WEIRDLAND: Lou Reed and Jim Morrison: Magic and Loss

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Lou Reed and Jim Morrison: Magic and Loss

“Candy Says” (1969) is one of Lou Reed's best songs, certainly impressive, and one of the most underrated items in the entire Velvet Underground catalog. The inspiration behind this tragic song was the Factory transexual Candy Darling, a female psyche stuck in a man’s body. The song was proof that Reed continued to draw on the Factory crowd for material long after the Velvets ended their formal association with Warhol, with one of his loveliest, most heartbreaking melodies, and some of his most sympathetic lyrics.

Transformer (1972) was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, both of whom had been strongly influenced by Reed's work with the Velvet Underground. Bowie had obliquely referenced the Velvet Underground in the cover notes for his album Hunky Dory and regularly performed both "White Light/White Heat" and "I'm Waiting for the Man." Lester Bangs thought of Bowie as overrated, "a vampire, pure Lugosi, lurking behind Reed (wide-eyed in a Quaalude haze)" and accused him of ripping off Reed's guitar riffs.  –"Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung" (2013) by Lester Bangs 

Male cross-dressers have similar erotic preferences to heterosexual men, according to recently published research in Journal of Sex Research-Archives of Sexual Behavior. They examined the genital arousal patterns associated with autogynephilia. Men who are sexually interested in transgender women exhibited genital sexual arousal patterns similar to typical heterosexual men: Both were sexually aroused by female and not male stimuli. However, relative to the typical heterosexual men, the men sexually interested in transgender women showed increased arousal by transgender stimuli (erotica featuring “shemales”). They also found that the men sexually interested in transgender women tended to be sexually aroused by the idea of being a woman themselves. Autogynephilic men showed genital sexual arousal patterns that were near identical to men sexually interested in transgender women. That is, both groups of men were sexually aroused by female and not by male stimuli, just like typical heterosexual men. Both also differed from typical heterosexual men in their increased arousal by the transgender stimuli. Source:

"Bowie was always very gracious with me, and deferential to Lou, as they huddled together. David was a rising star and a great fan of Lou’s. He deeply admired Lou’s writing and work with The Velvet Underground. David genuinely wanted to help Lou succeed as a solo artist, but he also knew that being associated with Lou and his legendary cult status with the Velvets would, by association, bring him cachet and prestige himself, too. Lou wasn’t particularly enamored with Angie; she was David’s wife, though, so Lou was always respectful to her. On the road, it was hard for me to watch Lou's deterioration, but I blamed a lot of it on all the pressure he put himself under to succeed, which, coupled with our nomadic lifestyle on the tour, was quite stressful and disorienting. The more Lou wished to impress someone, the less he acted like he cared. Girls were the only exception. 

With women Lou was polite, shy, and almost behaved like a high-school kid. It was how you could tell if he was really interested in you. Lou mentioned a dress he thought I could wear, which surprised me. He never told me what to say, how to act, or what to wear. He always told me I looked great. The dress Lou was talking about was one I had bought in London, when Angie and I went on a shopping spree on the Kings Road. It was a 1930s white, beautifully draped, crepe floral dress. I wore my red stiletto platform heels (which we called ‘fuck-me shoes’ back then) to match. Lou kissed me. ‘I love you,’ he said quietly. ‘There are no words to tell you how much, Princess.’ Lou loved my red ‘fuck-me’, stilettos. I thought pairing overtly sexual shoes with such a ladylike dress was a gas. 

‘I am a very lucky man, and tonight, when I walk in with you, everyone in the Ginger Man will be jealous. They’ll all wonder, Now, how did this short Jewish kid from the wrong side of Long Island end up with that tall, gorgeous blonde?’ Bowie abruptly turned around to Angie and said, ‘Why can’t you wear a dress, like her?’ The joke was that this was probably the first time I’d been in a dress for a year. Both Lou and I noticed there was some tension between David and Angie, but we didn’t dwell on it. They had an entirely different relationship to us, and they drew very different boundaries around their marriage than either Lou or I would be comfortable with—an open relationship with lovers. From the beginning of our relationship I told Lou in no uncertain terms that if I saw a needle anywhere near him, I would—without fail—leave him. Hard drugs were his Achilles’ heel, and I knew they would destroy him if he started taking them again, as he had before we starting going together. Some months later, I found Lou in bed with a mysterious blonde girl. She was in the pull out bed of our living room couch with him. They were both naked, and clearly she had spent the night. The scene was so obvious it was almost laughable. Lou called out my name in surprise when I walked in. After a while, it seemed like the girl might be waiting for me to leave the room so that she could get up and put her clothing on and make her exit. I noted Lou hadn’t taken her to the bedroom and into our bed of freshly laundered sheets. Even before she’d closed the front door, Lou was profusely apologizing, telling me he thought I’d left him for good. In a panic, he admitted he couldn’t be alone, thinking I’d left him." —"Perfect Day: An Intimate Portrait Of Life With Lou Reed" (2016) by Bettye Kronstad

The Velvet Underground had been always hopelessly managed, they'd operated in a curious sub-fame zone. Legendary Doors twat Ray Manzarek patronised them. But Jimi Hendrix liked them and told them so, and a sharp David Bowie was the first artist in the world to cover the Velvets. Mick Jagger even confessed to the NME that the Stones’ ‘Stray Cat Blues’ was modelled on the Velvets’ ‘Heroin.’ “There’s no other group in rock history with such a disparity between the size of their audience when active and the size of their audience subsequently,” points out Richie Unterberger, a specialist in sixties music who grew up too late to see the Velvets. He discovered them in the late seventies, a time when their critical stock was at its lowest, and their records unavailable. And more than any other sixties major bands the Velvet Underground anticipated punk, new wave and alternative rock.” Source:

Lou Reed – the most important visionary of the Velvet Underground – had in many respects a typical middle-class American upbringing. He dated girls—quite the ladies' man, despite his ambiguous later image—played basketball, and was on the Freeport High track team. “I came from this small town out on Long Island,” Reed told Rolling Stone in 1987. “Nowhere. I mean nowhere. The most boring place on earth.” In the mid-‘50s, however, the explosion of rock’n’roll extended a lifeline to an entirely different world – the new sounds of rockabilly, doo wop, and rhythm & blues beamed into suburban homes such as Reed’s by radio DJs such as Alan Freed and Murray The K. ‘Rock & Roll’ is about me, Reed admits in David Fricke’s liner notes to the 1995 Velvet Underground set Peel Slowly and See. “If I hadn’t heard rock’n’roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet. Which would have been devastating.”  

“The Day John Kennedy Died” from The Blue Mask. “That is literally, exactly what happened,” Lou Reed explained in 1982. “It was just a terrible time. It had –at least as far as I’m concerned– a terrible effect that lasted a long time. And I’m still aware of it, so I wrote about it. I’m one of those people who really believed in John Kennedy. And I don’t care if he bought the election, I don’t care about any of that stuff. The Bay of Pigs, I think he would have straightened it out. Some people say this is misplaced idealism. Well, maybe. I still don’t think so. But nonetheless, that’s the way it was for me the day John F. Kennedy died. I’m not into politics, and I don’t have any real feelings about politics one way or another, except I felt bad here, and I wrote a song about it.”

John Cale and Lou Reed had met in early 1965. Reed had recently graduated from Syracuse University, where he’d shared a dormitory with Sterling Morrison, later the Velvets’ guitarist, and fallen under the influence of his ‘spiritual godfather’, the poet Delmore Schwartz.  Reed and Cale came from almost diametrically opposed musical traditions, but within a matter of weeks they were sharing an apartment on Ludlow Street in the East Village, and more than that: songs, ideas, needles, hepatitis and girls, including Elektrah, who briefly joined their fledgling band, the Falling Spikes, and Daryl, commemorated in Lou Reed’s 1973 album, Berlin. In John Cale's memoir What's Welsh for Zen  Cale tells how shortly after the Elektrah Lobel fiasco, Reed invited another eccentric woman, Daryl Delafield, to join the band. Daryl, a nymphomaniac, engaged in simultaneous affairs with both Reed and Cale. In the end Daryl didn’t join the band, but it’s still interesting to note that, unlike many of their rock contemporaries, Reed and Cale have no reservations about considering women as potential band-members – or at least women with whom they’re having sex. According to What’s Welsh For Zen, it’s on the corner of 75th and Broadway that Cale and Reed met Elektrah Lobel. As well as beginning a brief affair with her, Cale asks Lobel to join the Falling Spikes. Later Cale and Reed elect to carry on without her, deciding that she’s too unstable.

Interviewed by the author in 2011 and 2012, Lobel (who now uses her given first name Marcia, having picked up the nickname Elektrah at a party on San Francisco’s Haight Street) didn’t remember much about her brief stint with Lou and John, but did want to clarify her role in the pre-Velvets. “When I was with them, I never played any instruments,” she emphasizes, denying the anecdotes Cale recounted as her playing a guitar with bleeding fingers: “I was a singer. This thing about me breaking a guitar or something, that was not me!” As Lou Reed later recalls in the 1998 BBC documentary, “We finally were signed to a record company, really on the basis of Andy. I don’t know if we would have gotten a contract if Andy hadn’t said he’d do the cover, or if Nico wasn’t so beautiful.” “People would tell us it was violent, it was grotesque, it was perverted,” Reed is quoted as noting in Nigel Trevana’s Lou Reed & The Velvets (1973). “We said, ‘What are you talking about? It’s fun…” Although the 1995 television documentary Rock & Roll states that Jim Morrison was inspired to start writing songs after attending one of the Velvets’ San Francisco shows, Morrison had already written the backbones of several songs when the Doors formed in 1965.

In fact, Jim Morrison had decided to form a band with keyboardist Ray Manzarek after singing “Moonlight Drive,” to him on a Los Angeles beach. And Morrison was certainly not in the audience at the Fillmore, since the Doors were in the midst of a residency at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles. Jim Morrison will pop up again in the VU story in about a year in a brief yet crucial role as Nico’s lover and muse. Very likely, the insecure Reed would feel a tinge of jealousy over this relationship, which would have contributed to his perennial animosity towards Morrison. Manzarek recalled the Factory abysmally, seeing Warhol's social center as "waiting to begin the mad, downward spiral of consequences." Manzarek disliked Warhol intensily, whom he called "The benign De Sade. The giggling Caligula of the Lower East Side. He held the keys to that quasi-artistic gathering of beautiful people known as the Factory—Andy’s great loft of silver foil, silk screens, and anything goes. Jim was down there within the first week of our opening at Ondine. He loved the games, the role playing, the attitude. The challenges to go further, to go beyond the self-imposed, societally sanctioned bounds of psychic control."

Mary Woronov and Lou Reed at the Factory, 1967.

Manzarek saw the statuesque Nico as "the Valkyrian angel of death who would push Jim Morrison's buttons at every opportunity, in a deep and Germanic-accented voice. They would retire to a silver-foiled room for more drink, more pills, more sex. Jim could only nod in pleasure, being speechless at the intensity of his ejaculation. The pills and booze were melting together in his brain, obliterating his will to power and replacing it with a will to pleasure. Andy’s world was a pill-head scene. Amphetamine uppers and barbiturate downers. And that was not a combination that opened the doors of perception. The holographic universe did not exist on pills and booze. It was strictly pleasure. I love my body pleasure, too, but the denizens of this pleasure dome had gone too far. They were intoxicants without enlightenment. Inebriates without vision, much as today’s crack-meth-bonehead speed freaks and narcoleptic heroin hounds are dope addicts without a clue. At the Factory it was all an ultimately enervating pleasure that could only weaken and debilitate. There was no desire on the part of the denizens to begin the world again, to create the new Garden of Eden, to transcend ordinary reality. The debauchery was not liberating, as such intoxication should be. It didn’t open the doors of perception. It did not break through the walls of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim myth into freedom. It did not charge the psyche with energy. It was merely an end in itself. It was the realm of the cynic, the ironist. A realm of sophistication, of knowledge, of worldliness… but without the sun. It was perpetual pleasure and perpetual darkness."

‘Sister Ray’ is the last song of White Light/White Heat. It goes on for a full half hour. Three chords: EEE, D, A, EEE, D, A, EEE, etc. The scene is eerie. Together the band creates an apocalyptic vision of eroticism, sadomasochism, and violence that is at once seductive and terrifying. The amplifiers feed back – the building seems to be shaking right to its foundations. “Sad Song” is one of Reed’s finest regretful ballads, and imbued with a sense of compassionate humanity that’s often swamped by its author’s crusty public image. Yet it’s another song that won’t be issued until Reed resurrects it as the devastating curtain-closer on his Berlin LP. Reed said in his interview by Howard Smith in the Village Voice in March, 1969: "I’ve always just felt that the people who were the novelists of the ‘50s and the ‘60s would have to make rock and roll records." Smith recalled in a 2012 interview with Ezra Bookstein: “Lou Reed was a challenge because I had written a buncha stuff making fun of the Velvet Underground – and yet he showed up. So I was nervous before the interview. But it was a challenging interview for another reason: Lou was like a cross between mystery and passive-aggressiveness. It might be partly shyness… so he was a strange guy, deep thinker, but kinda passive-aggressive before answering each question.” The MGM press kit gave this odd definition of The Velvet's leading singer: “Lou Reed is a true blue Piscean and a secret sensualist. With a face that arouses interest but gives no satisfaction. Eyes of amphetamine glamour and lips of Phoenician coloring.” Lou Reed liked 50's rock and roll, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, and The Beach Boys, but found the Doors “tedious.” In an interview to Serge Denisoff for The Peak newspaper, Reed calls “The Gift” a “comedy in the Kafkaesque sense,” and feels that “acid is now an opiate of the people,” perhaps even “a Johnsonian plot.”

“Pale Blue Eyes” is justly hailed as one of Reed’s greatest love songs. Its melody and arrangement come closer than any other VU recording to pure folk-rock, especially with its prominent delicately picked guitar and almost crooning vocals. There’s no percussion save for a lonesome, rattling tambourine, and the subtle organ lends the song a dreamy, almost hymnal quality. Its inspiration is Shelley Albin, Reed’s old Syracuse girlfriend, whom he still saw on occasion in New York, even though she was now married. Certainly, the line about the subject of the song being married talks of Reed's central contradiction– the reassurance that what they did yesterday proving that she’s his best friend yet it's truly a sin too. Reed sounds ambivalent, even guilty, but is unable to let go of a deep emotional attachment and desire. In the May 1971 issue of Creem, Reed lets Lester Bangs in on his growing affection for more soothing music in the latter part of the Velvets’ career. “I’ve gotten to where I like ‘pretty’ stuff better,” Reed says: “I think it can function on both the intellectual or artistic levels at the same time. Like when I wrote ‘Jesus’ and ‘Candy Says.’ Those songs and ‘Sunday Morning’ have always been my favorite Velvet Underground songs.” At any rate, the Velvet Underground’s decision to go on as low-key and introspective a path as they can manage is just as subversive as their previous albums. Later, Reed would express public admiration for Nico’s Cale-produced records afterward, telling Vernon Gibbs in his 1971 interview with Metropolitan Review, “Her stuff with John Cale is gorgeous. It’s unlike anything else that I have heard.” –"White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day" (2017) by Richie Unterberger

"I just hope it doesn’t start getting thought of as this terrible down death album, because that’s not at all what I mean by it,” Lou Reed said of "Magic & Loss" (1992) to the Chicago Tribune: "I think of it as a really positive album, because the loss is transformed magically into something else." This recording project began its life with Lou wanting to write about magicians, before the deaths of his friends turned into an album about grief. In "Power and Glory," Reed begins with tales of magic and sorcery: "I saw a man put a red hot needle through his eye / turn into a crow and fly through the trees / swallow hot coals and breathe out flames / and I wanted this to happen to me." But then he turns, Oppenheimer-like, to the power of the atom. Lou was no doctor, but he knows something about pharmacology: "That mix of morphine and Dexedrine / We use it on the street." In "Warrior King," Reed channels his anger into a fantasy of omnipotence: "I wish I was a warrior king; inscrutable, benign / With a faceless charging power always at my command / Footsteps so heavy that the world shakes / My rage instilling fear." Reed feels his loss, but has reached a level of acceptance: "My friends are blending in my head / They're melting into one great spirit / And that spirit isn't dead."

Jim Morrison: “Sometimes I write a lot under the influence, I can be happy to watch what is happening around me… it changes the point of view. You look at yourself looking and so what you observe is something which you are also creating. It’s kind of… what I think Wittgenstein said about observing reality, that it responds to your looking like a whistle a guy gives to a pretty girl; reality is winking back at you or winking because you are looking at it. I’m interested in film because, to me, it's the closet approximation in art that we have to the actual flow of consciousness. Cinema is the transforming agent. Film is nothing when is not an illumination of this chain of being which makes a needle poised in flesh call up explosions in a foreign capital. The best songs come unasked for. You don't have to think about them. Actually, I think the music came to my mind first and then I made up the words to hang onto the melody. And a lot of times I would end up with just the words and couldn't remember the melody."  –"The Doors In Their Own Words" (1991) by Andrew Doe & John Tobler 

"It was daunting to see, to be near, to know that someone could be that beautiful, perfection realised. There was the feel of some delicate quality, masculine to be sure, a gentle presence; I was envious of Jim’s beauty, but I could also admire it. My eyes returned to the strange photo of the desert hanging in front of me; there was no life in it, no blade of grass, only texture upon texture, emptiness, a wanting. I had been there before. A place where I was alone. Each visit to the land of high had its own continuity, a welcome sense of familiarity. As if I were returning to where we had left off, and being high. I could return to the desert in Palm Springs, or the seashore in Venice. Return to a zone inside the time/space continuum and being inside the eternal now, I was alive in all time and space. Sitting quietly looking at this empty photo of strata, layer upon layer, forever immobile, it occurred to me that that was why Jim never feared death. He had visited life eternal on LSD and everything was glued together, life-death, space-time.  –"Tripping With Jim Morrison & Other Friends: With An Introduction By Timothy Leary" (2016) by Michael Lawrence

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