* “What do you think I’d see / If I could walk away from me.”
Those lines from “Candy Says” pretty much sum up the late Lou Reed. Always struggling to get outside of himself to chronicle his own life and the rarely told stories of the untold thousands who lived existences beyond the “norm,” the losers, ne’er do wells and lowlifes who are routinely brushed aside as so much detritus.
More biting than Dylan, more painfully self-aware than Lennon, more accessible than Waits, less self-involved than HST and Bukowski. Lou Reed was one of our greatest underground American treasures.
* Consider, for a moment, his lyrics in “Heroin“…
Heroin, be the death of me
Heroin, it’s my wife and it’s my life
Because a mainer to my vein
Leads to a center in my head
And then I’m better off than dead
The song, as a whole, tells more about junky rationale than anything written.
* Or “Cremation,” written after the death of a close friend…
Will your ashes float like some foreign boat
or will they sink absorbed forever
Will the Atlantic Coast
have its final boast
Nothing else contained you ever
Morbid and touching at once.
* He was the embodiment of what the Beat poets used to only dream about - a bridge between poetry and music…
“One chord is fine,” he once said, alluding to his bare-bones guitar style. “Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.”
* “New York” will forever be one of my favorite albums. It starts with the hard driving guitars of “Romeo had Juliette“…
Romeo Rodriguez squares
his shoulders and curses Jesus
runs a comb through his black pony-tail
He’s thinking of his lonely room
the sink that by his bed gives off a stink
then smells her perfume in his eyes
And her voice was like a bell
* And moves to the horrors of poverty in “Dirty Boulevard“…
And back at the Wilshire, Pedro sits there dreaming
he’s found a book on magic in a garbage can
He looks at the pictures and stares at the cracked ceiling
“At the count of 3″ he says, “I hope I can disappear”
And fly, fly away
* The climax comes with Reed’s roar at the injustices of everyday existence in the closest he ever got to a rock anthem, “Busload of Faith“…
You can’t depend on no miracle
you can’t depend on the air
You can’t depend on a wise man
you can’t find ‘em because they’re not there
You can depend on cruelty
crudity of thought and sound
You can depend on the worst always happening
You need a busload of faith to get by
The futility of life and the path to hope all rolled into one, perfectly summing up the Lou Reed canon better than anything I could ever write.
* I’ll close with this…
“All through this, I’ve always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter,” he told Rolling Stone in 1987. “They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.”
No question today out of respect for the departed.