Some Kind of Mixture: Lou Reed

Lou Reed, wikimediaAristotle said there is no great genius without a mixture of madness. Lou Reed was more madman than genius but the genius part irrevocably changed rock and roll.

Lou Reed was a difficult man. His greatness appeared in his collaborations with others. Together with his roommate, John Cale, a far better musician, they would form the storied Velvet Underground. Andy Warhol became its manager. The Velvet Underground then became the soundtrack for Warhol’s travelling circus for a few years. Eventually Lou Reed pushed out both Warhol and John Cale, leaving himself largely in control of what remained of VU. Mismanaged and constantly fighting with their record label, VU self-destructed.

Lou Reed’s career restarted with recycled Velvet Underground tunes on his eponymous album. It’s his second album, Transformer, where everything starts coming into focus. Transformer revisits his time in the Factory, with Warhol and his circus. Lou Reed’s most famous tune, Walk on the Wild Side, describes five of the Factory’s denizens. It’s as much David Bowie and Mick Ronson’s album as Lou’s. And again — as Lou Reed had alienated John Cale, he managed to alienate Bowie.

Berlin is arguably Lou Reed’s best album. I thought it was at the time. Of course, most people at the time also thought I was an idiot for saying so, which hasn’t changed much, though I’m now reconciled to it. Berlin is still a great album and if the critics’ opinion of it has improved, mine has not changed. Junkies, lost people, hysterical children taken away from their mother — dark stuff, a dark vision. Bob Ezrin would go on to produce Peter Gabriel’s solo stuff and many of the same players off Berlin, notably Tony Levin, would appear.

And still Lou Reed kept recycling his stuff from Velvet Underground. Brian Eno apocryphally said the Velvets only sold a few thousand copies but the people who bought them all went off to form bands. It’s been quoted to the point of tiresomeness and you’re likely to read it in other obits — I don’t think Eno ever said it EDIT: apparently he did say it. The truth is, the Velvets didn’t sell well and Lou Reed would go off to re-record pretty much everything himself — and some of that sold pretty well.

And Lou never really adapted to what he’d helped create. His gritty, visceral take on street life, hustlers and junkies and the attendant godawfulness was only matched by his own pretentiousness. He really thought he was creating Art. Too much of Warhol’s influence — Warhol knew what he was. Lou’s erratic slide into drug addiction and alcoholism was beginning to take its toll. I don’t get the feeling Lou Reed was ever truly comfortable in his own skin until much, much later in life.

If Lou Reed shaped a generation, he also made some of the worst music ever recorded. Sally Can’t Dance is a fine glam rock album. Lou wrote the songs, did the vocals — and the rest is Steve Katz’ production and arrangements. Fine album. Sold well. Artistically coherent. Lotta fun, actually. The follow-on album, Metal Machine Music might as well have been Lou with a microphone shoved up his fundament. Just awful and he knew it, too. The most unlistenable album I’ve ever heard. The drugs and booze were taking their toll.

Coney Island, Street Hassle, Lou got weirder, more wrapped into the whole New York thing. A host of forgettable albums ensued, some better than others. Lou continued to make interesting music. Lou was always a smart guy. For all the terrible things I’ve said about him, the terrain of a great man’s life is defined by his mistakes. The rest of us schlubs have only our little triumphs to define us.

Lou got more political, more artsy. He pushed the limits of even my patience and I quit caring about him. His every brain fart was committed to vinyl. Lou Reed was a spice, not a meal. He was always better when he surrounded himself with a good band and a good producer. I give him this much: Lou Reed embodied the streets of New York in a bad, bad times. If Lou was erratic, off-putting and alienating, so was New York City. The place was horrible. But here and there, if you looked hard enough and long enough, you’d find some odd moments of rapture.

Here’s my favourite bit of Lou Reed in recent times, his song with Gorillaz: Some Kind of Nature

Some kind of nature, some kind of soul
Some kind of mixture, some kind of goal
Some kind of majesty, some chemical load

Some kind of metal made up from glue
Some kind of plastic I could wrap around you
The needy eat man mades they wear phony clothes
They sit with our pictures until they grow old

Some kind of nature, some kind of soul
Some kind of mixture, some kind of goal
Some kind of majesty, some chemical load

While me I love plastics and digital foils
To wrap up the sound and, protect the girls
From the spiritual poison we expel at night
Like phony clothes, but
I really like might

Some kind of nature
Come forth within us
Oh Lord forgive me
It’s gonna come and find us
All we are is stars

Some kind of metal made up from glue
Some kind of plastic I could wrap around you
The needy eat man mades they wear phony clothes
They sit with our pictures until they grow old

Some kind of nature
Come forth within us
Oh Lord forgive me
It’s gonna come and find us
All we are is stars

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60 thoughts on “Some Kind of Mixture: Lou Reed

  1. It’s said that Andy Warhol as producer’s job was merely to say “Wasn’t that great?” at the end of any given take and, if that’s true, it’d explain why VU’s stuff kept showing up in Reed’s work.

    In the arguments we’ve had over whether or not art can be good/evil as opposed to merely aesthetically pleasing/displeasing, the song I constantly go to as evidence for the former is “Heroin”. An absolutely haunting, brilliant, aberrant song that, it seems to me, would have a death count. Not everybody started a band. Some of them bought gear.

    That’s not the song I listened to as soon as I heard that he was dead, though. I sat and listened to him and John Cale doing “Nobody But You”.

    It has this weird balance of self- and other-loathing that seemed to permeate his best (and worst) work. He’ll be haunting rock and roll for a good long while.

    Ave atque vale, Lou.

  2. “Brian Eno apocryphally said the Velvets only sold a few thousand copies but the people who bought them all went off to form bands. It’s been quoted to the point of tiresomeness and you’re likely to read it in other obits — I don’t think Eno ever said it.”

    It was from an interview in Musician magazine in 1982. He said it. 30,000, not a few thousand: http://music.hyperreal.org/artists/brian_eno/interviews/musn82.htm

    “He really thought he was creating Art.”

    He was creating art. You can create art through film, or through painting, or through the novel, or through rock songs. The song Heroin is art. The song Sister Ray is art that you can dance to.

    “Metal Machine Music might as well have been Lou with a microphone shoved up his fundament. Just awful and he knew it, too. The most unlistenable album I’ve ever heard. ”

    If you think Metal Machine Music is unlistenable I pity you. And if that is the most unlistenable thing you have ever heard I double plus pity you. I started listening to the Velvets in the 80s but I never listened to MMM until a couple years ago, because I had read that it was just a double album of white noise. Which is a lie. There is music that you can use to screen out other noise, but you can also listen to intently and hear new detail each time you listen to it. MMM is one of those albums. It’s like if Fripp and Eno took one of the songs off Evening Star and turned it into a double album. That’s a good thing.

    • It’s terrible because I said it’s terrible and that makes it so. Go write your own precious and reverential obit for a guy who never wanted one. MMM was horrible. Lou was so fucked up he could barely stand upright when he made it. He did MMM to get out of a contract.
      • I didn’t write an obit for a guy who didn’t want one, you did. I corrected some, but certainly by no means all, of your more egregious factual errors in the unwanted obit.
      • Call it Artistic Differences. Not everyone who bought a VU album went out and started a band. Now, a great many people who heard Sweet Jane went out and bought the back catalog but on the whole, Lou Reed alienated pretty much everyone over time, redeemed only by the fact that he was describing something a few of us remember, 70s New York. In that, he’s a placeholder. Lou Reed, on his own, produced a mountain of crap because he was a self-indulgent junkie asshole. When he had decent management and a decent band, he did far better. Those are facts.
    • He was creating art. You can create art through film, or through painting, or through the novel, or through rock songs. The song Heroin is art. The song Sister Ray is art that you can dance to.

      A-freakin’ men.

      I won’t take credit for this, but in online exchange recently elsewhere, someone responded to a charge of pretension in art with a pithy “one man’s ‘pretentious’, is another man’s ‘ambitious’.”

      If Reed was pretentious, well, he helped change rock and roll once or twice; he’s allowed.

      • Creatin’ Art is all fine and good, as far as it goes. Lou Reed was awfully mean to the punk rockers when they came along. The difference between the Ramones and Lou Reed was only this: the Ramones knew they were just flailing away at their instruments, trying to make people dance.

        Lou Reed was the soul of pretense. Sure, he’s allowed. Lots of people aim high. But if you’re aiming that high, or low, in a Rimbaud/Baudelaire way, kinda helps if you can play your fishing instruments, yeah, I’ll have to say I preferred the Ramones’ enthusiastic thumping and jumping to Lou Reed and Andy Warhol’s drug-addled charade on wheels. And so did John Cale, who went on to make some interesting music of his own.

        Some of Lou’s stuff was really quite good. But the schtick, dude, it was terrible back then and if folks find it somewhat less obnoxious these days, that’s just the reverential patina of age built up on on its corpse.

      • If anything, if Eno was right, everyone who bought a VU album said “Well, shit! Listen to that! If VU can make noises like that and get paid for it — anyone can — where’s the nearest guitar store?”

        They couldn’t, of course. They didn’t have Lou Reed’s insight. A genius makes the impossible look easy. In that, he really was a genius. Nobody’s ever written lyrics like that, ever. If Lou Reed had gotten cleaned up two decades earlier, no telling how great he could have gotten in the intervening years.

      • I agree 100% that Lou Reed/VU’s (important and brilliant!) influence had unfortunate side effects. They, inevitably, provided the template for rock and roll bands to take pride in their lack of proficiency. Not just turn their weaknesses into strengths, which too many great and good artists have done, but to strike a disdainful pose toward the idea of musicianship. Lou Reed went on to make awesome music with toweringly great players, but when Robbie Robertson went to see the Velvets and snorted, “They can’t play their instruments!” he wasn’t being a Philistine. He was making a correct statement.
      • Lou Reed/VU’s (important and brilliant!) influence had unfortunate side effects. They, inevitably, provided the template for rock and roll bands to take pride in their lack of proficiency

        Hmmm. Can’t lay this solely at the feet of the VU, unless we want to discount the Fugs, the Troggs, The Kingsmen*, The 13th Floor Elevators, the Sonics, et al.

        “They can’t play their instruments!”

        Depends what we mean by “play”. If we mean “wield to striking and unique effect”, then yeah, they could play. I linked “Foggy Notion” – it’s not one of their avant-garde numbers, it’s a dance number, and I’d happily listen to that amazing groove on a 24-hour loop.

        If that band can’t “play”, then I don’t know one that can.

        Also, I haven’t heard the early VU tapes – but I’ve heard the Stooges ones, and you’d be surprised at how much practice/effort those guys put into sounding like total cavemen.

        *heck, “Sister Ray” is basically “Louie, Louie”, except ACTUALLY dirty this time.

      • I’m not sure what we disagree on. Most of the bands you cite were perfectly competent to excellent players. And I have put forth Guitar Wolf as the greatest rock and roll band in the world, so I’m certainly not turning up my nose at punkish exuberance.

        What I’m talking about is the sour pose. The Velvets made some great music, and some of those songs are perfect. Some others are crap, but they played them with the same icy disdain, making you wonder if you just didn’t “get” it.

        And anyway, I’m not talking about the effect it had on bands that had the wherewithal to produce good music. They‘re obviously not the problem. It’s the crappy bands with the tinkertoy approach to songwriting and cultivated miasma of pestilent decadence who I wish never got a hold of a VU record, or the records made by their many many awful imitators.

        Then again, some bands, like Sonic Youth, started out as a fun-less, po-faced, lost-in-cool art-student journal entry—very much layable at the feet of VU, I think—and quite obviously became something much better.

        Look—I love VU, love Lou Reed. It doesn’t bother me to say they/he also put out bad stuff in their time. Making great art means making lots and lots of crappy art as well. Part of genius is having the energy to generate lots of ideas, the obsessiveness/narcissism to be able to love every one of them enough to put everything you have into them, and finally the cold-eyed judgment to pick the very best ones to present, while you put the others in a squirming sack and throw it into the river.

      • Ah, using the SY comparison (and I can’t believe I forgot them in my shortlist of notable VU “progeny”) makes it clearer to me what you mean. I’m on record for having a love/hate relationship with SY. When they remembered they were a rock band, they were atomic, one of the best there was.

        When they forgot and thought they were beat poets or whatever, I wanted to deliver a dog turd through their mail slot*.

        *not a euphemism

      • : I have this theory. One side of music wraps words around the music. That’s most of rock and some of jazz. The other side of music wraps the music around the words. That’s folk, country and hip-hop/rap. Part of what makes VU so bizarre and unappealing to the rock listener is the violation of this rule, this Walk on the Wild Side, wrapping the music around the words.
    • I agree with a lot of this… Yes, he was creating art. And some of the art he tried to create didn’t really work all that well… MMM is a good fun trip through feedback and distortion that opened the door for bands like Sonic Youth or Pavement. But did it really need to be a double album? Of course not. And, like Blaise points out, it had as much to do with fulfilling the terms of a contract as it did actually fulfilling Reed’s muse.
  3. Lou Reed was in the audience when I saw A Number by Caryl Churchill at New York Theatre Workshop staring Sam Shepard.

    This is my Lou Reed story.

  4. Thank you for this, BlaiseP. I thought Metal Music Machine was his contractually obligated go-fondle-yourself album for his record company. I thought it was supposed to be bad. Is that another apocryphal one?

    Whatever it was, I doubt Lou Reed would have felt gratified, or pity, or much of anything toward any of us, whatever our take on MMM. An ex-girlfriend of mine has an excruciating “My Dinner with Lou” story that jibes with something I’ve been told and has never proved to be wrong: To meet one’s heroes nearly always leaves one sadder but wiser. Being an artistic genius does not make a person good, kind, or clever. Nor should it, I guess. Lou Reed didn’t make music because he wanted to be my friend.

    Anyway, a towering, imperfect, and one-of-a-kind USA artist is gone. He and Alex Chilton are probably already not speaking up there in Rocknroll Valhalla.

    • It’s funny, Chilton came to mind for me too, when BP alluded to Lou’s…uh…erratic muse and quality control, during some of his post-VU years.

      The YT content has been pulled down, but DM posted a thing a while back of Reed in Paris, ’73, all nodded-out, with Alice Cooper’s band backing him. Seemed like a mess.

      Of course, by the time I was old enough to be aware of Lou Reed and the VU, that embarrassing stuff was mostly long in the past, and the embarrassment of Loutallica was still comfortably in the future.

      Have the VU albums, and the good Reed stuff, aged well?

      Yes. Yes they have. They are fantastic records.

      If Dylan (to whom Reed owed much) was doing something akin to impressionistic painting with his words, Reed’s narratives were composed in black-and-white photographs; when Reed’s knife-edged images are paired with simpatico music (as on “Heroin”), the cumulative effect was cinematic in a way that just had not been done in rock music before.

      Plus, there are whole streams of great music we wouldn’t have without the VU*. Any band that simultaneously tries to tackle with equal fervor the twin poles of noisy drone and delicate beauty (or debasement and redemption) owes them a huge debt.

      *The three biggest spiritual “children” of the VU, off the top of my head: Yo La Tengo, the JAMC, and Spacemen 3/Spiritualized; all brilliant and influential in their own right; all unthinkable without the VU.

      • Heh. After quickly googling up the needful to write this post, now all my follow-me-around adverts are about drug rehab clinics. The Web knows all…..
      • I dunno how much Lou Reed owed to Dylan — though I understand how you’ve made the connection. Lou Reed was bisexual, and emerged from shock therapy to “cure” him with a keen sensibility for the insane. That’s Rimbaud and Baudelaire, Mallarmé territory.

        Lou Reed knew the poet Delmore Schwartz at Syracuse. Lou admired Schwartz as Dylan had admired Woody Guthrie. Lou Reed was a good poet and influenced others in his turn. Maybe I’m wrong here. Dylan’s New York was the earnest folkies of Greenwich Village, not the drag queens at Max’s Kansas City.

      • I’m not basing that statement on any source other than my own ears (and, my default assumption that any aspiring and ambitious NY rocker and poet of that time would have his eyes firmly on Dylan.)

        Lou Reed developed his own distinctive singing style – so distinctive, that it gets aped now just as much as Dylan’s.

        But in the early VU stuff, it definitely sounds to me like Lou is trying to sing like Bob.

        Watch how hard Lou hits certain syllables, and add just a little more adenoids on his vowels, and see what you get.

        IIIII‘ym…waitin’ for my MAYYn….twenty-six DOllars…in my HAAYYnd.”

        It’s pretty easy to do some of the early songs in Bob’s voice.

      • : those are his grandchildren, not his children. Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Mink DeVille, Ed Harcourt, those are Lou Reed’s children. Probably Jeff Buckley and Grand Mal, too.
      • True, I skipped a generation.

        What’s awesome about Modern Lovers is they kept the drone & drive, and lost the debauchery.

        Well she cracked, I won’t
        She did things that I don’t
        She’d self destroy, necessary to self enjoy
        I self develop, necessary to self help

        She cracked, I’m sad, but I won’t that’s right
        She cracked, I’m hurt, you’re right

        Well she cracked, I won’t
        She did things that I don’t
        She’d eat garbage, eat shit, get stoned
        I stay alone, eat health food at home

        Well the old world may be dead
        Our parents can’t understand
        But I still love my parents
        And I still love the old world

        Strangely, even Lou made it to Dignified and Old. There’s hope for all of us.

      • So I googled “Reed influenced by Dylan” and found some stuff that indicates that while I may not be right, I am not totally crazy to think it:

        http://www.salon.com/2013/10/28/the_deceptive_legacy_of_lou_reed/

        he often said he had been greatly influenced by Bob Dylan. Reed absorbed Dylan’s “Dont Look Back”-era lessons in celebrity cool, fused them with Andy Warhol’s turtleneck blankness and raised them to an exponential power, blazing new frontiers in totally not giving a shit.

        http://www.examiner.com/article/how-bob-dylan-and-lou-reed-became-friends

        In reality, Reed was greatly influenced by Dylan, even wearing a harmonica rack in the early days, which he abandoned to avoid any comparisons. In the mid-1960s, Reed was one of a handful of musicians writing “serious” lyrics, but was so far ahead of his time that commercial success did not arrive until the 1970s, when he was a solo artist. Even then, Reed would sabotage his career by putting out deliberately noncommercial albums, challenging and alienating his audience time and time again, until his experimental work was eventually praised years later. Much like Dylan.

        But like I said, it was something that just occurred to me in noting some similarities in vocal phrasing and thinking, “well, 60′s NYC ambitious poet/rocker…yeah, that would make sense”. I’m not even much of a Dylan fan.

      • : I’ve thought it over and believe you’re right. Dylan’s influence on Lou Reed is too obvious to ignore, especially after Farm Aid. My initial impressions were from early on, as you might well imagine, when Lou Reed had nothing but evil to say of Bob — and the Bobbists had nothing but ill to speak of Lou.

        I’ve often said every cover of a Dylan tune is better than Bob’s version thereof. Both of ‘em were better poets than tunesmiths and the people they influenced went on to make better music than either. I still prefer to read Dylan’s lyrics than listen to his songs, but then I have a taste for poetry where some people don’t.

  5. I, for one, have never understood anyone’s love for the tuneless warblings of Lou Reed. This scene from Repo Man probably illustrates it best:

  6. The first time I heard “Endless Cycle,” I thought I’d just heard the greatest thing ever. I must have been about 15. Sometimes I still think that about a lot of Lou Reed songs. “Perfect Day,” “Heroin,” Sweet Jane,” “Pale Blue Eyes,” “Sister Ray,” “Satellite of Love,” and so on and so forth.

    I also have the very distinct feeling that arguing about Lou Reed and Velvet Underground music is to miss the point. I mean, if ever there were music just to say, “Damn, I really like that,” this is it. It ain’t Dream Theater or Yes when they were close to the edge. I can’t imagine Reed or VU wanted it to be. If they did, they failed beautifully. The languages of art must be broad and deep enough to capture that and this.

    • Art is a con job. Always was. To fail to understand that is to miss the point. All these earnest soulful types — Lou Reed pretty much invented himself, as Warhol had invented himself. It was always a con. He said so himself.

      I listen to VU and all those graffiti-scarred subway cars come right back to life. The smell of garbage in the alleys off Lex. The pale junkies and the imperious women of Park Avenue, striding past each other as if the other didn’t exist. New York City was, in those days, a shithole, a sham. Manhattan lay between the Hudson and East River like a gigantic dog turd. Hard hat goombahs beating up the hippies. And there, at 47th in the Decker Building, Andy Warhol, the King of Fake, the Pied Piper of Plastic People, presided over that captious wreck of a burg.

      VU was an important placeholder, all right. Manhattan, that old whore, has cleaned up pretty well.

      But let’s not kid ourselves about the VU and the Emperor’s New Clothes they wore, with that charlatan Andy Warhol and his coterie of freaks. Music gives everyone a chance to either create an illusion or be part of one.

      • “Art is a con job.”

        I got nothing. All I can say is that I don’t think you actually believe this. If you do believe it, I’m very, very sorry. It must be horrible to feel conned each time you are moved by art.

      • Come one, Chris, haven’t you ever been to an art museum? Van Goh? The guy couldn’t draw a straight line! Giacometti? Those aren’t people, they’re space aliens! Wake up, sheeple!
      • OK, I’ll add this: I’m not a Warlhol fan, but I get Warhol in the same way that I get Pollock, and even much of Picasso, or Matisse, two artists of whom I am a great fan. Some art is universal and, if not eternal, at least lasting, and some art is a moment in the history of art, a response to what came before it and an anticipation of what will come after it, without any pretense to universality or immortality. Warhol was the latter. Pollock was the latter. To some extent, so were Picasso and Matisse, though I think there is something universal in their work. Maybe it will turn out that rock ‘n’ roll in its entirety is this. I don’t know. But I don’t think there’s any sort of confidence game involved here. It’s a necessary and natural part of the progression of art.

        And sure, it makes it easier for pretenders to arise, and we can argue for hours over whether this or that artist who is only a moment is a pretender, but the possibility of pretenders is the price we pay for creative beauty.

      • C’mon. Illusions are great. Some are more harmful to your liver and other essential organs, veins and such — than others. Look, here’s the deal, Chris. By the time I’ve learned any song well enough to play it competently, the song does nothing for me any more. Dissecting the bunny rabbit will teach you about bunny rabbits. Just don’t expect the bunny to wiggle his ears and hop any more.

        But the people in the audience, they give life back to the song. They willingly participate in the illusion. They’ve paid good money to see someone play a song competently. And that, Chris, is where VU failed so epically. They wanted to be artistes, not musicians. While the illusion held, they embodied something true about New York. The truth was that New York City was a shithole and VU’s charm lay in that faithful depiction.

      • Heh. You need to pay a visit to the art dealers’ little establishments on the Lower East Side in NYC. There you will find the Con Job raised to an art form. That’s why Art and Con Job are synonymous.
      • When I was 15, I’d never been to New York. I’d been to Chicago, but Chicago is not New York, and Chicago in the 80s was sure as hell not the underground New York rock/avant garde scene of the late 1960s (hell, what I’d seen of Chicago at that time wasn’t even underground Chicago in the 80s). VU still got to me. Was I conned? By what? By a music evocative of something I had no experience of? By something the music didn’t make me think of at all, because I had no experience of it and no idea that the music was “about” or evocative of it for those who had some inkling of it? That seems like a weird way to think of being conned.
      • : Heh. Been reading one of those Art History books down at the college bookstore, have you? They’re very educational. They will tell you who’s great. Aaaaand, if you take them Very Seriously, you, too could be an Art Critic.

        But first you must learn the vocabulary, as a musician must learn scales and modes and chords. It is the vocabulary of the Salesman, not the Craftsman. Rummage around in Roget’s Thesaurus, there’s more in there to serve the Art Critic than anything you’ll find where the smell of turpentine and modelling clay can be detected. Matter o’ fact, I’d recommend a Marketing major and an English minor for those who intend to make money in Art. Lots of it to be made. But first, you must either:

        1. Create the illusion or
        2. Enter into someone else’s.

        Them’s your options.

      • Been reading one of those Art History books down at the college bookstore, have you?

        I can imagine a tone of voice in which this is funny. Unfortunately, text in a combox rarely conveys tone of voice.

      • I remember way back in college, I used to get into discussions about Art, and what Art is, usually after a few drinks. They’d sometimes be heated, but they were always kind of fun. At least until the inevitable guy (and it’s usually a guy) who is convinced that he understand everything better than you, especially art, butted in and started insulting everyone’s sensibility. You know, the ironic dude who at the same time attempts to show how well he knows art, how much time he’s spent learning it and understanding it, and that art is not really worth spending time learning and understanding. Except the stuff that he likes, because you know, he has the secret to picking out the True. Ugh.
      • For many years, I kept a set of sketchbooks, did little pen and ink renderings, portraits of people at work, mostly. Came home one day to find my wife was cutting pieces out of the sketchbooks and putting pieces of Guatemalan cloth on them, then pasting them onto her abstract pieces. Got quite upset with her at the time, then decided the combination was rather better than what we were doing singly.

        Put them in some good frames and she took them down to a gallery in Chicago. The dealer took them on commission and asked for twenty more such pieces. Sold them all at 300 USD apiece. We kept it up for a while. Could have probably done more but our regular lives kinda got in the way. Hard to turn out things knowing they’re all going up for sale. The mercenary aspects of Art defeat the purpose of making art in the first place.

        Art’s a necessary part of life. Mostly I make photographs now. I shoot landscapes, retreating into finding forms in the land. I like point and shoot cameras, lets me quit looking at the terrain and allows me to think of what’s in the screen in terms of composition and fractions and relationships between things. I let my girlfriend go through them and pick out the ones she likes. The joy for me is the making of the thing, knowing I made a good image. But they’re not pictures of things, they’re just pictures, with a life of their own.

      • It’s all the difference between knowing a thing and doing a thing

        I once worked at a marina and my boss taught me how to tie a bowline knot. The guy could literally tie it single-handedly behind his back with either hand. But he couldn’t explain how to tie it, and when he slowed down to think through the process, he could no longer tie it. Worst of all, he couldn’t even explain the bowline knot’s special advantage;* to him it was just standard boat securing procedure, but he didn’t really know why.

        So I guess I’m in agreement. There is a difference between knowing and doing. Sometimes they coincide in one individual, and sometimes an individual has either one or the other separately.
        ______________________________
        * When pulled on, it gets tighter, rather than looser, so that no matter how much wave, wind or tide pressure there is on your craft, the knot won’t come loose and set your boat adrift.

      • VU still got to me. Was I conned? By what? By a music evocative of something I had no experience of? By something the music didn’t make me think of at all, because I had no experience of it and no idea that the music was “about” or evocative of it for those who had some inkling of it?

        This is where I am at. I can see someone for whom NYC was more “Taxi Driver” and less “Seinfeld” forever associating those songs with that time.

        I can also see someone who experienced the whole thing in real-time losing patience with Reed, someone who people expected to eclipse Dylan, but instead spent some years in an impotent druggy haze.

        But for those of us who came along after, these songs are unmoored now from their original milieu and context.

        That they continue to endure, to still be affecting while largely shorn of the time and place of their creation, is a testament to the power in the writing and performance of those songs.

      • Look, Chris, you care about music. But unless you’re a musician, creating the illusion, there’s no point in over-analysing it. In fact, it’s best in most cases to allow yourself to enter into the illusion. That’s all the musician ever asked of us, was to participate in our own way, bringing his music back to life. Music shapes people, in some ways, it’s rather like what the druggie wants from his drugs. He wants to feel something.

        That’s why what we hear when we’re 15 or so becomes so important to us. That’s when it’s as if the world is coming into focus — but really, it’s just us coming to the point where we’re coming into focus. We latch onto the music that moved us then, as surely as our own sexual identities are formed, coming into focus with our first true partners. For me, it was Bill Evans’ work with Miles Davis. Knew right there I would never return to playing those tired old hymns at that tired old church piano, at least not the same way.

      • Music shapes people, in some ways, it’s rather like what the druggie wants from his drugs. He wants to feel something.

        I’m on record saying as much. What I seek from music is disorientation; ecstasy; focus; sedation; transport. These may be primary-, or side-effects, depending on the “substance” and “dose”. Always and forever seeking another “hit”.

        Rock and roll’s the only vaguely-disreputable vice we’re still allowed to have.

        God, this Lou Reed thing’s hitting me harder than I expected. So did Chilton. People I didn’t know, probably wouldn’t have wanted to, and I miss them anyway.

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