Lou Reed will be missed. In honor of this amazing musician, below is an excerpt from Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell, by Dave Thompson.
It’s 1975 and Lou Reed is a star. The Velvet Underground, the New York band he powered through four years of obscurity, is a legend. “Walk on the Wild Side,” his solo hit from two years back, is an AM radio staple and will one day help sell Suzuki motorcycles. His last album made the Top 10 and now his record label is on the phone, demanding a follow-up.
“Okay,” says Lou. “I can do that.”
He rummages around for a cassette player. “I’ve got something here I wanted to do way back when. I had to wait a while to get the equipment, but now I’ve got it and it’s done.” He depresses the play button. “It’s a double album. Wanna hear it?”
The record company man can scarcely control his excitement. “Are you kidding? Hey, c’mon, Lou, baby, let me have it.”
At the other end of the line, Lou smiles. “Okay.”
For a moment, silence. Then it begins. ZZZZZZZRRRRRRRRRRRRRE EEEEEEEEEGGGGGGGRRRRRRAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRZZZ ZBBBBBBBBBB.
By the time Lou’s ready for side two, the line’s dead. By the time he reaches side three, so is his commercial potential. A lot of lines went dead when Metal Machine Music was released. A lot of loyalties, too. Four sides of eardrum-shattering feedback. Lou could rabbit on forever about it being the ultimate guitar solo . . . tell folks that if they listened hard enough they’d hear all sorts of little tunes dancing around in there . . . he could even say they should be grateful he released it in the first place.
But the fact is, Metal Machine Music HURT. And not in a wimpy “Oh my God, that’s so awful that it’s painful” way, or “If you don’t turn off the fucking Doobie Brothers, I’m going to rip my tongue out.”
It hurt in an “Oh shit, I think my brain just exploded” way. Most people returned their copy before they got to the end of side one. Others got to side four, and then they returned it. “It’s the only recorded work I know of seriously done as well as possible as a gift, if one could call it that, from a part of a certain head to a few others,” Reed’s liner notes mused politely. “Most of you won’t like this, and I don’t blame you at all.”
He first started thinking about Metal Machine Music, he claimed, “as far back as when John [Cale] used to work with La Monte Young. I had also been listening to Xenakis a lot. You know the drone thing? It took a long, long time. It’s way more complex than people realize, but that’s all right.” Originally he made the tape for his own amusement alone. “I wasn’t going to put it out, I made it for myself. John and I were always making tapes; we made sound tracks for underground movies of the time.”
But then he changed his mind.
“There are some frequencies on there that are dangerous. What I’m talking about is like in France, they have a sound gun. It’s a weapon. It puts out frequencies that kill people. They’ve had this weapon since 1945. Maybe that’s why they play such bad rock ’n’ roll.”
Metal Machine Music, on the other hand, had nothing whatsoever to do with rock ’n’ roll, bad or otherwise. It simply was, and in years to come, some remarkably intelligent critics would come up with some remarkably asinine “excuses” for its presence in Reed’s back catalog, four sides of extravagantly, exquisitely packaged vinyl, with a cover pic that looked so close to an extension of Rock ’n’ Roll Animal that even Reed smiled, “It looked like a live rock ’n’ roll album.”
But he wasn’t going to apologize to anybody who fell for it. “Nobody has ever been able to put their finger on me, because I’m not really here,” Reed cautioned shortly before the album’s release. “At least not the way they think I am. It’s all in their heads. What I’m into is mindlessness. I just empty myself out, so what people see is just a projection of their own needs. I don’t do or say anything.” Metal Machine Music epitomized those words.
“Just because some kid paid $7.98 for it,” he said the following year, “I don’t care if they paid $59.98 or $75 for it, they should be grateful I put the fucking thing out and, if they don’t like it, they should go eat rat- shit.” And two years later: “I don’t like any of my albums except Metal Machine Music. Why? Because they’re not Metal Machine Music.”
Such sentiments made little difference, of course, to a marketplace that was simply staring in aghast disbelief at Reed’s offering. Rolling Stone described Metal Machine Music as “the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator,” and that was one of the more complimentary reviews. Lester Bangs was simply grateful to discover that his pet hermit crab, Spud, enjoyed dancing to it.
First-ever look at the intertwining, outrageous lives of three rock legends.
When Lou Reed and Iggy Pop first met David Bowie in the fall of 1971, Bowie was just another English musician passing through New York City. Lou was still recovering from the collapse of the Velvet Underground, and Iggy had already been branded a loser… Yet within two years they completely changed the face of popular music with a decadent glamour and street-level vibe. With Bowie producing, Reed’s Transformer album was a worldwide hit, spinning off the sleazy street anthem “Walk on the Wild Side.” Iggy’s Raw Power, mixed by Bowie, provided the mean-spirited, high-octane blueprint for Punk. Bowie boosted elements from both Iggy and Reed to create his gender-bending rock idol Ziggy Stardust.
Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell is the story of this friendship and the incredible productivity and debauchery that emerged from it. Presented here for the very first time are their stories interwoven in a triple helix of sexuality, glam rock, and drugs – as seen through the eyes of the people who made it happen.