One from the vaults: This originally appeared on an old blog, and I like it enough to republish and share, especially since it's the 10th anniversary of Lou's passing. (Ten years already!) As for the image, that's from a compilation disc that turned me on to Lou and the Velvets when I was a freshman in college and I was busy growing my ears. To be honest, as much as the music, I was thrilled by the wonderful Ellen Willis-penned liner notes, which got me into her as a writer, too.
Heading into last night's Lou Reed show right here in Santa Barbara, instead of having a Reed or Velvet's tune in my head, I just kept running that Pixies' lyrics, "'I want to be a singer like Lou Reed,' 'I like Lou Reed,' she says, sticking her tongue in my ear." Perverse, I know, but what better thing to be to prepare myself for Lou, the man who sang about how heroin was his life and his wife the very same year the Beatles got by with a little help from their friends, the man who would deign to play a brittly-sweet version of "Femme Fatale" at this very show, only to hold off singing the title words until the very very last run through the chorus, the man who got the line "she never lost her head even when she was giving head" onto the radio in what is the only song of his ever really to be played on the radio in a 40 year career.
Sure enough, the show was perverse, too. Reed's touring with longtime band-mate Fernando Saunders and Rob Wasserman, thereby kicking out the drums for a double bass approach that suits many of his songs quite well (even ones he never played--would have loved to hear "Doing the Things that They Want To" or "Perfect Day" or "Kill Your Sons" with one bassist sawing and one plucking, but that's just a way to say Reed has too many good songs and most of them create rock art, and I flip the words very intentionally). They opened with a noise-strumental that functioned as sound-check, which was a good thing since Wasserman's bass originally was mixed so as to move the audience's viscera. Then they set the tone for the evening with an odd lope through "What's Good" and while Wasserman and Saunders pushed the song with its nifty lifting little bass hook, Reed seemed indifferent to the guitar riff, toying with it and the lyrics, too. The tension kind of worked, as the song itself is all about oxymorons like "life's like Sanskrit read to a pony" and "what good is seeing eye chocolate." Reed's great theme all along has been thanatos v. eros, and how much we can love death and kill love. It's not accidental that his Robert Wilson collaboration, which he played a bunch of songs from, is The Raven.
So the show was far from perfect, but nobody looks to Reed for that (you want perfect go fall asleep to Celine Dion or somebody). He played two cuts from Songs for Drella, the terrific work he and John Cale created for their mentor Warhol, and instead of blasting through "Forever Changed," which would have really rocked with the double-bass-bottom, he did the talksong with wind effects "The Dream," which Cale does on the recording, as if to reclaim that cut and prove he is and was and will always be the genius (while reveling in the lines about how Andy thinks he's a jerk--despite his immense talent, Lou's one of those assholes who likes to walk around saying, "Yep, I'm an asshole"). I mean, when the show opened and he got a partial standing O just for coming out on stage he did this little hands palmed-out at his sides Jesus blessing like we could all lick his stigmata or something. Then after "The Dream" he revamped "Faces and Names," one of those songs that makes it seem as if his favorite lyric-writing trick is to repeat phrases till they turn noise.
But then there was a you-got-your-money's worth "Sword of Damocles," too. The synth riff from the recorded version got turned into a bowed bass part, and Reed was even generous enough to let Saunders play one amazing solo on some bassthingy he had on a stand. It was so hot that Saunders just tossed his bow mid-run, as it cramped the free flow of the picking. This song also features some classic Reed lines like, "There are things we can't know/maybe there's something over there/Some other world we don't know about/I know you hate that mystic shit," which is good for a goof, bad for scansion, and very much like something he might have actually said to a dying friend. Even when he's full of it, that's who he truly is.
When "Damocles" started I thought it was "Street Hassle," but then they did close the full set with that epic of the demimonde. Why not, when you've got a mini-string section? Even after decades of rap music, the lyrics still kind of shock ("when someone turns that blue it's a universal truth and you know that bitch will never fuck again"), and the music was pretty relentless--neither bassman ever relieved the "do-dum-do-dum-dum" with the "bum-boo-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum" rising part on the recorded version--so it was sort of "Street Hassle" on its way to "Sister Ray," but that's Lou for you. He giveth, and he taketh away. Someone from the crowd at one point yelled "We love you, Lou," and he replied, "I love you, too...it's been a long time, I guess you could call this a relationship." that might sound heartwarming, but he did write and sing "Street Hassle," so there's no rest in a relationship with Reed. Then again, here's a guy who you know is always thinking--cause he says it in almost every song--that we're all gonna die anyway.