The Constant Inspiration of Junior Dad

Over the last several years, while I have been writing this blog, I have mentioned Lou Reed and Metallica’s Junior Dad.  It is the final set of lyrics on the final album that Lou Reed released during his life time.  Earlier this week I put on the song while I was walking around Austin’s Lady Bird Lake.  Every Time I hear it I feel inspired by its artistic fearlessness.  Like the best art, I don’t even know if I can articulate why it moves me so much.  The lyrics are create strong images, without definitive meaning, even if they hint seriously at several themes.  I am always especially knocked out at the section of the song that starts at the breakdown and goes through the end of the lyrics.  (The song is over 19 minutes long!)

Scalding my dead father
Has a motor and he’s driving towards
An island of lost souls

Sunny, a monkey then to monkey
I will teach you meanness, fear, and blindness
No social redeeming kindness
Or – oh, state of grace

Would you pull me up
Would you drop the mental bullet
Would you pull me by the arm up
Would you still kiss my lips
Hiccup, the dream is over
Get the coffee, turn the lights on
Say hello to junior dad
The greatest disappointment
Age withered him and changed him
Into junior dad
Psychic savagery

The greatest disappointment
The greatest disappointment
Age withered him and changed him
Into junior dad

Almost like the films of David Lynch’s, it has a quality that deals in dreams and the subconscious.  Like dreams, the meaning is so close, yet just beyond our reach.  It could be about Reed’s own mortality, or about the realization of him or a character that hey are turning into their parents, despite the best intentions not to.  It could be about original sin, or how violence is passed on from generation to generation.  It could be about how even the things we fear and hate, the things we have struggled against all of our lives, eventually turn to dust.  There is something both horrifying and comforting in that last thought. Emotionally I do feel the song has that weird mix of emotions.  It’s like a fire that burns everything in its wake, leaving things to begin anew.

The song is part of a concept record, albeit one where the whole album is more or less as abstract as this one song.  (Even if you like this one song there is no guarantee you would like the rest of the album.  It is a brutal, ruthless thing.  Yet it is extremely beautiful and artistic in its own deranged way.  Aside from this song and maybe the first, stay away if dissonance and sonic brutality are not your things.  I happen to be one of the few that absolutely loves this record, but I understand why some would not be drawn to it.)  It is also elastic enough for other interpretations.

Anyway, I have written about all of this before.  But every time I am looking for some inspiration, to feel something more intense than I am feeling in the moment, this song never lets me down.  Reed, like George Carlin, never succumbed to resting on his laurels.  He never became mundane or safe or tried to cash in on the easy money.  He started with the Velvet Underground and ended with this.  What a career!


Lou Reed’s ‘Brandenburg Gate’ and the Joy of Discovery

I would cut my legs and tits off
When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski
In the dark of the moon

It made me dream of Nosferatu
Trapped on the isle of Doctor Moreau
Oh wouldn’t it be lovely

One of my favorite albums from the last five years is Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu.  Just the opening lyrics to the first song alone, Brandenburg Gate, make my heart sing.  I’ve written about this record several times, but I never tire of singing its praises.  Look, I understand the reasons that some people don’t like this album; The lyrics are disturbing, the music will go off at times into discordant soundscapes or heavy metal brutality, and at times Lou Reed sings without care for melody or pitch.

But in general I feel bad for people that don’t get this record.  It is a beautiful, dark, fever dreamscape of a record.  It’s a Viking raid, a horror freak show, a psychotic hallucination, an Edgar Allen Poe poem, Victorian London, and nighttime in the Tiergarten all at once.  If it were a movie it would be Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God or Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.  If it were a painting it might be by Goya or Bosch.  The record is batshit insane in the best way possible.

But the record isn’t all dark.  There is a sense of fun, of the thrill of reaching new ground, as well.  Lou Reed was near the end of his life when he made this.  He was physically in decline.  He used Metallica as a way to go once more into uncharted territory.  They were his musical armor.  Like George Carlin, Reed kept growing as an artist.  There was never any self-congratulatory victory lap or a watering down of his talents to finally cash in.  He remained true to his vision right until the end.

But I don’t love this record, truly love it, because others don’t get it, or because I think the best art should always be bleak.  I enjoy it.  In it’s own strange way it is full of joy.  It feels free.      Reed is not bound by the normal conventions of society.  He is out there on a limb, living in the new.  After all, he’s just a, “small town girl.”

Morrissey to Release Novel and Great Books by Musicians

List of the Lost

List of the Lost Press Release

I’m looking forward to reading Morrissey’s first novel.  It comes out September 24th.  The details are above.

I really enjoyed his Autobiography.  Here are five other books by musicians, in no order, that are worth checking out:

  1.  Bob Dylan – Chronicle
  2. Henry Rollins – Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag
  3. Larry Kirwan – Green Suede Shoes: An Irish-American Odyseey
  4. John Lydon – Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
  5. Lou Reed – Between Thought and Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed

All of the books, except the Lou Reed book, which is a collection of lyrics with commentary by Reed, would qualify as autobiographies.  However, each one of them is better than the standard autobiography or biography.  Dylan’s is written with the kind of wordplay and imagery that one would expect from Dylan.  Rollin’s is as much about self-realization under duress as it is about music, though of course there is a great deal of music commentary included.  It’s jet black and deeply funny.  Kirwan is not only a musician, but also a playwright.  His book is not only expertly written, but features a great deal of really interesting information on the history and culture of Ireland.  And Lydon’s book is not only an unsentimental look at his past, but includes commentary by other people that were around him at that same time.  Even if they flat out contradict him, he seems not to give a fuck.  He is interested in getting to the truth, and the truth depends on one’s perspective.

Patti Smith Inducts Lou Reed Into Hall of Fame

The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in and of itself doesn’t make any sense to me, but I am a Patti Smith fan and an even bigger Lou Reed fan, so I thought I would post a transcript of her speech inducting Reed (I found the transcript over at Rolling Stone):

Hello everybody. On October 27th, 2013, I was at Rockaway Beach, and I got the message that Lou Reed had passed. It was a solitary moment. I was by myself, and I thought of him by the ocean, and I got on the subway back to New York City. It was a 55-minute ride, and in that 55 minutes, when I returned to New York City, it was as if the whole city had transformed. People were crying on the streets. I could hear Lou’s voice coming from every café. Everyone was playing his music. Everyone was walking around dumbfounded. Strangers came up to me and hugged me. The boy who made me coffee was crying. It was the whole city. It was more [Pauses] Sorry. I realized, at that moment, that I had forgotten, when I was on the subway, that he was not only my friend, he was the friend of New York City.

I made my first eye contact with Lou dancing to the Velvet Underground when they were playing upstairs at Max’s Kansas City in the summer of 1970. The Velvet Underground were great to dance to because they had this sort of transformative, like a surf beat. Like a dissonant surf beat. They were just fantastic to dance to. And then somewhere along the line, Lou and I became friends. It was a complex friendship, sometimes antagonistic and sometimes sweet. Lou would sometimes emerge from the shadows at CBGBs. If I did something good, he would praise me. If I made a false move, he would break it down.

One night, when we were touring, separately, we wound up in the same hotel, and I got a call from him, and he asked me to come to his room. He sounded a little dark, so I was a little nervous. But I went up, and the door was open, and I found him in the bathtub dressed in black. So I sat on the toilet and listened to him talk. It seemed like he talked for hours, and he talked about, well, all kinds of things. He spoke compassionately about the struggles of those who fall between genders. He spoke of pre-CBS Fender amplifiers and political corruption. But most of all, he talked about poetry. He recited the great poets — Rupert Brooke, Hart Crane, Frank O’Hara. He spoke of the poets’ loneliness and of the poets’ dedication to the highest muses. When he fell into silence, I said, “Please, take care of yourself, so the world can have you as long as it can.” And Lou actually smiled.

Everything that Lou taught me, I remember. He was a humanist, heralding and raising the downtrodden. His subjects were his royalty that he crowned in lyrics without judgment or irony. He gave us, beyond the Velvet Underground, Transformer and “Walk on the Wild Side,” Berlin, meditations to New York, homages to Poe and his mentor Andy Warhol and Magic and Loss. 

His consciousness infiltrated and illuminated our cultural voice. Lou was a poet, able to fold his poetry within his music in the most poignant and plainspoken manner. Oh, such a perfect day. Sorry. [Crying] Such a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with you. You made me forget myself. I thought I was someone else. Someone good. You were good, Lou. You are good.

True poets must often stand alone. As a poet, he must be counted as a solitary artist. And so, Lou, thank you for brutally and benevolently injecting your poetry into music. And for this, we welcome you, Lou Reed, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

David Bowie: Lou Reed's Masterpiece is Metallica Collaboration Lulu


David Bowie: Lou Reed’s Masterpiece is Metallica Collaboration Lulu

Apparently David Bowie told Laurie Anderson that Lou Reed’s collaboration with Metallica, Lulu, was his masterpiece.  Anderson said so when accepting Lou Reed’s entry into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.  I love that record.  It is an endless well of inspiration.  It’s epic, it’s dense, and it’s challenging.  I do understand why there are some people that will never get that record, as it is steeped in chaos at times, but they are missing out on a one of kind.  However, I never tire of hearing it.  As dark as it is, its poetic ambition is astounding. I find it stimulating and life affirming.  You don’t make such a thing unless you find the world an interesting place.  It’s a record that is never far from my mind.

Sad Song, When Tragedy Becomes Comedy

Today I was talking to my Dad on the phone about Dante’s Inferno.  Surprisingly we both found it funny.  This is a book where people’s souls are tortured in the most horrible ways imaginable for all eternity, often for no more than religious thought crimes or moments of passion.  The religious medieval mind was sure a strange one!  When things go that dark they, at some point, go through the looking glass and pass into the realm of absurdity, and then turn into comedy.

Lou Reed often makes me laugh in the same way, though I’m almost positive that he was in on the joke.  When he was asked about his album Berlin, which many deem the most depressing album of all time, he said he was just, “having fun.”  Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul, I can put that album on, or any number of his albums, and find myself instantly cheered up.  The final song on it, Sad Song, is the cosmic punchline to the album.  I was going to describe it, but I found this description on YouTube by Adam Pendleton, the first comment at the time of writing, and I really enjoyed it:

So this poem is about an abusive husband, than his wife kills herself. Even so, he doesn’t really care. He half-heartedly chants “sad song.” than shrugs and moves on. Even after she’s gone he thinks of her as “wasting my time.” and that he was wrong for thinking she ever looked beautiful. He justifies his abuse, “somebody else would have broke both her arms.” At least that’s what I got out of it.

As Mark Twain once said, “Humor is tragedy plus time.”

No Church in the Wild

I’ve been listening to this track lately.  It’s batshit insane and I love it so.  Whether it is Lou Reed or the orchestral piece Sensemaya, I love music that sounds like it is going through the looking glass.  I of course love many many different types of music, of all different emotions, but there is something about when artists sound like a modern day Icarus, like they are flying to close to the sun, that appeals to me.

I’m not traditionally a huge hip hop fan.  Nothing appeals to me more in music than a unique singer singing their truth.  (Public Enemy has always been the one exception.)  However, I have tried to be more open to it lately, as I have often loved a lot of the production on hip hop records.  As a musician I have found myself being drawn to a lot of the stuff that Kanye produces because it is often quite musical.

Kill Your Sons

Austin is under the cloud of a dark and evil “shit mist”.  Gray, black, and brown are the only colors outside.  Everything is damp.  So to hopefully cheer everyone up, I thought I’d post some Lou Reed.  I always loved this performance, especially Lou’s guitar solo.  The song Kill Your Sons is about the time when Lou’s parents forced him to receive mental treatment, and in particular shock treatment.  Yet despite the seemingly depressing subject matter, Lou’s ability to take a matter head on without pity or sentimentalism always seems to lift my spirits.  Maybe it’s just me…

This period of his career, even though Kill Your Sons is originally off Sally Can’t Dance (Itself an underrated album in my book.), with Robert Quine is particularly worth checking out.  It consists of the albums The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, and Live in Italy.  All three of those albums are worth having if you are a fan of Lou Reed.  They are musically lean and mean, and feature some of his best lyrics.

Fun In the South

Day 3 in Louisiana – Headed towards New Orleans.  Due to the weather that has been going down, the countryside looks like West Virginia in winter, without the allure of the mountains.  “Slate grey Victorian skies” hang over leafless trees.  Cigarette butts and plastic bags dot the landscape all too frequently.   I have been reading Dante’s Inferno and listening to Lou Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance.  The soul is a flexible thing.  Mine is mirroring the landscape, slithering to the rhythm of the haunted South.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Oliver Stone’s Nixon.  “Nixon is the darkness reaching out for the darkness.”  Another is when Lou Reed said after making Berlin, an album many deem the most depressing of all time, that he was, “just having fun.”  That is the key and secret code to unlock it all: fun…

Lou Reed Animated

Lou Reed interviews have been animated for part of the PBS series Blank on Blank.  It is equal parts interesting, inspiring, hilarious, and bitchy, much like Reed’s career itself.  I am one that will be eternally thankful for Reed’s contribution to rock and pop music.  I might not agree with everything Lou Reed says in the above clip, but there is no doubt in my mind that he did elevate pop music, that he did infuse it with a literary quality that few have ever matched.  From the first Velvet Underground album to his last album with Metallica, he never quit pushing the limits of what was possible in rock music.  In between those two book ends he did everything from straight ahead pop music to avant-garde noise.  A true one of a kind.