Finding Meaning in Randomness

November 14, 2008

After parsing lyrics to find some hidden meaning behind The Velvet Underground’s song, “The Murder Mystery,” I discovered that the song had no intended meaning. It was merely Lou Reed composing a collage of interesting sounds.

The song first grabbed my attention because it creates an interesting effect by utilizing stereo to simultaneously feed one vocal into the left channel and another contrasting vocal into the right channel. The technique makes the listener feel schizophrenic and forces the brain to try and make sense of the chaos.

Many have concluded that because it is chaotic and random that it is devoid of meaning. I don’t mean to get too philosophical, but life is chaotic and random. And it most certainly isn’t devoid of meaning.

Like life, the song is what you make of it. The way the listener interprets lyrics in all music is more revealing of the listener’s beliefs than the artists intentions.

I believe the song uses chaos and randomness as themes. The instrumentation, especially the manic pounding of the piano that ends the song, reinforces my belief. I think there is plenty of meaning to be found in this fact alone.

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Is this even music?

October 13, 2008

In 1975, Lou Reed released Metal Machine Music. Unlike previous albums of carefully constructed songs, this record is simply an hour of guitar feedback. That’s all. No lyrics. It’s just one hour of ear-splitting, twisted guitar feedback, and I love it. 

Part of my love for this album is the Lou Reed mystique. I probably would have dismissed it had it been released by some no-nome band.

This may seem shallow or superficial, but it really isn’t. The record sounds different in the context of knowing who created it.

I appreciate it so much more because it is coming from someone who has the talent to make something pretty and pleasent and has the courage to try something completely different. What he produced took a whole different type of talent.

He created something ugly and at the same time beautiful. It’s grotesque and unlistenable at first, but if you allow to just flow over you, it becomes a beautiful sea of noise.

The record has been trashed as useless noise by many. Others reduce its beauty by saying it was just Lou Reed trying to piss off the record executives at RCA  by purposely releasing an unlistenable record. In interviews, Reed has defended the work as a sincere artistic statement.

I can’t be sure which is true, but it raises an interesting question.

What is music?

I think this record changed a lot of people’s minds about what qualifies as music. It’s been credited as an early influence on shoe gaze, noise music and ambient. 

I think it works as both a pure punk statement of defiance and a beautiful work of jagged noise.

Lou Reed’s greatest ability as a songwriter is to get at the heart of a complex emotion in as few simple words as possible. Here, he didn’t need any.

The guy in this video had a different take on Metal Machine Music:

Lou Reed: Berlin

October 10, 2008

I’m new to the world of Lou Reed. Somehow he didn’t cross my radar until a couple of months ago.

 I’ve been obsessed ever since.

I started with The Velvet Underground and slowly found my way to Berlin, which was just released on dvd as a stage performance.

I’ve yet to see the stage performance, but I’ve listened to the record about a dozen times.

Berlin tells the story of a German prostitue, Caroline, who falls for a man, Jim. Drugs and physical abuse cripple the relationship, and Caroline eventually kills herself.

The first song, Berlin, sets the scene. It starts off in German, slowly fades into a crowd singing “Happy Birthday Caroline,” and then resolves with Reed describing the infatuation phase of the relationship.

Reed sings, “We were in a small cafe/ you could hear the guitars play/ it was very nice/ oh honey, it was paradise.” Paradise quickly fades, and the relationship crumbles over the final nine songs.

Other highlights include “Oh Jim,” “The Bed,” “The Kids” and the finale “Sad Song. ”

“The Kids” is about Caroline’s neglected children. As the song progresses, you can hear the children in the background screaming for their mother.

It’s the most difficult part of the record to listen to. It is disturbing and powerful. By the end of the song, you’ll be wishing you could just reach through the speakers and rescue her crying children.

Berlin may not qualify as lo-fi music with its overwrought orchestra arrangements, but the emotion, intensity and writing are what really count and no amount of sappy strings can cover up the power of Reed’s words.

Here’s a clip of Lou Reed singing “The Kids” live: