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Lou Reed (#110 of 6)

Great American Novel: A Lou Reed Discobiography

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Great American Novel: A Lou Reed Discobiography
Great American Novel: A Lou Reed Discobiography

“Between thought and expression lies a lifetime,” Lou Reed sang on the Velvet Underground’s 1969 song “Some Kinda Love,” but after his death last month prompted a notable spike in album sales, a new generation is likely realizing Reed’s thoughts didn’t really wait that long for expression. He sang far faster than his consciousness could censor, a difficult and necessary skill for a writer, rare in a rock star. He kept the drug and gay references blatant, back when it meant no airplay, no Ed Sullivan. He’d received shock treatments as a teenager to “cure” his bisexuality and found solace in narcotics, and if it left him divided against himself, such tortured transfiguration was also the stuff of great literature, a la Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams, and he knew it. “I always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter,” he told Rolling Stone in 1987. “They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.”

15 Songs About AIDS

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15 Songs About AIDS
15 Songs About AIDS

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the first report of the virus that would become known as HIV. In 1998, singer-songwriter Dan Bern released a song called “Cure for AIDS”; there have been countless jokey songs about the disease, including Ween’s “The HIV Song” and “Everyone Has AIDS” from Team America: World Police, but Bern’s seemingly lighthearted track was profound in its idyllic vision of a world free of the disease. Fifteen years later, an end to the epidemic feels like a very real possibility. Nearly 30 million people have reportedly died from AIDS, but each week seems to bring news of another breakthrough in the decades-long quest for a vaccine or cure. We thought this would be a good time to look back at some of the music inspired by the crisis that (eventually) galvanized a generation into action.

The Indelicate Delinquent in Manic Winter: An Evening with Jerry Lewis

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The Indelicate Delinquent in Manic Winter: An Evening with Jerry Lewis
The Indelicate Delinquent in Manic Winter: An Evening with Jerry Lewis

On the occasion of his 86th birthday last Friday night, Jerry Lewis was in his element: water. He was drooling it onto his feet, wrapping his lips around the rim of a glass, and drinking from a pitcher. Abetted by his on-stage interviewer, comedian and TV cop Richard Belzer, the legendary nightclub performer, jack-of-all-film-trades, and philanthropic veteran of the Muscular Dystrophy Association met the expectations of fans who packed 92nd Street Y’s Kaufmann Auditorium on Manhattan’s Upper East Side by cutting loose with the brand of shameless clowning that has kept him rich and famous since the Truman Administration. Casually crossing his legs and sending a shoe flying into the first row, musically cutting off a Belzer follow-up question with “Was I throoooough?”, and fixing the perpetrator of a solitary laugh with a cartoonish, sneering turn of the head that dates back to his white-hot dual act with Dean Martin, Lewis was primed to give his audience a good time, and what was billed as a tribute by the fraternal comedians’ group The Friars Club morphed into a two-hour reciprocal love-in between childlike idol and uncritical idolators. “I’m nine, and I’ve always been nine,” Lewis self-diagnosed during a breather from his antic agenda. “The beauty of nine is that it’s not complicated.”

Film Comment Selects 2011: The Velvet Underground and Nico

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Film Comment Selects 2011: <em>The Velvet Underground and Nico</em>
Film Comment Selects 2011: <em>The Velvet Underground and Nico</em>

It would be hard to believe that Gus Van Sant hadn’t seen The Velvet Underground and Nico, Andy Warhol’s landmark recording of an hour-long performance by the band, before he made Last Days. Like Van Sant’s movie, one scene of which shows its listless characters rocking out to the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs,” Warhol’s film is in absolute lockstep with the textures of its soundtrack. The bandmates jam in a windowless room of Warhol’s Factory, the camera frenetically panning and zooming over the faces of Lou Reed (pale and zombie-like, but also badass in sunglasses that seem pasted on his face), Nico (who does no actual singing here, though she does manage to attack her guitar strings with a knife), and Nico’s toddler son, a blond boy who slaps at a tambourine from underneath his mother’s feet, looking like he’s either immersed in this world or completely confused by it.