Tag Archives: the Velvet Underground

Lou Reed Thinks He Sucks and He Wants You to Know

Lou Reed and his live LP Rock N Roll Animal. I don’t know where to begin. And if I do begin, I won’t know how to end. Those who know it don’t need to be reminded of its power; those unfamiliar with it, well, the cover certainly hints to its greatness.

I’ll simplify the LP to this: great rock and rock album, bad Lou Reed album.

In the eight years prior to this 1974 LP, Lou had covered a lot of ground artistically, including five years with the Velvet Underground, and he was gaining some steam as a solo performer. The minor chart action of “Walk on the Wild Side” helped a lot, and Lou could have stuck with a NYC-meets-pop routine and had more hits.

But for reasons no one knows for sure, in late ’73, he put together a proto-heavy metal band and gave them carte blanche with his body of work. He put down his guitar and stepped aside, letting the dual-guitar attack of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner lead the way. Sterling Morrison, Lou’s bandmate in the Velvet Underground, like many others from Lou’s past, was stunned and appalled. “It embodied all the principles of the things we opposed,” he said. “I couldn’t even tell what songs they were. The band was playing over him, around him, and through him.”

However, the LP was very successful commercially and critically. Yet, Lou Reed changes his career path the way we change socks, and by late 1974 he turned his back on that brief chapter of his life. He made an LP called Sally Can’t Dance, which is pretty dull and it did poorly on all fronts. RCA’s reaction in early ’75 was to put out Lou Reed Live, which has more songs from the performance that gave us Rock n Roll Animal. It was a ‘sequel’ of sorts.

Little is known about the making of that second live LP: Did Lou have anything to do with it? Or was it completely RCA’s get-rich-quick scheme? But there’s a clue buried in the album’s finale. You can hear it in this clip. First you’ll hear the end of the album as is, and then you’ll hear it again with a little help from me:

When I first heard this on my cassette player in 1986, I fell out of my bed. I was already a confused teenager, sifting through every VU and Lou Reed lyric, every note, every burst of feedback, searching for meaning, and suddenly I hear someone saying Lou Reed sucks—on a Lou Reed album!

Who is that yelling? Why is it there? I have a theory. I think Lou was gung ho about that tour, that band, the thrill of reminding the fans that they should never take him for granted—but that he got bored, as he was prone to do, and moved on. And he got annoyed when RCA exerted their right to milk it with the follow-up LP.  So, he left the heckler in the mix.

And who is the heckler? Is he real or someone added in? I have a theory about that, too. In 1973, there were very few places that really gave a damn about the Velvet Underground’s body of work. I’m guessing only New York and London. And this concert was recorded in New York—East 14th Street, to be exact—so it’s very likely there were some bohemian VU-loyalists in the crowd, completely offended at what Lou did to those sacred songs. I would buy that one of them would shout out his disapproval.

And where does that get us, besides an overlong blog post? Well, I think it gives us a great example of an artist taking his ambivalences, anger and even self-loathing and putting it out there, cleverly and surreptitiously.

I can assure you, I spent a long night in 1986, playing and rewinding my copy of Lou Reed Live, wondering and wondering, “What are you telling me, Lou…?”

To help the uninitiated get the extent of Lou’s 1973 desecration, I’ve included the Velvet Underground’s 1970 “Sweet Jane,” in all its acoustic glee, and Lou’s power-chord heavy live version, which kickstarts the Rock n Roll Animal LP.

The Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane (3:15, right-click to download)

Lou Reed – Intro/Sweet Jane (7:51, right-click to download)


Filed under Music, Plucked from Obscurity

Me and the Colorful World of Oz

Time to tell you a little about myself. As a lifelong fan of Film and Music who was immersed in it professionally for a long time, I think I have some observations you might find interesting or entertaining.

For a half-dozen years, last century, I was a sound editor for independent films in NYC, and since then I’ve produced docs and non-fiction television TV. Briefly, I was generating bonus content for DVDs. In other words, I’ve had all kinds of experiences, some with celebrities old and new, and those escapades will figure into my posts (my Tales of Scorsese are bottomless). But mostly I’m going to dissect films and songs that I love, frequently griping about aspects and trends that annoy me. Also, I’m a big supporter of audio commentaries, and when I hear something especially cool on one, I’ll post portions.

To the Velvet Underground fans out there, my URL is a semi-obscure VU reference, but in this context, I’d like to think that I’m peeling away the layers of art, both high and low, and revealing the wonderful riches underneath. And hopefully prompting some nice discussion as well.

But, hey! Enough of my yakkin’. What do you say? Let’s boogie!

We all remember the moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy leaves her home and enters Oz, especially because it takes us into the color portion of the film. And the geeks reading this probably already know that those first 22 minutes of the film were broadcast in B&W–instead of the original sepia—until 1989. And the observant folks know that the first shot in color has the door frame to the house painted in sepia so it appears to be in B&W until Dorothy opens the door…

But I just noticed this and think it’s really awesome: The woman who opens the door is not Judy Garland. It’s her stand-in wearing a sepia version of Dorothy’s blue-and-white dress:

Then when she steps back out of frame, Judy Garland walks through the door:

I love shit like that. Smart problem-solving. In-camera, on-location problem solving.

And please don’t take this as a rant against computers or CGI or the way they make films now. I’m just enamored with the fact that I’ve seen this film many, many times and never noticed that aspect to the shot. I was always too busy looking at the sepia-painted walls around the door!


Filed under Film