Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"RADIO NAPALM" Special Lou Reed Memorial Show...And A Few Words About Lou

In some ways, the point of this post is moot, the point being to promote a "RADIO NAPALM" podcast that's already well on its way to being the most listened to in the new series. It's already a success, despite the damned thing being hastily assembled in the event of Lou Reed's death Sunday, October 27th, 2013 from complications due to liver disease. That haste means I'm not entirely sure the show's worthy of the audience. Certainly, it marks an occasion where the show for once is not a raving celebration of the punk rock spirit and vintage rock 'n' roll radio it usually is. And how could it be? Lou Reed is fucking dead.

Writing those words don't set well with me. Lou was a prickly bastard, for sure, one who communicated best through his songs, even as he oft times seemed to use his solo career to alienate anyone whose life was saved by the rock 'n' roll he created in The Velvet Underground, and used his own public persona to keep everyone away. I'm personally one who felt he made more lousy albums than good. Transformer is the most obvious example of solo Lou at his best. Berlin. Metal Machine Music is a perverse pleasure. But he mostly seemed to take a perverse delight in holding a middle finger up to the world. Lou also was the sort of artist who really needed a good editor. He had that in John Cale, and in David Bowie and Mick Ronson on Transformer. Left to his own devices, he could not tell his own shit from his diamonds. I mean, really: Did Lou Reed really think collaborating with Metallica was a good idea?

Yet, why is it I feel like Elvis just died? 

I don't think it's so much to do with that now-clicheed Brian Eno quote always trotted out in any discussion of the Velvet Underground, about the influence they had being so insanely out of proportion with their pisspoor record sales. I think what really says a lot about Lou's - and the Velvets' - impact is that in the 48 hours since his death, he has inspired so many great writers to write even more brilliantly. These eulogies are instant classics, sure to take pride of place in future anthologies.

This is because, ultimately, Lou Reed was a great writer himself.

Yes, he inspired everyone who heard his records to become a junkie faggot from New York City in a black leather jacket, solid black clothing, and ever-present sunglasses. Yes, he played some of the sickest rock 'n' roll lead guitar ever. Yes, he was a great singer who could not sing, had a limited range, and sounded flat to the rest of the world while sounding like Edith Piaf to all us faux NYC junkie faggots who heard him. But the key to Lou Reed was he was ultimately Raymond Chandler with a rock 'n' roll heart.

Like Buddy Holly, Lou Reed preferred simplicity. He wrote symphonies out of three chords at most. Even as he blew crazed free jazz skronk guitar all over his records, he relied on the simplistic grooves of Moe Tucker's drums and John Cale's three-note bass. And he didn't write lyrics - he wrote stories. Highly literary, poetic stories full of urban gutter journalism, subject matter that was acceptable in novels and movies but is still frowned on in rock 'n' roll or pop music. He wrote of kicks and bad drugs and transvestites and squalor and kinky sex and general bad craziness, in simple, hard-boiled language that was direct and honest. It wasn't celebrating these things. It was simply telling it like it is.

He also had a vulnerability, a gentle side that he was not afraid to flash, at least in song. Ferchissakes, one of the best Velvet Underground songs, a B-side called "Jesus," was an honest-to-God hymn. I now wish I'd included it in this show. But there's a lot I left out. This show could have gone on for hours. There was that much great stuff in Lou's canon, despite that pisspoor overall batting average on good releases versus howling dogs.

Personally, I didn't get it at first. As a 14-year-old Sex Pistols/punk rock besotted youth, I came to Lou at first via Rock 'n' Roll Animal. I kept reading about Lou and the Velvet Underground in every magazine I picked up. Rock 'n' Roll Animal was availble in the five buck bin in the local Krogers record department, and I took a chance. I hated it on first listen, and still do. What's with this heavy metal record with the dirty lyrics? It took hearing Ronnie Bonds spin the Velvets' original of "Rock And Roll" on his old Funhouse show on KPFT in Houston to understand: Lou Reed songs make great rock 'n' roll, not great heavy metal. These are different musics, no matter what you may think. This is why that Metallica team-up still is a head-scratcher....

But looking over my own songs I've written? I've said for years I learned all I know about writing songs from Phil Spector. I still stand behind it, but I can see there's as much Lou Reed there as Phil. There are times I've forgotten some of those lessons, but that's par for the course with growing artistically. But having a good groove, a solid-but-simple riff, some vicious guitar, a lyric that tells a tough truth in simple-but-beautiful language? That's all Lou Reed, through-and-through.

And now Lou Reed's dead, after a lifetime making me hate him more than love him, but loving what I love to the point of obsession. And all I can offer is this half-assed RADIO SHOW?! This just proves I can never hope to repay my debt to the man....

Yet, you guys are loving this, anyway. Despite there being no comedy, no screaming, no echo, no Ed The Engineer or Scooter, and me sounding as morose, stammering, and amaturish as I've ever sounded, you guys are loving this show. Because it's all about Lou Reed: Some early songs, a lot of Velvet Underground, some solo work, and a few musical tributes from those who got it. I have to thank you for that.

R.I.P., Lou. Rest In Peace.

THE JADES - So Blue (first record, 1957)
THE ALL-NIGHT WORKERS - Why Don't You Smile Now
DIDJITS - Lou Reed (Full Nelson Reilly, 1991)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - Sunday Morning (mono 45)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - Run Run Run (acetate, different mix)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - I'm Waiting For My Man (mono LP mix)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - Femme Fatale (mono 45)
ADAM AND THE ANTS - Lou (Peel Session, 1978)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - White Light, White Heat
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND  - Guess I'm Falling In Love (Workout At The Gymnasium bootleg)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - Beginning To See The Light 
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - Temptation Inside Your Heart
DAVID BOWIE - White Light, White Heat
LOU REED - Vicious
LOU REED - Walk On The Wild
THE DREAM SYNDICATE - Tell Me When It's Over
JONATHAN RICHMAN - Velvet Underground

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