Lou Reed, Nico and John Cale do Velvet Underground mini-reunion on French TV, 1972
04.24.2014
01:49 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Lou Reed
Nico
Velvet Underground
John Cale


 
In 1972, Velvet Underground alumni Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico reunited before the cameras of the POP2 TV program at Le Bataclan, a well-known—and very intimate—Paris venue. It was Cale’s gig originally and he invited Reed and Nico to join him. Reed, who hated rehearsing, spent two days with Cale working out what they were going to do. According to Victor Bockris’ Lou Reed biography Transformer, rock critic Richard Robinson videotaped these rehearsals, which took place in London.

Both the videotape and the audio from this show have been heavily bootlegged over the years. A legit CD release happened a few years ago, but it still sounds like a bootleg. A high quality video turned up on various torrent trackers and bootleg blogs after a rebroadcast on French TV. It’s fairly easy to find. Now if only some of the outtakes from the Le Bataclan filming (if there were any) would slip out—they did “Black Angel’s Death Song” which I’d dearly love to see—not to mention what Richard Robinson might have (There is an audio only recording of the rehearsals attributed to Robinson’s tapes already making the rounds on bootleg torrent trackers.)

This is Reed coming off his first solo record (which had not even been released yet) and just a few months before he recorded “Walk on the Wild Side” with David Bowie and took on a totally different public—and we can presume, private—persona. This is “Long Island Lou” last seen just before Reed’s druggy bisexual alter-ego showed up and took his place. Cale does the lush “Ghost Story” from his then new Vintage Violence album and Nico looks stunning and happy here singing “Femme Fatale.” It’s before the damage of her drug addiction took its toll on her looks.

I will direct you here for the full version, but I can’t embed the file.

One thing worth pointing out here is that during “Berlin” you can see Nico’s face as Reed sings a song which he told her was about her. She might even be hearing it for the first time.
 

 
Here’s a version (oddly in color, the only one on YouTube, the rest are all B&W) of Reed and Cale performing a languid, stoned and thoroughly unplugged “I’m Waiting For The Man”:
 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Watch Lou Reed interview his 100-year-old Polish immigrant cousin in his short film, ‘Red Shirley’
04.16.2014
05:57 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
Lou Reed
Red Shirley


Lou Reed and his 100-year-old cousin, “Red” Shirley Novick
 
Lou Reed’s deeply personal directorial debut does not ease the audience into its heavy subject matter slowly. In the very first shot, we see his cousin Shirley Novick on her 100th birthday. She dedicates the film to her hometown in Poland, and the Jews that once resided there. She says she wants to talk about her family who died in the Holocaust, along with all the Jews of her town, and she thanks her cousin for the opportunity to tell her story. Off-camera you hear Lou’s unmistakable voice, “Is that the statement?” She nods and he gives a little applause.

What follows is the recounting of a truly fascinating life. During World War Two, Shirley’s town was under siege, and she remembers hiding in the Russian church as a child while Russian and German troops fought it out. At 19 she left Poland with two suitcases and settled in Montreal for six months. Finding it too “provincial,” she left for New York—Lou laughs a little at the idea of a 19- year-old-girl from the shtetl finding someplace “too provincial.” With the help of an uncle, Shirley found work in New York’s infamously exploitative garment industry—she was a real live factory girl. What followed was 47 years of ardent labor activism—she even joined the 1963 civil rights march on Washington. Despite her hand in fighting for a more just United States, she never became a legal citizen, on principle.

Despite the struggle and tragedy throughout her life, Red Shirley is ultimately a very warm film, and not without levity. At one point she recounts a shell hitting her family’s home that failed to detonate and how they just left it in the wall unable to remove it. Perhaps a little overwhelmed by the brutal conditions of Shirley’s early life, Lou just starts laughing, saying, “This is terrible.” He also replies with a lot of “You can’t be serious,” and “You’re joking,” and it seems not so much from actual disbelief, but from that incredulity one feels when they hear a very intense personal story. Lou is visibly tickled by her company, and witnessing their affectionate conversation is an intimate experience. The film is both technically and emotionally lovely.
 

 
Via Open Culture

Written by Amber Frost | Discussion
Lou Reed and Brian Eno, together at last: it’s ‘Metal Machine Music For Airports’


 
When the mashup phenomenon hit remix culture a dozen or so years ago, I found the whole business exhilarating. DJs were gleefully combining a capella tracks with instrumental beds from often wholly incompatible songs and making it work, sometimes giving valuable new context to classics, sometimes even creating tracks that improved on both of their sources. People like dsico, Freelance Hellraiser, and the massively gifted and almost frighteningly prolific Go Home Productions were fashioning technically impressive and admirably witty pop-song syntheses.

What I’m sharing with you today isn’t nearly as advanced as all that.
 

 
Some clever or stupid person (it’s such a fine line) using the nom de YouTube “machined01” has mashed up Lou Reed‘s immortal noise prank Metal Machine Music with Brian Eno’s groundbreaking Ambient 1: Music for Airports. Not a dazzling technical feat, surely, but the results, surprisingly, are really lovely.
 

‘Metal Machine Music For Airports 1
 

‘Metal Machine Music For Airports 2
 

‘Metal Machine Music For Airports 3
 

‘Metal Machine Music For Airports 4

Feel free to kick the concept up a level and play all four at once.

Here’s a fantastic TV clip of Eno talking about Music For Airports, and how he arrived at the ideas that would codify just about all of the ambient music that followed. It’s not very long, and well worth the few minutes of your time.
 

 
A big ol’ hat tip is due to Pitchfork/The Wire scribe Marc Masters (who also co-wrote the book on No-Wave, as it happens) for this find.

Written by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
Amusing TV commercial for Lou Reed’s sleazy ‘Sally Can’t Dance’ album, 1974
02.25.2014
10:43 am

Topics:
Music
Television

Tags:
Lou Reed


 
Last week when I stumbled across that corny 1974 Bowie TV commercial for David Live, I spied another oddity of the same vintage: A 30-second TV spot for Lou Reed’s ultra sleazy Sally Can’t Dance album!

Wait, what? A Lou Reed TV commercial from 1974? At the height of his speed-shooting, bleached-blonde black nail-polish bi/gay persona? That’s right, apparently someone thought it was a good idea to push the Rock-n-Roll Animal’s career over the airwaves before it peaked. It’s not like a stone cold FREAK such as Lou Reed was going to get on American television otherwise was it?

As Lester Bangs noted of Reed around this time:

“Lou Reed is my own hero principally because he stands for all the most fucked up things that I could ever possibly conceive of. Which probably only shows the limits of my imagination.”

Let’s not forget that Reed often had quite the imagination for fucked up things. I feel sorry (not really) for the unsuspecting TV viewer who bought Sally Can’t Dance based on this rather innocuous spot only to find songs about electroshock therapy (”Kill Your Sons”), a girl who “took much meth and can’t get off of the floor” (the title track) and of course, “Animal Language” which is QUITE LITERALLY about a dead dog and a dead cat that want to fuck, but can’t, so they decide to shoot up a fat man’s sweat (lyrics here, for your convenience).

More from Lester Bangs:

“Lou Reed is the guy that gave dignity and poetry and rock ‘n’ roll to smack, speed, homosexuality, sadomasochism, murder, misogyny, stumblebum passivity, and suicide, and then proceeded to belie all his achievements and return to the mire by turning the whole thing into a monumental joke ...”

Although Lou Reed has always been dismissive of Sally Can’t Dance, due to his own, er, passive involvement in its creation (there are stories about Reed being so fucked up that he had to be propped up in the studio to record his vocals) to my mind it’s one of his BEST albums. In many respects, Sally Can’t Dance, I’d argue, is the very quintessence of the amibsexual, druggy Reed thang of the early to mid-1970s. It even presages Bowie’s Young Americans white-boy funk phase by a year or so.
 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘Songs for Drella’: Lou Reed and John Cale pay tribute to Andy Warhol, live 1989
01.10.2014
12:18 pm

Topics:
Art
Music

Tags:
Andy Warhol
Lou Reed
John Cale


 
When Lou Reed and John Cale’s collaborative tribute to Andy Warhol, Songs for Drella, came out in 1990, I didn’t love it. I didn’t even like it. It felt really forced. Over time it came to grow on me, but seeing the suite performed onstage, in the form of Oscar-nominated cinematographer Ed Lachman’s video documentation of the piece, really brought it alive.

Songs for Drella was part of 1989’s “Next Wave” festival at BAM and if you’ve ever been lucky enough to see something staged there, well, the lighting design and the general production values are usually more on a level of a Broadway show than a typical rock concert. Songs for Drella is essentially a theater piece and the visuals provide much of the enjoyment as well as a vague narrative. The songs are roughly in chronological order as they tell the story of Warhol’s life, from Pittsburgh, his early days in NYC, getting shot and his worldwide fame. The narrator changes from first person (Warhol’s POV), third person descriptions and Reed and Cale’s own commentary, as both longtime friends and collaborators with the artist.

According to a photographer I knew who shot the two of them around this time, Reed and Cale seemed to absolutely loathe each other. He described them as the two biggest bastards he’s ever been hired to shoot, in fact. Hissing snakes. The pair apparently vowed never to work together again, but they did anyway, for the ill-fated Velvet Underground reunion of 1993.

Shot on December 4–5, 1989 without an audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Songs for Drella came out on VHS and Laserdisc, but as yet, has still not come out on DVD. The album itself was recorded in the weeks after this was taped.
 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
More Lou Reed bootlegs than you can shake a stick at
12.05.2013
01:01 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Lou Reed


 
MetalMachineManiac’s YouTube channel is stuffed to the gills with top quality live Lou Reed concerts. It’s a treasure trove of great music. Shows dating from the 1970s to performances from recent years. No solo Reed era is under-represented and there are dozens and dozens of full shows (and often individual songs as well).

I could post so many great shows, but here are a few notable selections from the 1970s…

Live in Sheffield, September 9th, 1973

Live In Stockholm, 1974. This one is positively amazing.

With Doug Yule live in Providence, 1975. One of the single best live Lou Reed shows, I’ve ever heard. As one of the YouTube commenters points out, “the band is like the Max’s Kansas City-era Velvets with a saxophonist.” Yes it is.

Here’s something complete different, a 1973 set with The Moogy Klingman Band.


Below, the Rock and Roll Animal interviewed at the Sydney Airport, 1974:

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Luciano Pavarotti sings ‘Perfect Day’ with Lou Reed, 2002
11.20.2013
07:20 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Lou Reed
Opera
Pavarotti


 
This Pavarotti and Friends special from 2002 was actually a benefit for Angola, and while it was performed and filmed in Modena, Italy, it got some pretty big international names. Andrea Bocelli was obviously there (the other really, really famous opera singer), as well as Grace Jones (cool!), James Brown (wow!), and Sting (eyeroll). And out of all those weird pairings Luciano and Lou is still the weirdest, but honestly, I’m so happy this exists. I love opera, and I love that Lou made a daring choice with the song.

Maybe the execution is a little unwieldy, but really, the song is a perfect choice for Pavarotti! Dramatic delivery, romantic swells—the song is perfectly primed for operatic pathos. Plus, Pavarotti’s stage makeup here could totally hold its own to glam-era Lou Reed. That brow pencil work is some expert-level shit.
 

Written by Amber Frost | Discussion
Lou Reed’s sweet side: Behind the scenes of the ‘Transformer’ documentary
11.14.2013
04:51 am

Topics:
Music
Television

Tags:
Lou Reed
Henry Scott-Irvine


 
Guest contributor Henry Scott-Irvine shares his experience working with Lou Reed on the Classic Albums - Lou Reed: Transformer documentary:

In the summer of 2000 Series 3 of the Classic Albums documentary brand cranked into pre-production with a roster of some twelve shows. Four of these would air on ITV during the 2002 FIFA World Cup, including most notably “Transformer.” The TV schedules signaled that if the England game was delayed or moved Classic Albums’ Transformer would feature before or after an important game. With the play-offs split between South Korea and Japan, the “Transformer” transmission had a potentially vast audience during late night soccer primetime. I recall sitting in a room filled with friends at midnight on a Saturday in June 2002 when ten million Brits watched this marvelous ‘making of’ documentary.  Oh how Lou must have smiled.

The road to this TV success was not altogether smooth. Lou had a reputation for being notoriously difficult and was rumored to hate both journalists and film makers. This was evidenced by tales of his kicking over cameras during his UK performances in 1973. “So who writes these things about you, if they’re not true?” said an Australian journalist in 1974. “Journalists,” replied Lou dryly. Flying on to New Zealand, Lou found himself amid a televised press conference at the airport. “Why do you write songs about transsexuals? Are you a homosexual or a transsexual?” Lou mumbled, “Sometimes” and shrugged. He curtailed his first Australasian tour by flying straight back out of New Zealand without performing there.

As Classic Albums series 3 Archive Producer, I set about seeing if footage survived from the original studio sessions of December 1972 and from the Transformer world tour of 1973. Nothing transpired from the recording sessions, apart from the original 16 track 2 inch master tapes. However, wonderful hitherto unseen footage of “Walk On The Wild Side” survived from Paris in 1973. Filmed with only one camera from a balcony, Lou was wearing white Japanese Kabuki-style face paint with black eye shadow and a black leather suit. Lou feigned a shuffle-step dance, appearing to be slightly out of it, before stumbling to sit down in order to conclude the song. It sounds potentially disastrous, but it was mesmeric. We had to have it!

The Institute of National Archives, France, quoted an ‘all media non exclusive license deal’ of ‘10,000 Euros per minute’, immediately scuppering our plans.  Instead we opted for three ten second bursts of this footage. Belgian and American footage of the 1974 tour only contained below par audio and just one song from Transformer, as a consequence, Lou was informed of this before agreeing to give Classic Albums up to six one minute acoustic solo performances of his choice from the album. These would be performed live and filmed in New York in the early spring of 2001 when director Bob Smeaton flew out with a film crew to undertake the proceedings.

Photographer Mick Rock provided a whole bunch of his magnificent period pictures for an agreed fee, enabling some truly wonderful montage sequences, which brought the ‘making of’ Transformer to life when intercut with Lou and engineer Ken Scott listening to all of the original album parts. It seemed at that particular juncture that the film was on a win-win footing. But on the first day of interview filming in New York, Lou brought along the writer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders for moral support, and suggested that he be included in the film, which he was. There was a tension in the air at this point and Lou was quick to point out that Timothy was “an award winner.” Bob Smeaton quickly responded, “I’ve got two Grammy’s. One for The Beatles Anthology and one for Jimi Hendrix Live At Fillmore East.” This “impressed Lou,” alleged Bob.  A further day of interviewing took place as a result of this newly found mutual respect, during which time Lou recalled how people threw their handkerchiefs at The Beatles and their knickers at Tom Jones, “Whereas with me they threw syringes and joints”. This quote made it into the final cut, as did Lou’s concluding phrase, “Bob. It’s been a pure pleasure!”

Additional archive footage from the 1980’s was added to the documentary, and in late May 2001 Lou Reed was sent an ‘approval copy’ to assess. We waited several days without a response.  On May 30th 2001 I was alone in the production office at lunchtime when the production company telephone rang. A New York accent asked if this was “The Classic Albums people?” I was convinced that this was my friend John Brett, who can do a mean New York accent. “Is that you John?” I said. “Do I sound like a John?” said the voice at the other end. “This is Lou Reed. To whom do I have the pleasure?” I quickly explained that I was the Archive Producer. When Lou asked about the lack of archive in the rough cut, I explained about the ludicrous costs, and then cheekily recalled how he had often kicked over cameras when crews had filmed him back in 1973. “You’ve got a Noo Yawk attitude, old boy!” he said. I told him I’d never been there. He laughed dryly and quietly said, “Take a compliment, why don’t you?” adding, “D’you like your employers?” “No”, I replied, “Me neither”, he said. “So that makes two of us. See. I told you you’d got a New York attitude.” He laughed huskily and seemed genuinely amused at my insouciance. He told me he would be reporting to the “executives” later that day, “Or perhaps they could do me the courtesy?” he concluded.

The following day at the same time, 1pm sharp, Lou phoned the production offices once again and asked for “Henry.” Luckily I had picked up the phone. We chatted some more and laughed a lot. Lou was a little unhappy that the film crew had under lit his face, making him look like a cross between Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein and Vincent Price’s Dr Phibes (my description not his). He was also concerned about the sequence featuring a transvestite putting on makeup. “In the song “Make Up” somebody filmed a rather tepid and plain drag putting on makeup. Why not be the sports that you are and use someone beautiful? After all, the female on the back of Transformer really is a man, or didn’t you guys know? So let’s have a little glamor, eh! Tell that to Bob, old bean.” I wrote everything down and handed the notes to the director. The drag sequence was removed and replaced with a newly shot sequence. More of Lou’s “devastating wit” was included, and Lou’s magnificent craggy face remained as it was. Lou later wrote in to say, “I am impressed by how good and interesting the show is!” The film went on to receive worldwide praise, transmitting globally with DVD availability, too.

Some three years later I was producing the Fremantle documentary Punk Attittude and wanted to use some Lou Reed performances. In this instance I was meant to ask Lou Reed’s manager. But instead I wrote directly to Lou reminding him of the two conversations we had had in May 2001. Expecting no reply, he wrote back with, “Henry. How could I forget you old boy? Consider it done. Send me the license deal and I’ll write ‘Waiver. No fee applicable’.” Some weeks later, true to his word, the agreement was returned as promised. I kept these emails and my notes of the conversations we had had all those years ago tucked away in my DVD of Classic Albums’ Transformer.

I think Lou was really decent. He had a great dead pan sense of humor and he’d shared some of that with one of the production team when he didn’t have to. “How about that?” as he often said, how about that indeed!

The “Perfect Day” sequence from the Classic Albums: Transformer includes an interview with co-producer Mick Ronson which was an outtake from the BBC TV series Dancing In The Streets, a history of Rock Music from 1996. This was the last interview that Mick Ronson ever gave to camera and it was filmed inside the former Hammersmith Odeon, the venue where David Bowie (and Ronno) had done the final Ziggy Stardust performance in 1973.  Aware of the fact that it was Ronson’s final interview, and quite clearly touched by the beauty of the raw track separation, Lou was close to tears (this appears at the 43 minute mark of the documentary). Avoiding being mawkish, director Bob Smeaton trimmed that particular moment. But you can still see how affected Lou was. It is a window into the soul of the great man, and the finest sequence in a documentary that deserved to win a Grammy.

Producer/researcher Henry Scott-Irvine is the author of Procol Harum: The Ghosts Of A Whiter Shade of Pale published by Omnibus Press in the UK, America, and Canada.
 

 
“Walk On The Wild Side” - Paris, 1973.
 

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Hear Lou Reed’s tai chi music
11.12.2013
06:32 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Lou Reed
Tai Chi

Kung Fu
 
In Laurie Anderson’s first, brief public statement after the death of her lover Lou Reed, some people may have been surprised how much she emphasized Lou’s tranquil appreciation of nature, a product (in part) of his many years dedicated to the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi:
 

Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.

 
This paragraph was one of five in the statement, also the longest paragraph of the statement.

I was reading a very insightful and informative remembrance of Lou’s life by the esteemed record producer Tony Visconti, and a detail towards the end caught my eye:
 

[O]ver the past 10 years, he became one of my best friends. I used to study tai chi in London, which has been a mainstay of my whole life. When I was speaking casually to David Bowie about how it was hard to find a teacher as good as the one I had in London, he said, “Why don’t you speak to Lou? Lou studies tai chi.” I said, “OK, that’ll be interesting.” Now I felt that I could confront Lou face to face.

All I had to do was mention those two words: tai chi. Lou just opened up like a flower and said, “Wow, I didn’t know you were interested in that. I have a great teacher and his name is Master Ren Guang-Yi.” I signed up immediately after I saw Lou’s teacher. Lou started a year earlier with the same teacher.

I had seen Lou hundreds of times in the past 10 years, mainly almost every Sunday in New York City at our Sunday class. We lived only four blocks away in the West Village. I would go over to his place and practice with him. We became very close friends.

We had people from all walks of life in our class, a banker, a plumber, a construction worker, a Japanese translator . . . all these varied people from all walks of life, and Lou was just one of us. Afterward sometimes as many of 12 of us went out for brunch right after class and Lou was right there sitting in the middle of it. It was wonderful. To know him on that level was just incredible. I can’t tell you how serious he was about it. He was one of the most serious people I know about studying some arcane subject like that.

-snip-

Last night at tai chi we were very choked up. The class is very, very strict. It runs a certain way. But the teacher turned to us at the beginning and said, “Can we have a moment of silence for Lou?” He got very emotional and turned to the back of the room and turned up the music that Lou made for us. He mad special tai chi music that we trained to at every sessions. The teacher turned up the music so loud that it was rattling the windows. It was a whole minute with this synthesizer drone, a very deep note that Lou made just for tai chi. The windows rattled and we’re sitting there in the tai chi position, the tears welling up. When the minute was over we resumed class. It started out extremely depressing, but it got better and at the end we had an impromptu storytelling period. We shared our memories of Lou.

 
So Lou Reed scored his own tai chi sessions.

As a prolific musician and artist, it isn’t surprising that Lou channeled his art into his tai chi, which was so important to him in his last years. In 2008 he released Hudson River Wind Meditations, a collection of music suitable for the practice of tai chi.
 
Hudson River Wind Meditations
 
In 2010 his own tai chi master, Ren GuangYi, released a DVD of tai chi instruction under the title Power and Serenity: The Art of Master Ren GuangYi. On Lou’s website, in an entirely humble and unfussy way, it states that the DVD ” features six new tracks of original music composed and performed by Lou Reed and Sarth Calhoun: ‘The Power of Red,’ ‘Cymbalism,’ ‘Power and Serenity,’ ‘Liquid,’ ‘Metallic Opera,’ and ‘Guitar Mountain.’”
 
Hudson River Wind Meditations:

Written by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Lou Reed’s final interview: ‘My life is music’
11.11.2013
08:35 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Lou Reed


 
During a photo shoot in September to market a model of Parrot Zik headphones that were tuned by Lou Reed, the late rocker gave one of his final interviews and it’s very… moving. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Ostensibly, Reed’s only talking about sound and sonics but the elegiac tone to the conversation gives much away. It seems pretty apparent that Reed knew he wasn’t long for this mortal coil and there is a sweet side of the legendarily cantankerous musician on display here that was very seldom seem in public.
 

 
Via TPM

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Have we all forgotten Lou Reed’s remarkable turn as Mok in ‘Rock and Rule’?
11.02.2013
11:03 am

Topics:
Animation
Movies
Music

Tags:
Lou Reed
Rock And Rule

Rock and Rule
 
This video clip comes from Rock and Rule (1983), a kind of follow-up to 1981’s legendary animated sci-fi anthology movie Heavy Metal directed by Gerald Potterton. Both movies were Canadian, but there appears to be no official connection between them.

As with Heavy Metal, Rock and Rule was able to cobble together a very impressive musical lineup, including Reed, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Cheap Trick, and Earth, Wind, & Fire. Mok, who is an ageing rock musician who in search of a particular voice that can unleash a fearsome demon from a different dimension, was voiced by Don Francks (who also did voice work in Heavy Metal), but his visual look was clearly inspired by Iggy Pop, even if his song was sung by Lou Reed. It’s all a little reminiscent of a certain T-shirt we heard about recently.
 

 
Thank you Wilder Selzer!

Written by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Too soon?: Lou Reed tribute shirt goes hilariously wrong
10.31.2013
01:53 pm

Topics:
Fashion
Music

Tags:
David Bowie
Lou Reed


 
It’s clear from some of the other shirts this Etsy user has for sale that this is the work of a morbid and highly twisted prankster, but I have to admit - I laughed. And I kind of want one. Putting a picture of David Bowie on a Lou Reed R.I.P. shirt like that is a pretty great joke.

Written by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
Is Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’ the ultimate headtrip album?
10.31.2013
08:46 am

Topics:
Drugs
Music

Tags:
Lou Reed

image
 

This is from the Dangerous Minds archives and originally appeared on January 2, 2011 under the title “Lou Reed’s Metal Music Music and Me.” I know that Lou Reed read this as I was asked to write an essay for the program of a “Metal Machine Museum” audio installation at Cal State Long Beach. Apparently Lou also read this post and I was subsequently dropped from the project!

When I was a 10-year-old boy, in 1976, I read a review of Lou Reed’s then new-ish album, Metal Machine Music written by the great Lester Bangs in what was probably the very first issue of CREEM magazine that my innocent, unsuspecting and very religious mother ever bought for me:

When you wake up in the morning with the worst hangover of your life, Metal Machine Music is the best medicine. Because when you first arise you’re probably so fucked (i.e., still drunk) that is doesn’t even really hurt yet (not like it’s going to), so you should put this album on immediately, not only to clear all the crap out of your head, but to prepare you for what’s in store the rest of the day.

Speaking of clearing out crap, I once had this friend who would say, “I take acid at least every two months & JUST BLOW ALL THE BAD SHIT OUTA MY BRAIN!” So I say the same thing about MMM. Except I take it about once a day, like vitamins.

Here’s a link to Bang’s entire essay. As you read it, try to imagine what a precociously deviant 10-year-old kid made of it. Even if I really didn’t know exactly what Bangs was talking about, of course, this sounded like something I really wanted to get in on. The vague promise of some sort of “aural high” or sonic sensory derangement seemed very, very attractive to me, especially since there was virtually no way I was going to be able to get my hands on any real drugs at that age (That would take another two years or so).

As luck—or Satan himself personally intervening on my behalf—would have it, the very next week, I found a copy of Metal Machine Music on 8-track tape for 99 cents in a cut-out bin at a “Hills” department store in my home town of Wheeling, WV (I still have it, it may indeed be the oldest surviving personal possession of mine. I’d never part with it).

Metal Machine Music has been described as sounding like “the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator” by Rolling Stone. The Trouser Press said it was “unlistenable oscillator noise (a description, not a value judgment).” Most people have never even sampled the album and few have listened to it all the way through. Not me! I listened to this sucker over and over and over again with headphones, I might add, in an effort to, I guess, mostly just try to understand it, or to get to the bottom of what Reed was trying to communicate (In my defense, I will remind readers that I was ten at the time).

It’s such a curious beastie, this Metal Machine Music. For a child with rapidly solidifying tastes—by the sixth grade, I promise you was I was an inveterate rock snob—this was a conundrum worthy of further, and deep, investigation, I felt. If Lester Bangs liked it that much, it had to be great, right? (Right?) There was also, as I was saying, the naive notion I had that it might be somehow psychoactive, or aid in blowing all the bad shit out of MY brain. (Here’s another quote from the Bangs piece that I know must’ve piqued my interest: “I have been told that Lou’s recordings, but most specifically this item, have become a kind of secret cult among teenage mental institution inmates all across the nation. I have been told further that those adolescents who have been subjected to electroshock therapy enjoy a particular affinity for MMM, that it reportedly “soothes their nerves,” and is ultimately a kind of anthem.”).

Who the fuck knows WHAT made me listen to the electronic wailing wail of sound that is MMM over and over again at the age of ten? But listen to it I did. Repeatedly.


 

There is one factor, unique to me I suppose, worth mentioning in this context, that probably made MMM a bit more palatable to me: My father toiled for nearly his entire working life at the central switching office at the C&P Telephone Company (part of the Bell system, before it got broken up in the anti-trust court). On the floor where he worked, there were hundreds of 12 ft high banks of humming and clicking electronic circuitry, I’m talking wall upon wall of this sort of machinery, but it was all “open” and sitting on, and bolted to, metal shelves. There was no casing around much of it to dampen the sound. Think of a library (in terms of how it was physically laid out), but full of the noisy, chattering circuits and switchers that made the old analog telephone system work (This machinery is what put the old school telephone operators—my mother was one—who connected your calls out of business in the 1960s, basically. I’m sure it’s all been 100% replaced by now with a waist-high rack of servers run by a small IT department).

The gear there chattered like robotic cicadas. It also reminded me of the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet, the sci-fi classic often seen on late-night television in the 70s. Precisely because there were so many of these clicking, whirling, industrious little diodes and circuits, they made a particular “music” that wasn’t as harsh sounding as you might expect. It actually sounded kind of cool. Had I not had the experience of spending so much of my childhood in that office, I’m sure that MMM would have been much harder for me to take. The point of this digression is that I had some sort of a reference point that made MMM sound much less foreign to my ears than it would have otherwise.

Have you, dear reader, ever actually heard MMM, yourself? Most people haven’t, but then again, where would they have heard it? It was probably never played on the radio (except by smart-ass college DJs), probably has never been played at a discotheque (except by a particularly spiteful DJ) and unless the host wants to clear the place out, it’s probably never been played for any other reason at a party, either.

Perhaps the best way to approach MMM as a listener is to simply take Lou Reed himself at his word about the project, from the original liner notes. In them, he spells out quite openly what what MMM is supposed to be, and what his goals were for the piece, but few reviewers or fans at the time would have had ANY idea of what he was talking about. Try this on for size:

“Passion—REALISM—realism was the key. The records were letters. Real letters from me to certain other people. Who had and still have basically, no music, be it verbal or instrumental to listen to. One of the peripheral effects typically distorted was what was to be known as heavy metal rock. In Reality it was of course diffuse, obtuse, weak, boring and ultimately an embarrassment. This record is not for parties/dancing/background romance. This is what I ment by “real” rock, about “real” things. No one I know has listened to it all the way through including myself. It is not meant to be. Start any place you like. Symmetry, mathematical precision, obsessive and detailed accuracy and the vast advantage one has over “modern electronic composers.” They, with neither sense of time, melody or emotion, manipulated or no. It’s for a certain time and place of mind. It is the only recorded work I know of seriously done as well as possible as a gift, if one could call it that, from a part of certain head to a few others. Most of you won’t like this and I don’t blame you at all. It’s not meant for you. At the very least I made it so I had something to listen to. Certainly Misunderstood: Power to Consume (how Bathetic): an idea done respectfully, intelligently, sympathetically and graciously, always with concentration on the first and formost goal. For that matter, off the record, I love and adore it. I’m sorry, but not especially, if it turns you off.

One record for us and it. I’d harbored hope that the intelligence that once inhabited novels or films would ingest rock, I was, perhaps, wrong. This is the reason Sally Can’t Dance—your Rock n Roll Animal. More than a decent try, but hard for us to do badly. Wrong media, unquestionably. This is not meant fo the market. The agreement one makes with “speed”. A specific acknowlegment. A to say the least, very limited market. Rock n Roll Animal makes this possible, funnily enough. The misrepresentation succeeds to the point of making possible the appearance of the progenitor. For those for whom the needle is no more than a toothbrush. Professionals, no sniffers please, don’t confuse superiority (no competition) with violence, power or the iustifications. The Tacit speed agreement with Self. We did not start World War I, II or III. Or the Bay of Pigs, for that Matter. Whenever. As way of disclaimer. I am forced to say that, due to stimulation of various centers (remember OOOOHHHMMM, etc.), the possible negative contraindications must be pointed out. A record has to, of all things Anyway, hypertense people, etc. possibility of epilepsy (petite mal), psychic motor disorders, etc… etc… etc.

My week beats your year.”—Lou Reed

In prose that would be quite obtuse to most people, but plain enough perhaps for his fellow speed-freaks, Lou lays out exactly what he was trying to do: make music that mirrored the physiological experience of having methamphetamine course through your nervous system. Metal Machine Music, is even subtitled, in case there are any doubters, “The Amine β Ring,” for Christ’s sake!

Reed also mentions in the equipment notes that the album was inspired by the harmonic possibilities inherent in La Monte Young’s Minimalist drone music. Young’s music was very, very difficult for the general public to hear at that time, pressed up on limited edition albums that numbered probably 1000 copies in total, if that. Even to really knowledgeable music fans of the day, there was virtually no way—as in none—to hear his music unless you like knew him personally or visited his “Dream House” audio installation in NYC (still there, by the way), so this reference would have fallen on mostly deaf ears at the time. John Cale played with Young’s Theater of Eternal Music prior to joining the Velvet Underground, as did original VU drummer Angus MacLise, so Reed would have been intimately acquitted with Young’s work, even if few others outside of avant garde music circles would have been. [You could also take the warning about the music causing epileptic seizures to reference the underground film, The Flicker, made by Tony Conrad, another alum of the Theater of Eternal Music]

The goal with MMM was to emulate Young’s long, drawn-out harmonic drones, but with manipulated guitar and microphone feedback. Apparently the way the sounds were derived was by leaning two guitars on amps facing each other and then the resulting feedback was manipulated through tremolo effects units, ring modulators and reverb units. This would in turn vibrate the strings. No one really “played” anything, but the whole thing seems to have been heavily manipulated. The results were laid down on 4-track recordings which were then mixed to stereo with strict separation—what you heard in the left speaker was not what you were hearing in the right and there was no overlap. It has a reputation for being ear-bleeding noise, but in actual fact, there is nothing truly atonal about it. Not saying it’s soothing either, but atonal simply isn’t accurate.

There was, however, a crucial difference in the intent of Young’s Minimalist drones and Reed’s “metal machine music.” Young’s music is something best listened to stoned on pot and lying down. Long, slow, sustained notes played on piano, brass, strings, various exotic instruments and via throat singing is pretty much what you get with Young’s work. Young’s once virtually unobtainable oeuvre—now easy to find all over the Internet—moves with the speed of molasses rolling down a glacier. Being high on cannabis is practically a requirement for appreciating the music, which almost seems to slow down time when paired with some herbal enhancement. Without pot, it would merely be annoying.

Not so with the frenetic swirling maelstrom of MMM. This was music made for speedfreaks by the undisputed king of the speedfreaks. MMM is, quite simply, no more and no less, than an attempt (and a very successful one at that) to mine the same territory (I’m tempted to say “vein”) as La Monte Young’s drone music, albeit filtered through the nervous system of one Lewis Allan Reed, replete with high pitch frequencies, pulses, squeals, squalls and sine waves.

In another important break from Young’s work, where almost nothing happens, MMM has shitloads going on at once. Lou’s brand of Minimalism was quite maximal, when you get right down to it.

And then there is the whole “Lou just did this to piss off his fans and/or his record company” debate. I don’t buy it. I imagine Lou Reed, pumped full of amphetamine, sitting in a recoding studio, twisting knobs and blissing out over what he created. Surely, there must have a level of mischievous “Look what I can get away” antics to be expected of Lou Reed, but as he later said of MMM, “I was serious about it. I was also really, really stoned.”

Hey, a lot of great art is made that way. And recall the part about it being “a gift” in Reed’s liner notes. To his mind, the gift he was offering his fellow speedfreaks was the ultimate head album of all time. Delusions of modern classical grandeur or amphetamine-fueled feedback noodling? It probably doesn’t matter all that much. No matter how you slice it, it was a ballsy move! But a “fuck you” to fans or to RCA? That doesn’t make much sense to me. And besides RCA even went to the extra expense of releasing the album in 4-channel quadraphonic sound.

In any case, after a few months with it, I stopped listening to my 8-track of Metal Machine Music without ever really figuring out whether or not it was any good. I’d see the CD in stores from time to time and contemplate buying it, but I never did.

In 2010 with the various live Metal Machine Music performances by Reed and others, there was a re-release of the quad version of the album on DVD and Blu-ray, so I decided to jump. Hearing MMM in multichannel surround sound seemed too intriguing of an experience to pass up.

Torben Sangild writing in The Journal of Music and Meaning explains, pretty well here, what I was looking for:

[T]here is the possibility of listening to it in more depth, discovering the variations in the stream of rumbling noises and screeching feedback sounds. The harsh feedback sounds are, of course, tones; some of them have a drone-like character, others swarm chaotically. There is no structure, but there is a texture with the drones as temporary points of orientation between traditional opposites - the expressionistic scream and the meditative mantra.

In the Blu-ray 4-channel quadraphonic version, with all of its high-pitched sonic frequencies able to be reproduced properly, listeners can now hear the work as Reed heard it himself in the recording studio. The wider berth of the four channels adds a sonic clarity that coaxes out a lot of the hidden sounds and adds an extra “spatial” element that the stereo version simply doesn’t have. The chaos envelopes the listener like an electronic blizzard. I found myself continuously walking around the room and listening to each speaker. It’s very cool. (If you are curious to hear it after reading this, and have a surround system, the only place you can get the multichannel version is at Lou Reed’s website).

Like Proust’s madeleines, standing there in my living room in Los Angeles, Metal Machine Music transported me back to my childhood and the noisy office where my father worked [Forgive me people, I just had to write that sentence, okay?]. I won’t deny that Metal Machine Music could described as a musical Rorschach blot and that you could project whatever you wanted onto it, but this could be said about a lot of “difficult” music and art. To my mind, Reed’s difficult opus deserves to stand beside work like Stockhausen’s “Kontakte,” John Cage’s “Fontana Mix,” Edgard Varèse’s “Poème Électronique,” as well as the music of Throbbing Gristle that came in its immediate wake.  A hundred years from now, when no one remembers who Justin Bieber was, rock snobs will still be trying to figure out Metal Machine Music. It’s the 2001 of rock, a mysterious unapproachable monolith that to some extent, will always remain that way.

 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
The Velvet Seduction: Songs in The Key Of V
10.28.2013
06:15 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Lou Reed
The Velvet Underground


 
The influence of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground reaches far into the soft and yielding heart of rock and roll. I’ve compiled a short mix of songs by artists that -according to my very subjective take on the matter - have absorbed some of that Velvet energy. These groups may not have consciously set out to write or play a song in the spirit of Lou and the Velvets, but they certainly seem to have fallen under the spell of those magic beams that stream from the halls of the Akashic Record where recordings marked V.U. and L.R. rotate like gleaming Saturnian rings in the infinitesimal blackness of absolute reality. (Might be a little not safe for work.)

01. I’m Going Out Of My Way - Stereolab
02. Failures - Joy Division
03. Bad Vibrations - Black Angels
04. She Cracked - Modern Lovers
05. The Modern Age - The Strokes
06. Down 42nd St. To The Light - East River Pipe
07. Tell Me When It’s Over - Dream Syndicate
08. Blue Flower - Mazzy Star
09. Always The Sun - The Stranglers
10. Leif Erikson - Interpol
11. Hanging Out And Hung Up On The Line - Julian Cope
12. Looking For A Way In - Cornershop
13. Shine A Light - Wolf Parade
14. The Moon - Cat Power
15. Sleepin’ Around - Sonic Youth
 

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
To Lou Reed and all of his satellites
10.27.2013
02:27 pm

Topics:
Music
Punk
R.I.P.

Tags:
Lou Reed


 
I was 16 years old and living in Fairfax, Virginia when I first heard The Velvet Underground’s debut album. It was 1967 and I was ready for something, anything, to slough off the teenage suburban blues that encased me like dead skin. I had no exact idea of what I was listening to when I listened to that album but whatever wild form of rock and roll it was it dug down deep into me and altered something very essential in my nature.

The Velvet Underground’s music was literally electrifying. Their songs were like subatomic particles saturating my cells and transforming me into some kind of new being. For 18 hours straight I listened to that album while eating bennies (benzedrine). Sitting and spinning in circles on a smooth wooden floor while the music hummed, droned, surged and sparked all around and within me. 

The electronic equivalent of one of William Burroughs word viruses or Rimbaud’s poetry as a “derangement of the senses,” the music of The Velvet Underground infected me and scrambled my brain forever.

I was indoctrinated into the splendid darkness, muttering the Warholian oath of Doctor Frankenstein: “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life in the gall bladder.” Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and Nico were turning me into a teenage Frankenstein and I was ready to thrust myself into the “meat pit of mortal desire” with a monstrous passion. I was only 16 but I knew how to nasty.

A year earlier, The Fugs had prepped me for the surgery performed by The Velvet Underground and now the transformation was well on its way. I left the comfort and deadly dullness of suburbia for the untamed streets of New York City, landing in an apartment on West Houston street that I shared with a drag queen and a runaway friend of mine that had left the ‘burbs months before me. The streets were teeming with young hippies, rockers and weirdos and I felt immediately at home. This was a world in which we were all waiting for our man, whether he was a drug dealer, guru or lover….or all three. There was a jittery anticipation in the air like when you were about to cop something that would get you high or get you by or just make you thrilled to be alive. And that anticipation was its own high and very much like a song by The Velvet Underground.

Hey baby, don’t you holler, don’t you ball and shout
I’m feeling good, I’m gonna work it on out
I’m feeling good, feeling so fine
until tomorrow, but that’s just some other time
I’m waiting for my man
I’m waiting for my man
I’m waiting for my man
man-man-man-man-man-man-man

As much as I was formed and inspired by The Velvet Underground as an artist, it was Lou Reed specifically that made me want to become a songwriter. The title of his album “Transformer” was truth in advertising, it encouraged me to become something I wanted but never thought I could be: a rock singer.

Lou wasn’t a great singer and neither am I. So what. He made songwriting appear simple. It ain’t. But Lou made the art of song attainable by taking everyday reality and finding within it the riff that made it extraordinary. Like Warhol did with soup cans. The shape, the color, the essential “itness” of it. There is nothing in life that is artless. At certain angles, even shit shines.

Lou wrote about stuff, the stuff of life, the stuff I wanted to write about. The unspeakable stuff, the real stuff. I wasn’t interested in music that soothed the savage breast, I wanted to write savage music about breasts…and cocks and city streets and dark tunnels winding their way underneath those streets. Lou Reed made it all seem possible. You could write about your life while dancing to it. You could be both profane and divine. Lou found the spiritual in the dirty boulevards, Coney Island, hookers, junkies, and the whole of the wild side. Poetry was everywhere, under the mattress with a bag of dope and a blood-stained tee-shirt, in the shadow of the Berlin wall and inside the tenement where

Caroline says
while biting her lip
Life is meant to be more than this
and this is a bum trip

Lou Reed, more than any creative being on the planet, let me know it was possible I could become a rock and roller. And he did that for a lot of people. It has been said that The Velvet Underground spawned more bands than it sold albums. It’s true. Lou opened up the field for millions of us. There are few modern singer/songwriters that haven’t been influenced by his direct way of telling a story in song without hyped-up sentiment or maudlin platitudes. His hard-edged, cynical style, shot through with harsh beauty and tenderness, created a new level of sophistication and adultness in rock that hadn’t much been heard before him. He cut through the cute shit and talked about the raw side of city life like Cole Porter on a cocktail of crystal meth and Seconal. And yet for all the tough guy stance, here was a cat that could write lines like:

Thought of you as my mountain top,
Thought of you as my peak.
Thought of you as everything,
I’ve had but couldn’t keep.
I’ve had but couldn’t keep.
Linger on, your pale blue eyes.
Linger on, your pale blue eyes.

If I could make the world as pure and strange as what I see,
I’d put you in the mirror,
I put in front of me.
I put in front of me.
Linger on, your pale blue eyes.
Linger on, your pale blue eyes.

Beneath the black leather veneer and dismissive smirk of Lou Reed there was something vulnerable and fragile. It was covered up out of necessity. The shit he wrote about, the shit he lived, could kill you. But you can’t write with the insight he did about the darker side of life, the lost souls and broken hearts, without having an incredible sense of empathy and love. On the surface, Reed was a badass. But somewhere a satellite of love was beaming down signals and Reed was there to catch them….and to beam them out to other satellites, of which I was one.
 

 

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
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