One of my favorite comedians is Lou Reed. Seriously. Some of you that know the man’s work will think I’m jesting. Some will think I’m comparing his later solo work with the Velvet Underground and saying it’s comically bad. Others will think I’m talking about his voice and saying the fact that he has about a two note range is funny. However, as much as I like the Velvets, I listen to Lou’s solo output way more. And I love almost all of his solo output. Those of you that didn’t like The Raven, or Lulu, or Ecstasy, are missing out on some great stuff. And despite his limitations as a vocalist, I think that it is a perfect instrument for conveying his truth. I think he’s funny because I think his lyrics are often intentionally funny in the blackest of the black humor that they possess.
Lou’s remark on Berlin, what many consider to be one of the most depressing albums of all time, was, “We were just trying to have some fun.” There’s a point where things get so dark that they pass through some kind of other dimension and come out the other end funny. I remember seeing Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto and feeling uncomfortable for part of it. By the time people were dancing and catching human heads in baskets, it became so absurd that it was funny. Again, the kind of comedy that I’m talking about is not laughing at something because it’s ridiculous or bad. Apocalypto is one of my favorite films and I think that, behind its relentless action and nonstop entertainment, it has a serious theme. I’m talking about the divine comedy. I’m talking about the fact that a lot of what has been done and is being done on this planet is absurd. We have believed in weird gods, have killed each other for pointless reasons, have worked jobs to which there was no meaning, and have followed senseless cultural practices. If you pull back and look at things through a wide angle there is a space for comedy in all of this.
I think Lou Reed gets this. On Berlin’s Sad Song he sings:
I’m gonna stop wasting my time
Somebody else would have broken both of her arms
When he sings this he is singing in his typical deadpan voice. Behind him is an almost ecstatic symphony of music. Glorious guitars and other instruments reach for the heavens. Berlin is the tale of junkies and their downfall. Lou sympathizes enough with them to make them human. However, he also seems to grasp the cruel absurdity of their situation. The combination of music and lyrics here create something that is inherently funny. He isn’t making fun of them though. He is laughing at a universe that has allowed such a situation to take place.
Another song that makes me laugh is Lou’s Fly Into the Sun, from one of his most underrated albums New Sensations. In this he sings:
The earth is weeping, the sky is shaking
the stars split to their core
And every proton and unnamed neutron
is fusing in my bones
And an unnamed mammal is darkly rising
as man burns from his tomb
And I look at this as a blissful moment
to fly into the sun
Fly into the sun
fly into the sun
I’d burn up into a million pieces
and fly into the sun
On this song Lou Reed is singing about a nuclear holocaust. However, his music is light and major key. Lou is using over the top poetic language. By combining that with the music he is creating a sense of high comedy. The human race is simply ridiculous for ever allowing itself to create a world where we could wipe each other out with such ease. He is making a point through humor without being didactic.
Anytime my soul feels dark and I need to cheer up, Lou Reed is never far away. Lou’s writing touches upon every human emotion. He does have songs that can break your heart and songs that are filled with a righteous fury. However, a sense of humor is always lurking near. Lou Reed is one of rock’s greatest comedians and truth seekers; defying the god’s and bringing fire back to man.