by Zohair Hussain
Remembering Lou Reed
I was a few months shy of 16
when I first heard the lucidly stark voice of Lou Reed stream over the
airwaves. I was just another suburban weirdo, looking for a justified rebellion
to call his own. I had spent those “formative years” sleeping around with any
album loud enough to drown out my inner white noise, moving through a steady
stream of Hardcore, Punk, Metal — if
they were screaming it, I was buying it. As it turns out, though, what I was
really looking for was a quieter sort of revolution, and at the helm was Mr.
Lou Reed, telling me with a frank honesty that there was freedom in the
composition. It was, like any great lesson, one I’d come to learn in time. To say I enjoyed those first striking chords of “Heroin” would be an
understatement. It was on a snowy night in 2007, crammed in the back of a
friend's Yaris Liftback, when I first heard it. I can’t remember exactly where
we were previous to that moment, when that raw melody first came in. All I can
remember is how I suddenly became more aware of myself than ever before.
Everything I knew about music, about artistry, about writing — all of it would
change with that first overlap of beautiful melody. I was mesmerized, shaken
from a stupor of conditioned knowledge and thrown into a concoction of John
Cale’s haunting strings with Lou Reed’s candid crooning. By the time Maureen
Tucker’s drumming kicked in, sparse in its reverberation, my resolve would be
just as stripped, replaced by a wily knot that would take years to untie.
Though, right then, the song was just “fucking awesome.”
It would only be years later, waking up to a chilled October morning in 2013,
that this memory would even begin to matter. As the headlines would come to
read, “Lou Reed Dead at 71,” so, too, would the horizon appear most clearly.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the crossover of influences, the
collaboration of mediums in shaping any sort of artistry. As a writer, I can
proudly say that the recorded sound has had just as much influence on me as the
written word. And when I heard the Velvet Underground for the first time, it
became clear that they believed in a similar marriage, affirmed on the morning
of Oct. 27. With the news of the passing of a legend came an onslaught of
anecdotes from around the arts world, plastered against my computer screen. Amidst
the mass of legends, one story stood out in particular.
As according to
Rolling Stone, it was
1965, and the first few months of the Velvet Underground playing under their
iconic moniker. They had began a residency playing in New York’s Café Bizarre
and in the beginning stages of developing their distorted and chaotically
composed sound. Management was set on having performers play more contemporary
numbers, and warned the band not to play their original composition “Black
Angel Death Song.” They went on to perform the number anyway, fit with all the
chilling accidentals in its string arrangements, and were fired immediately.Though they would emerge from that loss victorious (it led to their
introduction to Andy Warhol, the man who would come to produce their record and
put them on the map of the underground art scene of ‘60s New York), there was
something bigger about that moment, something more pressing in my association
Incidentally, “Black Angel Death Song” was the first thing I clicked on Sunday
morning when I heard the news of its writer’s passing. The strings were
suddenly more haunting, and the story seemed all the more important. It was yet
another quintessential moment in the life of Lou Reed, a man who sang with
unbridled frankness, who played with unencumbered passion, and who inspired me
with the tirelessness of his dedication to honest expression. It transported me
back, seven years and a lifetime ago, to that night in December 2007, when I
first pricked my ears with another of his songs, that found, all at once, both
comfort and chaos within itself. Though I’d spend the lapsed time between 2007
and 2013 finding appreciation for the 40-plus years of Reed’s prolific career —
from “Black Angel Death Song” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” through “Satellite
of Love” and “Pale Blue Eyes” and even up until his
Hudson River Wind Meditations — it would always be that
compositions that would stay, forever imprinted in my mind.“Heroin” became, for me, a love song to the in between — it was everything I’d
been listening to up until that point and nothing I’d ever heard before; it was
the sentimentality of Indie Rock, the calm before the double bass in hardcore,
the simplistic, chord interplay of Punk and its cleaner cut cousin Pop. And, at
the same time, it was also the recklessness of avant-garde, the soundtrack to
the colors of an underground New York I’d only experience in preserved murals
and snapshots. It was everything I’d known, and everything I would come to know
about music, about art, about sound and about writing.
There are moments that comprise your past, songs that take you to a memory you
thought you’d left. And then there are moments that define your future, songs
that propel you forward into infinity.
Lou Reed, and what he accomplished before, with and after the Velvet
Underground, stood as a symbol for finding freedom in ones composition, and
pushing the statements made to work in a fashion of success.
It was a lesson I would learn time and time again in my own work, as I moved
through the progression of my writing and my own performance techniques. I
would come to face my own obstacles, fight my own battles against normative
expectations. And it would be in those times I fell the deepest, my resolve
threatening to falter, that this education would come back to me, mysterious in
its origins, all the while growing, like a backbone that stood rigid for honest
experimentation and freedom in the composition.
Even now, as this mystery’s been unearthed, its inductor put to rest, ahead of
me remains miles and miles of still shrouded possibility. But against that wall
of lessons I’ll stand, riveted, staring towards the looming unknown. And I’ll
try for a different kind of kingdom, if I can.
by Mike Breen
Veteran Canadian band headlines 20th Century Theatre
Canadian Alternative band Cowboy Junkies perform tonight at the 20th Century Theatre in Oakley. Formed in the mid-’80s, the group has been consistently critically acclaimed and have had a few moments of mainstream breakthrough, including its cover of The Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," a minor MTV hit in the late ’80s that was revived as part of the soundtrack to Natural Born Killers in 1994. The track was included on the 2008 compilation of Canada's finest, Rhino Records' Northern Songs: Canada's Best and Brightest (the album put the Junkies alongside Great White North greats like The Band, k.d. lang, Leonard Cohen and Broken Social Scene). The past couple of years the Junkies have been issuing a string of releases under the "Nomad Series" banner, a nod to the group's freedom from a record label contract for the first time since their formative years in the mid-’80s, which has given them free reign on what they release, create and record. The group has used the series to get closer to its already close fans, keeping those interested posted on the progress of each project via their website. Now that all four volumes of the Nomad Series have been issued, the collection is available as a box set with lots of bonus features and a 52-page book. Tickets for tonight's 8 p.m. show are $20-$30. Here's "Sweet Jane" and a track from Vol. 2 of the Nomad Series, which features all songs written by late singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt, "We Hovered With Short Wings."Our Steven Rosen spoke to the Junkies' Michael Timmins about the Junkies' connection to Cincinnati's like-minded Over the Rhine band. Read it here.
by Mike Breen
Notorious B.I.G. dies and Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz lives
Today is the 15th anniversary of the murder of celebrated rapper Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls, aka Big Poppa, etc., etc.). Since his death, Wallace's status has risen considerably and he's widely considered one of the best MCs to ever hold a mic, for both his smooth, laid-back flow and lyrical prowess. Caught in the middle of the East Coast/West Coast feuding of the time, Wallace (a NYC native) was killed while in California promoting his soon to be released sophomore album, eerily titled (in hindsight, as was his debut's title, Ready to Die) Life After Death. On March 9, Smalls attended the Soul Train awards show in L.A., where he presented Toni Braxton with one of two awards she would win that night (and was booed by the West-leaning coastal feuders in the audience). Wallace left an afterparty at 12:30 a.m. later that night and, about 50 yards from the party entrance, a black Chevy Impala reportedly pulled up next to the vehicle the MC was in and someone in the Impala shot Wallace four times in the chest. He was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead March 9 at 1:15 a.m. Despite various theories, confessions and extensive investigations, the case, like that of West Coast star rapper Tupac Shakur (killed about six months prior in similar fashion), remains unsolved. Life After Death came out 15 days after Wallace's murder. It went to No. 1 on Billboard's album chart instantly. Two more posthumous B.I.G. records were cobbled together — 1999's Born Again, featuring tracks culled from unfinished ones on which Wallace had been working, and the similar Duets: The Final Chapter from 2005, which was widely criticized due to the posthumous pairings with artists many felt Wallace would never have worked with in his lifetime. The album's guests included Eminem, Twista, The Game, Nas, Nelly, Scarface, Missy Elliott, R. Kelly, Bob Marley (?!), Korn (?!?!) and West Coast MCs Snoop Dogg and 2Pac. Amazingly, unlike the posthumously prolific 2Pac, the album really was "The Final Chapter"; the only other Biggie releases to come out after that were a 2007 greatest hits collection and the 2009 soundtrack to the film Notorious, based on Wallace's life and death.Time magazine's website posted a music video playlist tribute today here. And below is "Living In Pain" from the Duets release, which featured Big and Pac, plus still-alive performers Nas and singer Mary J. Blige:Click on for Born This Day, featuring Bow Wow, John Cale and Ornette Coleman.
Veteran singer's new album mixes modern hits with under-heralded classics
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 8, 2009
When the "comeback album" or "career reinvention" works, as it did with Johnny Cash's rootsy 'American Recordings' series, it can be among the artist's best work ever. When it doesn't ... well, has anybody heard from Pat Boone since 1997's hilariously disastrous 'In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy?' One of the better such albums came out last year: 'Meet Glen Campbell.'