Lou Reed, Magic And Loss (1992)
When Magic And Loss was released I was in the throes of Lou Reed obsession. I discovered him via Mistrial – an album my mum bought when it was released (1986). I had connected the dots to Walk On The Wild Side and back to The Velvet Underground. I had enjoyed a couple of best-of compilations and then New York was a revelation. So was Songs For Drella. And then Magic And Loss. It was all (almost) too much! Magic is a miserable album – beautifully so. I remember reading an insightful review at the time in (of all places) Rolling Stone (strange to think of that magazine as insightful post-1977). I still think of how that concluded, “it’ll bum you out the first couple of times you listen to it, but it’s worth it”. It did. And it was. It was advice I followed, just as how New York’s liner notes told the listener that it was meant to be played in one sitting and treated like a book or a movie. This is the last time, really, that Lou Reed commanded my attention. Sure, Set The Twilight Reeling includes some very good tracks but it doesn’t grab me like Magic And Loss does. I remember being blown away by so many of the songs. Sword Of Damocles got me with its, well, it seems odd to say it, given it’s a Lou Reed composition, but its melody (it’s close enough to one anyway). Certainly its instrumental mood. That might be the best way to say it actually. And then again with its lyrics. But I can’t just single that song out – the album felt like a series of twin-discoveries. Every listen would reveal some nuance – a guitar phrase, the funereal hue that clung (fittingly, given the album’s theme) to so many of the tunes. And then the lyrics. Confessional, obtuse, exact – that mix of contradictions and that mix of surrealism and realism that Lou Reed does best. He had been rediscovered as something of a gritty poet after New York and Drella, fair enough too. I think the lyrics on Magic And Loss are his strongest post-Velvets work. I loved the spoken-word piece, Harry’s Circumcision. I copied the lyrics out. Harry wanted to change his life and thought of the possibilities while shaving. He didn’t want to turn in to his parents. He slit his throat from ear to ear. He wakes up in the hospital to hear the doctor say, “son, we saved your life, but you’ll never look the same”. Lou then tells us, “when he heard that Harry had to laugh, although it hurt, Harry had to laugh: the final disappointment”. I loved this bleak whimsy; this grim – but (to me) hilarious – story. I applauded the writing. Lou was, I guess, my Morrissey. I was 15/16 – I didn’t listen to Moz or The Smiths at that stage. I listened to Lou. I copied the lyrics to Harry’s Circumcision and read them aloud to my parents. They listened politely. Said nothing. I went back to my room, back to my electric typewriter. I started working on some poems of my own. Listening to side one of Magic And Loss. A few minutes later, mum and dad stood – both – by the door of my room. “Your mother and I”, dad (actually) started. I had a grin from ear to ear (not as severe as Harry’s, mind). “Well”, he paused, “we just want to know if everything’s alright”. Everything could not have been better. I had my Lou Reed tapes, my typewriter, my diaries I wrote in. And I had parents who, although sometimes baffled, cared about me. I liked all of those things. And I still have them. The Lou Reed is now all on vinyl. The diaries are disguised as music blogs. And the electric typewriter is a laptop that I wear out and replace every 15/16 months. I still maintain I’m having the title track to this played at my funeral. Morbid? Well, dur.
Sample Track: Magic And Loss
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