Lou Reed Peter Reilly - Essay

Peter Reilly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I've always had the feeling that there is considerably less to Lou Reed's work than meets the ear. Members of the "thinking" pop press—often down in the depths of the ninetieth floor, at least in regard to their own social consciences after one lavish publicity lunch too many—immediately took to Reed from his earliest days with the Velvet Underground, and they seemed to fall all over each other in proclaiming him some new kind of 33-rpm François Villon, alternating their tsk-tsks with a goggle-eared attention to his every new grunt. This must have been because his songs often dealt with drugs or homosexuality or the bitterly desperate street life of teen-age burnt-out cases. That the songs often had what seemed to be autobiographical tidbits strewn through them served only to add to the titillation, and consequently Reed has been the reigning in-house decadent for some time now.

Well, I'm here, fresh from the haunt of the coot and the tern, to tell you that ["Coney Island Baby"] strikes me as an extremely patchy effort, intermittently entertaining, and about as dissolute as a waffle bake over at Mary Hartman's. The songs, considerably more upbeat this time out, include two that are very good—Coney Island Baby, a song about the search for personal values, and the charmingly bad-ass Charley's Girl….

His admirers seem to find him a significant mixture of William Burroughs, Jean Genêt, and Bob Dylan. To me he seems more like a gifted actor who is never comfortable for too long in one role (thus the radical changes from album to album) and whose roots are in the stylish low life of [Josef] Von Sternberg, the chic drugging of [Jean] Cocteau, and the performing style of one of the better Brechtian character actors from the Berliner Ensemble.

Peter Reilly, "Popular Discs and Tapes: 'Coney Island Baby'," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1976 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 36, No. 4, April, 1976, p. 90.