Lou Reed Don Shewey - Essay

Don Shewey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Lou Reed is the master of halfisms. The songs on "Growing Up in Public" are half-joking, half-serious, half-spoken, half-sung, half-finished, and half-raw, but somehow he ties it all together to give the album a tone of both self-mockery and personal bravery….

The punk and the comic intertwine on "Growing Up in Public." In one case, he describes "a weak simpering father" who is cruel to "a harridan mother," who in turn counsels her children against smiling. In another he naively reflects on heterosexual love. It's unclear just how much of this is autobiographical—though Reed, polymorphously perverse and proud of it, was recently married. Nonetheless, songs such as How Do You Speak to An Angel, My Old Man, and Smiles have the endearing awkwardness of public confession.

There are plenty of flaws to the record…. But when all his best attributes line up in the same groove—as on So Alone, an emotional roller-coaster ride in which he attempts to console a woman jilted by another man—"Growing Up in Public" becomes as powerful and as personal as a rock record can be.

Don Shewey, "Records: 'Growing Up in Public'," in High Fidelity (copyright © by ABC Leisure Magazine, Inc.; all rights reserved; excerpted by permission), Vol. 30, No. 7, July, 1980, p. 97.