Review: Lou Reed ‘New York: Deluxe Edition’

“It’s hard to give a shit these days…” – Lou Reed, “Romeo & Juliette”

By the time I got to college, I thought I was a rock and roll expert. I suppose all of us in our late teens/early 20s think we know everything. What’s that old saying, “When I was young I thought I knew all the answers…as I got older I realized I didn’t even understand the questions.” Of course I still have a few friends who think they know it all, but maybe that’s unique to me. As a college kid I’d never even heard the music of the Velvet Underground let alone Lou Reed. I’m not sure I’d even heard of the Velvets. I thought Lou Reed was a “one-hit wonder” with only “Walk On The Wild Side” to his credit. It was the only song of his they ever played on Kansas City radio. I went to college in Manhattan… unfortunately it was the one in Kansas, not the island in New York. In fact, at that point in my life I’d never even been to New York City. To me it was like a dirty Emerald City in a magical world of Oz (B&V Playlist: Songs For New York City). Somewhere over the rainbow, indeed. It was big, violent, scary and ruled by guys like Kojak, those guys in ‘The Warriors’ and the mob. It was druggy and decadent. At least that’s what I’d gleaned from television cop shows and the movies.

If there is an artist who embodied that New York underbelly it was Lou Reed. And yet in college my slate was blank on Lou. It wasn’t until 1984 that I got into Lou Reed. I’m embarrassed to admit this now, but I got into Lou Reed through MTV. After an evening of drinking and being ignored by women, I returned back to my place and planted myself in front of the television, watching videos and eating a convenience store sandwich (the famous Chuckwagon). As the sun burst over the Kansas’ plains, the video for “I Love You Suzanne” came on. Something about that track just clicked for me. I loved the lyric, “you do what you gotta do, you do everything you can.” The next time my roommate Drew and I went to the record store I decided to take a chance on this Lou Reed guy and I bought his then current LP New Sensations. It was one of the most upbeat, warm LPs in Reed’s catalog. The title track, about the joys of riding a motorcycle is one of my all time favorites and I have never been on a motorcycle…well I’ve been on a mo-ped but I don’t think that counts…you don’t want your friends to see you on a mo-ped. “Down At the Arcade” was another big favorite. The whole disc is just amazing…well, I’m not crazy about “My Red Joystick,” but that’s just me.

I was on the bandwagon. I soon discovered Lou had been the principle songwriter and lead singer/guitarist for the ground breaking Velvet Underground. It’s been said the VU didn’t sell many albums or have many fans but each of them seemingly went out and formed a band. Such was their influence. It took years before I screwed up enough courage to buy all of the Velvet’s albums. I was afraid it would all be abrasive noise. I don’t know where I got that idea. I had the same fear about punk and now the Clash are one of my all time favorites. In 1967, during the “Summer of Love” when everyone was dressed in Day-Glo orange and singing about love, Lou was writing songs about heroin (B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin) and bondage. Instead of buying the VU’s debut, I actually wimped out and merely purchased Lou Reed’s then greatest hits disc, Walk On The Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed. And truth be told I never connected with it the way I had with New Sensations. I guess I wasn’t ready for Lou yet.

I wish I’d started exploring Reed’s back catalog more thoroughly in college. He’d put out some great albums in the 70s. Transformer produced by Bowie was the most famous of the lot. The bleak Berlin is an album that took me a while to warm to, but is one I truly love now (B&V’s 10 Favorite Grim And Sad Albums). But there were other gems I wish I’d discovered earlier. Coney Island Baby is a great record. I had an ex email me about it just a few years ago. She was geeking out about how great it is… I envied her that first time listen. Street Hassle was all beautiful parking lot poetry and has a cameo by Springsteen. I also dig The Bells. After getting sober Reed released the masterpiece The Blue Mask (that I recommended to that same ex) and followed it up with the strong Legendary Hearts. I wish I’d discovered all of this earlier because it would have given me stronger roots into the genius of Lou Reed. All I had was New Sensations and a greatest hits record which somebody absconded with.

I tell you all this because, I eventually turned my back on Lou. I bought the follow up to New Sensations the day it came out. I don’t know if you can describe Mistrial as Lou Reed’s worst album – for me that will always be Metal Machine Music, which is all feedback – but it’s probably a close second. I actually sold Mistrial down at the used record store in short order. It was around that time that Lou did a tv commercial for, of all things, Honda scooters. He even allowed them to use “Walk On the Wild Side” for the commercial. That may not seem like a big deal now – but back in the late 80s, rock stars who sold their songs for commercials were considered heretics. John Mellencamp was particularly outspoken about the  evils of songs being used in commercials. He later sold “Our Country” to Chevy for a truck commercial. Be careful what you criticize… you may just become it.

Because I hadn’t done the work to go back through Reed’s prior albums I didn’t have that great of a connection to the man I now think of as the King of New York. My dalliance with Lou was over almost before it started. I thought of New Sensations a one-off…a great record by an artist I just wasn’t that into. I graduated from college and spent a summer in Boston. One weekend I went to New York – my first trip there ever – and I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t think Lou even entered my mind. Any more he’s kind of synonymous with that city in my head. By 1989, I had been sent into exile in Arkansas by the corporation I was serving at the time. Arkansas is even farther away from New York spiritually than Kansas is.

There I was, miserable and lonely in Arkansas. I’d been sent to Ft. Smith but even the faceless corporate drones I worked for realized that was a mistake. They’d moved me up to Fayetteville which was better but not much. Then, one late night, after too much beer and too much time spent staggering up and down Dixon Street being ignored by women (I see a trend) I went home and yes, turned on MTV. This black and white grainy video came on…I’m not sure I was paying attention to who it was. It started with a strumming electric guitar riff… my ears perked up. And then I heard that unmistakable voice… “Pedro lives out of the Wilshire Hotel, he looks out a window without glass.” I felt that old magnetic pull. I knew I was headed back to “The Dirty Boulevard.”

I decided to take another chance on this Lou Reed guy. I hedged my bets and bought New York on cassette something I rarely did. The liner notes said – and I apologize my current copy is in a box in storage – advised us to listen to the album in its entirety, in one sitting, “like you would a novel or a movie.” He said the songs had been recorded as they were written, like chapters of a book… at least that’s how I remember it. The first track, “Romeo and Juliette” grabbed me immediately. I knew that Lou was back. New York is simply put, a masterpiece. He covers a range of topical subjects that mostly still resonate today: poverty, predatory landlords, child abuse, AIDs (which was relatively new ground back then), the ecology and politics.

My friends and I still quote this album the way most men do movies. Instead of quoting ‘Caddy Shack’ I find myself saying, “It’s hard to give a shit these days” instead. There’s a road in Kansas City, Southwest Boulevard, where there used to be a few strip joints and massage parlors. I still call it, the “Dirty Boulevard.” I also occasionally say, when in a bad situation (usually the holidays), “It’s hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs.” Such a visceral image. The entire album is cinematic in its scope. “Busload of Faith” is a big rocker – and a favorite of my friend Stormin – that Seger eventually covered believe it or not. “Strawman” is another huge rocker. Reed keeps it to his favorite configuration here – two guitars, bass and drums. The backing band lacks guitarist Robert Quine but still makes this music come alive – bassist Fernando Saunders, drummer Fred Maher and guitarist Mike Rathke. The mellow tracks are great and hard hitting as well – “Halloween Parade” (about AIDs), “Endless Cycle” (about child abuse), and “Last Great American Whale” (about the ecology). That final track has a line I’ve quoted directly to my sainted mother… “You can’t always trust your mother.” There is a light hearted moment, “The Beginning of a Great Adventure” where Reed muses about being a father. “It might be fun to have a kid that I could kick around, a little me that I could fill up with my thoughts.”

A few of the tracks are so topical as to be somewhat frozen in time. “Good Evening Mr. Waldheim” is very late-80s “current event-y.” Lou was very deeply affected by Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ and responded with “Dime Store Mystery” an almost religious mediation on “the duality of nature, godly nature, human nature.” Great art inspired a great artist. All of that topicality aside – most of these songs are so universal as to be poignant and relevant even now, thirty plus years later. He even name drops Trump in “Sick of You.”

Last weekend they released a ‘Deluxe Edition’ of this landmark album. If you’ve never heard or owned New York I urge all rockers out there to buy this album. In terms of bonus material, I can’t lie, there’s nothing here. There’s a few “single version” of a few tracks. There’s some “Work Tape” versions of tracks here but nothing that will change you’re perception of this brilliant album. The “secret sauce” for me on this ‘Deluxe Editon’ is – like it was for recent releases from U2 (Review: U2, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind (20th Anniversary Edition)’) or the Rolling Stones (Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set) is the disc of live versions of the songs from New York. While the live tracks are all taken from different performances and concerts, because of the continuity of the material, they hang together well. I love how Lou speaks to the meaning of a lot of the songs prior to playing them live. I love all his on-stage patter. “There Is No Time” is particularly rocking live. Many of the tracks expand quite a it when played in front of an audience. Lou was nothing if not a rock and roller at heart. He and his band playing brilliant music, enthusiastically is always a treat. Lou even says, everything played on stage is live, “not sampled by someone whose been dead for years.” Ah, Lou, thank god you never changed. Lou continued the brilliance after New York when he reunited with the Velvet’s John Cale to record the tribute to Andy Warhol, Songs For Drella. Another album from this period worth a listen.

While this isn’t the treasure trove of unreleased tracks I might have hoped for – although I doubt anything was left over here – it’s a great ‘Deluxe Edition.’ There is one unreleased track but it’s an instrumental… mostly noise. The original album and the live stuff more than make up for the superfluous bonus material. This is an album that should be celebrated like ‘The Great Gatsby’ or ‘The Last Tycoon.’ Politically charged, poignant, and rocking. What more could we ask for?

If you love Lou, check out the movie ‘Blue In The Face’ where Lou has a few cameos and discusses being raised on Long Island. He says, “I remember being born in Brooklyn and thinking it was terrible. But then my family moved to Long Island which was infinitely worse.”

Things are getting crazy out there again with this COVID stuff… be safe and stay strong out there! Cheers!

B&V Playlist: Songs For New York City

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*Photo taken from the internet, likely subject to copyright

Ah, New York…

I was on a plane the other day, gliding miles above the frozen, snow covered ground, headed for yet another far away city. (Thoughts From The Traveling Salesman And A B&V Playlist: Hanging On The Telephone). It’s been a grim and cold January. I had my Beats headphones on, as is my wont when on an airplane. I slap those on almost immediately upon fastening my seatbelt to avoid anybody trying to strike up a plane conversation with me… you can’t be too careful. I try to avoid those “Chatty Kathy’s” whenever possible. Plus the airlines typically seat me in the maternity section of the airplane so obviously blaring rock and roll music is preferable to the wailing and lamentations of the children. I remember when traveling was a tad more… elegant.

I wasn’t in the mood, musically speaking, for anything in particular so I just hit the “Shuffle” option. I figured, “why not,” I was probably just going to fall asleep anyway. I struggle with powerful insomnia and can barely get myself to sleep in a big, soft, restful bed in a dark, cool room. However, if you put me on a plane with a little music I’m asleep before the wheels are off the ground. Which, coincidentally also dissuades anybody from striking up a conversation with me, so there’s that bonus. As I sat there drifting off, I heard two songs, back to back, John Lennon’s “New York City” followed by AC/DC’s “Safe In New York City.” I often get my playlist ideas from random stuff that happens when I “shuffle” and I was quickly thinking about all the great songs written about New York. Perhaps I was on to something… and let’s face it, there’s no new music out right now, save for the Raconteurs, Review: The Raconteurs’ Great New Single, Jack White’s Original Side Project Delivers! so I figured I’d explore it.

When I was a kid growing up in the American Midwest, New York was like Oz, a fantasy city that only existed in movies or television. My all time favorite cop show was, of course, Kojak, and it was set in New York. Who wasn’t a fan of Kojak… “Who loves ya baby?” but I digress. The wide shots of the city always left me awe-struck. Of course, every third episode or so there was someone addicted to heroin. The frightful depictions of the addicts on that show probably kept me away from hard drugs, thankfully. The crime, the drugs, the gritty nature of the big city. I loved it all. Then there were movies like ‘The Warriors’ depicting young gangs running wild. New York was alluring and frightening all at the same time… kind of like pretty girls when you’re in junior high school. Mick Jagger and all the original cast of Saturday Night Live were all in New York hanging out at Studio 54, it seemed like the center of the “cool” universe. It was a beacon of hope to all of us misfits and people who didn’t quite fit in where we were…

As fate would have it, right after college I had the pleasure of living in Boston for a summer. I was working in a liquor store and didn’t have two nickels to rub together. One of the first weekends I was there, my roommate Matthew and I jumped in his Subaru, which always smelled like bong water, and drove into New York City. It was the first of many times I would ever visit. I still get goosebumps on my arms when I think of that first drive into NYC. We knew a woman from high school who worked for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and we crashed with her and her brother, an aspiring actor. We walked all over the city for two days. We couldn’t afford to do anything, we just walked. The highlight was riding the Staten Island Ferry, because it only cost a quarter. I spent the whole time staring up at the skyline… it’s a wonder we didn’t get rolled. We actually went to a party with the dancers from Alvin Ailey at someone’s apartment. If you don’t think two straight kids from the suburbs meeting a bunch of gay, black men who looked like they were chiseled out of marble wasn’t awkward at first… you’re wrong.

I’ve been back many times, for work and pleasure, but I’m still that wide-eyed twenty year old. Whether I’m drinking in McSorley’s with a work buddy or dining in some outrageously expensive restaurant with the Rock Chick, New York will always blow me away. I was lucky enough to see the Stones’ 50th anniversary show (in Newark, but I stayed in New York) where Springsteen, Lady Gaga, the Black Keys/Gary Clark, all jumped on stage and joined them. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over seeing Springsteen do “Tumblin’ Dice” with the Stones. Nothing like that ever happens where I live…

Because it’s so magical, I rooted through the B&V music inventory and came up with the following set of tracks celebrating the greatest city on the planet (with all due respect to Paris or London). When I first compiled this, I had over 50 songs and over 4 hours of music. I tried to trim it down to my usual 2 hour playlist. I mean, sure I love Dylan’s acoustic “Talkin’ New York” played after Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” but I didn’t want to get too sprawling. If you have suggestions or if there are any egregious omissions, please suggest the song in the “comments” section and we’ll get it added. As always the BourbonAndVinyl.net playlists can be found on Spotify. Just search on kcorsini64 if BourbonAndVinyl doesn’t work. As usual I’m all over the place stylistically, but that’s how we roll here at B&V. Enjoy!

  1. AC/DC, “Safe In New York City” – Does anyone feel safe anywhere any more?
  2. Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” – One of my all time favs by the Beasties!
  3. Ace Frehley, “New York Groove” – Laugh all you want at this selection, I certainly laugh every time I hear it, but there’s just something about it.
  4. Aerosmith, “Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)” – “Flatbush boy cruisin’ Sheephead’s Bay…” I don’t even know where those places are, but I love it, even though it’s a song about used condoms. With Aerosmith, the sleazier the better.
  5. Bruce Springsteen, “New York City Serenade” – Springsteen at his epic best. The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle will always be my favorite Springsteen album, and this is the best track there.
  6. The Cult, “New York City” – The Cult rockin’ out on Sonic Temple. For reasons unclear I like to quote the line “Hell’s Kitchen is a DMZ” to the Rock Chick at random, typically inappropriate moments.
  7. Ryan Adams, “New York, New York” – “I still love you New York…” Well said Ryan, well said.
  8. Billy Joel, “New York State of Mind” – We turn a little mellow here, but what a great, great song from Billy’s third album.
  9. Leonard Cohen, “First We Take Manhattan” – I typically like my Cohen with natural instruments and this ones a little electronic for me but I like the paranoid defiance.
  10. Bruce Springsteen, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” – Sure, I know Bruce is from Jersey, and I’m not certain that he’s talking about Amsterdam Avenue here, but it sure feels like it.
  11. David Bowie, “New York’s In Love” – This track is from Bowie’s much maligned Never Let Me Down. I chose the newly imagined version from last year’s box set Loving the Alien (1983 – 1988). No one likes this album, but I like the guitar on this song.
  12. Black Keys, “Brooklyn Bound” – Dirty blues rock from the Keys’ debut album.
  13. Lou Reed, “Coney Island Baby” – I feel like Lou Reed is the living embodiment of New York. He’d have gotten my vote for mayor.
  14. Dion With Paul Simon, “New York Is My Home” – A couple hometown boys harmonizing about their city.
  15. Billy Idol, “Hot In the City” – Some may argue this isn’t about New York, but if you listen, toward the end he yells, “New York!” Yes, Billy, yes.
  16. Frank Sinatra, “Theme From New York, New York” – The Chairman of the Board singing the greatest song about New York ever written. It’s not rock and roll but it fits, baby.
  17. John Lennon, “New York City” – From the maligned album Somewhere in New York City this great track was a break from the political broadsides that made up the rest of the album. Sometimes you have to look a little deeper for the gems.
  18. Lou Reed, “Dirty Blvd.” – New York isn’t specifically named, but there is no doubt the Dirty Blvd is in NY.
  19. Lenny Kravitz, “New York City” – A great, soulful track with horns and guitar from Strut. 
  20. The Ramones, “53rd & 3rd” – You can’t have a playlist about New York without the Ramones and this infamous corner.
  21. Little Steven, “Down And Out In New York City” – Little Steven pulls out an epic track like his boss from his day job…
  22. Rolling Stones, “Shattered” – It could be argued the entire album Some Girls is about New York but this track especially… “Bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots.” God, I love the Stones. Very punky.
  23. Steely Dan, “Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More” – “Driving like a fool out to Hackensack…”
  24. Norah Jones, “Back To Manhattan” – Norah’s beautiful crooning belongs on every playlist.
  25. Sting, “Englishman In New York” – There isn’t a guy who has disappointed in his solo career to the degree Sting has but I always loved his second album, Nothing Like the Sun. 
  26. U2, “New York” – U2’s album All That You Can’t Leave Behind seemed to predict the 9/11 tragedy. This is one of the few upbeat moments on a somber album.
  27. Fleetwood Mac, “Empire State” – A great Lindsey Buckingham track that never got any attention.
  28. Steely Dan, “Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)” – An overlooked gem from Can’t Buy A Thrill with original lead vocalists David Palmer at the helm.

I pared it down to a mere 2 hours and I know there is much, much more that I could have added. But on a cold wintery day, listening to these tracks is a lot better than shoveling snow. Cheers and stay warm and dry out there.