Monthly Archives: July 2011

Some Songs I Never Get Tired Of

Richard Hell – “Blank Generation

“Blank Generation” boasts one of the best opening lines in rock: “I was saying let me out of here, before I was even born.” “Blank Generation” is pure-punk, but played with a sophistication and a lyrical introspection rarely seen in punk’s first wave. In a moment of brilliance, Hell omits the word “blank” from the chorus – “I belong to the blank generation” – pausing for a moment where the word should be.

Elvis Costello – “Miracle Man

The second song off Costello’s debut is one of his most biting and scathing. After the punk-attack of “Welcome to the Working Week”, Costello turns it down slightly with “Miracle Man” but comes spitting with venom. It’s the perfect combination of his rockabilly meets punk. A friend of mine once suggested Elvis Costello has a song about every girl you’ve ever dated or ever liked. This song is about the girl who you are friends with and love, but has no clue. Instead of wondering what’s wrong with him Costello views her as the problem and muses: “everybody loves so much girl, I don’t know how you stand the strain.” Though the song doesn’t really fit my life at the present – it’s one of Costello’s finest performances. The songs ends with Costello shouting “Miracle Maaaaan!” but just as the chorus suggests, even walking on water won’t do him any good.

U2 – “Out of Control”

U2’s debut album Boy tends to get overlooked due to the rest of their career, but it’s actually a pretty good post-punk album. According to Bono who has mentioned this several times in concert, “Out of Control” was written on his 18th birthday. “Out of Control” has a rare energy for U2. Larry Mullen plays with the fire of Keith Moon but a little more restraint. Adam Clayton‘s bass never sounded so loud and commanding. The Edge offers one of his best riffs and a unique  and melodic solo. Bono wonders about his own mortality – “One away I’ll die, the choice will not be mine” – but he sounds like he’s having the time of his life singing this song. On another note, I once gave a drunken play-by-play of this song to a friend of mine.

Kanye West – “Power”

There are some classics that become instant classics. “Power” is for me, one of those songs. Much of West’s first album was based around gospel and soul samples, but with “Power” he takes it a whole new level with the looped chant that runs throughout the entire song. On paper, it sounds like a risk. Somehow, the background vocals add to the drama to the song and pull you in. West also offers some of his best verses that are boastful, hilarious and self-reflecting.

Neko Case – Deep Red Bells

Neko Case has one of the best voices in music right now and “Deep Red Bells” is her vocal masterpiece. The music is slow and foreboding giving Case room to sing her heart out. It’s the sound of a country revivalist conjuring up the ghosts of the Carter Family and Patsy Cline while adding her own spin. Only a person steeped into this tradition could sing with the power of Case does when she gets to the chorus. When she hits the word “deep” she goes deep into her soul, her body, and the American Country tradition.

Talking Heads – “Road to Nowhere”

I remember reading somewhere that this song was described as “one of the happiest songs about death.”  Whether that metaphor is true or not, on a literal level “Road to Nowhere” makes sounding lost seem joyous and fun. The harmonies of the group declaring “we’re on a road to nowhere” suggest a camaraderie that wasn’t always apparent with the Talking Heads. As the song build to a crescendo, David Byrne seems to enjoy every second of it as he hoops and hollers like a man possessed.

The Rolling Stones – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

The Rolling Stones has so many great songs, but for me this is their masterpiece. So what if it’s sometimes seen as The Rolling Stone’s response to “Hey Jude”? It’s actually better, I think. The song manages to sound melancholy (especially the first verse) and also uplifting (the last two minutes). Jagger’s lyrics are among his best, and The Stones never sounded so soulful. On “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” The Rolling Stones proved they truly understood American Soul and Gospel while also still retaining their own style in the process.

(More to come, I think.)

 

Proto-Punk? Yes. Post-Punk? Yes. Punk? Eh, Not So Much

When I was a teenager I discovered The Clash and with them, punk-rock. There was a certain immediacy and urgency that appealed to my teenage self. Everything was vast, loud and angry. Even if I didn’t exactly understand what they were referring to (this was the case for many Clash songs in my younger years) it didn’t matter. It was exciting and visceral.

Sometime later, a friend of mine took me to an Anti-Flag show about ten years ago, and I found the whole experience completely boring. Sure, the songs were played at break-beck speed, but they mostly stuck to their studio incarnations and seemed lackluster. I also didn’t enjoy being shoved every which way as the kids around mossed themselves in oblivion. I couldn’t understand why no one paying attention to the band – they only seemed intent on bashing each other.

Punk-rock it seemed, didn’t fit my personality after-all.

This isn’t to say that I totally dislike punk. I still rate both The Sex Pistols and The Clash among some of my favorite groups. The Clash and Nevermind the Bullocks are some of the most exciting and classic albums of rock and roll. It seems to me that no matter how hard any punk has tried subsequently they’ve never been able to better those two albums. There’s a reason why The Sex Pistols imploded, and the Clash moved on embracing other musical styles. The standard three-chord attack of punk only offers so much for a song.

I however, have a huge fondness for proto-punk and post-punk. Readers of this blog will surely know my affinity for Iggy Pop and The Stooge and of course, the Velvet Underground. The blue-print for punk was more or less created with these artists. As the 60s closed and the 70s began, mainstream rock became a little stagnant with the advent of prog-rock, bands whose names sounded more like law-firms, and other bands who took their names from cities and other locations.

In come The Stooges with their abrasive sound and Iggy’s legendary antics. It should also be noted that their first album also updated early rock and roll, giving it a more aggressive and wild sound complete with tightly controlled feed-back solos. Iggy seemed to be attack the “golden god” singers of the era when he declared, “Your pretty face is going to hell!”  Both the Stooges and The Velvet Underground’s proved that any one could make rock and roll. You didn’t have to be an expert or a virtuoso to get attention.

Punk of course, took that philosophy to the extreme. Naturally, the next groups of artists to emerge would combine punk’s do it yourself freedom, but not completely sticking to its three-chord ethos. Elvis Costello wasn’t strictly a punk-rocker at the beginning, but his first two albums – My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model – combined punk’s punchiness with a songwriter’s mentality. He also looked and acted like Buddy Holly who could punch you in the face and have no trouble stealing your girlfriend in the process. The Police managed infused their punk with tinges of reggae and in the process became one of the world’s biggest bands. The Talking Heads took avant-garde to a mass audience without ever forgetting their roots as a bar-band in CBGBS.

There are dozens of more bands I could list as favorites who were influenced by punk’s attitude, but not so much its sound. For me, punk has always been about freedom and too often a lot of “punk” bands seem stuck in one mode.

 

Aladdin Sane Vs. Ziggy Stardust

There’s no doubt that David Bowie is one of rock’s most influential artists. Anybody who has taken odd detours, and even remotely strange owes a huge debt to Bowie. Glam rock would not exist without him. Bowie was also one of the first artists to bring sexual ambiguity to his performances. And while The Who may have invented the Rock Opera, Bowie took rock theatrics to a new height – something that Queen would try to emulate throughout their entire career.

But which of Bowie’s incarnations is more culturally significant? Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane?

The obvious choice would be Ziggy Stardust. It is constantly ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time and its influence is undeniable. Musically the album covers proto-punk, glam-rock, soul, and folk-rock sing-alongs. At least three of its songs are classic rock staples – “Starman”, “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragrette City.”

For lack of a better, term The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars is epic. It sweeps and moves you along. Yet for all its grandiose ambitions, it also retains its cool. “Moonage Daydream” opens with a fierce riff courtesy of Mick Ronson which Bowie showing his teeth declaring, “I’m an alligator/I’m a rock and roll mama coming for you.” As the song draws to its conclusion, Ronson takes the song to outer-space with one of the era’s best guitar solos. Elsewhere, Bowie offers up some of rock’s best descriptions of Ziggy with his “screwed-up eyes and screwed down hairdo, like some cat from Japan.”

Ziggy Stardust proved to be a huge record for Bowie – it sent him into superstardom. While promoting the album, Ziggy and Bowie were one and the same. It was hard to tell the two apart. Ziggy allowed Bowie to indulge in his deepest rock fantasies.

Its follow-up, Aladdin Sane (intended pun: a lad insane) while containing some stellar material, finds Bowie taking on yet another persona. Although the album differs from Ziggy Stardust – the science fiction elements are gone and replaced by New York cool – it still treads much of the same territory.

Yet, Aladdin Sane has penetrated pop culture in a way that Ziggy Stardust failed to do. While the character of Ziggy may have embodied Bowie for several years, for many casual fans (and even those unfamiliar with Bowie) the iconic cover of Aladdin Sane has become the image of Bowie. (Though it could be argued that for many people of my generation, he still remains the scary dude in Labyrinth. Ziggy Stardust, it seems for many only exists in song form. Bowie may stopped being the character, but the character has become him.

The image is striking. His eyes are closed. There’s the famous rainbow lightning bolt slashed across his face screaming to be heard and seen.

If there’s any doubt about the picture’s cultural affect, you only need to go to an MGMT show. Dozens of girls in the audience had make-up on their face complete with lightning bolts, no doubt mimicking MGMT themselves. But it was all Bowie, even if the girls didn’t know. On a recent episode of Glee, Sue Sylvester disguises herself as the character. A couple weeks ago, at Baltimore’s Artscape Festival, I saw a t-shirt combining Harry Potter’s face with the iconic Aladdin Sane make-up.

 

“Did you see the Harry Potter t-shirt?” A friend asked me later that day.

“Yeah, the Aladdin Sane one?”

“Yeah, the Bowie one.” She replied. I felt weird for knowing the image by its actual source. For her, it was Bowie. Not just a character.

As for Bowie himself, you really got a good thing going here.

 

 

 

 

Why “Back to Black” Is One of the Best Albums of the 2000s

Ever since I was little I’ve always wanted to discover artists who end up becoming huge before anyone else does. I was always jealous of 40 years old guys telling me that they saw U2 or REM in a small little club. I’ve only had that luck with two artists: Kings of Leon and Amy Winehouse.

I first heard about her in a British Music Magazine sometime in early 2007. There were mentions of old school soul with an updated sound. From the pictures, she was equally fascinating with her signature bee-hive and Cleopatra eye-lashes. Little did I realize at the time,  that the tattoos that adorned her as she wore girl groups outfits were symbolic of her music – updating a classic. Christina Aguilera had desperately tried a retro sound and style the year before, but as always with her it seemed like posturing. Winehouse seemed legitimate, even if I had yet to hear a single song from her.

As it turned out, Back to Back had yet to be released in the US. I kind of forgot about it for a while until I saw the album randomly at a record store. Remembering what I had read, I quickly snatched it up. Needless to say, I sort of became obsessed with it really quick. This was unusual for me, since I don’t usually listen to albums that could potentially be considered “Top 40”.

But there was something about Back to Black that pulled me in. Obviously, a huge part of the appeal was the sound. Winehouse looked like she wanted to be in the Ronettes or the Shangri-Las but on Back to Black, she played the part. The melodies were reminiscent of classic Motown singles without sounding like a knock-off.  It also didn’t hurt that many of the songs on the album were backed by the Dap-Kings – a soul revival band most famous for their work with Sharon Jones.

Of course the sound itself wouldn’t matter as much if the songs weren’t good. On Back to Black, Winehouse is hilarious, self-deprecating, vulgar and most of all heart-breaking. Her voice is warm and affecting, while also devastating. “Rehab” may be the album’s most famous song – but that’s only skimming the surface. “You shrug and its the worst, to truly stick the knife in first” Winehouse admits in “You Know I’m No Good”. Amazingly she also manages to make the word “fuckery” sound like a real word and full of soul on “Me & Mr. Jones”. If anyone else had uttered that in a song, I would have laughed.

The absolute best song on the album, is the title track. It’s a titan of a song, and a legendary performance. If anyone doubts that Winehouse wasn’t talented, all they need to do this is listen to this song. Over a dark and pouring piano, Winehouse generates a sympathy for scorned lover that is very rare in pop music – “We only said goodbye with words, I died a a hundred times, you go back to her and I go back to black.”  During the bridge, Winehouse repeats the word “black” several times. There’s no doubt that she had to come from a dark place to sing like that.

On an episode of Glee, Will Schuster informs his students that the best songs come from pain. And that’s the case with Back to Black. It’s an album that only certain people can make. For us, we got great music. It’s too bad Winehouse never realized her talents.

For Fanatics Only

Hard-core fans like to attach themselves to certain works. The songs and albums that the general public doesn’t know (or like) are the ones they worship. These are the songs that actually mean something, they say, and not that shit that you hear on the radio. There’s a certain badge of honor in being able to tell someone that the alternate version (found online, of course) of a band’s biggest single is better. You belong to a certain club. Even if an artist is huge you feel validated for liking them.

I admit to falling into this category pretty often. I have dozens of U2 bootlegs I’ve collected over the years. I’ve downloaded the entire Basement Tapes. I consider myself to be a pretty big fan of Bruce Springsteen, and prefer the stark Darkness On The Edge of Town over the slick and massively popular Born in the USA. But I also like the more familiar stuff as well. “Born to Run” is one of Springsteen’s most well-known songs, and it’s also among his best. Is “Part Man, Part Monkey” better than “Born to Run”? Not a chance. Is it fun to hear Springsteen bust that particular song out? Of course.  While I admit to being a huge fan of some artists, other artists I am only familiar with the hits. I like The Police and enjoy “Message in a Bottle” and “Can’t Stand Losing You”, but I have zero interest in buying Zenyatta Mondatta.

Some fans it seems, only prefer the stuff that isn’t so well-known, despite its over-all quality. I sometimes refer to this as “the misunderstood masterpiece syndrome.” Because the general public doesn’t “get” an album, hard-core fans latch onto a particular piece of work and claim it as their own. Take U2’s Pop for instance, an album that is generally forgotten about by casual fans. Among online forums, Pop is constantly viewed as the single greatest thing they’ve ever done. The general view is that U2 pushed themselves further on that album than any other and that Bono’s lyrics are among his best and its follow-up All That You Can’t Leave Behind is shit in comparison.

In reality, Pop’s “experimentation” in the late 90s techno craze is the very thing that causes the album to suffer. In attempt to cash in on this sound, most of the album contains half-baked songs that come off as soul-less. For suggesting this, I probably have to turn in my “hard-core” U2 fan-card. All That You Can’t Leave Behind in contrast is seen as “U2’s comeback album” and contains one of their biggest hits – “Beautiful Day”. The rest of the album finds U2 focused and reassured, something that was missing from Pop.

Pearl Jam’s No Code is another example. After their earlier rise to fame, Pearl Jam decided to deliberately push away the casual fans. No Code dabbles between garage rock and Neil Young-style classic rock and with the exception of a few songs, it comes off as a mess. Naturally, the Pearl Jam “Jamily” as they are called, absolutely adore this album and view it as one of the band’s triumphs.

I could certainly be viewed as hypocrite for holding The Basement Tapes in such high esteem, and maligning Pop. But just because I don’t like certain albums by one artist doesn’t take any from my overall fandom. I’ve never liked Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces even though it’s supposed to be one of his best, yet I still consider him to be one of my favorite artists. I suppose I’m just happy that anyone likes the same artists I do, whether it’s “Beautiful Day” (U2) or “Million Dollar Bash” (Dylan.)

 

 

 

 

 

Songs With Memorable Bass Lines

 

Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

Joy Division’s most well known song is icy and oddly enough, the closest the band ever came to being accessible. Ian Curtis’ singing is distant and sparse and the synthesizers in the background (which replicate Curtis’ harmony) only add to the eeriness of the song. The rhythm section however, takes no prisoners. Stephen Morris pounds his way through the song with an urgency in direct opposition to Curtis’ monotone vocals. Bass players usually tend to anchor the song, but on “Love Will Tear Us Apart” Peter Hook steers the song. The opening swirl of Hook’s bass pulls the listener in and prepares them for Curtis’ tale of desperation. As the bass bounces in and of the speaker, it becomes the only inviting sound in an otherwise chilling song.

Kings of Leon – “McFearless”

On the first few Kings of Leon albums Jared Followill proved himself to be the unsung hero of the band playing his bass like it was a lead instrument. Never one to be content in the background, Followill turns it up ever further on “McFearless” with a loud and fuzzy bass-line. Playing it more like a guitar riff, the bass propels the song into a distorted groove allowing Matthew Followill to try his best at sounding like The Edge, and Nathan Followill to give an unorthodox and frantic beat.

Sly & The Family Stone – “Thank You (Fahletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”

This absurdly titled song has one of the greatest bass riffs ever, and is sometimes considered to be one of the first funk songs. Larry Graham’s slap bass here is instantly recognizable, blasting in and out of the speakers in a hummable melody. What’s really amazing about Graham’s playing here is the space between the notes. While his playing is certainly the star of the show here, it never overshadows the rest of the song.

The Beatles – “I Want (She’s So Heavy)”

Paul McCartney is such a brilliant songwriter, it’s sometimes easy to forget how great of a bass player he really is. While the song is probably most famous for its ending, McCartney’s breaks in the middle of the verses are the stuff of legend. While the chorus and the ending are among the loudest stuff the Beatles recorded, the verses find them at their jazziest and loosest with McCartney taking the reins. Check out the lengthy instrumental section mid-way through the song for proof.

Modest Mouse – “Fire It Up”

“Fire It Up” is one of the standout tracks from Modest Mouse’s massively under-rated We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Eric Judy’s bass takes center stage here providing a slick groove that Modest Mouse is not usually known for.  Whether or not the song is about weed or not, it’s hard not to get caught up in Issac Brock’s chants. The closest the band gets to be catchy since “Float On”.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Funky Monks”

Flea has written so many classic bass lines that it’s hard to pick one as his best. For me, this one has always stood out. It’s the perfect balance between his slap-happy bass of the early days, and melodic. It’s also one of the funkiest songs ever recorded by a rock group. Flea’s playing is so goo that John Frusiciante is forced to mimic it throughout most of the song. As the song draws to its conclusion, Flea’s takes over the song, forcing Frusciante and Chad Smith to the backseat.

The Who – “The Real Me”

This might be the finest bass performance in the history of rock. As Pete Townshend and Keith Moon thrash away with all of their might, Entwistle’s fluid and commanding playing destroys everything in its path no matter how hard Moon and Townshend try. What makes his playing so unique here, is its existence inside the rhythm while simultaneously acting as the lead instrument. Impressive stuff.

Literature in Music: “Tomorrow Never Knows”

 

 

When The Beatles Remasters came out in 2009, I bought a copy of Abbey Road and Revolver. Anxious to hear the sonic upgrade, the first song I played on my stereo was “Tomorrow Never Knows”. If any song would benefit from remastering, it would certainly be Revolver’s closing song with its tape-loops, John Lennon’s distorted voice, and Ringo Starr’s non-traditional drum pattern.

And I was not to be disappointed. The drums wrapped themselves around the room, the odd sounds that are the song’s trademark came from every angle, and George Harrison’s guitar break cut through the chaos like a knife. Lennon’s call to “surrender to the void” was an announcement from a hidden Buddhist Temple. Moments like this are why I love music so much. Songs can take you places you never thought existed, and “Tomorrow Never Knows” is one of rock’s wildest trips.

It should be no surprise then the song’s lyrics were adapted from The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert.  As its name suggests, the book is a manual inspired by the Buddhist funerary text Liberation Through Hearing During The Intermediate State, more commonly known as The Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Eastern philosophy became en vogue during the mid-1960s and Lennon became attracted to its themes of death, rebirth, and “clear light of reality”.  Most of the book focuses on the interval between death and the next reincarnation, known in Tibetan as “Bardo”.

Many of Lennon’s lyrics on Revolver deal with death and fatigue (“I know what it’s like to be dead” in “She Said, She Said”, and apathy of “I’m Only Sleeping”). “Tomorrow Never Knows” paints a different picture, though.  It is surrender to the void and an acceptance of the afterlife. Even though Lennon’s voice is pushed to the background of the song, it seeps into your sub-consciousness. He half-sings the lyrics like the prayers they are.

I’ve always thought of Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” as foils. The first deals with inner-peace and the second deals with world-peace and equality. They are both mantras of sorts – a call to arms. In “Imagine”, Lennon invites the listener to envision a world with “no heaven, and no religion too”. While there’s a certain cynicism to the lyrics, it’s still inviting. No such luck on “Tomorrow Never Knows”. It’s a command. “Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream,” Lennon enthuses in the opening line. You’re either going to take this trip with him or you’re not.  Even in “Imagine” Lennon know that he will have his critics. “Tomorrow Never Knows” offers no respite. Your mind will be expanded, and the music only reinforces this.

Clearly the Beatles knew the significance of this song, and that’s why it was the last track on Revolver. They were no longer boys, but grown-ups. And if you didn’t figure it out, you would be the time Sergeant Pepper came out

Literature in Music: “Venus in Furs”

 

Over a primitive drumbeat, alternate tuned guitars, and John Cale’s screeching viola Lou Reed weaves a tale of sexually and a submissive servant named Severin.  Even 40 plus years since its debut, The Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” remains one of the most shocking songs from a band known for pushing musical and lyrical boundaries. It’s so explicit in its detail to sadomasochism that it’s hard not to wonder if Reed actually participated in some of these acts.

In actuality, the character of Severin was directly inspired by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella, Venus in Furs. Published in 1870 Von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs is equally disturbing as the song.  The narrator dreams of a conversation with Venus (wearing furs) about love. Looking to break his lust, the narrator seeks his friend Severin for advice.  Severin, in turn reads him Memoirs of a Suprasensual Man.

In this story, Severin von Kusiemsk is in love with a woman named Wanda.  When Severin requests to be her sex-slave, Wanda at first laughs at him. She eventually changes her mind. Later, Wanda beats Severin and brings in three women whose slaves he will also become. At the end of the book, Severin becomes jealous by Wanda’s new lover, Alexis Papadopolis, and becomes disenchanted with his sex-slave status.  He then laments that “she can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion.”

Venus in Furs tale of perversion proved to be a source of inspiration for novelist James Joyce in his novel, Ulysses. In the Circe Chapter, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus stumble into a Dublin brothel.  During a mock trial for his perversions, one character recounts Bloom referring to her as a “Venus in furs” among other accusations. During a lengthy erotic hallucination Bloom is feminized and becomes dominated and tormented by the brothel’s madam. Bloom’s hallucinations are induced by a guilty conscience and also an erotic fulfillment.

Both Severin and Bloom realize these desires can quickly escalate into darker territory and eventually attempt to atone their sins.  Severin ends up leaving Wanda while Bloom rectifies several situations including payment to the prostitutes for a lamp which Stephen had broken earlier.

For The Velvet Underground, there is no sense of remorse for these acts. The moves slowly, but quickens which only adds to its creepiness. “I am tired, I am weary, I could sleep for a thousand years.” Reed sings several times, as if he is at his breaking point. Reed’s confession and the scratching guitars that close the song confirm a person can only take so much.

Holy Crap…It’s Wednesday Already

 

So, I realize I haven’t posted in a few days. I got caught up in the Holiday weekend, and suddenly realized it was Wednesday. I was going to continue with my weekly theme, but I am leaving tomorrow for a wedding so I wouldn’t be able to do justice to a theme this week.  As such, I will continue it next week.  So stayed tuned.

Songs About America: “Coney Island Baby” – Lou Reed

 

Bono once claimed that Lou Reed was the James Joyce of New York City.  While that might be a bit of hyperbole the former Velvet Underground leader is synonymous with New York City.

Breaking musical and social barriers, Reed showed the dark under belly of the city. Much like Joyce did with Dublin in Ulysses.  Theirs was the version of a city that not everyone got to see, or even cared to acknowledge.  But like it or not, they captured the spirit of their surroundings in descriptive detail.

Reed’s songs were with drugs and sexual deviants.  Sometimes the characters did both activities at the same time.  If the lyrics weren’t shocking enough for the late 60s, crowd there was the music.  The Velvets provided a mountain of noise and attack that has rarely been equaled.  By the time Reed went solo in the early 70s, the music was toned down slightly, perhaps in an attempt to invite a wider audience into the party.  “Take a walk on the wide side,” He encouraged the listeners. There will be things that will blow your mind, but craziness never sounded so fun.

So it must have come as a shock to hear Reed take off his mask, and reflect with a rare sense of sincerity with 1976’s Coney Island Baby.

The song itself tells the story of Reed’s teenage years in Long Island.  The song sums up teenage confusion.  Which is the right path?  Is it Acceptance by peers or following one’s own path?  It’s clear which road Reed ultimately took, but “Coney Island Baby” makes it’s clear that, at least initially the choice wasn’t easy.

His admission of “wanting to play football for the coach” makes this clear.  For many, football is the ultimate form of acceptance in high school.  Not many things are more American than Football.  It’s a sport filled with acceptance, popularity, and brotherhood.   It’s a far cry from commands to “taste the whip”.

The song begins slowly with tasteful guitars and Reed’s soft voice.  Even if you don’t believe the story about Reed wanting to play football, it’s very affective.  As the song moves along, the dream of being on a team is shattered – “All your two-bit friends have gone and ripped you off,” He laments. “They’re talking behind your back.”

The song reaches its emotional climax mid-way through.  A group of singers appear in the background, offering a heartfelt harmony as Reed announces, “the glory of love, might see you through.”

Coney Island Baby is the type of song Lou Reed could write. There’s a sense of youthful innocence lost, and the trials of growing up.  It’s full of heartbreak and hope.  Ultimately this life isn’t meant for Reed. When he describes the city “as something like a circus or a sewer”, you know he’s found his true calling.

“Coney Island Baby” isn’t strictly about America.  But is an American tale.  The line between acceptance and self-worth can sometimes be blurred.  And for many in the 1960s, New York was one of the few places were those who were not considered to be “normal” could find like-minded individuals.  Like those who came to New York from oppression overseas, New York offered a sense of security and possibility to those who chose to follow a different path than the mainstream.  After struggling through his teenage years, it would be Lou Reed would bring this world into the mainstream.