The Wire

In Writing

Lou Reed 1942–2013: Carla Bozulich: Filthy And Demure

November 2013

Lou Reed died 27 October, 2013. "So I fucking hated that song. I hated the record with the cool banana and I hated everything in the world but especially that record." Carla Bozulich arrives late to The Velvets

The Velvet Underground came to my attention pretty late. After the parents turned me onto a huge collection from Funkadelic to Ornette Coleman to whatever… Shostakovich. After metal and bad pop/rock like Foreigner and Heart. After I spent an entire night cutting through the tendons of my arm with a blunted razor I had broken off from my older sister’s first Daisy razor. After the institution and After The Fall, Terry Riley, Lydia Lunch, Gavin Bryars, Half Japanese, Patti Smith, Story Of The Eye, LAFMS and Pere Ubu and all these things I loved so I wasn’t exactly a dork in the classic sense. I was far too directly exposed to violence, addiction, rape, etc, to be naive, exactly.

It was during the first time I tried to get clean. I was 16. I was fired from my sweet job as a live-in maid for Ella Fitzgerald’s pianist, Paul Smith. My employer decided it was hopeless to get me to stop wearing my grandpa’s clothes when working, or to stop writing and drawing on myself so I could make little 3D skin and cigarette pictures with her copy machine. I couldn’t actually make eye contact and respond in words when spoken to which she seemed to take personally. I was terribly shy and sick from my small shit-sick world.

I found some addicted biker criminals that would let me sleep on their smelly, blue floor in Redondo Beach. Redondo Beach is no San Pedro and certainly no New York but these people were unpleasant enough and didn’t care if I formed complete sentences. Their music taste was shitty in general. That shitty house was the first place I heard “Heroin”. “Heroin”. O lord. I’ll try to explain my reaction. So I fucking hated that song. I hated the record with the cool banana and I hated everything in the world but especially that record. I thought it was the most pompous piece of pretentious drug-glorifying ultra-mellow junk. Why not hate “I Was So Wasted” Or any other of the millions of drug songs I loved? I dunno. The next day I put the record on cigarette after cigarette. I don’t know how many times I flipped the record. I sat on the dirty blue carpet. Uncool as I felt, I somehow was connected and my acid nerves were calm. I’d gotten hooked in my sleep. I couldn’t stop hearing the sounds of the guitars and viola and drums droning. So simple and smooth but dirty. Impossibly dirty to the core. They could never clean that up. I understood that and I felt some kind of easier thing comin’ round. I wanted to know how they could make those sounds… filthy and demure.

Gentle and disgusted: I hated myself for being gentle. I was looking for some ambivalence or some hard, black, shiny shell. Some unspecific, harrowing peace. Everyone bobbles their head and unclenches their butthole when “Black Angel’s Death Song” comes on. Everyone cocks their head to one side, realises Lou Reed will not be understood and relents to the mesmerising repetition.

Heroin? Does it give everything a smooth, sassy sheen like a Velvets song? Shit, well, I think the way I’ve stayed away from it for 26 years is that I can’t really put together pleasant memories that stack up against kicking dope on the street with a solid habit, starving to shaking bones and infected to the point where I couldn’t tell one stinging burning ooze from another. Doing anything for ten or 20 or 500 bucks or severely hurting people I liked. But even the bad parts sound more intriguing than dull and even the shame that ultimately comes is suspended in the void when described by an ace writer/talker like Reed. I want that feeling as much as possible. I want to be removed. We’re using music and art for that, now.

Fave song: can’t escape the fineness of this track. “We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together”, bootleg… I think from CBGBs – duet with Patti Smith – none-fucking-other. Cassette long lost. Flow it to me if you have it.

I made it up to Hollywood soon after my discovery of The Velvets. There is absolutely no correlation. Just poetic symmetry. But I suppose the junky memories would be ill-scored without that sound, and every junky listened to LR’s projects and also Iggy Pop more than everything else combined. Lou’s voice was never worried… and even when things got brutal there was tenderness. He never sounded dope-sick or ruined by love. Maybe Metal Machine Music is the most direct and open work… still soothing and fun, still perfect for wiping your mind clean. I could hear a song by LR, even right now, and register a reminder that even the fucktest thing is ours to keep and turn around and shoot it back but better.

I hated the straight world. I still had a little room and some cats and Top Ramen when the Challenger exploded. We watched it blowing up – looping on the TV – while we listened a few times to “Satellite Of Love”, oh and that whole album – not too loud, you know, stoned and just layin’ low.

Comments

Wow, aren't you super cool

Yeah, Carla Bozulich is actually super cool. You should listen to her music.

It is not particularly encouraging to hear that junkies can empathize with the records of The Velvet Underground "oh so well". In return, does that mean that I don't get their music because I'm NOT a junkie? Maybe I should try it, maybe then it finally sounds like they had an idea of what they were doing. Seriously, every time somebody dies (especially somebody whose prime time was ages ago), everybody hails their work - ALL OF IT. Why? You're a judas as soon as you start criticizing. Come on folks, same s*** happened when Jacko died, when Amy died, and so forth. I know that we - especially as enthusiasts of music history - should never ask the "what if"-question. BUT: What would The Velvet Underground have been without the support of Andy Warhol? A big black nothing. Another group of hipsters being hipster. Carla Bozulich, you are not to blame: You were there, for you it was the real deal, I got it. But everybody else: Get over it, please.

I really didn't enjoy this piece at all, sorry.

I don't believe that Carla Bozulich was saying that you need to be a drug addict to appreciate Lou Reed's music. She is writing about how she viewed his music through at the time she first heard it and how her perspective altered with time. Most of the articles I've read about Lou Reed's passing have been evenhanded regarding his body of work. None I've read, so far, have asked for a reevaluation of "Lulu." I said so far.
Lou Reed's music influenced many writers, musicians and filmmakers whose work I admire. The man died and now these people feel the need to express their feelings.As far as VU becoming a big black nothing, one could ask the same of the Beatles and Brian Epstein, Elvis and Sam Phillips, Billie Holiday and John Hammond. What if Andrew Loog Oldham (I think), advised the Stones to write their own songs. maybe their careers would have taken a different path, maybe not.
And yes, Susanne, Carla is super cool. I was fortunate enough to see the Geraldine Fibbers once and was blown away. I have been following her work ever since. besides her sol work and Evangelista, check out Scarnella and an album she made with Simone Massaron called "Dandelions On Fire."

Carla + Lydia + Mark E. Smith >>>>> every other eulogy on this site combined (some of whom have done better elsewhere, true; when did Lou Reed become Lady Di of rock anyway?)

This not a critique of The Wire casting a wide net, just some folks handle it better than others.

I enjoyed reading this. Carla's an entertaining and honest writer. Love her and her music.

Hated Carla's piece, love Carla's music.

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