I believe no song in Lou Reed‘s catalog better represents the hardships he overcame as a musician than “Coney Island Baby.” I wish there was video of the live version from Take No Prisoners, with the sincerely beautiful, painful, uncomfortable intro about wanting to play football for the coach, but this will have to do. It helps to have video evidence of the struggle simply playing rhythm guitar and singing was for Lou.
I’ve spent a lot of time through the years having a laugh over Lou Reed, but I love the man’s music and the awkward pathos he brought to rock ‘n roll. I think about the expenses that went into paying studio cats and the highly accomplished road warriors who made up his touring bands to put flourishes on the 4 chords Reed can barely muster playing on songs like “Coney Island Baby.” I think about the background singers who had to get paid to accompany his hectoring on the choruses. I think about how much effort went into this attempt at reaching out to The People, the way Bruce, The Boss, has been able to do since he ambled out of his mother’s womb. Does “Coney Island Baby” land as intended for all but a handful of even Lou’s most passionate fans? Probably not.
“Coney Island Baby” always hits the spot for me. We typically measure our heroes up by their greatest accomplishments, their “Sweet Jane,” their “Like a Rolling Stone.” Greatness can also be measured by an artist’s “missed landings.” I want to play football for the coach.
Is there a missed landing, an against all odds numbers by one of your favorite artists that does as much to demonstrate that artist’s greatness as their acknowledged classics?
Remember when we used to have a little morbid fun over rock ‘n roll deaths with celebrations featuring the “He was a great…man” tag and clip from Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell? Those were the days.
Now, a COVID-19 tag has come into existence. I don’t like this tag. It’s not funny at all. Today, producer Hal Willner, who I first knew of as a musical director for Saturday Night Live and then the brains behind a series of underground star-studded tribute albums in the early 1980s, died from coronovirus. He was 64, right about the age for someone to feel more fondly over a Delaney & Bonnie trifle than anyone from another generation might feel. Terrible.
Few personalities — particularly as one as protean and occasionally as brilliant as Reed’s — can be summed up in two syllables. But if you were to do a word cloud of memories of Reed in the various volumes that have been published on his life, the word asshole would turn up in surprisingly large type.
Maybe you’ve heard of this Lou Reed character? This article is worth a read, even if you think you’ve heard it all before. (And you probably have.)
One aspect of many of even Reed’s classic-era albums that doesn’t get talked about enough is the sonic inconsistency. It’s a subtle thing, but most decent rock albums have a sonic palette that forms the core of the work. It’s not that every song must be orchestrated identically, but a good album will generally sound like it was recorded a certain way in a certain universe. Reed’s own lack of sophistication and the B-level producers he used over most of his career combined to make many of his records sound internally random, and jarring. And even fans can point to few nuanced compositions to make the search worthwhile. Along the way he sold “Walk on the Wild Side” for a TV commercial for the Honda’s short-lived line of scooters; Reed appeared at the end of it, to say, “Hey — don’t settle for walkin’!”
“I would have been one long continuous bleep.” A kinder, gentler Lou talks about staying true to himself—and that other Lou Reed.
Following a fascinating little interview, in which Lou expresses his love for the production of Frankie Goes to Hollywood records, our hero demonstrates “a perfect example of my kind of song.”
Next to the twin guitar heroics of Television‘s “Marquee Moon,” the Lou Reed Rock ‘n Roll Animal version of “Sweet Jane” is the twin-guitar part I would be most interested in experiencing if I attended a Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp. This clip of Dean Ween and his group doing a take on that version could be used for the advertisement for this cool Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp—as opposed to actual ones I’ve seen, where you get a taste of rock stardom under the tutelage of the likes of the guys in Styx and REO Speedwagon whose names you can’t identify.
If you could attend Cool Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp, what would be your event-capping experience?