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Nov 01

LOU REED — ‘Walk on the Wild Side’

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Oh, sure, he came off as street smart & gruff, talking smack about smack users and transvestities and other miscreants, showing off his track marks like the badges of courage he wants them to be, living the Raymond Chandler pulp life he epitomized & canonized in his best songs. But as with every tough guy projecting an air of wizened detachment, there’s a tender heart seeking shelter from its own need for solace — it’s a cliché because it’s true. You can make a good case that he’s just reporting what he knows, drawing a rough sketch of the Warhol Factory to shock all the squares and put all those freakish fuck-ups in their lowly little place, where they belong. He’s better off without them, damn it.

I used to just think that Lou walked away from the mike during the chorus to sit back, have a smoke, and smirk to himself. God damn, he’s a clever cat, with that wordplay and that so-clumsy-it’s-real delivery. He couldn’t care less about this song if he were reading off a shopping list or a recipe for an egg cream to that same sliding bass line – it’s just a yarn he’s spinning, one of many. It’s his job; it’s what he does. But now, looking closer, when those colored girls come in for the final time, I see Lou stumble into the background, pulling his leather jacket closed, not nearly as confident as he first looked. He’s got something in his eye, god damn it, don’t bother him. And get him a fucking match, would ya? Stop looking at him like that.

So Lou’s in the shadows, smoking a cigarette, while the girls’ sparkly dresses glitter with every hip dip, and every ‘doo doo doo’ is choking his throat, hitting him so hard that he can barely push the smoke out of his mouth. And know I really know what’s happening. You might think that’s a string section aping John Cale’s droning sturm & drang, bowing frantically as the sax solo darts and dives like a wet paper bag manhandled by the rank breeze coming off the Hudson. That’s really the sound of a Mr. Louis Firbank, a confused Jewish kid from Long Island 50 lives removed from such modest beginnings, finally coming to terms with the loss of a place he once called Home.

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