Song written and performed by Lou Reed
There must be an age between fifteen and twenty five when you need to be in a dark enough place with just enough curiosity that you discover the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, and John Cale. At least, that was the way it worked for me. I don’t think anyone showed up at a party and said, “Let’s all take a break from dancing and listen to this really cool tune. It’s called I’m Waiting for My Man.” You need that private moment because those songs aren’t meant for a group listen. Lou’s voice is a whisper in your ear telling you that life is weird and worse, but maybe, just maybe, you’re not alone and maybe, just maybe, we can all survive until tomorrow, no matter how messed up things get today.
And those words come out like a tumble, something your drunk roommate babbles at two a.m., having stumbled home when the bars closed. They are so certain that they have had an epiphany and you need to understand it, but somehow your roommate never makes as much sense as Lou.
And he is “Lou,” not “Reed” because he is your friend, even when he is trying to destroy your brain wth Metal Machine Music. He is your so very clever, so very awake friend. Then you read his interview with Lester Bangs, that pop music poet laureate, dead too soon, and wonder where things went so batshit crazy for your friend Lou. Of course, you recognize the way that he screws with everyone because he has done the same with you in his songs. How can you possibly reconcile I Love You Suzanne and Walk on the Wild Side and How Do You Speak to an Angel? After all, this isn’t Cole Porter who was allowed to write about any damn thing. This is Lou Reed who could only tell you the truth, right? Even when he’s in a movie, in a role originally intended for Dylan, the only other person who had songs pouring out of him like a leaky dictionary…
And then he goes away. And then he comes back. And you’re both a little older.
And then there are the albums that change everything: New York and Magic and Loss. You can’t say that people had never crafted rock and roll music for adults because that just isn’t so, but an awful lot of it was too pretty for that anger still burning in your gut or too one-dimensional for a world that could barely be captured by three dimensions. Those two albums helped you, continue to help you, remember that life will keep coming at you with its cornucopia of comedy and tragedy, beauty and ugliness and sometimes you’re going to scream and sometimes you’re going to weep or laugh or grind your teeth and sooner or later it will all be over and you damn well ought to remember that you’re here now.
And then people act like he’s written a standard with Perfect Day, which is okay because everybody deserves to be noticed for more than one thing.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 272 more to go.
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