Tuesday, June 22, 2004

about the theory pt. 1

Okay, now that I have a moment, I'll try to explain the advanced theory. It is easier to explain within a conversation, but that's why somebody invented the blog. So here goes: A lot of people feel like geniuses—I'll stick to musical geniuses—have a period where they are great but then inevitably decline. The classic advanced-theory example is Lou Reed. Most people feel that he was great in the Velvet Underground, had a couple great solo records, but then became lazy and released of lot of self-indulgent, mediocre music. The advanced theory says that Lou Reed did not decline at all. In fact, he keeps getting better or at the very least is every bit the genius he was as a young man. The problem is, we don't understand him now any better than people understood him then. If he was ahead of his time when he was in VU, then he is ahead of his time now.

But let's go back. What made VU great? They wrote great songs, offered an alternative to the hippie peppermint-lollipop stuff, and were just generally cool. However, it was their unique sound and Reed's lyrics that set them apart from most other bands at the time. Being innovative was a central motivation, and they wore that motivation on their sleeves. They were, in advanced terminology, "overt weirdos." Overt weirdness is easy to achieve: get a green mohawk, were two different color shoes, don't wash your hair, and you will generally be considered weird. It's obvious, and that is the problem from the advanced point of view.

Lou Reed left VU, which was his first step to being an "advanced weirdo." Advanced artist almost always go solo because even their bandmates can't understand what they are doing. This gives them a reputation of being difficult, but few geniuses aren't. After Reed got out of VU, he continued to be overt. He got mixed up with David Bowie (a topic for later), which gave us "Take a Walk on the Wild Side." (For years, every time he played a talk show, he would play that song, cementing the public perception of him as a one-hit wonder. That was very advanced.) He put out albums that were totally depressing ("Berlin") or unlistenable ("Metal Machine Music") or mystifying ("Rock and Roll Animal"). Some of his solo stuff was successful and well-reviewed, most not. But in the eighties, I think he took a turn form being an overt weirdo to being an advanced weirdo.

If you've heard "White Light/White Heat" and "Mistrial," you know that his music changed to an astonishing degree. But I think that any cut on Mistrial is as good as "Sister Ray" and much weirder as well. Anyone can make a lot of noise and sing obscure lyrics, but it takes someone truly weird to make a song like "Original Wrapper," where he sings about watching TV, waffles, and, yes, pitchers and batters. He also perfected the advanced artist's uniform: black leather jacket, dark sunglasses, and long hair in the back. By the way, most people like to call it a mullet, but I think that is too overt a description. When Lou Reed's hair was short on top and long in the back, there were no mullet.coms or anywhere near the ironic attention paid to that hairstyle (irony has no place in advancement). His appearance was much weirder than the look he cultivated in VU because almost no one would appreciate it. In VU he at least had the transvestites and pushers on his side. But who would endorse the look he had during "Mistrial"? Certainly not the overt weirdo.

I'm going to wind up for now. Lou Reed's career has been long and has taken some pretty advanced turns.


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