Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Against Sanitizing Lou Reed
Culture in our day has become so degraded that there's almost nothing left that would shock us. This is conceding the point that the purpose of culture is, first of all, to shock us. Nothing could be further from the truth but I'm not optimistic in these times. Culture should last, should obtain, should be above the temporary, Banksy. It's not the latest unwashed hip hop tattooed freak who will be on welfare in their later years because the "interest" or the "scene" died out, only to be written up in his later years by an equally unaccomplished journalist.
It's not the rubbish that fills most of our modern museums.
Lou Reed died Sunday at 71. Pretty much no one saw it coming, which is to his and his wife's Laurie Anderson's credit. Reed had a liver transplant in May. Sic transit gloria mundi.
What I saw on Twitter and elsewhere was a repulsive blend of nostalgia and treacle. It's as though the people who "remembered" Lou Reed had no idea of how original he was; how, to use a word I genuinely hate but in this instance is warranted: transgressive. In Lou's lexicon: fuck you, eat shit and die. Seriously, that was him.
That was Lou, but at the time of his death he been tamed, writer of some wankish song "Perfect Day," which was hardly a signature of his. It was covered endlessly and approved of by the mind numbed in suburbs around the world on the day of his death. Another kind of death, I would think. But I'm with Christopher Hitchens & Richard Dawkins: we really only do die once. Apologies to my Hindu friends.
Pablum is universal. Reed never embraced all those variations of "Perfect Day" but surely appreciated the royalties and no one would begrudge him that. Was that song really Lou Reed?
What was real was the faux (?) but shocking, for the time, homoeroticism, the genuine drug addiction, the brilliant musician, the rare survivor of that terrible, terrible man Andy Warhol (seen above left taking a picture of Reed and some hustler who doubtless didn't live long after). Besides William S. Burroughs, there's no one I wish more to be in the hell I don't believe in than Warhol, the Piped Piper of Lost Souls. He liked to watch.
If you don't know the sad tale of Edie Sedgwick, you should. I recommend the book "Edie" by Jean Stein & George Plimpton. Lou Reed refused to cooperate in the book. Once you've outgrown that which kills many of your peers, you're too busy staying alive to look back in detail, especially if you're not exceptionally proud of your own conduct. If you want to understand the aging mentality of those who currently govern Minnesota, you can't go wrong reading the book. Just keep in mind they haven't grown out of it. You can buy the book by clicking here.
The worst aspect of Reed's death is his transmutation into something innocuous. That's the last thing he was and the last thing for which he should be remembered.
Try thinking of a white singer in our age singing anything like this:
"I wanna be black, have natural rhythm
Shoot twenty feet of jism too
and fuck up the jews
I wanna be black, I wanna be a panther
Have a girlfriend named Samantha
and have a stable of foxy whores.
Oh, oh I wanna be black
I don't wanna be a fucked up
middle class college student anymore"
. . . . .
Those very same fucked up middle class college students went on to define a great deal of so called American modern culture. In the process, they remade in their own mind's eye Lou Reed. The emasculated men tried to lessen the one with serious balls. You could see them with their withered genitals all over Twitter Sunday as they pretended to speak to his death. The academics speaking to the original street hustler. Patti Smith must have been laughing all that time.
No. No thanks.
His post-Velvet Underground masterpiece album and title song was "Street Hassle." The lyrics below only hint at the music. If you mourn his death, buy it.
A) Waltzing Matilda
Waltzing Matilda whipped out her wallet
The sexy boy smiled in dismay
She took out four twenties 'cause she liked round figures
Everybody's queen for a day
Oh, babe, I'm on fire and you know I admire your
body why don't we slip away
Although I'm sure you're certain, it's a rarity me flirtin'
Sha-la-la-la, this way
Oh, sha-la-la-la-la, sha-la-la-la-la
Hey, baby, come on, let's slip away
Luscious and gorgeous, oh what a humpin' muscle
Call out the national guard
She creamed in her jeans as he picked up her knees
From off of the formica topped bar
And cascading slowly, he lifted her wholly
And boldly out of this world
And despite people's derision
Proved to be more than diversion
Sha-la-la-la, later on
And then sha-la-la-la-la, he entered her slowly
And showed her where he was coming from
And then sha-la-la-la-la, he made love to her gently
It was like she'd never ever come
And then sha-la-la-la-la, sha-la-la-la-la
When the sun rose and he made to leave
You know, sha-la-la-la-la, sha-la-la-la-la
Neither one regretted a thing
B) Street Hassle
Hey, that cunt's not breathing
I think she's had too much
Of something or other, hey, man, you know what I mean?
I don't mean to scare you
But you're the one who came here
And you're the one who's gotta take her when you leave
I'm not being smart
Or trying to be cold on my part
And I'm not gonna wear my heart on my sleeve
But you know people get all emotional
And sometimes, man, they just don't act rational you know,
They think they're just on TV
Why don't you just slip her away
You know, I'm glad that we met man
It really was nice talking
And I really wish that there was a little more time to speak
But you know it could be a hassle
Trying to explain this all to a police officer
About how it was that your old lady got herself stiffed
And it's not like we could help her
But there wasn't nothing no one could do
And if there was, man, you know I would have been the first
But when someone turns that blue
Well, it's a universal truth
And then you just know that bitch will never fuck again
By the way, that's really some bad shit
That you came to our place with
But you ought to be more careful around the little girls
It's either the best or it's the worst
And since I don't have to choose
I guess I won't and I know this ain't no way to treat a guest
But why don't you grab your old lady by the feet
And just lay her out in the darkest street
And by morning, she's just another hit and run.
You know, some people got no choice
And they can never find a voice
To talk with that they can even call their own
So the first thing that they see
That allows them the right to be
Why they follow it, you know, it's called bad luck.
Well hey man, that's just a lie,
It's a lie she tells her friends.
'cause the real song, the real song
Where she won't even admit to herself
The beatin' in her heart.
It's a song lots of people know.
It's a painful song
A little sad truth
But life's full of sad songs
Penny for a wish
But wishin' won't make you a soldier.
With a pretty kiss for a pretty face
Can't have it's way
Y'know tramps like us, we were born to pay.
Love has gone away
And there's no one here now
And there's nothing left to say
But, oh, how I miss him, baby
Oh, baby, come on and slip away
Come on, baby, why don't you slip away
Love is gone away
Took the rings off my fingers
And there's nothing left to say
But, oh how, oh how I need him, baby
Come on, baby, I need you baby
Oh, please don't slip away
I need your loving so bad, babe
Please don't slip away
Lou Reed 1942-2013