Friday, July 11, 2008

A Weekend In New York: Dirty Blvd

Twenty years ago - between May and October 1988 - Lou Reed was tucked away in studio B of Media Sound, recording New York. The songs would eventually be released early the following year on Sire records in, as Lou observed on the sleeve notes, pretty much the order they were recorded.

Coming at a time when it was almost illegal to not bow down before the Velvet Underground - who would have gone a blind date without wearing a Velvets banana tshirt and expected to cop off in the late 80s? - it was a refreshing surprise for Reed to turn out an album that didn't sound like contemporary (in the sense of not sounding like his greatest work). It even pulled off the trick of memorialising Andy Warhol in terms that suggested that, actually, he might have wasted his talents in the pursuit of the popular.

In Halloween Parade, there was an AIDS song - this was 1980s New York, after all - which sits alongside Loudon Wainwright's Sometimes I Forget in capturing not loss, but the confusion of emptiness that follows. The need to put "AIDS" in brackets after the song title on the lyric sheet perhaps shows how Reed can underestimate his audience, as does the instruction that you listen to the album in order, like a book, on the back of the sleeve. But for all his grumpy cussedness - this is Lou Reed, after all - the album is an outpouring of love. Love that has been tried; love that is disgusted with what its heart's desire has had done to it, allowed itself to become. But love, nevertheless.

I can remember the first time I heard any of it - in a Halls of Residence room, on a Sunday afternoon, listening to On The Wire on BBC Radio Lancashire. Fenny introduced a track - this one, I'm pretty sure - by reading a slice of lyrics from the song. My ears pricked up: This is good. What is this? Then he just finished with "I am Lou Reed" before cueing the track.

Lou Reed?


Could it be?

It was.

The purchase was more or less essential from that moment.

One of the great albums of the 80s. One of the great albums by a legend not coasting on being a legend. And, sort-of-two-decades on from the mid-point of the making of the record, this weekend No Rock celebrates some of the tracks through the majesty of YouTube.

It's funny listening to it now how a lot of the names which were only vaguely familiar to a English teenager have become more fixed in my consciousness. Rudy Giuliani, for example, has had a profile much, much higher since that decade; Jesse Jackson wasn't exactly unknown in the UK but you wouldn't have got much money on him still causing upset in American Presidential elections in 2008.

I think I was only half sure what a TV whore might be, come to that - I knew what it sounded like, but couldn't be certain it wouldn't turn out to be something else entirely in the US.

On the other hand, I was certain what Moron Downey Junior was; at the time, his show was a regular subject of columns in British media supplements. But he vanished almost as soon as he earned his Lou Reed namecheck, helped along his route to obscurity by a false claim about being attacked by Nazis; an attack he'd staged in a bid to try and keep his shock-yak show on its syndicated stations. He's dead now - as is Kurt Waldheim and the specific Pontiff of Good Evening Mr Waldheim.

So, then: This isn't the sound of New York, but it is the sound of Lou Reed's New York. And it isn't in the order of recording, either.

This is where I started: On the Dirty Blvd.

New York on Wikipedia
New York to buy
New York on Last FM
Rolling Stone review

More tracks over the weekend
Romeo Had Juliette
Beginning Of A Great Adventure
Halloween Parade
There Is No Time


Anonymous said...

article Simon, really. Dont know the ablum, never even heard of it but plan to get to know it this weekend.

Anonymous said...

For some reason I missed fantastic from the start of that.

Anonymous said...

it was the album of the year for me when it was released, though tis a shame Lou hasn't come close since. The beautifully crunchy guitar sound alone is enough to love.

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