News item: Legendary singer-songwriter Lou Reed is dead at 71.
Lou Reed is the only performer who’s ever enticed me to listen to four straight sides of pure, tuneless guitar feedback — a trip I’ve taken more than once, actually.
He’s also responsible for a song that bends my mind as much as any other I’ve ever heard.
“Waves of Fear” (from 1982’s excellent The Blue Mask) is, I think, about the DTs; but it speaks to me as the voice of the curled snake we all have somewhere in our intestines that poisons us with its venom, and sticks its head up when we’re vulnerable to tell us we’re worthless and bound for failure.
Three or four listens in a row, and I’m either intensely depressed or having arguments with imaginary strangers. It’s astonishing; the song’s impact on me is predictable, even drug-like.
I’ve gone there more than once, too.
But I don’t want to go either of those places now … nor do I want to remember Lou Reed as the epitome of unrelieved pain and bleakness.
So instead, the song I’ll link to is a Velvet Underground outtake that, remarkably, wasn’t officially released until a vault-clearing expedition in the mid-1980s.
“Ocean” features an alternately self-castigating (“I am a lazy son / I never *get* things done”) and gentle Reed vocal, set over a lulling arrangement that proves to anyone still needing proof that the Velvets weren’t just primitive feedback-merchant bashers.
It’s not a laugh-out-loud happy song, but it doesn’t strike me as a particularly sad one either — which may, indeed, make it a fitting summary for the bipolar career of Lou Reed.
I think this has been playing somewhere in my brain since I first bought the record in the very late ’80s.
It’s playing there now.
Here come the waves …