Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lou Reed - The 30,000

Lou Reed  (1942-2013), as a part of The Velvet Underground, released a handful of albums that veered from blistering sonic experimentation to thoughtful, soul-searching balladry, often on the same LP. Their groundbreaking debut album, with its iconic pop-art banana cover by Andy Warhol, earned a place on the National Recording Registry in 2006. The album climbed all the way to 171 on the Billboard charts, but its influence on today's rock is beyond measure. Brian Eno famously quipped that everyone who bought the first Velvet Underground album (all 30,000 of them) started a band; take all the bands that formed in the wake of those bands, and you have the foundation of modern rock, and the legacy of Lou Reed.

Reed was a "Rock 'n' roll Animal," but underneath the swagger and punk attitude was a conversational writer and sensitive interpreter. One of AM's fave Reed tracks is from Lost in the Stars, a 1985 tribute to Kurt Weill. Reed takes the introspective "September song," introduced as a somber reflection of old age, and turns it into a soulful rocker.

AM will repost a review of both The Velvet Underground & Nico and Transformer as a part of this mini-series, which leads us to 1974's Sally Cant Dance, a subtle rocker that found its way amidst the prob rock of the moment, oddly enticing fans of Yes and Gentle Giant. After the surprising commercial success of the LP, RCA went back to the live recordings left over from Rock 'n' Roll Animal and released Lou Reed Live in March 1975. This second helping from the Steve Hunter-Dick Wagner guitar juggernaut features three songs from "Transformer" ("Vicious," "Satellite of Love," "Walk on the Wild Side"), two from "Berlin" ("Oh, Jim," "Sad Song") and one Velvet Underground chestnut ("I'm Waiting for the Man"). The LP proves, by accident, how well producer Steve Katz and the RCA braintrust chose the songs for Rock 'n' Roll Animal.While the LP carries on where Animal left off, the fey, bitchy charm of "Vicious" is lost in the LP's hard rock arrangement, and "Walk on the Wild Side," a delicate studio creature doesn't play very well live, still the dynamism of Reed's iconic stature is evident. 

An article in Psychology Today stated: "Lou Reed was one of the first artists who showed us that rock 'n' roll can be about more than love songs and party music. He didn't buy into the peace and love visions of the hippie movement. They didn't speak to his experience, which was shaped by undergoing electroshock therapy when he was seventeen years old. His parents, who wanted to 'cure' him of his homosexual tendencies and moodiness, initiated the treatment. The young Reed had aspired to become a writer, but he emerged from these sessions in an impaired mental state. He would open up a book he had been reading and discover he had no clue what it was about. Although his memory came back, the experience of his parents orchestrating mayhem on his brain for the sake of upholding middle class suburban values shaped all his future work." How telling is that of a whole generation?

"Lou Reed brought a darkness to the subject matter of rock 'n' roll," the article continues. "'Comes in bells, your servant, don’t forsake him,' he sings in the S&M-themed "Venus in Furs," "Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart." No one before Reed wrote such explicit songs about drugs, prostitutes, drag queens, sadomasochistic sex, and suicide. But to him there was nothing surprising about this subject matter. 'The things I’ve written about wouldn't be considered a big deal if they appeared in a book or movie,' he told the journalist Kristine McKenna. Reed was part of a long tradition of avant-garde art that explored the boundaries of the status quo in a quest for greater insight about the human experience." It was that kind of attitude that propelled Reed's career. He would never again achieve what was accomplished on The VU & Nico nor on Transformer, although Rock 'n' Roll Animal, Lou Reed Live and the live recordings yet to come are incredibly telling documentaries of how and why Lou Reed is remembered.