Lou Reed: Dead At 71

Lou Reed

 

We are incredibly saddened to hear that Lou Reed has passed away at 71 years of age.  The rock pioneer and his music have meant so much to so many, and we’re sorry to see him go.

Ride into the sun, Lou.  You will be missed.

Music News Recap: Flooded With New Tunes

What’s been going on in the world of music lately? Read on to get the scoop on your favorite artists, and start some discussion about current music-related events!

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les paul

Musical pioneer Les Paul has passed away.

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Metal Machine Music: A Legacy, and Listener’s Guide


Lou Reed

“I was serious about it.  I was also really, really stoned.”
-Lou Reed


I’ve never been very big on New Years.  It’s a holiday that I’ve always had serious difficulty appreciating the significance of.  I’m sure part of the problem is that I have the worst sense of time ever.  Days, weeks and months seem to run together like a sloppy watercolor painting. I’m routinely shocked to discover that events that I thought took place only recently, were actually a product of several years ago.  This year, however, I’m making an effort to get into the spirit of starting fresh and orienting myself from a definitive point in time, and I’m going to do it with the help of the Lou Reed’s 1975 antagonistic electronic opus, Metal Machine Music.

Metal Machine Music

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Nestled between ‘74’s campy Sally Can’t Dance and ‘76’s classic Coney Island Baby, MMM has gone down in history as the ultimate cult rock album.  Critic David Fricke noted that “no other rock album by an established star and issued on a major label has generated such mad love and ferocious loathing—sometimes in the same listener…”

A Rolling Stone reviewer described the experience of listening to the album as “one of the better feats of endurance in my life, equal to reading The Painted Bird, sitting through Savage Messiah and spending a night in a bus terminal in Hagerstown, Maryland.”

Even Reed himself pardoned listeners for the confusion he knew the album would inspire.  “Most of you won’t like this, and I don’t blame you at all,” read his brilliant liner notes.  “It’s not meant for you.  At the very least I made it so I had something to listen to.”

But Fricke later went on to describe MMM in a more accessible light—as an album “made with rock & roll tools, built from the base elements of electric teenage revolution: rage, joy, sabotage, righteousness.  Metal Machine Music was not a new kind of rock; it was every kind of rock, boiled down to its molten essence.”

The legendary rock critic, Lester Bangs wrote about the album at length.  He equated the experience of listening to MMM to a cleansing ritual.  In his words:

When you wake up in the morning with the worst hangover of your life, Metal Machine Music is the best medicine. Because when you first arise you’re probably so fucked (i.e., still drunk) that is doesn’t even really hurt yet (not like it’s going to), so you should put this album on immediately, not only to clear all the crap out of your head, but to prepare you for what’s in store the rest of the day.

Speaking of clearing out crap, I once had this friend who would say, “I take acid at least every two months & JUST BLOW ALL THE BAD SHIT OUTA MY BRAIN!” So I say the same thing about MMM. Except I take it about once a day, like vitamins.

Lester Bangs

Lester Bangs

Sounds good to me. What better way to start a new year for a music fan’s ears than by flushing out the musical congestion of the previous months?  I’ve actually been curious about this album for years, but never had any real reason to listen to it other than for experiencing its value as a true rock n’ roll novelty.  After hearing and reading so much about it from people who had already taken the plunge, I finally decided that novelty, and the pursuit of a experiencing a fresh start, was reason enough.

Few albums have made me this anxious before listening to them for the first time.  I assume part of this anxiety is due to the fact that I’m not entirely sure what to expect, but I’m going to force myself to listen to its entirety regardless of the accessibility of its sound.  Every description I’ve heard of this album leads me to anticipate the most abrasive, irritating, and genuinely original piece of musical work on the planet.  Essential listening?  Sure, but the indulgent sonic masturbation of a grumpy art rock troll doesn’t exactly sound like a 64 minute joyride.

Grumpy art rock troll...

a grumpy art rock troll

Nevertheless, it’s go time.  You have my attention.  I’m listening, Lou…

Side One:

00:43 – This is the sound of anticipation, as Lou Reed’s maniac orchestra tunes itself.

02:06 – It’s looking like being in tune isn’t really the goal here…

05:09 – Something might be developing.  It sounds like robotic bagpipes, which is surprisingly easier to listen to than the description implies.

07:38 – I never thought that the classic nails-on-a-chalkboard screech could sound so relaxing.  Surprise!

12:36 – Oh sweet Jesus, we’re in bat country.

14:30 – Ding!  Going up…

Side Two:

00:08 – Shrieking souvenirs from bat country, only more intense. It sounds like a massacre.

06:44 – I kind of want this to be my ringtone.

08:08 – This is maybe some of the most suspenseful, spooky shit ever.

09:46 – Wait, OK, I want this as my ringtone.

11:10 – This sounds like the soundtrack to birth—the unrated version.

Side Three:

01:39 – I’m pretty sure side three is the same as one and two, just with more bats.

07:35 – I’m finding myself creating scenes for a musical starring a sassy calculator with a heart of gold in my head.

14:44 – This album is kind of a peaceful nightmare.

Side Four:

03:30 – So I take it this is the “emergency response team” side, complete with swirling sonic chaos and panic.

04:48 – I’ve always hated fax machines.  Points off, Lou.

08:45 – This would be incredible haunted house music.

10:26 – I wonder how Lou knew he was finished with this thing.

12:48 – The plane takes off…

13:35 – What way to go out.  War, bombs, Year Zero.

Over an hour of undivided listening.  You know, that’s a lot to ask of someone with the attention span of a goldfish, but I made it.  I made it, and I’m pleasantly surprised.  MMM wasn’t actually as irritating or unpleasant as an album described as a “densely layered soundscape constructed from feedback, distortion, and atonal guitar runs sped up or slowed down until they were all but unrecognizable” would seem.  True, this is a record that could only be created by the mind of someone as completely unaffected by the desires of his fanbase as Lou Reed, but it’s not actually all that difficult to listen to.

It’s essentially a background chorus of schizophrenic ramblings (without words, mind you), layered under the Martian national anthem.  It’s the musical equivalent to J.G. Ballard’s deviant autoerotic (pun intended) novel, Crash.  If you’re intrigued, you should be.  What Lou Reed has done with this album is create something so wildly different from the musical forays of even the most avant garde artists, but you don’t have to be a junkie, speed freak, or EST patient to find that it approaches the realm of being aurally pleasing, or at least quite thrilling.

Another part of Lester Bangs’ essay on the album that struck me was how he attributed part of the record’s appeal to its ability to actively provoke and challenge its listeners, rather than merely exist as a passive artifact.  He said:

Why do people got to see movies like Jaws, The Exorcist, or Iisa, She Wolf of the SS? So they can get beat over the head with baseball bats, have their nerves wrenched while electrodes are being stapled to their spines, and generally brutalized at least every once ever fifteen minutes or so (the time between the face falling out of the bottom of the sunk boat and they guy’s bit-off leg hitting the bottom of the ocean). This is what, today, is commonly understood as entertainment, as fun, as art even! So they’ve got a lot of nerve landing on Lou for MMM. At least here there’s no fifteen minutes of bullshit padding between brutalizations. Anybody who got off on The Exorcist should like this record. It’s certainly far more moral a product.

Maybe that’s really why I’ve had my eye on this album for so long.  It’s the whole hurt yourself just “to see if I still feel” thing that is rapidly becoming the modern standard physically, emotionally, and (why not?) musically. When culture becomes so oversaturated with predictability, the only option left is to seek out something—anything—that can inspire a reaction until you’re reminded that you’re still human.  34 years later, this is still Metal Machine Music’s legacy.  Happy New Year.

–Shelley Peckham

“Tag’s Deal”- or How I Became a Concert Promoter (for those too timid to ask)

I look forward to July 20 with some trepidation.

No, it’s not because we have Immortal Technique at High Noon on Sunday. We do hip hop shows on a fairly regular basis, and we generally have less problems – the occasional obnoxious tag (as in graffiti) notwithstanding – than, say, at a Yonder Mountain show packed with over-served hippies.

July 20 is the anniversary of my move to Madison twenty years ago. I moved here from Dayton, Ohio to pursue a doctorate in Agricultural Economics under the guidance of Dan Bromley, a thoughtful Natural Resource economist who was also one of the few remaining expositors of the Institutional School of economics. Institutional Economics, with its holistic multidisciplinary approach, offered an alluring respite from the arid confines of neo-classical orthodoxy and its extreme reliance on mathematical equations and statistics. I looked forward to studying with Dan in the hopes that my interest in economics as a means of grappling with the complex issues facing us – particularly global environmental crises — would lead to a career in academia.

Man plans, God laughs. Before I could get to the good stuff, I had to pass muster in the form of prelims, and in order to do that, I had to take classes in Micro, Macro, and Econometrics. My math training upon arrival was minimal – I had never before seen a proof. In short, I was screwed. For the first time in my life, I was a failure.

In retrospect, I should have transferred to Sociology or Political Science, but I tried sticking it out. I could write well, and consequently had a paper published shortly after my arrival. I was invited to present my ideas at a couple of conferences, and I ended up getting featured in a video shot at an academic conference exploring the emerging discipline of Ecological Economics, one that was shown on college campuses across the country, even making its way to the Clinton White House (true story.)

But then more reality set in. I fell in love, hard, only to see it end in a slow-motion train wreck. And my parents died, both of them, within six months of each other. I was in a world of pain.

So I dropped out and became a concert promoter.

I sometimes think I subconsciously started up this business so I could drink on the job, which I did in the early days to good measure. It’s an occupational hazard, one that I now try to avoid, but then it helped me when little else could. Of course, what drinking gave, it took back and then some.

I intended when sitting down to write to ruminate about my early recollections of the Madison music scene, kind of a “then and now” retrospective. I do remember the first time I went to O’Cayz. I can’t remember the band I went to see, but I do remember thinking it was a long walk from campus. I saw Negativland at Club D, Fishbone at Headliners, Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens and King Sunny Ade & the African Beats at the Barrymore — as many shows as I could fit in while wading through those dense math equations of my early grad school days.

I remember Phil Gnarly & the Tough Guys at the Wagon Wheel, Marques Bovre at the Crystal, the Indigo Girls playing the Terrace in front of what seemed like 6000 people, Lou Reed signing autographs at Club De Wash, the Gomers doing their crazy theme nights, also at Club D.

Bunkys, R& R Station and GS Vigs have all been torn down. Inn Cahoots became The Chamber, which became Mass Appeal, which became the King Club, giving way, most recently, to Woofs. Club de Wash burned down on a miserable February morning, and, not five years later, the same fate took out O’Cayz.

All I can say is thank God for Cathy’s perseverance.

O' Cayz Corral, Post- Fire

O' Cayz Corral, Post- Fire

I’m sitting upstairs at High Noon while I write this, listening to Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles rock out and thinking about how I used to drink Budweiser while waiting for the guys at No Name Printing in the basement of the old Buy ‘n’ Sell — which stood in this very spot — to finish up my flyers so I could go hit State Street.

I wonder what life would have been like as a college professor, if my original intentions upon landing here 20 years ago had been fulfilled. It was my dream to be a public intellectual, to get paid to read and write and think. I still have my regrets, that restless longing for what might have been.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t have had the life experiences I’ve had. I get to chat with Lyle Lovett, hang out with Patti Smith, witness the ongoing explosive genius of an artist like Ryan Adams. It’s not all like that; there’s a lot of endless work, lots of nights like tonight with 50 people in the house and a few hundred shy in the till. But, all in all, it doesn’t suck.

I still remember the first time I drove into Madison, down Park Street until it dead-ended into Lake Mendota, lost and not a little bit scared. I’ve watched the buildings go up, the skyline change, the city grow and prosper. And, I like to think, I’ve grown up and changed with it.

I’m glad I was bad at math and good at rock. And I’m very glad I moved to Madison twenty years ago.

Thanks to all who have supported our shows over the years and continue, so generously, to do so.

Tag Evers

Tag Evers

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