photo & text by nacrowe
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.