photo & text by nacrowe
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.