WEIRDLAND: 45th Anniversary of Lou Reed's debut album, Jim Morrison's affinity for rock poetry

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

45th Anniversary of Lou Reed's debut album, Jim Morrison's affinity for rock poetry

Lou Reed‘s self-titled 1972 album found one of rock’s most innovative, uncompromising auteurs striking out on his own for the first time. But even though it kicked off a long, celebrated solo career, it’s always been largely and unjustly ignored. When Reed left the Velvet Underground in August 1970, his prospects were far from promising. Though they earned plenty of critical plaudits, the band he spearheaded for the last five years had never come anywhere near commercial success. 

The relatively radio-friendly feel of Loaded, their last Reed-led album, was the result of pressure to produce some hits. Fed up with it all, Reed split in between the album’s completion and its release. With a legacy of four commercial failures to his name, Reed didn’t exactly emerge as a hot property. Wearied from his Velvets experience and unsure about his next move, Reed ended up moving back to his parents’ house on Long Island and started a relationship with theatre student Bettye Kronstad. Contrary to what might be expected, they became serious just when Reed had vague aspirations of becoming a writer/poet. Bettye found him a kind, gentle, sensitive guy who telephoned her ceaselessly and called her 'Princess.' In fact, the first year she spent with him was living at his parents’ Long Island home. 

The opening track of Reed's debut album, “I Can’t Stand It,” is downright dirty-sounding, arguably harder-hitting and more visceral—if less primal—than the Loaded outtake version that was unearthed years later on the VU collection. Similarly, “Walk and Talk It” is undeniably edgier and more biting than on the Velvets’ 1970 demo. “Lisa Says,” a near-ballad in its Velvets version, gets a bump up in tempo, and Wakeman’s piano and the backing vocals of Helene Francois and Kay Garner actual inject a dash of soul flavor. And instead of amplifying the artiness of the Velvets arrangement for “I Love You,” with its merry-go-round running-down feel, the Reed version adopts a more straightforward (and slightly speedier) feel. 

“Wild Child,” with its lyrical mix of the prosaic and the poetic, has a constantly shifting cast of street characters. It’s not a huge journey from this track to the carefully cultivated noir seediness of “Walk on the Wild Side,” which would see the light of day less than a year later. “Berlin” would appear on a later Reed album too, providing the title track to his 1973 cult-classic song suite. But for whatever reason, the record failed to connect. It staggered its way to the 189 spot on the Billboard album chart, and neither of its singles (“I Can’t Stand It,” “Walk and Talk It”) earned a foothold on either side of the Atlantic. The vagaries of the music business are eternally inscrutable, but more puzzlingly, the album has never really been reassessed by critics either. Fortunately, what Reed achieved on his first solo flight is still there to hear for anyone with ears. Source:

Although the Velvet Underground are sometimes portrayed as existing in near-total-obscurity totally out of the mainstream of 1960s rock culture, in fact they intersected with—and sometimes even influenced—many major shakers and movers between 1965 and 1970: The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger confessed to Nick Kent of NME in June 1977, "Even we've been influenced by the Velvet Underground. I'll tell you exactly what we pinched from Lou Reed. Y'know 'Stray Cat Blues' from the Rolling Stones' 1968 album Beggars Banquet? The whole sound and the way it's paced, we pinched from the first Velvet Underground album." Also when an interviewer asked Keith Richards who he thought among his generation of rockers was still producing solid stuff and had maintained his integrity, Richards said, “Lou Reed,” naming no one else.

Some have speculated that the dress and image of one of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable's dancers, Gerard Malanga, might have influenced Jim Morrison's own appearance. Morrison had seen the Velvet Underground at their first California shows at the Trip in Los Angeles in May 1966. Morrison also attended a couple of the Velvet Undergrond's shows at the Whisky-A-Go-Go in Los Angeles in late October 1968. Morrison and The Velvet's singer Nico had a passionate affair around the summer of 1967. Eye magazine, revealed Danny Fields in 1970, took his suggestion to set up a photo shoot with Nico and Jim Morrison for "a series on beautiful couples... But Morrison refused to do it." Morrison might be wary of angering his volatile core girlfriend, Pamela Courson, with such a public posed picture with another beautiful woman. 

"The VU influenced the Doors?" said Ray Manzarek when interviewed for White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day By Day. "How? Musically? No chance. We were working John Coltrane modal territory. Miles Davis was our influence. Lou Reed influenced Jim? Lyrically? Jim was coming from a point of cosmic consciousness: Carl Jung. Friedrich Nietzsche. Lou was New York street hustler punk. No way. They did have a nice junkie rush, however. I liked that. A punk band before its time. Jim liked Lou Reed's lyrics a lot. Almost like John Rechy in City of Night"—the 1963 novel whose title the Doors would use as a key lyric of their classic "L.A. Woman."

Lou Reed and Jim Morrison had in common an affinity for literary lyrics. Reed, however, didn't seem to appreciate The King Lizard's poetic visions. Maybe there was a personal/professional jealousy, because perhaps at one point Reed may have resented The Doors' commercial success, hit singles and gold albums whereas he had to return home to Long Island to live in his parents' house. Lou Reed on Melody Maker, 1975: "I didn't even feel sorry for him when he died. There was a group of us in New York, and the phone rang and somebody told us that Jim Morrison had just died in a bathtub in Paris. And the immediate response was: 'How fabulous. In a bathtub in Paris. Fantastic.' That lack of compassion doesn't disturb me. He asked for it. I had no compassion for that silly Los Angeles person.'' Lou Reed confirmed his animosity towards Jim Morrison in 2008 saying: "I worked with my father [an accountant] and he was not very generous. During a moment of weakness I nurtured the idea of becoming a professional journalist. I remember that I was commissioned to write a praise of Jim Morrison. So far!, I thought. Morrison believed he was a sex god, but he would not have survived a night at the Factory."

Jim Morrison looked like more of a prototypical rock star whereas Lou Reed seemed more unassuming, atypical in a way. Although both rock legends wouldn't never be officially introduced, they shared key personalities in their respective careers, as the publicist Danny Fields — Elektra Records' Vice President Steve Harris invited Morrison and Fields to a party at Fifth Avenue with 54th St. but Morrison didn't want Fields in the scene and asked Harris to eject him because The Doors' lead singer thought Fields was using him and riding on his coattails; or the glacial Nico — both Reed and Morrison had a tempestuous relationship with her. Nico would say of Reed 'he was very soft and lovely, not aggressive at all. You could just cuddle him like a sweet person. I used to make pancakes for him.' Morrison was 'the best sex inside her ever,' though, she'd confess to her biographer Richard Witts.

Jim Morrison was a sex idol, and all over the country women vied for his attention. But only Pamela Courson possessed the intelligence, beauty, and allure to keep Jim coming back. Mary Werbelow had been Jim’s longest romantic relationship prior to Pamela. On December 9, 1967, Jim was arrested onstage during a performance in New Haven Connecticut: it was not the first, nor the last, in a series of bizarre encounters with the law. His friend Babe Hill said: "Maybe Jim had a Jesus Christ complex. He definitely didn’t love another woman anywhere near as much as Pam. He had a lot of other girlfriends and he treated them so gentlemanly that some of them invented or assumed things, but, no, there was no one but Pam, and history bears it out: he was with her from the beginning to the end." Sexuality-wise, Jim Morrison had a reputation for wild trysts whereas Lou Reed was much more subdued. Actually, both were more shy and lonely than their appearances would convey at first sight. 

Although Howard Sounes pushes the standard Lou Reed narrative of the substance-addled artist who slapped women and pulled knives on bandmates, a spirited Reed defense among fans and intimates opposed to this “Mommie Dearest” invective. Mental illness, Mr. Sounes says, was always a factor in Reed’s erratic behavior. His longtime wife and manager, Sylvia Reed (now Ramos), broke her media silence to dispute Mr. Sounes’s portrait. Coverage like that, Ms. Ramos said, describes a very different man from the one she was with for 18 years. “I was with him all those years,” she said. “I saw him through not only the intense cycle of drinking and drugs, but through nine lawsuits, which were extremely stressful, and his financial condition when I met him was terrible. No matter how hard it got, I never had that behavior from him,” Ms. Ramos said: “That’s not a person I recognize.” Many damning anecdotes, she added, seem to come from people Reed knew in the hazy drug-fueled 1970s “that I know for a fact were not capable of remembering anything they did in any given six-month period during that time, much less come back all these years later.’ She added that “he was never physically aggressive with me.” Ms. Ramos also disputed the idea that Reed was mentally ill. “He saw things differently,” she said. “He was a creative genius.” While Reed and she had discussed his undergoing shock therapy as a youth because of depression, Ms. Ramos added: “In the years that I lived and worked with him, he had no diagnosis of severe mental illness, no hospitalizations, he was always working." “Lou was a prince and a fighter,” Laurie Anderson (Lou Reed's widow) wrote. Source:

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