White Heat It Tickle Me Down To My Toes (Lou Reed Part 3)

There is a customer review on Amazon of “Pass Thru Fire: The Collected Lyrics of Lou Reed” which bleats, ” more than 70% of it cannot be read, lines and words are both faint, upside down… looks like a photocopy of words that are not flat on the screen…I want my money back”. Now this book is a treasured possession. The cynicism, even nihilism, romanticism, humour & downright common sense it contains can reinvigorate a body when getting mean seems to be the only option. There’s also that rhyming of “Robert Mitchum” with “never catch him”, still audacious & perfect over 40 years on. “Pass Thru Fire” is a typographical wonder too. Some of the lyrics are unreadable but they are still beautiful & it does not matter. Lou Reed was a poet but he was really a songwriter…words & music. It was his art. He challenged himself & those who listened. Now sometimes the words seem “faint, upside down” & you want your money back !

“They say things are done for the majority
Don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear
It’s like what my painter friend Donald said to me,
“Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over, they’re done”        WORD !

It is obviously a pisser that it has taken such a sad event as the artist’s passing to rescue this post from the draft limbo where it has been stuck for too long. Lou Reed’s music has been in my life for a very long time & it has been some of the best music around. These thoughts were always meant to hook up with those about the other concerts of his I was lucky enough to experience & that’s not changed. This is no obituary, Jah, how long would that take & anyway there are plenty of people doing that very thing. I do, though, want to spend some time thinking about Lou, celebrating his music & the effect it had on me.

So…1984, the Brixton Academy, the third time I got to see Lou Reed play live. Brixton was our playground. The “Old White Horse “, comedy, cabaret & drinks. The “Fridge”, dance music & drinks. The “George Canning”, live music & beer. The “Ritzy” for cool movies, a smoke, delicious melon & stem ginger ice cream. Christ, the “Garage” an unlicensed basement where the bands & the sound system only played 60s US garage music. Our secret place for a couple of months until word got out & it was too full to be comfortable. Such a perfect hang out that sometimes I think I only dreamed about it.

It’s a list & the Academy, a converted cinema, was on it. We were in Camberwell, a comfortable stagger home from Brixton. An easy rock down to Electric Avenue & let Cold Harbour Lane carry you home with a pit stop for a filthy kebab at half way home, regretting it before we hit the Green. The Academy opened for gigs in the early 1980s. We could walk there, no schlep across London by bus & Tube to see the good music. I saw some memorable concerts there & now Lou Reed was playing just  down the road. This was a definite night out, tickets were sorted pretty damn sharpish.

It was 5 years on since we had last visited. Since 1979 the live rock & roll cabaret “Take No Prisoners” LP  had repaid regular listens, more than covering any inconsistencies in the almost annual studio albums. “I do Lou Reed better than anybody, so I thought I’d get in on it,” Fair play. In 1982 Lou hit 40, was married,  clean & got another great band together. Two guitars, bass & drums,  “One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords & you’re into jazz.”. This new band made “The Blue Mask”, Lou’s best (that’s most consistent) record for a while. Then, when Lou wanted to play out again, they hung around for 18 months to make some great music.

“Waves Of Fear” is a paranoid epic from “Blue Mask”. This clip is from the Bottom Line, New York, a home game at the beginning of the “Legendary Hearts Comeback Tour”. The set begins with “Sweet Jane”, “Waiting For The Man” & the new song “Martial Law” just as it did on every setlist I have seen from those next 2 years. Just as it did here in Brixton. Now, how about that band ? Fernando Saunders, bass, was solid with Lou for some time, both he & drummer Fred Maher co-produced LPs with him. Lou is, alongside Keith Richards, one of the great rhythm guitarists, just watch him now. The hectic relentless speeding of those first VU records can have the brakes applied for the lovely logical chug of the live in Dallas 1969 record & both versions of the same songs are perfect. “Sweet Jane”…a riff that has never been bettered. So add to these 3 an innovative guitarist, influenced by & committed to getting into the face of Lou’s music. Light the blue touch paper & retire.

Lou Reed, Robert Quine, “Coney Island Baby”…a flipping masterpiece. The original song of regret, sport (Lou playing football !) ,the redemptive power of love was a surprise to those who regarded Lou as some kind of Drug Nazi. Others knew about the warmth & compassion in “I’ll Be Your Mirror”,”I Found A Reason”…a bunch of songs. Quine looked like Sergeant Bilko & had made a rep while playing with Richard Hell as a Voidoid. In the studio his staccatto, spitfire interjections complemented Lou’s rhythm & riffage. On stage they gave the songs a work out, added muscle to them.  If there was anything lost on the subtlety swings it was certainly gained on the robustious roundabout.

So here we were, myself & my great friend Mitchell, watching this all star band knock out hit after hit, in a venue where you were not fixed in a seat, could move around, get a beer, have a smoke. “Coney Island Baby” followed by “Waves Of Fear” then the closer, “Rock & Roll”…it does not get much better. There was to be no “Heroin” tonight, nothing from “Berlin” but I’ve never seen the point in defining anything by what is absent. This was the “New Sensations” tour & the set was a little heavy on this new LP. No problem, at least 3 of these are damn good songs & tonight it was all about the band.Quine had missed the recording of the album but he was on these songs. They were giving us “Wild Side”, “Satellite” even “Sally Can’t Dance”. Whatever they wanted to play from whenever in his career. This was the last night of the tour, back to the US for Xmas, a London audience who knew how tough & how well this group (I missed Peter Wood on keys) was playing.

Just the 5  Velvet Underground (out of 20) songs this time. It was expected. Lou did not revive his greatest hits as a golden oldie nostalgia night. Any attempt to recreate the spirit or sound of 66 would be dumb. What you got was where he was at the time. Whatever & however the songs went with these musicians. You know, to hear “There She Goes Again”, off of  “VU & Nico” was a surprise & …well, what a song ! Like Patti Smith, Lou knew he was playing to fans, people who had shelled out their hard earned. He may have been Mr Awkward  with know-nothing hacks & their ill-researched questions but he was the Boss here & was putting on a good show.

It was “White Light White Heat” which absolutely stopped the evening. I remember thinking that if Quine played any faster then his hand was likely to drop away from his arm. Man, they brought some drive to this song. It’s here on one they made earlier, Fernando’s loping bass sounding pretty good too. On quiet evenings, with a fair wind I can still her this blistering take on “White Light”. I can hear it too when I dig out that old bootleg cassette we bought up Camden just a week after the gig.

The South London winter night was no problem. Our legs knew the way home so we were free to just groove on the great night it had been. At the end of the decade Lou was’ once again, the current thing when the “New York” LP made him some kind of elder statesman/rock laureate. Another comeback ? Nah, if you had used your ears he had never been away. So now…no more revivals, no more live shows but I have listened to some fantastic indestructible music this week &, of course, the glory of love, might see you through.

Starting As You Mean To Go On

There’s a New Year to be withstood,  cold reality to be met with a forearm smash firmly to the bridge of its nose. So, before my resolve is at all dissipated by pointless Facebook Madvice from narcissistic Yoga freaks or by early adopters of the latest political hot potato (“Give me an issue, I’ll give you a tissue and you can wipe my ass with it.”) a little musical reinforcement seems to be the very thing.

We have all been there…sofa…crack…thinking to myself,  ’bout my angel dressed in black. Waiting for your prostitute girlfriend to come home with the cheese so that you can re-up. Too high to do anything but sit there and think a little too much. Actually, I’m with Dennis Leary on this one and would never take a drug named after a part of my ass ! Also the women who have supported me through my times of anomie  (and thank you to them all) have not been employed in any sex trade nastiness. No matter, Warren Zevon, has a great rock song about it, perfectly imagined so that we don’t have to. “Angel Dressed In Black” sounds like his “Hindu Love Gods” record with R.E.M. and is from his brilliant “Mr Bad Example” LP from 1991, a must- have for any lover of reprobate rock.

My favourite clip of this song. Lou’s great band had been on a world tour for a year and were just so tight. “Doing The Things That We Want To”, about Sam Shepard and Martin Scorsese, is a better song for losing the accordion and gaining the attack. Fred Maher (drums), Fernando Saunders (bass) and on guitar, the Sergeant Bilko of rock, Robert Quine were as good a band as you could ever wish to see. I was lucky and saw Lou Reed play in London with these guys. On quiet evenings, with a fair wind, I can still hear their  blistering takes on “White Light White Heat” and “Coney Island Baby”. I can hear it too when I dig out that old bootleg cassette bought just a week after the gig. You could say that I was firmly struck by the way they had behaved.

The man who did the world a favour by placing this cover version on the Y-tube is around on my computer clan. We have had to whisper our appreciation of this song as it’s not really acceptable in the UK to disturb the genuflection afforded to Ray Davies and the Kinks. I like the original B-side sung by brother Dave. The beefed-up live version, omitted from the 1994 UK LP, made the 1996 US double LP, resurrected the song and was featured in “The Sopranos”. Peter Perrett’s record “Woke Up Sticky” was a recrudescence too. A friend, disturbed by Peter’s wasted condition, had urged him to get himself together. The friend was Johnny Thunders…hoo-haa ! The stories of excess and devotion to dereliction would be of little consequence had Perrett not been capable of creating some of the greatest  British guitar rock. To hear this assertive return to form confirmed his talent and that, indeed, he was not like everybody else.

Now…that’s better. 2013…bring it on.

We’re gonna have a real good time together. lou reed, second part

Y’know if you asked me about the second time Isaw Lou Reed I would have guessed around 1981. If I was wrong then I would have said later. On consulting Mr Google it seems that it was October 1979. OK, those years were good years. The serious drug years. The timeline  gets a little buckled.

1979 was a busy year. My marriage broke up. I spent the 4 months of the summer in Greece trying to get a handle on what sort of future I wanted. On returning to England I moved to London. Had a lot of good friends there. the move seemed logical & a little inevitable. I do know I went to the concert with a good friend from Birmingham who had just relocated, or would soon do so, to London as well. Sorry for the vagueness but I’d rather do that than lie.

Changes for Lou too since the 1972 gig. “Transformer” had moved him  into rock & roll centre stage. He had followed with the masterpiece that is “Berlin”  the live show on “Rock & Roll Animal was pumped up stadium rock Velvet Underground. It worked for the larger audience but it was the dirt under the fingernails, the detail, that made the Velvets so great. Not some theatrical glammed up grand guignol. “Metal Machine Music” has to be mentioned. Art or a great fuck off to the business ? I found it barely listenable .I didn’t really care because “Coney Island Baby” is such a wonderful piece of  work  that all was forgiven.

This was the tour for “The Bells” ,an album not in the 2nd division of his work. Hey it was Lou live & that was enough. 3 nights at Hammersmith Odeon. We went on the first night. I have seen the set lists for all 3 shows. Look, I may have been in a state but I would NEVER forget seeing a performance of “Coney Island Baby” or of “Kicks”. He did not do either of these on the Wednesday. The Odeon was the biggest gig in London now. It was too comfortable. A sit down place. An old cinema and known for the worst bar staff in the city.

  1. The 1978  “Take No Prisoners” LP had shown just how good Lou could be live. The twin rock gods  had been ditched. The “Prisoners band could handle the range of his career. It was these guys who played with him tonight. Moose Boles (bass), Michael Fonfara (keys) and Marty Fogel (sax) were all class acts.
  1.  Look at that set list. Jesus. There are only 2 songs from the new LP. The rest are not just great Lou Reed  songs but some of rock & rolls great songs. He wasn’t giving them the 1966  treatment & that was OK. You did not expect or want a facsimile of the records. It was cool to get 2 Velvets songs early on but “Heroin  so early in the set was a treat. The 5 songs from “Berlin”.  OH MY GOD. Just more than you could hope for.
      The friend I went with (anonymity necessary) got good drugs. Let’s see 1979 that would be amphetamine then. Plenty of joints too. We always took plenty of ready rolled with us. Never quite enough though to last out the night. We were smoking in the hall. A guy in front asked for a toke. He had a bottle of rum in his hand. I suggested a swap, he agreed. Hey, it helps the buzz along. My mate went off. He needed a piss & to roll a couple more. With hindsight he had maybe gone to shoot up as well. It was a Lou Reed show. No better music to take heroin to..no doubt.
    He was though missing “Street Hassle” the highlight of the Prisoners album. The updated dirty boulevard New York street life stories. It was magnificent, epic and masterful. Lou still at the top of his game, not relying on the old songs to pull him through. Fantastic. After that it was fun. “I’ll  Be Your Mirror” and “Pale Blue Eyes” are not “Sister Ray” & “White Light” but welcome surprises.The audio of Mirror, same band , earlier in the year shows how great it is. Don’t ask me about the closing medley. More than one toke over the line by then. “You Keep Me Hanging On” ? I would bet money…and lose…that I had never heard Lou Reed sing that.
    It was some years  & some patchy albums before Lou was re-invented as a grand old artist & poet. What I saw that night was an artist. He took songs we knew & re-worked them for the time &  for his new musicians. He put on a show, playing songs people wanted to hear. He gave us a chunk of “Berlin” because he knew it is a great work. Christ I got to hear “Sad Songs”. That don’t need no symphony orchestra to make that song amazing. He also showed us with “Street hassle” that , for grimy low-life tales, there was still no one better. What a show.
    Don’t ask me what I did the next night or the weekend coming. I got high, that’s a fair bet. I would, though have been raving about how Lou Reed, remember him, is still a great night out.

She started shakin’ to that fine, fine music. The first Lou Reed thing.

The introduction to this was going to be about growing up in a northern English town in the 60s. I had such a good friend through these years, Wink.  A slick summary of those times would not do justice to how close we were. How we worked out those adolescent things together. Another time for that.  I can pay proper respect to the boy who taught me how friends behave to each other.

Our twin obsessions were sport and music. We listened to everything. If it was new and exciting we were on it. There was a lot that was new and exciting in 1966-67. In 1967 the music and the world changed. Hippies were wearing flowers in their hair, getting back to the garden. We loved the new music but we were from an industrial town. We were not ready to sit naked, cross –legged with our balls in a saucerful  of yogurt…not yet. The Velvet Underground made music  we  were intrigued by. The innocent bashing of Mo Tucker, the Teutonic  Nico cool, the dissonant drone of John Cale’s viola and the tales of a druggy city low-life from Lou Reed. We were more likely to be waiting for our mum than our Man but the harsh insistent rhythms of the Velvets reflected life in a steel  town  more than the flower power of the California “Love Generation” as Otis called them.

Fast forward to 1972…I was living the student life. So many new experiences, so much new music. I was still checking for the VU. ”Loaded” was a big favourite. I had suspected that Lou’s songs were influenced by Doo-Wop and soul. I would still listen to “Sister Ray” but the new LP of simpler songs proved he could get his songs on the radio too. I bought the first solo album. The one with the ugliest cover ever. My best mate at university bought a Procol Harum LP the same week. I should never have let him go out on his own !

In 1972 LPs were released in the USA months before they were in Europe. One Monday a  friend returned from London one with a great treat for us. She had an import copy of “Transformer”… Oh My. She brought it to our flat and we did not let her take it away. What a record, so modern, sexy and camp. We played it all day. Women who usually ignored us heard it through the window and invited themselves in. This was proof of the magic of great music. Then we found out that Lou Reed would be playing at the university on his next tour…unmissable. .

My girlfriend attended college about 100 miles away. We had deliberately put some distance between us. We did not want to go to the same town as a happy loving couple. It was better that we  lived our lives and made our own friends on our own terms. If we got through 3 years apart then that seemed to mean something. Once a month she, with a friend, would hitch-hike to my place. The gig was on a day she was due. As the flat buzzed and got ready to go out I was hoping she would get some good lifts and arrive in good time.

She was not too late. Good, because she was excited about seeing such a favourite. Too late though for our usual reunion.  Hey we were 19, we had not seen each other for 2 weeks, it seemed the proper way to show our feelings for each other. A couple of joints and a catch-up, we were ready for a big night out. We had seen some good bands but to see such a favourite in a small hall, this was going to be a BIG one.

Lou did not disappoint. His backing band, the Tots, have been dismissed as a bar band. I remember them as red hot, back then American bands always seemed tighter , more together than their British counterparts. What was more surprising was that Lou put on quite a show. His Velvets catalogue meant that for an hour all you got was classics. “White Light, White Heat”, “Sweet Jane”, “What Goes On”. It’s stating the obvious to say that Lou is one of the great rhythm guitarists. The songs were just set up by his opening chords and rolled away as they gathered momentum.”Sister Ray” was relentless. it was one of those moments when you knew you were lucky to be in the same room. Jenny &  I found some space & danced, it was already the best gig we had ever seen. 

“Heroin” just blew us further away. Lou made it the epic it is on record as he tied off and shot up to the music. There was no big set, just a stark light on the small wiry guy doing justice to this great body of work. “I’m Waiting For The Man” finished the set. None of that live in 1969 chug-a-long but full speed ahead rock song. There had been no songs from “Transformer”. We had been expecting our new favourites but it really didn’t matter. Lou had given us a set from the great work he had done with the Velvets. he had done it as if he meant it as well, none of that New York “I’m too cool for all this” shit. A great concert.

The  first two audios I’ve put with this are from that tour. They are not the highest quality but are recorded just 12 days after we saw the band. “Wagon Wheel” IS from “Transformer” but a check on available set lists shows he played “Walk On The Wild Side” in Manchester and didn’t play anything else from the album on the tour.

Two months later Lou started the “Transformer” tour in the US and began a new phase of his career. The New York Boxing Day gig has songs from his “past” as he now calls it. Half of the set is from the new, hit album. There’s a confidence about this version of “Vicious” that shows he knew what was about to happen,

In the summer of 1973 I went home & worked on my hometown steel works. I was in the same gang as my old friend Wink. It was the last time we hung out together. We talked about the bands we had seen at our colleges. He had seen that Lou Reed tour too. We spent an afternoon raving about it, none of the others having a clue why we were so into it. Wink had a great story. He was in the refectory of Manchester Polytechnic on the afternoon of the gig when Lou walked in by himself and looked at the notice boards. Wink could not miss this. He approached him and asked if he could buy him a coffee.  Lou agreed and my mate sat and chatted with Lou fucking Reed ! Don’t give me the Hollies, Joy division, Smiths or the Stone Roses, a coffee with Lou Reed is as cool as it ever gets in Manchester.