Tag Archives: New York

The Life of ‘The Master’

In the epicentre of the city, an electrical jungle, it seemed quite fitting that I started to read a biography of Lou Reed in Lime Street station, Liverpool. The speed of life was all around as I leafed through the pages of the book, LOU REED, THE LIFE BY MICK WALL. It was so cold you could smell the frost. Trains sighed, constantly in a mood. A distant whistle, then a robotic articulation read out train departures, all clipped vowels and pronounced words mixed with the click-clack of heels. A bird scream shattered the air.

The noisy chaos of a city, its people and their stories. The very madness of living that Lou Reed quite skilfully captured in his music. The singer lived the majority of his life in the middle of the similar hustle of New York City.

lou reed the life mick wall

This biography focuses on the rise and fall, rise and fall again cycle that the artist had during his lifetime. At times he was arrogant, vengeful and downright nasty.

He can’t leave any situation alone or any scab unpicked.

It was Mr. David Bowie who dubbed Lou Reed the ‘Master’. Yet they fought quite publicly, on many occasions. But we all love a Rock ‘n’ Roll feud, remember Oasis versus Blur?

What I discovered about the idol was not endearing. You don’t always have to like your idols; you can fall out and be frustrated by their actions. After all, it is okay to be contradictory, that is a necessary part of being human.

I continued to read the book at 6am on the day after Boxing Day, with a cup of tea and a bowl rammed with Yule log and extra-thick Jersey cream, which did make me giggle. I was reading about the musicians’ hedonistic exploration, dibble-dabbling in pharmaceuticals and narcotics as I was devouring the bowl of wrongness. How rock n roll, what a game, eh!

Thankfully, this festive over indulgence can be combatted by a couple of extra sets of sit ups. It’s clear from this book that a diet of heroin, LSD and other toxins cannot be so easily sorted. I have seen first-hand friends who danced the tango ballad with drugs in their twenties only to have hangovers either take root immediately or more innocuously in their mid- to late-thirties and forties. They had forgotten to read the small print, that drugs could lead to paranoia, claustrophobia and other anxieties, sometimes heaped together.

Kierkegaard said,

Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.

Wall’s no nonsense style of writing highlights the damage that the New York City man’s vices did to his mental well-being but hints at how it also stimulated his finer hours, like the pieces BERLIN and TRANSFORMER.

lou reed Berlin

I walk around Liverpool and hear the fragments of pieces of conversation, banter, arguments and all that I love about the city, the language, the talk, the buzzing. Where else in the world would you find scrawled on a toilet wall,
‘Ye ma’s baldy and collects Panini stickers’?

The type of dry sense of humour that is apparent in Lou Reed’s work. A great lyric in his track LAST GREAT AMERICAN WHALE (on the album NEW YORK) about where this sea creature has been spotted is delivered in that inimitable Yankee drawl,

My mother said she saw him in Chinatown, but you can’t always trust your mother.

I think Lou Reed would have loved Liverpool and its kick-ass attitude, finding the humour in the tragic.  It was his sardonic take on life that attracted me initially to his music. Its tales of picaresque characters from Warhol’s Factory, the broken people, transvestites, street workers and drug fiends who bleed glitter, glamour and damage. A cast of deranged souls.

velvet underground

The unsettling sound of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND with Nico’s droning somnambulist chanteuse next to Reed’s sandpaper-scratched vocal chords. John Cale’s avant-garde experimental score next to Mo Tucker’s anarchic drum beat. I remember buying their first album with Warhol’s Banana on the front from PROBE records, when I was a teenage bag of tie-dyed insecurities with blue hair and eye brow piercings, trying to standout but really unknowingly conforming. It was like something else! I lost track of his career trajectory as I grew up, with his pieces like albums ECSTASY and THE RAVEN.

This entertaining rock biography does exactly what it sets out to do, talk about Lou Reed and his musical legacy. It is also unflinching in describing his personal life, there is no airbrushing of the past. I found I didn’t warm to his attitude, but it has encouraged me to re-visit his back catalogue particularly. Like I said, you don’t have to like your idols, the person who created the music. It is, after all, the work that will always stand out.

Perhaps Bowie was right and he was the ‘master’, but I will let you be the judge of that.

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The Pope of the Paparazzi

One of the advantages of the internet is that on a winter’s day, you can navigate all around the world and visit the finest art establishments, without even leaving the house. Today in Blighty the wind is howling like a possessed hound. So let’s visit NYC.

Liverpool has its Shakeshaft, Paris its Brassai and New York has Weegee, a self-styled showman who created a pulp fictitious persona, the father of tabloid culture. He would boldly proclaim,

My name is Weegee. I’m the world’s greatest photographer.

Born Arthur Fellig in 1899, the photographer was nicknamed Weegee by the office girls in Acme Newspapers – after the Ouija board – for he had an uncanny way of always arriving at the scene to capture a moment.  Weegee helped to found the tabloid culture that is still apparent today. His images capture humans at their most vulnerable and bare. Photography that produces compositions that incite emotion based on the subject matter alone. Sensationalist and sensual, an acute portrayal of human nature. From two lovers embracing, to a burning building, all of his images transport the viewer into the very heart of the experience.

The summer heat in a New York apartment, forcing the residents to sleep on the fire escape, radiates from the picture.

heatspell HEATSPELL, 1938 (NAKED CITY, SUNDAY MORNING IN MANHATTAN)

You can practically smell the perfumery of two old broads, all war paint and fur, out to enjoy an evening in the city, whilst one onlooker’s envy cannot be hidden:

the criticTHE CRITIC. MRS.CAVANAGH AND FRIEND ENTERING THE OPERA, 1943 (NAKED CITY, THE OPERA)

Never officially trained, he used the darkroom of Acme Newspictures as his university, honing his craft and training his eye whilst working on other people’s images. His pictures of New York and her people are like a carnival of the Electric Jungle. The book Naked City (1945) went on to be exhibited in Museum of Modern Art and helped to shape urban American consciousness.

In his book Weegee on Weegee, the artist frankly lays down the passion for his craft, a love for New York and its people,

My camera… my life and my love… was my Aladdin’s lamp.

His catalogue of work is like a visual love letter between him and the city, a composition of magic.

crook

I had so many unsold murder pictures lying around my room…I felt as if I were renting out a wing of the City Morgue.

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