Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lou Reed and Me, Suburban Boys, Urban Men

I've never gotten Neil Diamond. The only passion he's ever stirred in me was a negative one, when I heard "Cool Jerk" and became convinced that Diamond had stolen that record's main riff for "Cherry, Cherry." But today, researching this post, I see that both "Cool Jerk" and "Cherry, Cherry" were released in 1966, and I can't see that anyone but me ever thought one of the records ripped off the other. But while we're at that, can I really be the only person who ever thought that the piano riff in "Werewolves of London" is downright criminally similar to the one in "Sweet Home Alabama?"

Sigh, nevermind. My point is, Neil Diamond's music has never moved me, but people whose taste in music I respect like him a lot, so I just assume I'm missing something. He's in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. The Band invited him to The Last Waltz and Robbie Robertson produced Beautiful Noise. So what TF do I know.

I also respect the musical taste of a friend of mine who many years ago hired me for a day to do some yard work at the place where he lived. I don't think he owned the place. I think the deal was that part of how he paid the rent was that he did the yard work himself. And the yard was vast and the trees were large and Lo, this autumn day there were many leaves to be raked.

We took a lunch break in the house and, to my surprise, since, as I say, generally speaking we were into the same sorts of music, he put on a Neil Diamond LP. After lunch I asked him why, and he said he did it for me. Apparently that morning I had been chattering away about my suburban childhood, and he associated suburban with Diamond. I didn't mean to let slip that I didn't like Diamond at all, but apparently I did and I may have hurt his feelings. In any case it was awkward. On the off chance that you ever read this, Dude, I'm sorry. I'm sorry about all the other stuff too. This may sound somewhere between very lame and downright dishonest, but I was honestly doing the best I could.

I think of Diamond as an urban guy, an NYC-and-Vegas guy, as a lounge singer who made it big, as fitting in chronologically and musically between Sinatra and Billy Joel. (Also not my cup of tea, neither one, but many other people I respect love one or the other or both of them.) Not too many lounges with live music in the 'burbs.

The musician I can most relate to in terms of his suburban background is Lou Reed. I hear you clutching your pearls and fainting, ladies, stay with me here. You're saying that Reed is the epitome of a big-city rocker. NYC or else Berlin. Yes, but that's where he moved to. It's his chosen home, not his roots. And he never tried to hide that. The first words of "Sweet Jane" are "Standing on the corner/Suitcase in my hand," as in: I'm moving from somewhere else to this city I'm talking about. Like more than a few other musicians and poets, he is able to describe the big city so vividly in part precisely because he isn't from there. He didn't grow up with any of it so all of it is that much more vivid to him. Something I know all about.

(Back in the burbs other ladies are clutching their pearls: "Where's little Lou Reed?" "Didn't you hear, he moved to NYC, he's living in a factory with Andy Warhol and singing songs about junkies and transvestite hookers." "Oh my." "Oh my goodness." "Oh my.")

[PS, 13. July, 2016: Yes, in the meantime I have discovered that I had been misinformed about Reed's childhood when I wrote this, and that he wasn't a suburban boy.]

What is more drably suburban than the world described in "Sunday Morning?" Has there ever been a deeper and more real artistic depiction than "Satellite of Love" of a suburban boy who will escape to a huge city if he doesn't kill himself with 'ludes and beer first? I think not. I am that suburban boy.

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