The death of the album – so greatly exaggerated. And the 33 1/3 series of books in tribute to classic albums (old and new) continues to trot out the titles. Here, musician Ezra Furman looks at Lou Reed’s Transformer album in this volume of the same name.
Furman is one hell of a writer. He’s worth hearing too – his fuzzy pop a direct descendent of Reed and The Velvet Underground. He’s a queer artist too, he tells us this – and that becomes important in the dissection of Transformer’s gender politics, or at least in the more recent discussions around some of the album’s songs.
Furman will take Reed to task for some of his nastiness on the album but he’ll also shout back at the absurd argument that had Walk On The Wild Side being called out as “transphobic”. I’d like to think Furman’s final word on that should silence any further stupidities there, but as the book acknowledges, the prickly musician that created Transformer was, in his pursuit of the ideal of being A Writer, quite often insensitive, quite cruel. He was playing games and various roles, but he was no troll. And Furman uses parts of his own story and his connection with this album and other pieces from Reed’s canon to show the big heart that was (sometimes) there in Lou’s work – without ever shying away from discussing, even exposing, the nastiness.
Similarly – politics and issues of gender and sexuality aside, ignoring even the musical climate and context of the time – Furman is frank around discussing what is simply a good and bad song, and how Transformer is made up, in nearly equal parts, of both.
I’ve always struggled with the album – I’m a Lou Reed fan, have been for so long, so much of what Furman wrote I could identify with, or at the least it took me back to my own discovery of the power inside the best of this music – but I’ve never read a better articulation of why wrestling with Reed’s personality and music is both rewarding and frustrating. I was there with Furman on practically every page.
I’m a fan of the 33 1/3 series, making my way through most of them, but this one certainly deserves special mention, for it’s not just the best I’ve read in some time from this series it might be the best book about Lou Reed I’ve ever read.
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