back in the 1980s there was a distinct cultural moment were everyone got excited over bloated charity singles that often featured a chorus of god-knows-how-many notable artists singing in unison. two that come immediately to mind was the MICHAEL JACKSON/LIONEL RITCHIE-penned "WE ARE THE WORLD" (COLUMBIA, 1985) for USA FOR AFRICA (over 45 POP musicians) and the RONNIE JAMES DIO-penned "STARS" (POLYGRAM, 1986) for HEAR 'N AID (made up of over 40 prominent METAL musicians), both of which raised funds for famine relief in ETHIOPIA. buying these singles was less about musical enjoyment, since the songs were objectively horrendous, and more a form of altruism. although it begs one to wonder why the artists just didnt advocate for direct funds as there is no doubt corporate record companies made a pillaging off these recordings.
enter STEVEN VAN ZANDT.
during this period he had recently departed BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's infamous E-STREET BAND right at the cusp of the release of what would become their commercial breakthrough BORN IN THE U.S.A. (COLUMBIA, 1984) record. at the time a journalist friend that had reported on the horrors of APARTHEID in SOUTH AFRICA suggested he write a protest song as a charity-style single. at the time it was still deemed acceptable for prominent musicians to perform at the SUN CITY resort/casino in SOUTH AFRICA. in fact prominent acts at the time such as QUEEN, FRANK SINATRA, ELTON JOHN, LIZA MINELLI, ROD STEWART and LINDA RONSTADT had done just that to their own shame in retrospect. the "SUN CITY" (EMI, 1985) single took aim at the resort specifically and the regime and its racist power structure politically at a time that the UNITED STATES still supported it. even in retrospect its a pretty bold and impressive statement, even if the song is a little bland. participating artists in the ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID activist protest group (who similarly took a vow not play in SOUTH AFRICA until the abolishment of APARTHEID) included the likes of BOB DYLAN, GEORGE CLINTON (PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC), BOBBY WOMACK, LOU REED (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), RAY BARETTO, RUN-DMC, KEITH RICHARDS (THE ROLLING STONES), JIMMY CLIFF, BONO (U2), HERBIE HANCOCK, GIL SCOTT-HERON, PETER GABRIEL, HALL & OATES, KURTIS BLOW, STIV BATORS (THE DEAD BOYS), AFRIKA BAMBAATAA, RINGO STARR (THE BEATLES), BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and JOEY RAMONE (THE RAMONES) among many other JAZZ, R&B, ROCK N ROLL and early HIP HOP luminaries. PAUL SIMON was offered and declined participation due to his friendship with LINDA RONSTADT and the fact that he was then working on his GRACELAND (WARNER BROS, 1986) album at the time with SOUTH AFRICAN musicians, of which he has received (well-founded) criticism ever since for cultural appropriation. that recording was also in violation of UNITED NATIONS cultural boycott against APARTHEID. so there is that.
in this digital era we are all too comfortable with the idea of charity telethons and hashtag activism getting the word out on efforts to encourage fundraising for disaster relief efforts or the victims of the latest international tragedy. its part of the fabric of how our capitalist society functions at this point. but an activist single that take aim at altering AMERICAN foreign policy stances with regards to one of its allies. that i cannot find another example to compare. its a complete anomaly. and a singular achievement for all those involved, especially VAN ZANDT.
fuck PAUL SIMON.
as with all things LOU REED, the late career return to form with release of NEW YORK (SIRE, 1989) is as COMPLEX as it is INSCRUTABLE. the man was famously INCONSISTENT with his creative output, at once drawing his audience in with singularly POIGNANT insights and diatribes about the complications of MODERN LIFE, only to push them away with subsequent throwaway releases that seemed concocted to either cash in on or refute his previous success. such a dip and dive can be seen in the wake of all his classic releases, from TRANSFORMER (review linked HERE) and CONEY ISLAND BABY to THE BELLS, THE BLUE MASK and NEW SENSATIONS. all were followed up with INCOHERENT, less successful releases that seemed designed to ALIENATE and winnow down his audience (i.e. METAL MACHINE MUSIC).
such was his career.
NEW YORK is a late career revisit to the beloved UNDERGROUND community that he celebrated during his early to mid 1970s heyday. this nostalgic world included his friends that were STREET HUSTLERS, TRANSVESTITES and HOMOSEXUALS who in the intervening years had largely passed on due to the HIV/AIDS crisis. this HARROWING sense of loss and regret can be best seen in the highlight track "HALLOWEEN PARADE" which recounts those left behind during a PRIDE PARADE. in my mind, this track in particular with its direct insights that cut through bone over a MINIMALIST backing track is what REED does best. no bullshit, just a straight sniper shot to the heart. the singles "ROMEO HAD JULIET," "DIRTY BLVD" and "BUSLOAD OF FAITH" all follow a similar tableau of STREET LIFE characters doing what they can to survive in the urban jungle of NEW YORK CITY. but it is that sense of lost opportunity and the transformation of a community that feels like the core thread of this record. ironically at the time REED was living happily with his first wife in rural NEW JERSEY, so the physical and psychic distance between him and this UNDERGROUND world from a decade past is an interest dynamic. the theme was further explored on his follow-up MAGIC & LOSS, which contrary to form was another stellar effort.
there are times where i feel like everything in ROCK AND ROLL has been stated or examined and that everything is just a rehash, a copy of a copy. and then i go back and listen to REED records like NEW YORK and i am confounded by how REVOLUTIONARY his music was, much like the output of peers in LEONARD COHEN, NEIL YOUNG and JOHN FOGERTY, with just his voice and a guitar. it makes me think that what is missing in today's ROCK AND ROLL is not a dearth of sonic exploration, but rather a lack of vicious self-reflection. SOCRATES is said to have stated that an "unexamined life is not worth living." well REED lived a thoroughly examined life and we are all the beneficiaries of such DARK, self-directed entreats.
NEW YORK is most definitely worth checking out. required listening in my opinion.
to me TRANSFORMER (RCA, 1972) is the definitive LOU REED record, if that is even possible given that he was one of the most contrarian and mercurial artist ever, often making radical sonic and artistic departures between records. what TRANSFORMER has is arguably his most consistent set of great songs which includes iconic tracks (and lifelong personal favorites of mine) like "SATELLITE OF LOVE," "PERFECT DAY," "VICIOUS" and (of course) "WALK ON THE WILD SIDE." less revered but no less sensational are songs like "I'M SO FREE," "ANDY'S CHEST" and "MAKE UP."
a common theme throughout his the transmuting nature of art. that MARCEL DUCHAMP-ian concept that we are who we create ourselves to be. in "WALK ON THE WILD SIDE" we are famously introduced to a cast of misfits and superstars associated with ANDY WARHOL's FACTORY scene (of which REED was famously a participant of with THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), all of whom have self-made themselves into their current state to varying effectiveness. in "PERFECT DAY" there is the self-illusion and self-mythologizing that comes with falling in love, where the target of such affection has effectively altered his self-identity with the amazing lines you made me forget myself, i thought i was someone else, someone good. with "MAKE UP" the daily ritual of physically changing your appearance is a forbearer for liberating your soul to outside world. there are literally too many great lines to go over but that is its joy in a sense, much like memorizing the best MEL BROOKS one-liners from SPACEBALLS (MGM, 1987) or BLAZING SADDLES (WARNER BROS, 1974).
the whole album is a remarkable and singular artistic achievement, written by a poet with an eye for the hidden and forgotten elements of society. this album, literally evoked with its iconic MICK ROCK (R.I.P.) sleeve portrait, presents a sense of ANDROGYNY that must have been interpreted as entirely transgressive during the period of its release in the early 1970s. i always wonder what the baby boomer generation's true tolerance was for this type of message post- SUMMER OF LOVE. its one thing to question the role of institutions like marriage and courtship rituals and yet another entirely to transcend GENDER itself.
as a cultural artifact of its period, a collection of poetry and a ROCK N ROLL record, TRANSFORMER succeeds on all accounts. it is required listening. and i didnt even mention that DAVID BOWIE produced it with assistance from MICK RONSON. doesnt matter, go listen to this record.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the lasting impact of cultural maven DANNY FIELDS is interesting to contemplate. not a musician, producer or a record executive, FIELDS instead worked at times as a press agent, record scout, manager and general facilitator. known for his time as part of the ANDY WARHOL FACTORY crowd as well as his work with legendary artists like THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, THE DOORS, MC5, THE STOOGES and THE RAMONES, where FIELDS excelled was in his vision of seeing and appreciating what others couldnt. at least not yet.
born in BROOKLYN, FIELDS was an excellent student who entered the UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA at 15 and attended HARVARD LAW SCHOOL thereafter. maybe due to his exceeding intelligence and/or his membership in two minority groups being a JEW and a HOMOSEXUAL, FIELDS developed a sense of empathy as well as aesthetic interest in avant-garde, outsider art. this led him to GREENWICH VILLAGE and the WARHOL scene, and later to counterculture musicians once the 1960s hit. he worked as an artists liaison with ELEKTRA RECORDS and was of use to the machine in that he was a tastemaker of sorts, able to witness an emerging artist in their infancy and communicate their greatness to a wider public. in a sense the man had taste and was willing to stake his reputation on such, even facilitating countless meetings between artists (BOWIE and IGGY POP, PATTI SMITH and her band, etc.) that paid fruit down the line even after his personal involvement had ceased.
it is this role as a facilitator (and sometimes agitator) that i ultimately found made the recent documentary DANNY SAYS (MAGNOLIA PICTURES, 2015) so compelling. here is a guy that gave underground artists an opportunity yet he is largely and unknown, with his worth celebrated internally within the industry by key executives and artists alike. his name isnt highlighted in liner notes or mentioned in interviews, yet his influence is unmistakeable. the bands he directly worked with set the foundation for all modern rock music whereby intention trumps virtuosity. to be a musician didnt mean one had to be a master at their instrument, instead it meant communicating a feeling in the most direct and efficient manner possible. those were the bands he facilitated, managed and garnered press attention for. and we are all the better for it.
makes you consider how many other unknown key industry players there are out there who invisible hand we have all been touched by in our musical tastes and cultural obsessions. the closest thing to this film i have witnessed is the RODNEY BINGENHEIMER documentary (review linked HERE) entitled MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP (2003) about the influential AMERICAN DJ or any number of BBC television documentaries over the years celebrating the ENGLISH DJ JOHN PEEL. whats interesting about the BINGENHEIMER documentary as it relates to DANNY SAYS is how both showcase a life servicing others and getting lost in the shuffle. the idea of making deep connections with talented friends who you help push to artistic and cultural peaks of achievement. but such heights are ultimately not your own and you are left contemplating your own needs and desires. both documentaries showcase two seemingly exceedingly lonely people. both are figures that are very interesting to contemplate.
i feel DANNY SAYS is a must-watch for anyone interesting in modern music history or the nature of the music business, especially as it relates to marketing and the influential yet opaque machinations that take place behind closed doors.
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating the music of legendary VELVET UNDERGROUND frontman and NYC cultural icon LOU REED.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
parodies by nacrowe
join us TONIGHT at 8PM EST for an all new episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC with a playlist celebrating the work of legendary songwriter and NEW YORK CITY cultural icon LOU REED.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already, make sure and download the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
i only saw LOU REED perform once. it was at IRVING PLAZA and he was a guest of CAMP FREDDY, which was essentially a PERRY FARRELL-less JANE'S ADDICTION that did cover songs with the actual musicians that wrote them. he performed "VENUS IN FURS" and "THE BLUE MASK." what i remember most was his lack of interaction with the small audience, deadpan cadence and quirky syllabic stresses that seemed to avoid the original melody. it was as if he wasn't prisoner to his own song.
and to me that is the essence of the guy, he was an original that wasn't concerned with anyone's judgement or expectations except his own. and it is that intransigent temperament that is displayed throughout the narrative of his life and career in ANTHONY DECURTIS' excellent biography LOU REED: A LIFE (LITTLE BROWN & CO, 2017).
REED is portrayed as a hyper-literate contrarian and cultural iconoclast. it is this proclivity for both knowledge and rebellion that leads him to innovate and expand, first with THE VELVET UNDERGROUND and later his solo career, the breadth and tone of the lyrical content we now take for granted within modern music. his work has influence every major movement afterwards, including PUNK, INDIE ROCK, HIP HOP, INDUSTRIAL MUSIC, GLAM ROCK, ALTERNATIVE ROCK and beyond. it is also this stubborn, crusty, misanthropic worldview that limited the success of his career in purely financial-terms, unable to take advantage of waves, fearing being pigeon-holed. his life was completely on his terms for better or worse.
this idea of his erudite yet exceedingly aggressive personality DECURTIS presents an interesting frame by which to refocus our understanding of the LOU REED the artist and his relationship to LOU REED the man. on one hand it enabled him to be a distant observer, as many of his songs are presentations of extreme events and people (with some poetic license) presented plainly without resorting to any sense of bias or sentimentality. he is seen as VIRGIL giving us a tour of hell to our collective DANTE. he isn't passing judgement, just making us aware of the true nature of our surroundings. in doing such he expanded the landscape and lexicon of the medium of modern music. his contribution is largely literary in nature, presenting his audience with a world filled with drugs, sex and quote unquote deviant behavior of all stripes sans judgement.
reading this book you really got a sense of the toll the man took spiritually, physically, emotionally and psychically throughout his life. there is an unsettling thread of violence and abusive behavior throughout his life, both physical and emotional in nature especially with regard to past partners. in many ways he was a bit of a vampire in how he used and discarded people he found no use for anymore, despite their previous intimacy. this is especially true of his more virulent behavior in the 1970s when he was at his drugged-out peak. you get the sense that his later years were more about coming to terms with such baggage.
it is hard summing up REED because he is very much still with us in the attitudes and approaches of uncompromising artists. he is an archetype at this point. i think where DECURTIS really triumphs in this book is the detail from which brought out how fragile, insecure and bitterly human LOU REED actually was. and how such vulnerability and openness to the true span of human experience (consciousness, sexuality, identity, etc.) was the source of his strength.
great book i would recommend to anyone interested in art, music or literature.
note: this book is also a great source to learn about REED's relationships to past inspirations, mentors and collaborators such as DELMORE SCHWARTZ, ANDY WARHOL, HUBERT SELBY JR, JOHN RECHY, JOHN CALE, DAVID BOWIE, MICK RONSON, BOB EZRIN, ROBERT QUINE, JOHN ZORN, ROBERT WILSON and VACLEV HAVEL among many others.
art by nacrowe
now that DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC has been going on for a good while, i thought it would be cool to look back at one of the (in my opinion) standout shows and playlists from the series. that being our 14th show on 1970s GLAM ROCK that aired on AUGUST 19, 2018.
1970s glam rock has long been an obsession of mine since it has a goldilocks balance of elements: 1) the songs are immediate and catchy 2) there's experimentation with technology 3) lyrics and presentation question normative prescriptions surrounding gender 4) music is just fun to listen to and 5) there are several stellar legendary musicians at the peak of their powers (MICK RONSON, JOHNNY THUNDERS, BRIAN ENO, MARC BOLAN, ASHTON BROTHERS, etc).
there is a reason this brief genre setup the punk movement shortly thereafter, all the hallmarks of that genre are there (except maybe the fun bit, punk took itself WAAYYY too seriously). this show was a blast with TOM FERRIE and MAGIE SERPICA stopping by unannounced due to their enthusiasm for the genre. i feel this playlist is representative of the connecting power of music wish to revisit it again nearly a year later.