Lou Reed Jim Trombetta - Essay

Jim Trombetta

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[If] you can hear [Lou Reed's best songs] at all, it's through bone conduction, like your own voice. Not even the Velvets' unique pulsating beat and highly danceable rhythms could make such intimacy into mass entertainment. The ordinary rock star stances of dominance and doper cool are easy enough to swallow, but Lou based his self-assertion on the hidden undersides of those attitudes: passivity, melancholia and the dubious ecstasies of self-destruction…. Nobody wants to identify with that kind of bad news….

Shock was never the only resource in the Reed repertoire: There's a great street voice, poetic complexities in simple lines, enchanting melodies and screaming energy, and terse guitar electronics which perfectly express the tension in real human fingers….

Lou's solo emergence under the wing of Dave Bowie relied more on personality than his music, evoking an explicit gay posture and animalistic bad taste…. [Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed is] a mixed trick-or-treat bag of melting Baby Ruths, jawbreakers with soft centers and a few fishhooks for laughs….

The soft, sensitive tunes are the most successful here. "Satellite of Love," that uncanny romance, is the album's only undeniable classic; its only hit, "Walk on the Wild Side," is a justifiable fave; and the three-hanky "Coney Island Baby"—"wanna play football for the coach"—is a touching, tuneful delight which sums up Reed's favorite obsession.

Lou is always wanting to play football for the coach in the lost past; or else he's waiting for the man, all tomorrow's parties or the train to come 'round the bend in the future. Lou evokes the desire whose satisfaction can never be grasped in any present moment, only in vanished yesterday or longed-for later-on. It's the iron commitment to deferred gratification that the lamest junkie shares with the most compulsive overachiever. Lou's most characteristic music climbs to an ecstatic rush ("Sister Ray") which is itself fragmentary, leaving Lou waiting "until tomorrow, but that's just another time."…

[Much] of this decent Best of music just moves air molecules around in the usual way.

Jim Trombetta, "Reed Out," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1977 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), July, 1977, p. 64.