The Gift Or: “Where’s Waldo?” Or: “Really Dead Letter Office”

I blame the banana.

Okay, I’ll admit my choice in multiple titles is directly inspired by watching way too many Rocky & Bullwinkle reruns as a kid. But in this case, every chance at humor is a spoonful of sugar in his particularly grim musical case. I first discovered The Velvet Underground’s now classic 1968 album White Light/White Heat on cassette sometime in the early 80’s, but I only barely managed to make it through the first side before tapping out. Between what I thought bask then were some intensely downbeat lyrics and very heavy use of feedback throughout the album, at that time, I wasn’t quite ready for that aural assault (and I hadn’t even heard of Metal Machine Music at that point!).

Flash forward to 1995 and I’m in a record store that was running a closing/closeout sale where I spy the Velvet Underground box set Peel Slowly and See for under $10. I ended up grabbing that, the James Brown box set Star Time and the Little Richard set The Specialty Story all for $20 new, with the cashier rounding the total down because she ran out of change. In any event, the second time was the charm thanks to a few years of broadened horizons and it was when I re-listened to The Gift that I developed a better viewpoint of the band’s output. All I’ll say is that it’s based on a college writing exercise by lead singer Lou Reed, was recorded using a stereo mix that separated the music and vocal tracks (which works quite well when using headphones) and it’s got a killer ending, courtesy of a creative suggestion by Frank Zappa during the recording process.

Not counting the many live concert versions, The song exists in stereo, mono, vocal only, instrumental only, and live instrumental recordings. Take a listen to two of those (or just one, if you prefer your music sans very fuzzy intentional feedback):

Not based on a true story.

And here’s the vocal only version, although I’ll admit without the fuzz, it sounds like a somewhat more frightening campfire story, especially with that well-timed sound effect at the ending.

Still not based on a true story!

Yes, it’s a bit on the macabre side (and how!), but it’s also darkly amusing what with John Cale’s absolutely deadpan reading of Reed’s story. On a side note, YouTube actually has a Lego version of the song that’s definitely not for kids (like the song), uses a live concert version of the tune and yes, here’s a link if you want more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5I43qhtd1M . Er, don’t say you weren’t warned. Although, my overall opinion that a minor issue with the song is the whole Show Biz Bugs nature of it, where if you listen to it once, the shock value diminishes significantly on a repeat. That said, this may be a one-trick pony, but you’ll want to at least ride it through that flaming hoop one time just for that splash in the pool at the end of the jump.

This is another post in Travel Gone Wrong Blogathon, hosted by 18 Cinema Lane. See a list of the assorted entertainment covered in this event HERE!

-GW

So Long, Lou Reed: A Walk on the Mild Side Brings Back Memories…

 

I made Lou Reed laugh once. A long time back (I think it was 1986 or 87, but my memory is a bit fuzzy), I ran into him downtown around St. Marks Place as I was walking to a friend’s place for a birthday party. I recall it was around sundown with fading light and he was coming out of a small shop I don’t recall the name of. As I stopped to nod in his general direction (what I usually did when encountering a celebrity type on the streets of NYC) a trio of Asian tourists (a guy and two women) recognized him and asked if he’d pose for a quick photo with them.

Since I was only about five or so feet away (and probably grinning like a nut on the loose from Bellevue), one of the tourists looked in my direction and smiling as if he’d won the biggest lottery ever, motioned me over pointing to his expensive camera and asked me to snap a shot or two. Of course, I jumped at the chance and three shots later (because I got my thumb in the way on the first picture), handed the camera back to the guy who now wanted ME to pose with Lou. I declined, as I’m not the “Lookit me with the star!” kind of guy (and back then I was a lot more camera shy than I am these days), but Lou was in a pretty good mood and said “Come on”, waving his hand up and forward… Continue reading