It saddened me to hear of Lou Reed’s passing this past weekend at the not-so-old age of 71. I developed a late appreciation of Reed’s artistry, probably because when I first heard of him, he, like David Bowie, was into that whole glitter and androgynous thing. If you haven’t paid Reed much attention over the years, perhaps you can do so now, starting with his 1989 album, New York.
Reed was rock n’ roll’s quintessential Manhattanite; and on this 14-track album he paid tribute to the Big Apple’s melting pot of characters along with its place as the world’s unofficial capital. The end result was a colorful, masterful tapestry of the sights, sounds and people that make up our planet’s greatest city, interwoven with the age-old human themes of love, hate, evil, violence and loss.
(Note: Click on the songs to hear them). In the album’s opening song, Romeo Had Juliette, Reed brought Shakespeare into the modern age in Spanish Harlem, where amid street wars, Romeo Rodriguez finds refuge in the comfort and sexual favors of the lithesome Juliet.
Love turns to loss on the next track, Halloween Parade, where homosexuals, gender-benders, hookers and weirded-out folks serve as a hurtful reminder of lost love. In Dirty Boulevard, Reed explored the underbelly of the city’s forgotten masses, condemned to live out their days of poverty in abhorrent conditions, in a life that is nasty, brutish and short with no prospect of future betterment.
In the album’s most despairing tune, Endless Cycle, Reed pondered about the vicious repetition of child abuse handed down from parents to their children, relegating them to a fate in which they become the instrument of violence. Christmas in February presented life after the Vietnam War for veterans who did not come home in a body bag. And in Good Evening Mr. Waldheim, Reed took aim at a trio of world leaders whose scandalous remarks or hidden past affiliations revealed themselves as sanctimonious, pontificating and disingenuous hypocrites: Jessie Jackson and his “Hymie” remark about Jews; as well as UN Secretary-General, Kurt Waldheim and a Pope both discovered to have ties to Nazism.
Reed’s lyrics, poetic as they were, found symmetry with his melodic guitar, in addition to a band sound that was minimalist for its time. It was old fashioned rock n’ roll at its best.
What is your favorite Lou Reed album or song? Tell us below.