13 April 2010

Lou Reed Week (Day Two)

(art by gary)
Coney Island Baby (1975 RCA)
Lou Reed had released four albums before 1975's Coney Island Baby. The first one was self-titled and largely ignored since it was Velvet b-sides re-done with Lou and a larger band. Apparently, no one dug it. The second effort was Transformer, produced by David Bowie and a record that can go toe to toe with anything that has been created in the last forty years. Berlin was the follow-up, and while some argue that it is an album full of nuance no one can deny that it's a heavy hitter. 1974 brought Metal Music Machine to record store shelves. They called it unlistenable back then, and to this day still no one listens to it. In interviews, Lou has stood by it but has also conceded that he was incredibly stoned when he recorded it. By the time 1975 arrived, the Lou Reed catalog was seen as unstable to say the very least.
English teachers always say that when analyzing poetry, one cannot assume that the author and the speaker are the same person. There's supposed to be a disconnect, some space between the two so that the author can properly convey what they're thinking/feeling. The grey area is necessary so that we as readers can recognize moral ambiguity or whatever other device is going on within the poem so as not to immediately assume that the author is some kind of deplorable human being. It allows the reader to think about the subject from different angles, and then digest it accordingly. This is becoming a useless paragraph, but know this: With Coney Island Baby, it is nearly impossible to think that the speaker is anyone else other than Lou. Not only that, but the emotions and feelings coloring the landscape of this album are the kind that everyone knows. Lou Reed is, in fact, a real person.
"Crazy Feeling" may be a mind-numbingly vague phrase, but it still works. The album opener for Coney Island Baby uses this exact terminology several times over but one still gets the idea. The speaker is feeling this person, but doesn't necessarily want to let on how much. They're merely saying that they know, without saying it out loud and cheapening the moment.
Saying it without saying it is a constant on this record. Instead of climbing atop a ladder and screeching these thoughts for the world to see, Lou still makes it intimate. From a lyrical standpoint, everything is very stripped down. Christgau says Lou has never shown his soft side this "nakedly" before, while others on the internets suggest that this is the most accessible record written by Lou since VU's Loaded. If the speaker is Lou, then in 1975 Lou needed someone. He needed comforting and soothing. He wanted to have a good time with a partner, but he also wanted everyone else to have a ball as well. He needed trusting and understanding, as well as the "glory of love".
"Kicks" is the track. On the first few listens, it called to mind that one part in Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn where Vinnie and Harry are throwing the knife around while Georgette is there and then the blade ends up in her leg. Without thinking about it, the song seems to hammer home the point that it's not cool to stab people. However, further listening shows that the song is a scene where a guy is approaching another guy and question his motives, namely the ones that involve stabbing people. The speaker seems horrified by the end result, but at the same time is stifling his arousal. Perhaps arousal is the wrong word. It might be more of a scary-high feeling, but then again it might be arousal since adrenaline and feelings of sex are mentioned throughout the track. The song has audio of bar happening spliced in to set the mood, and the whole thing slinks and crawls to a beat heard nowhere else on the record. Even a lazy listener could recognize that this is the raddest track on the album.
Coney Island Baby is the most conventional Lou Reed album in the sense that Loaded was actually "loaded" with hits. None of it is supposed to go over the head, but rather to a more tender spot. It's kind of up and down and back and forth, but that's how people generally operate. It can't all be a good time all the time. There is an infinite number of possibilities to any and every scenario, and the outcome is never going to be the exact same. It might get close, but each experience is going to be at least a little different if only for the fact that it is another experience. And if it's going to be that way, then you may as well get down.

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