48 - Ocean - VU (VU, 1985; rec. 6/19/69)
0:42:48 - Fake-Out Sign-Off/Station ID*****
0:43:53 - Velvet Underground - Jonathan Richman (I, Jonathan, 1992)******
0:47:23 - Sister Ray (live at the Moonlight Club, 4/2/80) - Joy Division (Still, 1981) (incomplete)*******
0:49:43 - Train Round the Bend - VU (Loaded, 1970)
0:52:56 - Walk on the Wild Side - LR (Live: Take No Prisoners, 1978)********
1:08:51 - Perfect Day - LR (guest vocals: Antony Hegarty) (The Raven, 2003)
1:13:19 - The Bells - LR (edited version from Between Thought and Expression: The Lou Reed Anthology, 1992; original version from The Bells, 1979) (part one)*********

* I had two versions, recorded nineteen months apart, to choose from off this particular CD - one with a full band, the other just Cale and a solo piano.  You'll understand why I chose the one I did once you hear the end of it.  Whoah.

** More historical significance - almost certainly the last studio recording to feature all four members of the classic Velvets lineup.  Not, I'm guessing, that they were all there at the same time.

*** Okay, this is kind of weird - if this doesn't sound quite right, it's because, when I played my vinyl copy on air, the sound only came through one channel (and you can hear what happens when I tried fixing the problem as it played).  I figured the turntable was defective, but no, everything else I played on it since then has come through just fine, as has the record itself on every other turntable I've played it on.  I can only conclude that this was spectral intervention - LR still trying to diminish Robert Quine's contribution to his early-eighties renaissance, even from beyond the grave.  Or maybe vice-versa.  I can't remember which one played through which speaker.

**** Wherein I exercise my divine right (as per the Broadcast Code of Hammuradio) to selfishly indulge in a ten-minute spasm of, um, self-indulgence.  I must admit, though, I'm pretty proud of this, despite the dodgy impersonation and a tone that played as slightly too biting three days after LR's passing (an inappropriateness that seems rather appropriate the more I think about it, though hardly worth using the word "inappropriateness" as a noun).  Master freelancer Pierce invited me onto his delightful podcast for reasons unaccountable (though I think I now understand why he kept asking me what Christina Hendricks is really like), and we collaborated on one of the comic two-handers 'twixt him and the week's guest with which he wound up most 'casts.  I love a good collaboration, mainly because they're so rare, in my experience at least; for every spark-spurring confab with a kindred creative spirit, there are a half-dozen grinding, labored begrudge matches that clunk with compromise, frustration and the gnashing and clenching of whatever parts of the body gnash and clench, often resulting in work as strained and contrived to read as it was to write.  (I'm proud to say I've recently streamlined my process considerably - I can do all of the above now without a partner.  Ask me how long this paragraph took to write.  Go ahead, ask me.)  Leonard pitched me the concept, correctly thinking it was right up my least-blind alley, whipped up a script in record time, and kindly forwarded it to me with permission to punch it up as I saw fit.  Well, fit I saw and punch I did - in fact, I was amazed how quickly I was able to generate enough material to expand his piece to twice its original length, how seamlessly I was able to slide it in there, and gotta say, how pretty goddamned funny the whole thing was.  The recording itself, done over Skype (which I hadn't used before and rarely have since), went just as smoothly - one take, locked - which, as anyone who's ever heard me attempt to be funny over a live mic knows, is a noteworthy feat all by itself.  (I screwed up twice, but I can honor those errors as hidden intentions; I mispronounced a word [seconds after pronouncing it correctly] that I later discovered The Man Himself had trouble getting his lips around [knock it off - God, you're juvenile], and later garbled a line that I now see was just mean and uncalled-for [and sniggeringly aimed at someone other than the subject of the bit - and no, I don't mean the Lou-Barlow-is-fat riff.  That was Leonard's notion anyway - I just contributed the horrendous puns]).  Anyway, it's a good 'un, and I'm rather delighted that, way back at the beginning of 2011, I had a firm grasp of Lou's oddball-project vibe, though even I hadn't the imagination to foresee what he'd come up with by the end of that year.  This piece was used without LP's permission, by the way, though I'm pretty sure he won't mind.  Either way, I'll pay him back by referring you to his personal site, where I'll bet he's dashed off three book reviews, four casuals and an epic political rant in the time it's taken me to finish this sentence.  (Also, the sound quality's not that great, but neither was The Velvet Underground & Nico's, and look how that turned out.)

***** Oh, I'm so sly.

****** This is the other song I played neither performed nor written by LR, though again it incorporates one of his classics, and a damn surprising one at that - yep, Mr. I'm-Straight essays a hunk of "Sister Ray."  Jonathan doesn't get to any of the truly nasty stuff, but wow, anyway.

******* ...and, thanks to my cheap-ass laptop a-glitchin', Joy Division doesn't manage to get too far into it themselves.  Pity, too, as the one known recorded instance of Ian Curtis cracking an on-stage joke would have synced up nicely with...

******** ...our man looking to channel Lenny Bruce and at least pulling off a six-string-slinging Rickles. You can have your Rock 'n' Roll Animal - for my money, Take No Prisoners is the seventies live-Lou platter of choice.  (Hell, I'll even take the label-requisitioned, cynicism-sodden Animal sequel Lou Reed Live over the original - much fewer VU songs pumped up arena-size there, and I'll always love Lou for insisting that the closing cry from the balcony - "Lou Reed sucks!" - be retained on the album.)  Musically, it's no great shakes, but it's still a thrill, no matter how cheap, to hear the typically deadpan Reed all fired up and bilious, his mind working so fast that he even heckles himself a couple of times.  Many swear by (or at) his opening rant-filled take on "Sweet Jane," but this is the track I come back to the most, wherein he indulges his appetite for de(con)struction and rips into his biggest hit, demythologizing the full cast of Factory characters within, hilariously revealing how he came to write it in the first place (or at least why it has its title), and cutting the backing vocals off in mid-"doot."  And, Lou being Lou, he even hides a touching moment in plain sight, haltingly declaring his love for his old mentor with a sincerity that seems to embarrass him a little (the whole track seems to drop in volume at that point, though that could be a quirk of the binaural recording method he was so enamored of at the time).  One question for the movie buffs out there - what the hell film did Jane Fonda do that could be described as a "sensitive lesbian picture"?  Do I need to watch Julia again?

********* Said to be one of Lou's favorite lyric sets (improvised in full in a single take, apparently), but the words are almost secondary here - "The Bells" is a totally unique item in the LR catalogue and one of his most successful bits of sonic experimentation.  There's perhaps a passing resemblance to some of the denser Eno-stoked instrumentals on Bowie's Low and "Heroes" ("Sense of Doubt" springs, or maybe skulks, to mind), but this track makes them seem a touch academic in comparison.  Listen on headphones and LR's underappreciated talent for whipping up three-dimensional atmospheres comes clear - phantom voices murmur from deep within a fog-bank of electronics, a descending three-note motif repeatedly falls to earth and spreads as it hits, obliterating visibility and weighing down the very air it permeates, and a lone trumpet (courtesy of the great Don Cherry) cries out as if played by Gabriel himself, and even he seems a little dazed, wandering through the murk.  It, like "European Son" and Metal Machine Music before it and "Fire Music" and Hudson River Wind Meditations to come, is non-linear, no defined beginning or end; the only way out is to push sightlessly into the void, either to take wing or to plummet.  "The Bells" arrives fully-formed, like a vision, or more specifically, a prophecy.  Transcendence beckons from among the twisted stars above; gravity lies in wait below.  You can just make out the shadows of oncoming oblivion, be it Patient Zero or Ground Zero.  LR himself was soon to hit bottom; the albums that followed this one tell the tale of his reckoning and his rebuilding.  "The Bells" captures him in mid-air.



0:00:00 - The Bells - LR (edited version from Between Thought and Expression: The Lou Reed Anthology, 1992; original version from The Bells, 1979) (part two)* 
0:03:15 - Street Hassle - LR (Street Hassle, 1978)**
0:14:14 - ...And Then, I Just Pull Up The Fader On The Show That Was Supposed To Be Playing For The Better Part Of The Previous Hour, Throw On My Pleather Jacket, Hop On My Honda Scooter And Sputter Off Into The Night

* Boy, that's some hardcore pretentiousness up there.  Gotta cut down on the Greil Marcus.

** The nature of these kinds of tributes pretty much demands a strong closing statement, and I struggled mightily to strike the perfect final note.  "Magic and Loss - The Summation"?  Bit too on-the-nose.  "Afterhours"?  "Oh! Sweet Nothin'"?  Tempting, but it didn't seem right to give Mo or Doug the final word, even if LR was the one who put it in their mouths.  "Coney Island Baby"?  Not bad, but not quite.  Then there were a couple of dark-horse contenders that very nearly made the grade.  "Junior Dad," the last track from the last album he completed in his life, would have been a fitting closer.  At 19 minutes and 30 seconds, it's at least epic in length and intent (the longest studio track of his career, unless you count a certain other recording - I'm sure you know the one I mean; if you don't, you'll find out a few overstuffed sentences from now).   It's all about age and mortality, because of course it is: if you're a lit-minded rock 'n' roller over the age of 60, you're pretty much contractually obligated to lard your albums with meditations on those subjects, all the better to have them tagged as "appropriate" or "ironic" should you unknot this mortal coil soon after their release.  And, in keeping with the perversity that became both involved parties' standard modus operandi - the mere existence, no, even the possibility of Lou Reed and Metallica collaborating (or colluding, maybe) with one another, no, even being in the same room with one another doing something other than standing in opposite corners, conspicuously ignoring the others' presence when not stealing a contemptuous glance in their direction, sneering and grumbling under their breaths the whole time, that was pure anathema to what?, 75% of their respective fanbases?, and of whatever fraction of the remainder did dig the both of them, how many harbored grave doubts that any musical common ground could exist between them (one song on Master of Puppets named after a phrase in "Ziggy Stardust" does not a shared language make - seems more like understanding one word the other says, and the one word most of us regardless of origin can get across to anyone else is "no")?  I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark and say just about all of them.  Of course, anybody who's really been paying attention to both will realize that there is (was), in point of fact, a fairly large (if denuded, quicksand-ridden, and laden with flowers that smell like asparagus urine and hubris) patch of common ground shared by both, which is basically that they each have done stuff to alienate pretty much every one of their fans at some point or another during their careers.  (Or at least I guess that's what I was driving at; as the time elapsed between writing the beginning of that sentence and the end of it was about sixteen months, I cannae be certain.)  And it's a true testament to Lou Reed's legacy of perversity (and Metallica's, too, but they'll presumably still be around to cheese off their followers a few more times before they pack it in, so fuck them) that the final ten or so minutes of his recorded career consists of nothing but orchestration; in other words, he didn't play or sing on any of it and he probably wasn't responsible for writing the music, either.

Now, if I had been more on the ball, I would have played this as my finale, and used those last few minutes to slowly fade in the last ten minutes of side D of Lou's true magnum opus of perversity, the one and only Metal Machine Music, which would be as true and honest a tribute as the man could ever warrant, maybe, possibly.  But it'd have to be a vinyl copy, so I could let the thing play right to the lock groove at the end, at which time I'd close up shop, lock up the station, and head home and just let the fucker play on until either the morning classical programmer showed up at 5 am or the fire department busted down the doors to stop it.  I'd probably lose my gig in the process, but it just might have been worth it.  Unfortunately, I no longer have a vinyl copy of MMM, thanks to a period of high poverty which led to a default on my storage unit rental back east a couple years ago and the subsequent loss of the bulk of my record collection and a number of painfully irreplaceable artefacts, chief among which is the tiny sheet of notebook paper signed by Lou (he even drew a little heart on it!) which I had tucked into the plastic outer sleeve of that same vinyl copy of MMM.  I won't go on about that album, as I already had some time ago in a two-parter I wrote for the long-defunct Dancing About Architecture website which remains one of a small handful of published pieces of mine that keep bobbing up from the depths every once in a while, most surprisingly getting a quote (from well into the piece, meaning the person who wrote the article probably read the whole damned thing) and my name into the Washington Goddamned Post (I can't find the article right now and I'm rushing to get this damn thing finished once and for all, but trust me, it happened, and they didn't even quote Lester Bangs or nothin').  And it's a moot point anyway, because I wasn't anywhere near the ball in this case, and besides, I think I made the more powerful choice.

Look, try as we might to skirt the issue, the truth is that most of us who call ourselves Lou Reed's fans are sadly aware that his legacy pretty much hinges on his work with the Velvets.  Not to claim that he didn't produce work of value after his split from the band in 1970 - he certainly did, and there's plenty of evidence to that effect embedded in these embeds - but, in the great and storied tradition of pretty much every major rock figure of note that I can think of at the moment, the white-hot inspiration and innovation of his first few years in the limelight was followed by a general banking of that fire.  Plenty of peaks to go with the troughs, sure, but never spiking as high again.  Simply put (yeah, we'll see about that), he may have come close to equalling his Velvet years on several occasions, but he never quite managed to take them any further or delve any deeper.

With one exception.

If you trawl through the archives, you'll see that, at the time of its 1978 release, Street Hassle (the album) received by far the best reviews of anything he had released under his own name to that point - plenty of five-star notices and so on - mostly because he finally seemed focused and tough-minded again after years of drift (which was particularly noticeable considering his most recent release before that was Rock and Roll Heart, one of his weakest).  Of course, those opinions have mostly been downgraded considerably since then - his flirtation with the binaural recording technique, which crested with this one but is all over Take No Prisoners and The Bells as well, makes a lot of it sound a little screwy and unpleasant (and let's not even get into "I Wanna Be Black" right now), and, apart from a few highlights (like "Gimmie Some Good Times," which goes so far as to kick off the album with a pretty hilarious dialogue between a street tough [played by Lou] and the man hisself, tweaking the sacrosanct first verse of "Sweet Jane"), too much of the songwriting is kinda half-baked.  But it's hard to blame the ink-stained wretches too much for getting so excited about Street Hassle, since the eleven-minute, three-part title track may just possibly be the apex of his career.

I'm not gonna bother to break it down for you, since I'm just now, two years to the day after his death, finally near to finishing this damned post and some of the stuff I've already written here has done enough to take the "l" out of "blog."  You can just listen to it, and hopefully you'll get what I mean.  All I will say is that, given the obstacles its author puts in its way - the mere fact of it being an eleven-minute, three-part track, for starters, not to mention a couple of bum lines pressed up against some brilliant ones, and the truly strange cameo from Bruce Springsteen near the climax that ends with a take-off of the key line from "Born to Run," which should in no way have worked at all - it gains a cumulative power through its running time, no small thing as the song basically consists of a single, five-note phrase repeated over and over again, until the last two minutes or so, beginning with the words "love has gone away..." land an absolutely devastating knockout blow.

And, as he states therein, there's nothing left to say.  And thank fucking God for that.  Time to hit "Publish" and be done.  Thanks, Lou, wherever you are.  R.I.P.


Jessamyn Grace said...

Beautiful, thank-you. And you said you weren't writing...

Jessamyn Grace said...

beautiful, and you said you weren't writing...
I actually went to this blog by accident: and am still rinsing my eyes out with nail polish remover.