Sunday, November 3, 2013

Of Nuns I Knew in High School, Poetry & Journalism, the New York album, and the President of Czechoslovakia: Further Thoughts On Lou Reed


"I'm a journalist, I ain't no poet
People say, "Ricki, you've got limitations."
I say, "Baby, don't I know it."
- from "I Still Play The Rock & Roll" Ricki C., 2002

I wrote the lyrics quoted above while listening to a cassette tape or a CD (I forget which) by my good friend Don Nelson, who is indeed a poet singer/songwriter.  Don and, by extension, many other singer/songwriters (Elliott Murphy comes immediately to mind, in this case) are poets by nature, and come to music that way.  I'm not saying those people sing poetry.  I know the difference between song lyrics and a poem.  I'm saying they have the hearts of poets and I'm saying - for better or worse - I do not have the heart of a poet, I have the brain of a journalist.

I attended a Catholic high school in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1960's - Bishop Ready, by name.  (It's pronounced "reedy-y," by the way, just like Lou, not "ready," as in, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille.")  My journalism teacher junior & senior years was Sister Ann Mary ("Sam" for short) and along with my junior year English teacher, Sister Paula Clare, they formed the writer I am today.

The reason I ran my initial Lou Reed piece last Monday was because Sam constantly drummed into my impressionable teenage brain, "News is news!  Write it!  You don't always have time to think about it or reflect on it.  Write it!  Write it!  Write it!  It's news!  Get it out there!  You can write an op-ed piece about it later on, when you've had time to rest and consider, but RIGHT NOW it's news!  Write it!"  (I think this is the reason Nick Lowe's production credo for the early Elvis Costello & The Attractions albums - "Bash it down and we'll tart it up later." - appealed to me so strongly, and resonates with me to this day.)

Now that we're into the Sister Paula Clare area of literary rest & reflection period, I can settle down and spread out with some ideas.  (Sister Paula Clare, by the way, gave my best friend Dave Blackburn and I Joseph Heller's "Catch 22,"  J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher In The Rye," and found me a copy of Hubert Selby Jr.'s "Last Exit To Brooklyn" to read after Lou Reed mentioned it in a Velvet Underground interview in Hit Parader magazine, my rock & roll Bible of that time.  And if you think books like those were being routinely handed out by nuns to students in Catholic schools in 1968 you'd best think again, mojumbo.)

Sister Ann Mary, Sister Paula Clare: thank you for everything you gave to me.

I was listening to Lou's 1990 New York album in the shower this morning and was struck again, as I have been so many times in the past 23 years, at how perfect a blend of poetry and journalism it is.  I remember clueless rock critics at the time putting the record down for its journalistic slant, asking how Reed thought it was possibly going to stand the test of time - as if lyrics like "The perfume burns his eyes / Holding tightly to her thighs / And then something flickered for a minute / And then it vanished and was gone" from lead-off track "Romeo Had Juliette" were ever gonna lose their resonance or relevance and go out of style.  I've read 700-page novels that don't say as much as Lou Reed does in the 3:09 running time of "Romeo Had Juliette."

I acknowledge full Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Drunk Uncle mode here: but Mumford & Sons kids, Arcade Fire kids, Lumineers kids, I would just ask you to go to Rhapsody or Spotify or Dropbox or Pitchfork or wherever Rock Children go for music these days and listen to "Romeo Had Juliette" from New York, "Work" from Songs For Drella, and "Dreamin'" from Magic and Loss, and then tell me everything you know about the power of rock & roll music. 

There was a piece published in 1991's Between Thought And Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed entitled "To Do the Right Thing" that Reed originally wrote for Musician magazine in 1990.  It was about his visit to Prague and his meeting with Czechoslovakian president Vaclav Havel, who was once jailed as a dissident and later became president of his country.  (Much like Nelson Mandela in South Africa.)  I'm not sure how easy that book or essay would be to find in these 21st century days, but you really should try to track it down, it's simply transcendent poetic journalism.


© 2013 Ricki C.

  


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