I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #46:
Walk on the wild side all you want “but remember that the city is a funny place / Something / like a circus or a sewer / And just remember different people have peculiar tastes…” - and complex artists in contemplation have wide-ranging emotions from which to draw and record. I’m just not sure I ever want to meet the Muse of Metal Machine Music, though.
For the most part, Lou Reed’s glorious 1976 masterwork Coney Island Baby is reflective of his more warmly accessible albums such as his 1972 self-titled solo debut or 1984’s New Sensations. I gravitate to this pop-transformer side of Reed as much as I appreciate his career-spanning hit-and-miss adventurousness and the experimental and audacious streak that distinguishes such works as the raw, stripped-downed proto-punk Street Hassle from 1978, 1982’s provocative The Blue Mask, or the pointed commentary permeating 1989’s New York.
By comparison, Coney Island Baby hits us with a flower as Reed kicks it all off with the floating-on-air “Crazy Feeling,” sounding pretty giddy and gaga in love. After all, “You’re the kind of person that I’ve been dreaming of / You’re the kind of person that I always wanted to love.” Elsewhere, the low-key “A Gift” — in which an inimitably deadpan Reed casually reiterates that “I’m just a gift to the women of this world” — is a sardonic hoot.
If those ladies, they rolled their eyes, maybe it helps to read between the lines: “She’s my best friend / Certainly not just like your average dog or car,” an understating Reed sings in “She’s My Best Friend.” If there’s any question about unspoken sincerity, however — any doubt that “She understands me when I’m feeling… down” — the clincher is in the overarching majesty of the music, the crescendoing of guitar, just like he 's ringing a bell, that sonically and inspiringly stresses the ultimate faith and earnest hope: “if you want to feel, yeah, feel me / Why don’t you just turn around / And by the window where the light is…”
Not that Coney Island Baby’s mix of underbelly character studies, celebratory romance, and quiet rumination is all fun and James Taylor. But the unnerving “Kicks” is a six-minute VU-style tale of drug-addled paranoia and death compellingly punctuated with an audio-tape collage that packs a visceral wallop when combined with Reed’s unflinching vocals and transfixing lyrics:
- When the blood comma down his neck ...
Don’t you know it was better than sex, now, now, now
It was way better than getting mean
‘cause it was, the final thing to do, now
Get somebody to come on to you
And then you just get somebody to
To now, now, come on to you
And then you kill ‘em, yeah
You kill ‘em, now, now, cause I need kicks…
I’m getting bored, I need, need, need, need now, now some kicks
Oh, give it, give it, give it, give it to me now, now, kicks…
But those were different times. Regaining a substantial chunk of compassion and grace, Coney Island Baby’s stand-out track — and one of Reed’s all-time best songs — is the closing title cut, a stellar blend of melancholic introspection and pensive lyrical evocation. As heartfelt as it is unfussy, this six-minute reflection on self-recrimination, commitment, and love resonates with humanity and hope as Reed ponders “When you’re all alone and lonely / In your midnight hour” and broods when “two-bit friends have gone and ripped you off.” But Reed also has to remind himself to have a little faith and perspective:
- But remember the princess who lived on the hill
Who loved you even though she knew you was wrong
And right now she just might come shining through
And the glory of love, glory of love
Glory of love, just might come through...
Just as emotive, though expressed more simply, is the affecting spoken-word ending:
- I’d like to send this one out for Lou and Rachel
And all the kids and P.S. 192
Coney Island Baby
Man, I’d swear, I’d give the whole thing up for you.
It’s a concise coda of sorts that provides an apt summation of both the song and the album - and offers an indication that the glory of love may indeed have already come through…