Listen to this track by twin Velvet Underground founders and former Andy Warhol musical interests Lou Reed and John Cale. It’s “Hello It’s Me” as taken from the 1990 album Songs For Drella, a concept album about the aforementioned Warhol, in part as a way of saying goodbye.
Warhol had died in 1987 after a gall bladder operation. And in that time, some distance had grown between him and two of those who had been taken under his artistic wing in the late 1960s. The Velvet Underground was a project of Warhol’s as much as it was Reed’s and Cale’s. It was under Warhol’s mentorship that the band initially established their presence.
This record is a musical journey of a life, tracing Andy’s origins in Pittsburgh, to his rise to fame as a pop art mover in New York City, to the assassination attempt on him, to his founding of Interview magazine, and to his latter years.
Perhaps this song, which is the closer to the set, is the most overt goodbye there is from two men who had known Warhol best, and not without a significant amount of guilt, too
Listen to this track by New York icon and guitar-distortion enthusiast Lou Reed. It’s “Egg Cream”, an anthem to local cuisine as taken from Reed’s 1996 record Set The Twilight Reeling. The song opened the record, setting the scene in more ways than one.
Lou Reed is known for writing songs about drugs, sexual ambiguity, alienation, disease, the failure of political systems, and other aspects of the darker side of humanity and culture. He continues in that tradition with this record on a number of songs. But, here on this song, Reed breaks from the heavier topics that would characterize his work from this period.
First, he focuses on that which brings him simple pleasures; the chocolate egg cream, which is a quintessential New York beverage. And second, it’s all about the guitar on this song, sounding kind of like you’re hearing it being played from the inside, full of distorted glory. Reed plays it himself, of course. Maybe the subject matter does seem a bit lightweight for him.
But, I think it serves a purpose outside of itself. Read more
Listen to this track by former Velvet Underground quadrant and subsequent solo rock ‘n’ roll animal Lou Reed. It’s “Perfect Day”, a song taken from the David Bowie and Mick Ronson-abetted 1972 album Transformer, which was Reed’s second solo album. It served as the B-Side to his possibly unanticipated hit single “Walk On The Wild Side.”
In relation to that A-side which made his name as a solo artist,”Perfect Day” was something of a slow-burn, pop culture-wise. It enjoyed something of a resurgence when it appeared in a pivotal (and disturbing) scene in the 1996 film Trainspotting. In that scene,lead character Renton (played by Ewan McGregor) shoots up heroin only to overdose, all shown in graphic detail. He’s then unceremoniously loaded into a taxi cab and anonymously sent to hospital by his drug dealer.
It was the song’s reputation (or perhaps its writer’s) as being connected with the drug that made it somewhat of an appropriate choice as a soundtrack to an overdose. Yet, as much as the stories about this tune have circulated as being a love song to heroin, I think the love expressed in this song goes a lot deeper than that, and says so much more. This is particularly striking when it comes to the song’s ambiguity, despite how easy it is to take it at face value.
So, what is lurking beneath the surface of this song?
Here’s a cool clip of drone-rock godfather and professional New York curmudgeon Lou Reed jazzing out on his 1989 album track “Beginning of a Great Adventure”, the studio incarnation of which appears on his superlative New York LP. Having bassist Rob Wasserman on this really is a bonus. Watch out for his tradeoffs with Lou’s guitar in the beginning; magic.
There is plenty of gooey music about having children out there from super earnest singer-songwriter types, evoking all kinds of über-philosophical musings on how parenthood will change their lives. But, I love Lou’s take on this mini-genre, still full of petulance and dark humour which we expect from him. Yet ultimately, this song is about doubt. Like all expectant dads, Lou is wondering about whether he’ll be any good at it.
I think it’s this last thing that resonates most with me, that being a dad does require inner transformation and all. But, it’s also ultimately a job, and an important one; passing on something better than what we ourselves received, if we can. It really is the beginning of a great adventure. It’s true what Lou’s wife said to him.
I love that the writer of ‘Heroin’ also has this song in his catalogue, that the darkness of drug addiction is balanced off ultimately, by the impulse to nurture. Of course, Lou hasn’t phrased it quite that way. And we’d be disappointed if he had. Nope; he’s going to “raise a little liberal army in the woods”. One man’s nurturing, is another’s mobilization to confront the world, preparing them to be thinkers and dissidents in a world that demands conformity and passivity. And you get the impression that Lou, and his kids, are up for it by the end of this tune.