Lou Reed Susin Shapiro - Essay

Susin Shapiro

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A funny thing happened to [John] Milton on the way to Paradise. He discovered the devils to be more fascinating than the angels, and that gave him hell. Lou Reed has also been prey to such problems. His new album, Street Hassle, is up to its neck in devils. But at last Reed has introduced them to his angels. "Gimme gimme gimme some good times/gimme gimme gimme some pain," the opening chant of [Street Hassle] … carries the same jolt. Like [poet Rainer Maria] Rilke, who felt that if his demons were exorcised by psychoanalysis his angels would also split, Reed has juggled the heroes and villains. He hasn't offed his demons, but he's in control of them now; he's severed the excesses and self-indulgences that made him look foolish in the past.

For me, Lou Reed becomes a hero with Street Hassle. Heroes are validated only by their acts, while villains reek of personality…. Reed has sacrificed his gangsterism to his aspirations. He's too film noir to ever be Randolph Scott, but I admire his trying. He's too East of Eden also, but it's getting very populous there. If the people accept him, the rebel will go respectable, he'll be a Zapata, a Fidel. Maybe Reed wants to be a superstar; maybe he's getting softer, less cynical. He's in no need of restraint any longer, or sympathy….

The devil unclothed, turns out to be just another babe in the bulrushes, finally, after nine solo LP's, fighting a heroic battle.

Susin Shapiro, "Lou Reed Reads Runes" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1978), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXIII, No. 12, March 20, 1978, p. 51.