Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed: Magic and Loss



[NOTE: Most of the posts on this blog have been parodies, until now. There's just nothing funny about losing Lou Reed. This tribute was written by a longtime friend of Angela Motorman & Co.]


I saw Lou Reed perform for the first time in April 1966 at the Open Stage on Bleecker Street, where the Velvet Underground appeared with Nico for their first long gig as part of Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable. My best friend from prep school Carolyn and I sat right next to the stage, so our view of the band was close up and vertical.

I have no idea how I was sufficiently hip to want to go to this concert. I was still in prep school, FFS, although I did spend every weekend in The Village. I wore black patterned tights, hand-crafted dangly silver jewelry, and smoked a lot of French cigarettes. It's safe to say I had my mind blown by The Velvet Underground, although I was under the influence of nothing stronger or stranger than Canadian Club and water.

I liked them enough to make an effort to go see them again a few months later at an extremely weird venue: a Labor Day concert in a HS gym in Provincetown, where Carolyn and I sat on the floor near a guy who started smoking smoking weed. We moved away from him because we were afraid of catching the high.

If I ever owned the banana peel album on vinyl, it long ago wandered off with some former roommate. I alternately loved and was appalled by his music in the intervening years -- I thought he'd lost his mind several times, and maybe he did. This year I've been following him on Twitter, where whoever controlled his account was posting archival pics about once a week. Right after he got a new liver last spring, he checked in personally with a current portrait, in which he looked phenomenally healthy for a guy who'd just cheated death for about the 12th time.

When I heard he had died this weekend, my first impulse was to make sure as many people as possible remember what I think is not just his greatest album, but one of the best albums ever done in any genre by any artist: 1992's elegiac "Magic and Loss", a concept album written after the death of two close friends. Below is the video of the title cut and lyrics, followed a link to the original Rolling Stone review. The whole album is worth seeking out.

Because if there were two things Lou Reed knew better than anybody, they were magic and loss. I'm so privileged to have witnessed some of that.

                                                                          ------------------------------------------
MAGIC AND LOSS

   When you pass through the fire, you pass through humble
   You pass through a maze of self doubt
   When you pass through humble, the lights can blind you
   Some people never figure that out

   You pass through arrogance, you pass through hurt
   You pass through an ever present past
   And it's best not to wait for luck to save you
   Pass through the fire to the light

   Pass through the fire to the light
   Pass through the fire to the light
   It's best not to wait for luck to save you
   Pass through the fire to the light

   As you pass through the fire, your right hand waving
   There are things you have to throw out
   That caustic dread inside your head
   Will never help you out

   You have to be very strong, 'cause you'll start from zero
   Over and over again
   And as the smoke clears there's an all consuming fire
   Lyin' straight ahead

   Lyin' straight ahead
   Lyin' straight ahead
   As the smoke clears there's an all consuming fire
   Lyin' straight ahead

   They say no one person can do it all
   But you want to in your head
   But you can't be Shakespeare and you can't be Joyce
   So what is left instead

   You're stuck with yourself and a rage that can hurt you
   You have to start at the beginning again
   And just this moment this wonderful fire
   Started up again

   When you pass through humble, when you pass through sickly
   When you pass through I'm better than you all
   When you pass through anger and self deprecation
   And have the strength to acknowledge it all

   When the past makes you laugh and you can savor the magic
   That let you survive your own war
   You find that that fire is passion
   And there's a door up ahead not a wall

   As you pass through fire as you pass through fire
   Tryin' to remember it's name
   When you pass through fire lickin' at your lips
   You cannot remain the same

   And if the building's burning move towards that door
   But don't put the flames out
   There's a bit of magic in everything
   And then some loss to even things out

   Some loss to even things out
   Some loss to even things out
   There's a bit of magic in everything
   And then some loss to even things out

   -- Lou Reed, Magic And Loss