Bookended by Cats was named after Milo and Otis. They are the short, orange, and furry brothers who, upon entering our lives in 2003, often bookended us on our couch. And who are we? We're a geek couple living in PA. We love music, movies, TV, comics, books, and comic cons. And, from time to time, we'll share our thoughts on these nerdy things.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday 80s Flashback for January 12, 2018

[Lou's New York] -- On January 10, 1989, Lou Reed's 15th solo album, New York, was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. I say unsuspecting because 1989 was not a year Lou Reed fans were expecting a stripped down, back to basics kind of record. First off, we're talking about 80s, a decade known for excess in production and instrumentation. Secondly, Reed's previous two studio records, Mistrial (1986) and New Sensations (1984), featured large ensembles that included horn sections. Horns! I mean, Randy and Michael Brecker played trumpet and saxophone respectively on New Sensations! New York, by contrast, was largely guitar, bass, and drums. But the leaner, simpler arrangements gave Reed's lyrics more room to breathe, so all those sewery corners of New York City hit your senses all the stronger.

The album's 14 songs clocked in at just under an hour. Which of those tracks have I selected for you this week? As usual, you can read and hear more after the jump.  

Flashback #1"Romeo Rodriguez squares his shoulders and curses Jesus."

I have read a few dark takes on Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet. But none of them come even close to the darkness of "Romeo Had Juliette," Reed's stark vignette about Romeo Rodriguez and his ... girlfriend ... or she could just a companion. It's hard to tell for certain. And although Romeo and his lady are namechecked in the song's title, New York and her varied underclass are the true subject here. It's a cynical, ugly world Romeo and his Juliet inhabit. This is not the New York you see during Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or the New Year's Eve countdown. This is not the New York of tourists. It's the New York of survivors.   

Flashback #2"Well Americans don't care for much of anything."

"The Last Great American Whale" is Lou Reed at one of the many heights of his creative powers. The titular whale is a mythical, nearly metaphorical, creature around which Reed weaves a tale of racism and laments Americans' disregard for the environment ("Americans don't care too much for beauty | They'll shit in a river, dump battery acid in a stream | They'll watch dead rats wash up on the beach | And complain if they can't swim"). New York used to be on a fairly regular rotation in my CD player in the early 90s, and this song was one of my favorite tracks from that album. I know I was playing it when my buds Keith and Mike were visiting one rainy afternoon in 1994. And it might have been this very song that prompted Mike, or maybe Keith, to sarcastically(?) ask me if I had anything more depressing in my collection that I could play next.

If you want to hear the album version of "The Last Great American Whale," you can use this link. However, the beauty of a stripped down album is that it is relatively easy to recreate live. So I recommend this recording from Lou Reed's appearance at the Farm Aid concert in Indianapolis, Indiana (4/7/1990).

Flashback #3"He's going down, to the dirty boulevard."

The one and only single off New York, "Dirty Blvd" peaked at #18 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks and #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks charts. It held that #1 position for four weeks. That's a pretty amazing feat for a song that can't really be categorized as happy or even sad. It's just mean and cynical. To call "Dirty Blvd" a study in the contrast between rich and poor occupants of New York City might be an oversimplification. It might even be an insult. In fact, I might have doubly insulted it by calling it mean and cynical when what it really is ... is three chords and the brutally honest truth. 

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the Prophet or Madman archives or via Bookended's 80s Flashback tag. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

I'll see you in seven!

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