March 31, 2004

Rock-n-Roll Animal by Lou Reed

Lou Reed Rock n Roll AnimalLou Reed looked other-worldly on the cover of this album, when I found it in a record store in Topeka, KS back around '74 when it was released. I was 14 years old and if I remember correctly this was the second album I ever bought (Black Sabbath's Vol. 4 was the first). I had seen a review of Rock n Roll Animal in Creem, and decided to give it a try. Rock n Roll itself was not clearly defined yet in my young mind, but oh, this album would have very far reaching implications toward my personal definition of rock n roll, continuing to this day.

A friend just burned me a copy of the new "remastered" version of Rock n Roll Animal. This newer version (circa 2000) contains two new songs of total inconsequence. I've listened to this CD several times and I can't tell you anything about the other two songs. Very unremarkable for sure. They may as well have left them off. However, given how many times I've listened to this record without those songs, it could be that my subconscious is just blocking them out.

Lou's album, and mostly Lou's band on this album, gave me my first extended taste of solo lead electric guitar the way it should be played, and was also the first live album I ever heard. This album is more guitar solos than anything else. Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, the axemen in Lou's band, contribute riffs and licks ad infinitum to this score.

Deducting the two "new" songs, there are only 5 tunes on this record. And all 5 are very memorable. You underground afficianados should realize, when I heard this album, I had not a clue about the Velvet Underground or the New York street scene. I was a kid from a small town in Kansas just trying to get an idea of what the real world was like beyond the wheat fields and cow pastures. I was hurting for some cutting edge culture and I found it in Lou Reed's performance.

I was fascinated with the cover, mainly with the images of Lou Reed. A man wearing makeup, black lipstick, and a studded choker? Wow. The music was the thing though. The intro to Sweet Jane, to my virginal ears, was hypnotic and mesmerizing. I heard this and sat and watched the record spin on the turntable utterly absorbed in the guitar lines. I played that album many many times and each listening was a trip into my own head. This was not background music, it absolutely commanded my full attention.

Heroin. I had heard lectures from narcotics agents visiting our school, informing that heroin was a nasty thing that we should not mess with. Lou's song transcribing his experience with the drug, gave me an idea why. The ebb and flow of the intensity in this masterpiece for the 13 minutes and 12 seconds it lasts, was exhausting. It expanded the limits of what I could deal with musically, and even emotionally.

"When the smack begins to flow.
Then I really don't care anymore.
About all you jim-jims in this town.
And everybody putting everybody else down.
And all the politicians making crazy sounds.
And all the dead bodies piled up in mounds."

These lyrics are featured on the album cover (there is no full lyric sheet). When I read them along with the song, I thought that maybe life could be interesting after all. Where I grew up, I was beginning to wonder.

The anthem Rock n Roll finishes the album and leaves you praising Elvis and Chuck Berry for inventing the artform. Unlike Heroin it's more of a good timin' dance number. A good concert finisher, beautiful guitar solos laden with phase shifters and wahwah pedals. This song is a story about the advent of rock n roll and how it saved the life of a young girl hearing it for the first time.

Even now, when I listen to this album it's like listening to it for the first time, and I am reminded of the meaning of rock n roll and why it is so goddamned important-----at least to me.

Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter are two of the best guitarists I've ever heard. I know that at some point Alice Cooper (geez) hired them along with bass player Prakash John for his band. I actually saw them on Alice's Greatest Hits tour -- they looked miserable. But after their stint with him I don't know what happened to them. Two greats who will not receive the recognition they deserve.

Strangely, I never bought another Lou Reed album. He went blonde on the cover of Sally Can't Dance, his next record. I guess I couldn't handle that.

Posted by Wayne at March 31, 2004 11:01 PM
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